1952: Another New US Highway

Between 1951 and 1952, there were a lot of highways that were added to the US Highway system by the AASHO, or American Association of State Highway Officials. The main reason for this was, quite honestly, “tourist roads.” That was the purpose of expanding US 421, mentioned in my last post, from Tennessee to Michigan City. Another addition was US 231, which crosses the state from Owensboro, Kentucky, to Lake County, Indiana.

At the time, the two major US Highways that crossed Indiana, US 31 and US 41, were very busy doing what they do best – moving travelers north and south. Both highways start in northern Michigan, with US 41 beginning in the Upper Peninsula, US 31 starting at Mackinaw City. At the other end, US 31 ends in southern Alabama, US 41 end at Miami. Both highways were essentially “tourist roads.”

Since US 41 connected Chicago and Miami, it was the US highway replacement for the Dixie Highway. And as such, was very busy. AASHO decided that it would be a good idea to create another south bound highway to funnel off traffic from the two major roads crossing Indiana. That road would be US 231.

The Lizton Daily Citizen of 17 September 1952 mentions that the new route markers for the newest US highway in Indiana were in stock and to be replaced over the next month or so. It was also mentioned that the state road numbers that were assigned to route that would become US 231 would still be there after the marking of the US route. “The newly-designated U. S. 231 will travel from Chicago, Ill. to Panama City, Fla. It is to be called a ‘tourist’ highway and is designed to relieve overloaded U. S. 41 of some of its traffic.”

US 231 started life in 1926 with the creation of the US Highway system. At the start, it began at US 90 near Marianna, Florida. Its northern end was at Montgomery, Alabama. The first expansion of the road had it ending in Panama City, Florida.

US 231 crossed into Indiana from Owensboro, Kentucky, on what was then SR 75 (now it is SR 161), then east on SR 66 to Rockport. From there, it would follow SR 45 to near Scotland, SR 157 to Bloomfield, west on SR 54 to SR 57, then north on SR 57 to its junction at SR 67.

From the junction of SR 57 and 67, the new highway would follow SR 67 into Spencer, where it would be joined with SR 43. From here, it would follow (replace) SR 43 north from Spencer to Lafayette.

Now, here is where the description of the highway in the newspaper and the actual route differ. According to the route published in the newspaper, the route would follow SR 43 all the way to Michigan City, ending there. Well, it was already mentioned that it would end in Chicago (which, by the way, it never did), not Michigan City. Also, again, as mentioned in my last blog entry, US 421 took SR 43 into Michigan City.

At Lafayette, US 231 would multiplex with US 52 to Montmorenci, where it would turn north on SR 53. Now, for those of you keeping score with the US highways in the Hoosier state, this is where, from 1934 to 1938, there was another US highway that had been removed for being too much of a duplicate. That highway, US 152, used the US 52 route from Indianapolis to Montmorenci, where it replaced SR 53 (which it was in 1933) all the way to Crown Point. In 1938, with the decommissioning of US 152, the road reverted to SR 53 again.

And in 1952, that designation was once again removed for the placement of US highway markers. This time, US 231. But, the state road number wasn’t removed immediately this time. And US 231 rolled its way along SR 53 until it entered Crown Point. From there, it connected to US 41, the road it was supposed to help relieve traffic, near St. John using what was then SR 8.

For the most part, with the major exception of two places, the US 231 route is the same as it was back then. There may have been some slight moving of the road, especially near Scotland for Interstate 69, but the minor revisions are few and far between. The major relocations are definitely major. A complete reroute in the Lafayette area, which has US 231 bypassing both Lafayette and West Lafayette. It has, in recent years, taken to carrying US 52 around the west side of the area, replacing the much celebrated US 52 bypass along Sagamore Parkway. I will be covering that bypass at a later date. Let’s just say that there was a lot of newspaper coverage of that at the time.

The other major change in the route is near the Ohio River. A new bridge spanning the river was opened in 2002. The new bridge, called the William H. Natcher, is located north of Rockport. The original US 231 route, which followed SR 66 to due north of Owensboro, Kentucky, is now SR 161 between SR 66 and the Ohio River. It should also be noted here that at Patronville, SR 75 (US 231 now SR 161) had a junction with SR 45…the route that the new US highway would follow from northeast of Rockport to Scotland. Now that junction is just with Old State Road 45.

Due to its route across the state, at 297 miles long, US 231 is the longest continuous road in the entire Hoosier State. That may seem wrong, but consider that Rockport is actually south of Evansville…and the route through the state is nowhere near straight.

1917: Main Roads to Fort Benjamin Harrison Need Work

When Fort Benjamin Harrison was built in Lawrence Township, in northeastern Marion County, getting there was quite the chore. It has been built along the Big Four’s Bellefontaine, or Bee, line. This allowed steam locomotives to pass by the new Army post on a regular basis. The Big Four, with its affiliation with the New York Central, could get Army traffic to and from the fort to almost any place in the United States without much effort.

The workforce for the new fort would come on either the Bee line, or the new Indiana Union Traction line that connected Indianapolis to Anderson, Muncie and Fort Wayne. Although it didn’t last much more than three decades, this was an important way to access the fort. The station for that interurban line still exists…and is open to the public as a Mexican restaurant (as of this writing) called the Hacienda.

But automobile traffic was becoming more and more important. Even more important was the transit of Army vehicles to and from Fort Benjamin Harrison. To that end, in the spring of 1917, the commander of the station, General Edwin F. Glenn, sought to get improvements to the road system to the fort. With this in mind, he held a conference with Marion County government and business leaders to share what he had in mind.

The Indianapolis Star, 10 June 1917. Map of the north east side of Marion County, showing improvements needed to access Fort Benjamin Harrison.

First and foremost in the General’s mind was the main road to the fort – the Pendleton Pike. Technically, the Pendleton Pike started at the limits of the City of Indianapolis at Bee Line connection to the Indianapolis Belt Railway just east of Brightwood Avenue (Sherman Drive). West of that point, it was called Massachusetts Avenue. The county had taken over the Pendleton Toll Road in the late 1880s. But little was done for its improvement or maintenance. By the time the Army created the fort, the road was little more than a connection to other roads in rural Marion County and downtown Indianapolis. Many battles were fought about the improvement of the road, lasting past the end of World War I, when such improvements were vital.

The Pendleton Pike, in 1917, was being improved…slowly but surely. The plan was to concrete the road from the Indianapolis City Limits to 38th Street, just west of what is now Shadeland Avenue. From there, the first of the two sections to the fort’s main north-south entrance, would be improved with heavy stone. This would take the heavy stone from 38th Street to the old Noblesville-Franklin State Road, or Franklin Road. The next section would be graveled. This section ran from Franklin Road to the Yerger or Acre Free Gravel Road, now known as Post Road. The section of the Post Road, connecting Pendleton Pike to the interior of Fort Benjamin Harrison, was being hard surfaced with a “special preparation,” according to the Indianapolis Star of 10 June 1917.

The next road to get attention was the “54th Street Road,” connecting west from the fort to Millersville. Those of you from the area might be a little confused. The village of Millersville was along the Fall Creek, just inside the Washington Township border at what is now Emerson Way. The main drag from Fort Benjamin Harrison is now called 56th Street, not 54th. That road was built along the half-survey line starting where the Millersville and Fall Creek Free Gravel Roads come together near what is now Emerson Way at Millersville Road. The highlighted section of the following MapIndy photo, from 1952, shows the original route connecting the Millersville Road to the old Fall Creek & Mud Creek Road. (At the time, what is now Rucker Road continued south of what is now Fall Creek Road. It would be that way until sometime before 1962, when two lakes were built. The Rucker Road extension would finally be taken out sometime between 1979 and 1986.)

The Millersville Road, according to the Indianapolis Star “is by no means a direct route to the fort. It begins at Thirty-eighth street and Fall Creek and meanders northeast about eight miles to the famous Baker’s bridge and thence southeast a quarter of a mile to the fort grounds.” Baker’s Bridge is along the old Noblesville-Franklin State Road, now called Boy Scout Road, in the northwest corner of the Fort Benjamin Harrison grounds. General Glenn wanted the entirety of the Millersville Road covered with gravel…a job that, according to the General, with five wagons in two days. The first three miles of the Millersville Road had already been improved with asphalt. The next half mile being oiled gravel. The rest of the road was gravel…and work was being done at the time to repair damage done by large, heavy, loads transiting the road.

Other roads being worked on for access to the fort were the National Road from Irvington to Acre Road, Emerson Avenue, Arlington Avenue, 34th Street and the Acre Road itself.

At the time, National Road was the actual name of the Washington Street extension outside the limits of the City of Indianapolis at Sheridan Avenue in Irvington. West of Sheridan, it was Washington. East of that point, it was the National Road. The first mile of the National Road, from Sheridan Avenue, was being concreted. That would end near what is now Shortridge Road and Washington Street. The next two miles from Shortridge Road east were already concreted at that time. That would take it to a point east of Acre (Post) Road. The Acre Road, as of 10 June 1917, was closed for construction of a stone road stretching five miles north to the Pendleton Pike and into the fort.

Emerson and Arlington Avenues were also under construction at the time. Both were being concreted from Washington Street (both are west of Sheridan Avenue) to the Pendleton Pike. Emerson Avenue met Pendleton Pike at roughly 30th Street. Emerson Avenue, at least the southern section of said, ended at the Bee Line. Neither 30th Street nor Emerson Avenue crossed the railroad tracks, and passage past those tracks was done at an underpass on 32nd Street.

Arlington Avenue meets Pendleton Pike (now Massachusetts Avenue) at 34th Street. Improvements along 34th Street included asphalt paving from the Lake Erie & Western (Nickel Plate) Railroad crossing for three miles to the east to what was the northern section of Emerson Avenue. From there to Arlington Avenue, 34th Street was a stone road. Prior to being called 34th Street, the road was the Fall Creek & Warren Township Free Gravel Road.

It would take some time until the roads were improved for to the General’s liking. With the creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1917, the National Road was taken over as Main Market Road #3. It wouldn’t be until 1923 that the Pendleton Pike would find itself part of the state highway system, entering that system as Original State Road 37. By then, the war was over, and traffic to Fort Benjamin Harrison had, while not stopping completely, had slowed considerably as it normally does after the completion of a war. The fort would, eventually, get its connections to the road system other than SR 67/US 36 (Pendleton Pike). In 1941, 56th Street west out of the fort would become part of SR 534, a designation it would only hold for a few years before that state road was routed straight down Shadeland Avenue. With the building of the Interstate system, which was technically built for the defense of the United States, Fort Benjamin Harrison would find itself with two exits from I-465 (Pendleton Pike and 56th Street) and one on I-70 (Post Road). I suppose the Post Road exit on I-74 could technically be listed as part of that…but it is quite a distance from the Fort.

I-465 Construction, the PRR and Madison Avenue

Indianapolis served as a railroad capital for many years before the coming of the automobile. Since surface roads connected Indianapolis to many points in the state in many directions, it was logical that the coming of the automobile would lead to a concentration of automobile routes. But those were still subject to the locations of railroads. The interstate would change all that.

The purpose of the interstate was to create a high speed, limited interruption traffic flow. This, by definition, would require the new interstates to deal with going over or under those rail routes. Most of those intersections were accomplished with the interstate going over the railroads. And these overpasses are high, due to the clearances that were going to be required by the railroads at the time.

If one looks at a map of Interstate 465, one would notice that there is only one railroad bridge over the interstate. That bridge is the original Madison & Indianapolis, then Pennsylvania Railroad, on the southside. The reason for this really came down to the location of the interstate more than anything else.

When the interstate’s location was decided, it would follow closely to the original chosen location to SR 100 which it was replacing. That original location, in terms of Indianapolis modern street names, was Shadeland Avenue, 82nd/86th Street, High School Road, and Thompson Road. A quick glance at a map shows this.

On the southside, through the south central part of the county, this led to the interstate route traversing through the Lick Creek “valley.” The Pennsylvania Railroad already had a bridge over Lick Creek in the area. That same bridge also crossed the road leading into what was Longacre Park (being turned into a trailer park from September 1963), which had been in that location since 1926.

Louisville & Indiana (former Madison & Indianapolis/Panhandle/Pennsylvania Railroad) bridge over Lick Creek and Lick Creek Parkway into Longacre Mobile Home Park. This Google Maps image was sampled on 10 May 2020, from an image captured in June 2019. This image shows both the original bridge and the 1964 concrete expansion places on top to raise the level of the railroad.

The level of the railroad over that section of the coming interstate was right around 13 feet above ground level. This amount of clearance wasn’t enough for the State Highway Commission. This would require the Pennsylvania Railroad to raise the level of the railroad about three feet. This can be seen by the concrete extension over and above the old stone bridge over Lick Creek and Lick Creek Parkway just south of the interstate.

Google Map aerial photo of the Louisville & Indiana crossing of Interstate 465. Image was sampled 10 May 2020.

The Indianapolis Star of 27 March 1964, in a news story announcing road closures throughout the area, mentions that “Lawrence Street will be blocked for two weeks while the Pennsylvania Railroad elevated and repairs the tracks in connection with Interstate 465 construction.”

Also at work at the time was the Madison Avenue crossing of Interstate 465. Before the coming of the interstate, Madison Avenue had been a two lane state road, SR 431, south of Shelby Street. The main access to Longacre Park was actually north of Lick Creek, as shown in the following 1952 aerial photograph from MapIndy. The trailer park along Madison Avenue at Redfern Drive would come into direct play when I-465 started construction through the area.

1957 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Lick Creek area from Madison Avenue to Longacre Park.

Before the interstate construction would reach the area, a redesign of the Madison Avenue crossing of the area was already in process. The new bridge across the future interstate and Lick Creek would be two lanes in each direction. To accommodate this construction, a new, temporary, Madison Avenue would have to be built to bypass the area of the new bridge. Also, utility lines would also have to moved to the east.

1962 MapIndy aerial image of the area of Madison Avenue and Lick Creek.

The image to the left is the 1962 aerial photograph of the area from MapIndy. It shows the bypass Madison Avenue being built through the mobile home park at Redfern Drive mentioned above. The bypass would start south of the current Lick Creek Parkway, and reconnect to Madison Avenue right at the angled intersection of Shelby Street. The bypass route can be seen as the brighter road through the left center of the photo. (It hadn’t seen traffic yet, and as such was brand new concrete.)

Some people have wondered why Madison Avenue is the only (former) State Road that did not have an interchange with Interstate 465. Spacing is the only answer I could come up with. The Pennsylvania Railroad is one-quarter mile, or so, east of Madison Avenue. East Street, the US 31 bypass built in the early 1940’s, is one half mile west of Madison Avenue…not counting the ramp lengths. Shelby Street is one half mile east of East Street through its entire length through Marion County.

1962 MapIndy closeup aerial photo of the Madison Avenue bridge construction over future I-465 and Lick Creek.

The bypass Madison Avenue built in 1962 would become the frontage road in what was later the Madison Mobile Home Park. It is now called McConnell Way. A quick glance at utility lines through the area show that they weren’t been moved back to the side of Madison Avenue after construction was completed. The following aerial photograph, from 1972, shows the construction through the area completed.

1972 MapIndy aerial photograph of Madison Avenue and (then) Penn Central crossing of I-465 and Lick Creek.

For those interested, the cover photo for this post is the same area shown in all the other photos as would have been seen in 1937. That image is also from MapIndy. MapIndy is available online at: http://maps.indy.gov/MapIndy/index.html.

National Road at Reelsville

1952 USGS topographic map of the Reelsville area.

When the National Road came to Indiana, part of the requirements for the building of the road was that it be in as straight a line a possible connecting Indianapolis to Vandalia, Illinois (then the capital of that state). Southwest of Indianapolis, the terrain got a little rough to be able to maintain a straight line. Especially in Putnam County. But the surveyors did a very good job in keeping it as straight a line as possible.

1864 map of southwestern Putnam County courtesy of the Library Of Congress. The National Road runs through the southern part of Section 19, the center of Sections 20 through 23. The Big Walnut Creek bridge that washed out in 1875 is in the eastern central portion of Section 20.

And so, the National Road chugged along for around four decades. In 1875, a bridge over Big Walnut Creek, southwest of Reelsville was washed out…and not replaced at the time. Since the National Road, at the time, belonged to a private company, they decided to reroute the road through the town of Reelsville. This would solve the connection problem, road wise, between Terre Haute and Indianapolis, but would create a few more while it was at it.

The Terre Haute & Richmond (TH&R) Railroad was chartered on 24 January 1847 to connect the two title cities through Indianapolis. By 1852, the TH&R had built a railroad connecting Terre Haute to Indianapolis. This railroad, near Reelsville, was to the north of Big Walnut Creek from where the National Road was, and connected to the town of Reelsville proper. There was even a station at Reelsville. On 6 March 1865, the Terre Haute & Richmond became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis.

The National Road replacement route took travelers up a long hill into Reelsville. At the town, the new road, which had been in place long before being used as a bypass, followed and crossed the TH&I several times before reconnecting to the original National Road. These railroad crossings were considered some of the worst in the state, especially due to the angle of the crossing.

1912 United States Postal Service map of southwestern Putnam county showing the roads around Reelsville. Notice that the National Road, marked as Mail Road RE 2 east of Reelsville, does continue after turning north to enter Reelsville proper. The old road did still contain houses, even though through traffic had been gone from the route for 37 years.

The Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad ceased to exist as a separate entity on 1 January 1905. That was the day that the TH&I, the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute, the Terre Haute & Logansport, the Logansport & Toledo and the Indianapolis & Vincennes merged to become the Vandalia Railroad Company. Among the items that were taken up by the new Vandalia was the crossings near Reelsville. Money was set aside in 1907 to correct the problem. By the end of 1912 (October to be exact), the Brazil Daily Times was reporting that no such work had been completed to date.

Part of the plan in 1912 was to return the original National Road route to use. According to the same article in the Brazil Daily Times, this would cut 1/2 mile off of the route then in use through Reelsville. And, the railroad crossing situation, with its inherent dangers, would be addressed…and partially eliminated. But, as with other well laid out plans, this did not go to schedule. At all.

The National Old Trails Road, an Auto Trail that, through Indiana, mostly followed the original National Road used the Reelsville cut off when it was created. The old route was still out of commission at Big Walnut Creek. This situation would not be resolved until after the (second) creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1919. ISHC surveyors were out in the field looking at ways to improve the situation at Reelsville, with the decision made that a bridge would be built in the same location that had been used over 80 years prior when the National Road, now called State Road 3, was built. The new bridge would be a concrete arch facility.

Even then, the new bridge for the National Road would take some time to get started. Over two years, as a matter of fact. Construction started on the replacement of the National Road in January 1922. The winter that year was relatively mild, allowing for construction to start very early in the year. But it was decided that the new route of State Road 3 would skirt the Pennsylvania Lines (the then operators, later owners, of what was the Vandalia Railroad) to the south, bringing the new National Road closer to the Big Walnut Creek.

Even then, the replacement route would only be in place for less than two decades. The Highway Commission made plans to make a true four lane highway across Indiana along what was then the US 40 corridor (which was original State Road 3 until the Great Renumbering of 1 October 1926). The new new road would take a straight course through the area south of Reelsville, the railroad and the old new path of SR 3/US 40. This realignment would occur in 1941.

Editor’s Note: This post took a long time to convince me to write. There are several subjects that I have been avoiding because they are MUCH better covered by others. In this case, my Co-Admin of the Facebook ITH Group, Jim Grey, covered it much better than I ever will. And, generally, he has done a great job covering the entire National Road. His post, “Puzzle solved: The National Road at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville in Indiana,” served as the spring board for this post. The irony is that some articles that I posted in the ITH Facebook group led to the puzzles being solved for Jim. Such is the way of the world in this field. I recommend checking out Jim’s stuff when you get the chance. He is more of a road trip person, going out to see what’s on the ground. I tend to look more into the documented history of the same scenes.