Marion County Road Names, 1905, Part 1

One of my favorite things to do, if you haven’t guessed, is to look at old maps. One of my interests, especially, is to look at names that are printed on those maps, especially for roads. Seeing how long those road names have been on maps is interesting to me. Since I live in Marion County, and that county has the most available maps online, I spend a lot of time at looking at those. And the road names are very interesting. I want to share some of them today.

The map that I am looking at as I write this comes from 1905. One of the things with this map is that most of the names are on free gravel roads, roads that were, at one point, probably tolls roads. Not completely sure, but it makes sense in the scheme of things.

The first road that I want to mention was called the Fall Creek and Mud Creek Free Gravel Road. The road itself started in Millersville, at the end of the Millersville Free Gravel Road (now Millersville Road). Millersville, on the maps, is located one quarter mile west of the Washington-Lawrence Township line (which runs along what is now Emerson, or the same line, to 62nd Street) on 56th Street. As one can guess, the road name still exists, kind of. Now it is actually in two parts: Fall Creek Road and Mud Creek Road. The road itself ended at the Hamilton-Marion County line (now 96th Street).

Another road name that still exists on this map is the Hague Free Gravel Road. Yes, it is Hague Road today. But there were three extensions to the road that have different names today. First was a mile long, branching from the main road less than one half mile north of the start of the road at the Fall Creek and Mud Creek Road. That extension went west from the main road. Today, that extension is now called 71st Street.

The second extension from the Hague Road branched west, for three-quarters of a mile, one and a half miles north of the first extension. This connected the Hague Road to the town of Castleton. Today, it is called 82nd Street. The third extension, one and a half miles north of the second, branched east for one mile. It is now part of 96th Street.

Back to the second extension, at the end of the Hague Road extension, it connected to the middle of the Andy Smith Free Gravel Road. That road started at Allisonville Road, traveling east along what is now 82nd Street to where what is now Masters Road used to connect to 82nd Street. Here, it traveled north for one half mile, where it turned east for about two miles along what is now 86th Street.

For what is now Pendleton Pike from 30th Street to Oaklandon Road (and its junction with the Bee Line Railroad), had two different names. From 30th Street to Franklin Road, it was the Indianapolis and Lanesville Road. From that point to Oaklandon Road, and north on Oaklandon Road to the Bee Line tracks, it was the Indianapolis and Oakland Road. From here, an extension of the Indianapolis and Oakland Road followed alongside the railroad tracks to the county line. Both of the mentioned roads were also part of a longer former state road, which by 1905 was called the Pendleton Free Pike.

At the Bee Line tracks, heading north, along what is now Oaklandon Road, was the Germantown and Oaklandon Road. This free gravel road stopped one mile south of Germantown, which was located along Fall Creek at the county line (96th Street today). This road ended at 86th Street. From this point, county dirt roads were the way to get to Germantown, which is now submerged in Geist Reservoir.

What is now 46th Street east of the Indianapolis and Oakland Road, for about two miles, was called, at the time, the Asbury Free Gravel Road. This ended at a point half way between Mitthoefer and German Church Roads. From that point, the one half mile to German Church Road was officially an extension to the Asbury Road.

One half mile south of the Asbury Road was the Henry Bell Free Gravel Road. Technically, this road started at the Pendleton Pike, travelled south on Franklin Road to 42nd Street, and ended half way between Mitthoefer and German Church Roads, like the Asbury Road. Unlike the Asbury Road, the extension was on the west end of this path, connecting the Pendleton Pike to Franklin Road along 42nd Street.

Another road name that hasn’t really changed since the 1905 map is Mitthoefer Road. Now, having said that, there is some question as to the spelling of that road’s name, as the family, as I understand it, spelled it “Mithoefer.” I have seen street signs posted by the city of Indianapolis with both two “t”s and two “f”s, as in Mitthoeffer. Today, the city spells it with one “f” (most of the time). This road started at the National Road, running north to the line separating Lawrence and Warren townships (now 38th Street).

One of the most confusing roads, with many names, is now called German Church Road. First, let’s start with its most common name before it was changed by the county to match the interurban stop name along the National Road. From 30th Street south to the National Road, it was called the Franke Free Gravel Road. However, the other name was also commonly used – Holzhausen Road. To make matters worse, the Holzhausen Road had four extensions. One ran east from the end of the main road one mile to the county line along 30th Street. The second ran north from 30th Street to the Peoria & Eastern/New Castle Traction tracks (anyone familiar with the area, that right-of-way, since both the railroad and the interurban are long gone, it is along the north edge of the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana property). The third extension ran west along 30th Street for one quarter mile. The fourth extension ran one quarter mile west from the end of the third extension.

What is now Muessing Road, connecting the Brookville Road to the National Road, was once part of two different free gravel roads. And it gets a bit confusing, to say the least. For starters, the Cumberland Free Gravel Road left that town just like Muessing Road does today, angled to the southwest. From there, just like today, it followed a very curvy path to what is now Prospect Street. Here the Cumberland Road turned east, then south again almost immediately. The Cumberland Road didn’t go far from there. South of Prospect Street, the road makes a sharp turn to the west. Then, before the road turned south again along the half section line, the Cumberland Road abruptly ended. But, the Muessing Extension started at that exact point, running south along the half section line to the Brookville Road.

The last road I am going to cover today, as this will probably be a long series of articles, is the Bade Free Gravel Road. Now, looking at a map of southeastern Warren Township, there is a Bade Road on it. That current road was part of the original Bade Free Gravel Road. For a mile (technically, about a few feet short of one, but who’s counting?), from the Brookville Road to what is now Prospect Street was the beginning of the Bade Road. It retains that name today. However, the Bade Free Gravel Road turned east for three-quarter mile, then turned north for nearly a mile and a half to connect to the National Road. The east turn is now Prospect Street. The last 1.5 miles is now German Church Road.

There are a lot more roads to be listed. I am not sure how many parts this will be…but I don’t want to make them way too long.

Toll Roads of Center Township, Marion County

A picture in a Facebook group to which I belong got me to revisit this topic, in a different light. The picture was that of the toll schedule, and rules of the road, for the Southport & Indianapolis Gravel Road, also known as the Madison State Road. One of the things that I had mentioned in the previous article (“Toll Roads In Marion County“) is that the counties were to purchase the toll roads from the companies. While this is accurate, it isn’t completely.

Before the county could purchase the road, the voters of each township had to vote whether they wanted the toll roads to become county property. The Indianapolis Journal of 2 April 1890 points out that in Center Township there are eight such roads that could be purchased by the Marion County Commissioners: Indianapolis and Bean Creek; Southport and Indianapolis; Indianapolis and Leavenworth; Indianapolis and Lick Creek; Bluff; Fall Creek; Allisonville and Fall Creek; and the Mars Hill.

The law passed by the Indiana General Assembly stated that the toll roads, if purchased, must be done so at a fair market value. This averaged about $500 a mile in 1890. The companies were to be paid using five year bonds paying 6 percent interest. It is mentioned that Center Township had more toll roads than any other in the county. This makes sense, since Indianapolis is right in the middle of Center Township. Then again, some of it was just barely.

For instance, the Indianapolis & Lick Creek Gravel Road only spent a little over half a mile of its existence in Center Township. Up to then, it had been a city street from what became Fountain Square south. It then crossed Perry and Franklin Townships before leaving Marion County along the south county line east of the Noblesville & Franklin State Road (Franklin Road). The Indianapolis & Lick Creek was originally built as the Shelbyville State Road, and the section in Center Township was Shelby Street from Southern Avenue to Cameron Street, then Carson Avenue to Troy Avenue. In Franklin Township, for its entirety, it is still called Shelbyville Road.

Another short township section would be the Indianapolis & Bean Creek Gravel Road. East of Indianapolis, it left the city limits near English Avenue and Rural Street. It traveled southeast to the township line at Emerson Avenue. For those of you that haven’t guessed it, the Indianapolis & Bean Creek Gravel Road is the original Michigan Road. Inside Indianapolis at that time, it was called Michigan Avenue. It would be changed to Southeastern Avenue shortly thereafter.

The Allisonville and Fall Creek Gravel Road didn’t stay in Center Township alone for long either. The city limits at the time were at what is now 34th and Central. From that point, the Allisonville Road continued along Central Avenue to 38th Street, then turned east to the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Here, the road turned out of Center Township, since the township line is 38th Street. Although it is difficult to follow at the southern end, the road is still called Allisonville Road.

The Fall Creek Gravel Road was on the other side of Fall Creek from the Allisonville and Fall Creek. Both of these roads (with Fall Creek in the name) were remnants of the old Indianapolis to Fort Wayne State Road. The Allisonville & Fall Creek would become the preferred route to get to Fort Wayne from Hoosier capitol. But the original route, at least in Center Township, skirted Fall Creek to the south and east. Until it got to the Center-Washington Township Line. Today, the old toll road is called Sutherland Avenue from 30th Street to 38th Street. As an added fact, the old Fort Wayne State Road crossed Fall Creek at what is now the 39th Street (closed to traffic) Bridge.

As mentioned before, the Southport & Indianapolis Gravel Road was the Madison State Road, now Madison Avenue. But only a little over half a mile of it was in Center Township, the rest was in the city of Indianapolis. That section was from Southern Avenue to Troy Avenue along Madison Avenue.

I should point out that although downtown Indianapolis is in Center Township, the roads inside the city limits belonged to the city. The township government was responsible for those sections of Center Township that weren’t part of Indianapolis. And there were parts of Center Township that legally didn’t become part of the city until UniGov went into effect. The city itself had expanded into other townships long before it completely took over its home township.

The Indianapolis & Leavenworth Gravel Road was also called the Three Notch Road. It left the city as Meridian Street south towards Brown County and Leavenworth along the Ohio River. The Bluff Road, still called that, started life as the Paoli State Road. Both of these roads, like the Madison and Shelbyville Roads listed about, left the city limits at Southern Avenue, and each spent one half mile in Center Township before entering Perry Township for the rest of their journeys out of the county.

If you have seen the pattern yet, the south city limits for a long time of Indianapolis’ history was Southern Avenue. And, yes, that’s why it is called that. There is an Eastern Avenue called that for the same reason. The first street after Eastern Avenue is Rural Street. You can’t make this stuff up.

The only quirk in the Journal article that I can see is the claiming that the Mars Hill Gravel Road existed in Center Township. It did, I guess. The city limits at the time ended on the west side at Belmont Avenue. That also happens to be the township line separating Center and Wayne Townships. The Mars Hill Gravel Road started at Morris and Belmont, travelling south to where Belmont crosses Eagle Creek, then the Mars Hill road turned southwest, and out of Center Township, along Kentucky Avenue and Maywood Avenue…or what was created as the Mooresville State Road.

There are several roads that aren’t listed by the Journal article that some of you might have noticed are missing. First, and absolutely the most well known, is the National Road. None of the toll road sections of the National Road were in Center Township. The city limits were Belmont Avenue on the west (the township line), and the eastern end of Irvington, well past the Emerson Avenue township line on the east.

The Indianapolis & Lanesville Gravel Road, also known as the Pendleton Pike, also no longer crossed Emerson Avenue, ending at 30th Street. Even though the Indianapolis City limits didn’t cross the Pendleton Road until about where 25th Street would cross…aka right through the middle of the Brightwood railroad yards.

The Michigan Road northwest out of Marion County also didn’t enter Center Township. The city limits by that time were at 38th Street, the Center Township line. That is why, to this day, Michigan Road, the name, ends at 38th Street, and inside the old city limits it is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

And last, but not least, the Lafayette Road. The line separating Center and Wayne Townships actually cut through the eastern landing of the Emrichsville Bridge, which carried the Crawfordsville and Lafayette Roads across White River right about where 16th Street is now. So the 16th Street bridge, and all of Lafayette Road, are outside Center Township.

Bicycling Marion County, 1900, Part 2

Today is part two of two of covering a map I found on the Indiana State Library website about bicycling in Marion County, and the routes that were available.

Bluff Road: The direct route to Martinsville, Bloomington and points south. It was named after the Bluffs of the White River at Waverly. It was one of the first trails to connect to the Hoosier Capitol, as a lot of settlers would start their journey into Marion County from Waverly.

Clifford Avenue Pike: The extension of 10th Street past the city limits. The bicycle route ended at what is now Arlington Avenue, which connected Clifford Avenue to National Road and Brookville Pike.

Flackville Pike: The town of Flackville was created near what is now 30th Street and Lafayette Road. The Pike leading to the town is an extension of Indianapolis’ 30th Street.

Madison Road: The Madison-Indianapolis State Road, which the later Madison & Indianapolis Railroad would closely follow. Today, Madison Road is now Madison Avenue.

Millers Pike: Today known as Millersville Road, since that is where the road ended. A connecting route back to the White River & Fall Creek Pike used what is now 56th Street.

Myers Pike: This road would, in later life, become Cold Spring Road, connecting the Lafayette Road to the Michigan Road on the west (north) side of the White River.

Pendleton Pike: The old (1830’s) state road to the Falls of Fall Creek, where the town of Pendleton was formed. The old road went through Oakland (now Oaklandon), instead of basically around it like it does now.

Rockville Pike: The original Indianapolis-Rockville State Road. Still called Rockville Road for most of its length today. The old road is hard to navigate at its original beginning, since it was removed when Holt Road was built north of Washington Street. Rockville Avenue is the old road.

Shelbyville Road: The original state road to the seat of Shelby County. Its importance dropped off after the building of the Michigan Road. Near the current intersection of Shelbyville Road and Stop 11 Road/Frye Road, a branch took riders to Acton. At Acton, a branch from the Michigan Road came from the north.

Spring Mills Pike: The original path of Spring Mill Road started at the city limits on Illinois Street, crossing the White River near where Kessler Boulevard does today. It then continued up what is now Spring Mill Road into Hamilton County.

Sugar Flats Pike: The continuation of Central Avenue outside the city limits up to the Central Canal towpath, then following what is now Westfield Boulevard through Nora and into Hamilton County. The bike path led, after leaving Marion County, to the downtown area of Carmel.

Three Notch Pike: What is now Meridian Street was, for around a century, known as the Three Notch Road. The bicycle route followed Meridian Street from the Bluff Road intersection down to the county line.

White River and Fall Creek Pike: Labeled on the map as the White River and Eagle Creek Pike, this old road turned bicycle route followed the continuation of Keystone Avenue past the city limits to its end at River Road. Keep in mind, what is now Keystone Avenue north of White River was built by the state as a replacement for SR 431, which used to use Westfield Boulevard.

Bicycling the Fall Creek and Mud Creek Road

On 16 May 1896, the Indianapolis News covered the bicycle route along the Pendleton Pike. That trip went as far as Oakland (now Oaklandon). The continuation of the coverage included leaving the Pendleton Pike to head north toward the town of Germantown, which was on the Hamilton-Marion County line north of Oaklandon. (Germantown is now under Geist Reservoir. There are times, in low water periods, when the old town makes an appearance!)

At Fall Creek, slightly west of due north of Oaklandon, was the Willow Mill. This would have been reached by travelling what is now Sunnyside Road now to the Fall Creek. Just like Germantown, that spot is under Geist Reservoir. Willow Mill would be, roughly, at 86th Street and Sunnyside Road. One mile west of that point was the Fall Creek and Mud Creek Road.

The trail north out of Oaklandon was very, very rough. “It is not a difficult matter to find the worst” of the several ways to get across from Oaklandon. But, for the sheer beauty of a ride, following the Fall Creek and Mud Creek Road would be the one to take.

Palmer’s Official Road Map of Marion County, Indiana, 1895

The Fall Creek Road was one mile from the previously mentioned Willow Mill. This was because the old road followed what is now Sargent Road out of the Fall Creek valley. Climbing out of the valley itself requires walking the bike up a large hill. Between that hill and the Fall Creek Pike, four and a half miles from Oaklandon, “are several pretty good dips and rises.” Here, the Fall Creek Road runs north and south (more or less, if you know Sargent Road). “The rider should turn south.”

One and a half miles later, the road starts down a steep hill, “which, if taken properly, is fine coasting. At the foot of the hill, which brings the road nearly to Fall Creek.” The road then turns southwest, following the creek fairly closely. The road dips in and out of the Fall Creek valley for nearly two miles. This “presents an ever-changing view and makes a picture which will cause many to pay more attention to the beauties of the valley than to their wheels and thereby cause trouble.” The road, mostly, is in excellent condition. But like other roads of the time, there were bad spots that could creep up. It was always recommended that riders pay attention to the road at all times.

After two miles of hilly travel, which the newspaper reports as usually aiming the right direction for riders heading toward Indianapolis, the road swings more to the west for about a mile. This area, today, is Fall Creek North Drive, the road having been replaced with the building of I-465 through the Fall Creek valley. It should be noted that part of this route, before turning more west, had been part of the Noblesville-Franklin State Road, connecting the two title cities. Through most of Marion County, the name is shortened to Franklin Road.

The Fall Creek Road changed names as it crossed Fall Creek at Millersville. This is nine miles from Willow Mill. The route to be followed changes to the Millersville Free Gravel Road. This road runs along the south side of Fall Creek until connecting with 22nd Street (now 30th Street). From there, the trip back to downtown Indianapolis uses the Allisonville Free Gravel Road, now known as Central Avenue and Fort Wayne Avenue, before ending at North and Pennsylvania Streets.

Bicycling the Lafayette Road

Bicycle Routes as published on 02 May 1896 in the Indianapolis News. (image courtesy of newspapers.com)

The Indianapolis News, in its bicycling routes series, on 02 May 1896, covered leaving Indianapolis via the Crawfordsville Pike and the Reveal/Centennial Pike. This would bring the “wheelman” of the day through what is now Speedway out to and along the Eagle Creek valley to the town of Trader’s Point. That town was, before the building of the Eagle Creek Reservoir, was located at the crossing of Big Eagle Creek by the White River and Big Eagle Creek Pike, which was built as the Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road. Today, that name has been shortened to Lafayette Road.

After turning southeast along the road out of Trader’s Point, the road crosses the Big Eagle Creek then climbs a “stiff hill.” “After climbing this hill the road is undulating for some distance until the valley of the Big Eagle is left far behind.” Before leaving the hilly area, one half mile from Trader’s Point, is a “pump at the roadside all by itself. The water is very good.” One mile from “the Point” is a dirt road that crosses the Pike west to east. That dirt road, to the east, turns into the New Augusta Free Gravel Road, connecting to the town of that name, the Michigan Road and ending at the Spring Mill and Williams Creek Free Gravel Road.

Two miles from Trader’s Point “is a grocery store and blacksmith shop, where one dirt road turns north and another runs east and west. There is a little settlement at this cross-roads and a pretty white church with a green pump in the church yard.” The road to the north is now Shanghai Road. The east-west road, running from a road on the east side of Big Eagle Creek to the Michigan Road, first became Isenhour Road. That would be changed to 62nd Street with the renumbering of Marion County. There are no remnants of that “little settlement,” as the construction of Interstate 65 wiped out the intersection of 62nd Street and Lafayette Road.

From the settlement southeast, Lafayette Road is “much more level.” The first two roads encountered are the Kissell Road (became High School Road, now gone with the same I-65 construction) that heads south and the Centennial Road (running from the Reveal Road to the Michigan Road at Crooked Creek, now known as 56th Street). One half mile later, the Zionsville and Pike Township Free Gravel Road leaves heading north. That road is now Moller Road from north of 52nd Street to 62nd Street. When it was built, it was part of the Zionsville Pike.

Just southeast of the Zionsville Road junction is a post office town called Snacks. Here there is a white church, store, blacksmith shop, brick schoolhouse, and several houses. Next, the bicyclist would encounter the Russe Road, also known as the Reveal and Russe Free Gravel Road. The east end of this road is at the Lafayette Pike. The west end of this road is at the Crawfordsville Road, at a point one mile east of Clermont. The end at Lafayette Road is now known as 46th Street.

South of what is now 46th Street the Lafayette Pike jogs a little to the due south then more east than southeast, and back to the original line of the road. Those turns are shown in the 1941 aerial photograph to the left. (Image courtesy of MapIndy, a service of the City of Indianapolis.) The News mentioned, also, that the Little Eagle Creek comes very close to, and even parallels, the Lafayette Pike at this point.

The article reports that the road gets into better condition as it gets closer to the city. The next Post Office town encountered is Flackville, located at what is now Tibbs Avenue and Lafayette Road. Before that point, two schoolhouses, one with a green pump in the yard, and two uninviting dirt roads. Those roads, the first heading east, is now 38th Street, and the second heading west in now 34th Street.

At Flackville, several roads are encountered. The Guion Gravel Road turns north towards its end at New Augusta. The Flack Road, now 30th Street, crosses west to east. From here, the rider can follow the Flack Road east to the Michigan Road and back to the city. Continuing along the Lafayette Pike, what is now Tibbs Avenue crosses the road north to south. South of Pike is the Marion County Poor Farm.

Before reaching the Crawfordsville Pike at Emrichsville (now 16th Street), the Lafayette Road encounters the Cooper Avenue Free Gravel Road (now Kessler Boulevard) and the Meyers Free Gravel Road (now Cold Spring Road). The Meyers Road connects to the town of Brooklyn Heights and the Michigan Road near Mount Pleasant (Alliance Post Office).

At Emrichsville, the historic Lafayette and Crawfordsville Roads combine for the trip back to the center of Indianapolis. Both roads crossed the Emrichsville Bridge and followed what is now Waterway Boulevard (see The Lafayette State Road In Downtown Indianapolis). Historically, the Crawfordsville and Lafayette Roads both began at the Michigan Road.

The complete trip, as listed in this article was measured at 32 miles. This included the round trip that went out the Crawfordsville Pike, north along the Reveal and Centennial Roads, and back the Lafayette Road.

Bicycling Indianapolis

In 1896,the Indianapolis News published a series of articles about bicycling in and around Indianapolis. That series of articles is what I have been using to create these “Bicycling Thursday” series of posts here at Indiana Transportation History. These articles generally have covered riding different roads, usually old state roads, leaving Indianapolis. I will include links to all of those below. But this article is about something different. There was a proposed bicycling route that covered quite a bit of the north side of the city and Marion County.

Today’s information comes from the Indianapolis News of 14 March 1896. This plan was to be financed via the sale of subscriptions, much like the way that roads were paid for before this, and how Auto Trails, starting in the 1910’s, were going to be financed afterwards. Most of the route wouldn’t use roads in place. Where it did use roads, it would be built along side that road. Most of the route would make use of riding on the banks of water courses through the county.

Proposed bicycle route through Indianapolis and Marin County as described in the Indianapolis News of 14 March 1896.

The potential route started along Indiana Avenue in downtown Indianapolis. It would follow that road to where it crossed Fall Creek. It is mentioned in the News that the condition of Indiana Avenue, at that time, from West Street to Fall Creek, is such that “no worse road was found in going over the entire course than in this street.” The path would then follow the levee along the north bank of Fall Creek “south of the new pumping station of the Water Company.” The proposed route would continue along Fall Creek, then the east bank of the White River until crossing the Indianapolis Belt Railway. Here, the bicycling route would join the Crawfordsville Free Gravel Road until that road crossed the White River. The Crawfordsville Free Gravel Road is now Waterway Boulevard (after having been named Speedway Avenue), and it crossed the river at the Emrichsville Bridge, later replaced by the current 16th Street bridge.

The proposed path would then continue to follow the White River until after it crossed the “Flack Pike,” now 30th Street, passing “many giant sycamores, winding in and out with the deviation of the stream.” Just north of the Flack Pike the river and the Central Canal come close to one another, where the proposed route would switch over to the tow path along the north bank of the canal on its way to Broad Ripple.

“The ride up the tow-path every wheelman and wheelwoman in the city is familiar with – its beauties, its dangers and it tribulations often.” It is described as a beautiful ride. However, washouts, gullies, chuck holes and soft spots are common along the way, “and a sudden dip into the canal has a most dampening effect on enthusiasm.” The tow path continues through Fairview Park, now the site of Butler University. There is a fairly steep climb before the path would cross Illinois Street. Here, a bicycle rider could choose to use either side of the canal to get to Broad Ripple. But the official route would continue along the north tow path.

At Broad Ripple, the path would follow the Westfield Pike north past the Broad Ripple damn and across the White River on a large iron bridge. After crossing the river, the path then turns south to follow the river along the north/west bank to a point where it crosses White River again at what is now the 82nd Street crossing after passing the Haverstick Farm. After crossing White River, it would follow what was then the Fall Creek and White River Free Gravel Road (FCWRFGR) back towards the city. The first part of that free gravel road doesn’t now exist above what is now 79th Street. From there, it is known as River Road to the point where the FCWRFGR turned south on what is now Keystone Avenue.

The new path would be built along the FCWRFGR until it got to Malott Park, at what is now 56th Street. The route would then turn east “on the dirt road from Malott Park to Millersville.” It is mentioned that this dirt road is very narrow in places, with “scarcely room on either side for the path.” Here, the builders of the route hadn’t decided whether to follow Fall Creek’s north bank or the Millersville Free Gravel Road and the south bank of Fall Creek to Meridian Street. Here, riding down Meridian Street would bring rider back to downtown Indianapolis, and the point where the route started.

Some of the path, as described, has, in more recent times, been added to the Indy Parks trail system. It starts on what is now the White River Trail. It then crosses over to the Central Canal Trail above the old Riverside Amusement Park north of 30th Street. At Illinois Street, where the rider in 1896 had two choices, the path chosen by Indy Parks runs along the opposite bank of the Canal than was chosen to be followed then. Most of the rest of the route, that can still be traveled, can be followed by using the streets that exist now. There are a few places where this can’t happen.

The following is a list of the other entries in this “Bicycling Thursday” series.

Indianapolis and Its Decoration Day Race
Allisonville Pike (Allisonville Road to Noblesville)
Crawfordsville Pike (Old Crawfordsville Road to Crawfordsville)
Madison Road (Madison Avenue from Southport to Indianapolis)
Michigan Road North (MLK/Michigan Road north to Augusta)
Michigan Road South (Southeastern Avenue)
National Road West (Washington Street west to Plainfield)
Pendleton Pike (Pendleton Pike to Oaklandon and beyond)
Reveal Road (Dandy Trail through Eagle Creek valley)
Rockville Road (Old Rockville Road from Danville to Indianapolis)
Shelbyville Road (Old Shelbyville Road from Indianapolis to SE Marion County)
Three Notch Road (Meridian Street south to Southport Road)
Westfield Road (Westfield Boulevard and Illinois Street from Westfield south)

Indianapolis and Its Decoration Day Race

If there is one thing that Indianapolis is known for, it is racing. Oh, yes. Almost anyone in the WORLD would respond “Indianapolis 500” if you mention the city. Memorial Day weekend has become a time when the population of the city doubles and triples, with all of the visitors coming to watch “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” But the subject of this post isn’t something related to a farm field with a large rectangle with curved corners in Speedway. As a matter of fact, the subject article of this post dates from the Indianapolis News of 23 May 1896, some 13 years before that other race started.

Before it became known as Memorial Day, 30 May of each year was known as Decoration Day. The holiday floated depending on the location of 30 May on the calendar. It was declared a Federal Holiday in 1868. In Indianapolis, the end of May signified, among other things, the end of the “rainy season,” otherwise known in the rest of the world as Spring. The weather starts getting drier and hotter right after Decoration Day. So it made almost perfect sense to use that holiday as a day to get together to watch a race.

Indianapolis News, 23 May 1896. This map shows the route of the annual Decoration Day Bicycle Road Race of 1896.

The Indianapolis Cycle Club and the Cycle Board of Trade put together the annual Decoration Day Road Race through the streets of Indianapolis. At the time of the source article, thirty men were in the list of racers. Those racers, unlike previous years, weren’t all from Indianapolis. Entries would be taken until 26 May, the following Tuesday. It was estimated that seventy-five to one hundred riders would be at the starting line when the race kicked off. Batches of racers would be set off on the 13.625 mile course at intervals of one minute.

Prizes for the race, due to its amateur status, could not include money. But there were 38 prizes to be given to the riders. The rules state that each rider is only allowed to win one prize. Prizes include four different bicycles, tires, suits, caps, hats, electric lantern, a Kodak, fishing rods, shoes, lamps, golf hoses, sweaters, luggage and a speed indicator. These prizes came from merchants across the city. Carl G. Fisher, future creator of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways, and his bicycle store donated two sweaters, a pair of shoes, and a “speed indicator.”

The course was chosen due to the relative good condition of the route. “It is probable that not another road race will be run on Decoration Day throughout the entire country on a finer course than the one which will be used here.” There are a few bad spots along the way, but they are few and far between.

The race started at the corner of Meridian and 14th (now 21st) Streets , heading north to 30th (now 38th) Street. Here it turned west one block to follow Illinois Street, which since it was outside the city limits at the time, was called the Indianapolis and Westfield Road (which is now Illinois Street and Westfield Boulevard to Broad Ripple). From there, it followed what is now Broad Ripple Avenue to the Fall Creek and White River Gravel Road (now called Keystone Avenue). South along the Fall Creek Road, the course then turned southwest onto the Allisonville Pike (now Fall Creek Boulevard). The Allisonville Pike went as far as what is now 38th Street, with the Allisonville name being used across that numbered street. The route then turned south on Meridian Street at 30th, going back to the starting point at 14th.

A three block stretch of asphalt starts, and finishes, the course. Two bad street car track crossings, one at 26th (34nd) Street and the other at 28th (36th) Street, are encountered. From the Fall Creek bridge to 30th (38th) Street is “one of the worst spots along the whole course.” Potholes and loose gravel make this section a rough going. Turning at 30th (38th) Street gets interesting, with a wooden culvert to be crossed, with boards at one end being lose. Three-eighths of a mile after turning onto Illinois Street riders will encounter a small rise. Further along Illinois Street requires crossing a wooden culvert, a small wooden bridge and climbing a 200 yard long, fairly stiff hill. “This hill stops just beyond the carriage entrance for Fairview Park (now the location of Butler University).” This entrance would be at what is now 46th Street. From here, for the next one-half mile, is a gradual down grade. At the canal, the route drops along a steep grade for about 100 yards.

“Some riders may seek to cross the canal and take advantage of the cycle path, but this will not be allowed.” The first quarter mile along what is now Westfield Boulevard is reported in excellent condition. Then comes 300 yards of horrible conditions, including potholes on both sides of the road. After that, fresh gravel with wheel tracks already in place on each side of center.

At Broad Ripple, the course encounters the Monon tracks and follows the street car tracks along what is Broad Ripple Avenue (previously 62nd Street). The Broad Ripple section is reported as being the worst section of the entire course. One of the best parts of the route is along the Fall Creek and White River Road. “Men who are still in the hunt will be able to come down this road at a lightning clip.” This road runs along the west border of Malott Park (at what is now 52nd Street), and just south of the village is the crossing of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad (Nickle Plate). (As an aside, the street that runs along the railroad tracks is now called Erie due to the name of the railroad company. This is common throughout Indianapolis.)

A turn onto Allisonville Pike (Fall Creek Boulevard), the LE&W tracks are crossed again near 38th Street. Then the course, still following the old Allisonville Pike turns west along 38th Street until Meridian Street, while the Allisonville Road turned south on what is now Central Avenue. The Monon tracks are crossed again on the west side of the Fairgrounds. At Meridian Street, the repeat of the conditions encountered on the way out happens. To avoid having racers cutting across the course, checkers were located at each cross street. “If the race is at all close, there will be a great sprint from Fall Creek to the tape.”

Racing, it seems, has been a part of Indianapolis’s Memorial Day for much longer than the creation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which included a partner that provided prizes for this race.

** edited 06/03/2021 by Paula Trefun Simpson to note that the ‘canal’ mentioned was the Central Canal