The Status of Indiana Road Building, 1928

Within the first decade of the second creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission, the state found itself building, maintaining and upgrading roads at a furious pace. Up to that point, the ISHC was taking over roads slowly. This also meant that paving of those roads was slowly creeping forward. But 1928 saw the biggest improvement in state highways to that time. The Indianapolis Star of 16 January 1929 had an entire section called the “Good Roads Review” that covered the feat.

After the passing of the second ISHC act in 1919, the state started adding to the highway system as it could. A limiting factor, at the time, was money. The ISHC finances were slow in coming together. But it was also important to hold to the mandate of connecting the seats of government for each of the 92 Indiana counties to each other via state highways. A program of road and bridge building was pushed by Governor Harry Leslie in 1928. To that end, the ISHC was hoping for a large infusion of money to further the program, and to put Indiana on par with its neighbors when it came to good quality roads. Governor Leslie addressed the General Assembly to pass a bill to give the ISHC an additional 5 to 6 million dollars for the goal.

At the time, the state highway system consisted of 5,000 miles of roads, 2,800 of which were still in need of improvement. Most state highways at the time were gravel. But maintenance costs were skyrocketing due to major increases in traffic. This led the ISHC to believe that paving, instead of maintaining, these roads was both more cost effective and beneficial to the motorist of the Hoosier State.

At the close of the 1928 fiscal year, Indiana had improved 1,060.1 miles of its Federal aid highway system. Most of that was spent towards paving the roads, not just maintaining them. To put it into perspective, Indiana had 4,701.5 miles of Federal aid roads at the end of the same fiscal year. That meant that only 22.5 percent of those road had been improved. This put Indiana 31st in the Union when it came to the mileage of those roads. Most other states were gravelling roads as Indiana was pushing concrete road surfaces. Texas, for example, had completed as much as 50% of their Federal aid roads, much of that in gravel.

The government of the state had placed a higher priority on the “more bang for the buck” idea of infrastructure improvements. This stemmed from when the state would just throw money at projects, and almost had to file for bankruptcy. That in turn led to the Indiana Constitution of 1851, which forced financial responsibility on the government.

But that didn’t help Indiana in the sheer numbers of paved mileage. Illinois and Michigan both had 6,000 miles of paved road. Ohio had 11,000. Kentucky, at the end of 1928, had 4,000.

The plan for 1929 called for 220 miles of paved roads to be added to the state highway system. The Star listed those projects in the collection of articles. US 24 (called State Road 24 in the newspaper – there is no difference, really) would have 75 miles of paving done in 1929: 35 miles between Monticello and Huntington; and 40 miles at the eastern end of the road. US 50 between Vincennes and Aurora would add 50 miles of pavement. SR 29 between Greensburg and Shelbyville, 27 miles, would also get the same treatment. Another planned project was 27 miles of SR 37 between Bloomington and Bedford.

Two gaps in US 27 between Fort Wayne and Richmond would be completed during the summer of 1929. One, a 12 mile stretch north of Winchester. The other, 10 miles south of Berne. SR 16 was planned for 15 miles of paving between Rensselaer and Remington. The last project listed included US 150, with about two miles near West Baden on the list.

Dec 1917: Main Market Roads Officially Announced

When the law creating the Indiana State Highway Commission was passed in early 1917, the announcement was also made that there were would five main market highways, later known as state roads, designated by that commission. There was a general idea of which roads would be involved, bot nothing set in stone. That is, until December 1917.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette of 12 December 1917 announced the selection of the new main market highways. ISHC officials traveled throughout the state deciding which roads would be part of the new, and yet controversial, system. “A former election of four of the five routes was tentative, and although the general directions of the four roads announced formerly have been adhered to in the official selection, many changes have been made.”

The plan was to create a system which was typical of Indiana’s general demeanor: serve as many people as possible with as little cost and intrusion as possible. Due to the shape of the state of Indiana, it was decided that there would be three roads crossing the state, west to east, from the Illinois state line to the Ohio state line. One north-south road would be designated through the middle of the state. This was the basis of the first four main market roads. A fifth road would connect the fourth road to the Illinois state line in the southern part of the state. The December 1917 system included roughly 800 miles of roads.

The main market highways were officially described as follows: “No. 1. The highway beginning at the Indiana and Michigan state line, thence southerly through South Bend, Plymouth, Rochester, Peru, Kokomo, Westfield, Carmel, Indianapolis, Franklin, Columbus, Seymour, Scottsburg, Sellersburg, New Albany and Jeffersonville.” In the Auto Trail era, there was no one highway this route followed. It seems that it was planned very early to have a split in the highway at the south end, with one branch going to New Albany, and one going to Jeffersonville. And although the route numbers have changed, that split has existed in one form or another since that time.

Main Market Road #2: “The highway passing through the northern part of the state, beginning, at the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Dyer, Valparaiso, Laporte, South Bend, Goshen and Fort Wayne via the Lincoln Highway to the Ohio and Indiana state line.” Depending on how one reads that, it could be that the Lincoln Highway was only used from Fort Wayne to the Ohio state line. This is far from true. It was decided that the entire original route of the Lincoln Highway through the state would be used for Road #2.

Main Market Road #3: “The highway crossing the central part of the state, commonly called the old national road trail, beginning at the corner of the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Terre Haute, Brazil, Putnamville, Plainfield, Indianapolis, Greenfield, Knightstown, Cambridge City and Richmond to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #4: “The road crossing the southern part of the state, beginning at Evansville, thence easterly through Boonville, Huntingburg, Jasper, West Baden, Paoli, Mitchell, Bedford, Seymour, North Vernon, Versailles, Dillsboro, Aurora and Lawrenceburg to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #5: “The road connecting Vincennes and Mitchell, via Wheatland, Washington, Loogootee and Shoals.” Basically, this road was designated to connect main market road 4 to Vincennes. Again, this is due to the shape of the state. A (more or less) straight line across Indiana from Cincinnati west would, as is shown by the route of the current US 50, connect to Vincennes, leaving people south of there without a main market road. Evansville was, and still is, one of the top five largest cities in the state, population wise. So ignoring that city would not have been possible.

The article ends with the following: “The total mileage of the roads represents less than one-half of the total 2,000 miles of ‘main market highways’ which the commission may designate under the new state highway commission law prior to 1921.” The law that passed in 1917 created a state highway system so that Indiana could benefit from federal money for good roads. It wasn’t until the law was redone in 1919, with all of the 1917 law’s Constitutional questions answered, that the Indiana State Highway System was officially made part of the landscape.

SR 37, A Review

One of the blogs that I follow everyday is that of Jim Grey. I started reading his blog over a year before I created the Indiana Transportation History Facebook page. It was because of that blog that I asked him to help me admin that group. He was also the one that encouraged me to start this blog…telling me, correctly, that it would be easier to keep track of the information I have been sharing in blog form than in a Facebook group. His blog is called “Down The Road.”

Jim had been sharing his passion for photography and road trips in the Facebook group. His topic has been that of SR 37. Due to those posts, I decided to put together a collection of posts that I have shared over the past 16 months that cover the same subject. Check out his photos on the subject at his blog, or through links on the Facebook group.

Waverly

In the early years of the state of Indiana, a small village located at the Bluffs of the White River became the meeting place for commissioners that set out to determine the location of the new state capital. Two years before that, in 1818, a trail was cut through the wilderness from Brookville that came to be known as the Whetzel Trace. Later on, a road was built north to the new state capital at Indianapolis. Because it went to the Bluffs of the White River, it was called Bluff Road.

Paoli State Road

When the Bluff Road was built, it was included in a longer “state” road that stretched from Indianapolis, through Martinsville, Bloomington and Bedford to Paoli. It would become the basis for original state road 22, and later, the original path of State Road 37.

White River on Indianapolis’ South Side, and its Effects

This article focused more on the effects of the Indianapolis Southern/Illinois Central Railroad, but it DID affect the routing of State Road 37. When SR 37 came into being, it ended at Washington and Meridian Streets, following Meridian Street south to Bluff Avenue (now Road) for its journey out of Marion County. The White River was moved, and the state built a new SR 37 over the old river.

Road Trip 1926: SR 37

On 1 October 1926, the entire state road system was renumbered. State Road 37 was given to what had been State Road 22 from Indianapolis south. The new State Road 37 was designated only south of the capital city.

Winners and Losers, Routing the Dixie Highway Through Indiana

When the committees met to create Carl Fisher’s Dixie Highway, political and personal gain played a part. Especially south of Indianapolis. While Fisher wanted the route to go directly from Indianapolis to Louisville, someone else wanted the same thing…just with a detour through Paoli. The latter won.

Original SR 22 – The “Fight” For the Way to Martinsville

The fastest way to Martinsville from Indianapolis wasn’t always the Bluff Road. When the state started taking over roads, a discussion was had to decide what road would be taken over to get to Martinsville. The choice was between the Vincennes Road and the Bluff Road. Eventually, it would be both.

Removing the Bluff Road Bridge Over the Illinois Central/Indiana Railroad

The Indianapolis Southern Railroad was chartered in 1902, and it crossed the old Bluff Road at an odd angle. The Dixie Highway used the route starting in 1914. In 1923, it became State Road 22. In 1925, a bridge was built over the railroad due to increased traffic on both the road and the railroad.

The Dixie Highway In Morgan County

One of the most bypassed roads in the state is SR 37. And very few more so than SR 37 in Morgan County. But this article focuses on the Dixie Highway through the county…and how it was originally routed through the area.

State Highway Department Construction Plans for 1963-1965

This article is included because part of the plan was to build a new SR 37 through the west side of Indianapolis, and connect it to I-465 at Harding Street. The Harding Street connection would be made. It would be a complete reroute of SR 37 from I-465 south to Martinsville. It ended up that SR 37 would be routed along I-465 from Harding Street to East Street (US 31), and be multiplexed with US 31 all the way to 38th Street on the northside of the city.

Expanding SR 37 from Martinsville to Oolitic

The last article about the routing of SR 37 I want to share is the latest one posted. In the 1970s, SR 37 was being moved and widened from Martinsville to Bedford. The section north of Martinsville had already been moved and widened…in conjunction with the construction of I-465 around Indianapolis.

Expanding SR 37 from Martinsville to Oolitic

20 December 1970. The Sunday Herald-Times (Sunday edition of the Bloomington Herald-Telephone and the Bedford Times-Mail) has as the lead story at the top of page one, “All Four-Lane 37 To Be Started In 1971.” It discusses the last projects that would make SR 37 a divided highway from the Martinsville Bypass to Oolitic. It was the beginning of the projects…all scheduled to start before the end of 1971.

Chairman of the Indiana State Highway Commission at the time, Ruel W. Steele, stated that the ISHC had let eight contracts, totaling over $22.5 million, along the highway corridor. The section between Bloomington and Martinsville was under going right of way purchasing, with construction projected to start in the fall of 1971. Right of way purchasing would consist of one contract. Construction would be divided into two contracts.

“We expect to clear the right of way on the south half of the Bloomington-Martinsville project by some time in July of next year,” said Steele, “and on the north half by September. We expect to have both sections under contract next year – the south half by September, and the north portion before the end of the year.” Construction of this section should go quickly, the newspaper mentions, because it will mostly be widening the current road from two to four lanes in place. “There will be some places along the corridor where the new lanes will be west of the present road, and some where it will be to the east.”

One section was already under construction. A new northbound SR 37 bridge over Indian Creek, south of Martinsville, was being built 60 feet east of the then current two lane bridge. Once the new bridge was completed, traffic would be rerouted to the new facility while the old bridge was rebuilt. In Indiana, most contracts for road construction are let separately for roads and bridges.

Included with the discussions with Mr. Steele was a status report on all of SR 37 from south of Bedford to the south end of the Martinsville bypass. The Bedford bypass was anticipated to start construction in Spring 1972. Due to rough terrain and three sets of bridges having to be built, the Bedford bypass was to be the most expensive part of the entire project. It will be the last project to be put under contract.

4.8 miles of the new highway from Oolitic to south of the Monroe County line was, at this time, 40 percent complete and 15 percent ahead of schedule. Completion was scheduled for December 1971. The next 3.3 mile section, to just north of the Monroe County line, was scheduled for completion by 1 June 1972.

The next 2.5 mile section from 1.5 miles north of the Monroe County line to three miles south of Dillman Road had been let to contract the previous week. This included an interchange at Monroe Dam Road, allowing access to Lake Monroe, and bridges over the Monon and Clear Creek. This section was scheduled for completion by December 1972.

Right of way problems were being resolved for the next 2.5 miles, all south of Dillman Road. Most property had been acquired, but some condemnation suits would have to be filed. The right of way was expected to be cleared within the next two weeks from the publication of this article, except for the condemnation suits which would be filed by 15 January 1971. The new Bloomington bypass would start at the end of this section, one half mile south of Dillman Road.

March 1971 was the scheduled date for the start of right of way purchasing for the south four miles, from south of Dillman Road to SR 45, of the new Bloomington bypass. The Commission expected to have the right of way cleared by August 1971, and contracts to be let by the end of that year.

Herald-Times photo, 20 December 1970. New road for SR 37 bypass west of Bloomington.

Four miles of the middle section of the Bloomington bypass, from SR 45 to SR 46, as shown in the newspaper photo above, was progressing quickly. This section was anticipated completed by 1 September 1971. The next section, however, was being re-let when the bids for the first round of contracts came in over engineer’s estimates. The second round of contract letting would commence on 26 January 1971, with “hopefully the contract will be let January 28.”

“Steele said eight separate projects – five highway and three bridge – are now under contract, including the Ind. 46 companion project which extends from the new four-lane Ind. 37 to Indiana University. There are six more projects to be let to contract in the entire relocation from White River to Martinsville.”

In October, 1971, contracts were opened for four projects as part of the new SR 37: the south section of the Bloomington Bypass; additional two lanes on the Martinsville bypass; bridges over Clear Creek and the Monon; and bridges over the Illinois Central Railroad. The Clear Creek/Monon bridge is a twin bridge, each with five spans. The IC bridge consisted of two bridges each with three spans. With these contracts, the only part of the new SR 37 that still needed to be opened to contract bidding included the Bedford bypass and from the north end of the Bloomington bypass to near the Morgan-Monroe County line. (Source: Bedford Daily Times-Mail, 26 October 1971)

Flooded Indiana

Weather in Indiana. Anyone that has been in the state at this time of year knows that we are entering what best can be described as the rainy season. With it comes the almost annual flooding that will inevitably occur. Flooding is something, though, that can happen at any time of the year. January is notorious for it. Though, it is not as though the flooding is a new thing. It has happened in Indiana for as long as there has been a state of Indiana. And possibly long before. Some of the floods make massive changes to the landscape of the state. Some just get a shrug of shoulders and a shake of the head.

One of the most changing floods in the modern history of Indiana has to be that of 1913. One of the most famous (road) victims of that flood had to be the Washington Street bridge in downtown Indianapolis. But the entire state was punished that January 1913. New Albany, at the Falls of The Ohio (a natural low water point in the entire river channel) almost everything south of the Southern Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad tracks was under water. The Pennsylvania Railroad ordered that its freight house in New Albany be abandoned. Said freight house had been under five feet of water in floods of 1907. In Evansville, the Ohio Street bridge (I would assume over Pigeon Creek) is “paritally submerged by water,” according to the Evansville Press of 15 January 1913. Especially hard hit were towns along the Ohio River. Several of these would be partly wiped out. Some would be moved to higher ground.

The flood that changed Indiana the most was that of 1937. The area had been devastated by floods in 1936…but the winter of 1937 was more damaging. January 1937 saw the massive closing of state roads due to ice and flooding. The list that was published in newspapers on 23 January 1937 included large numbers of roads. Just the US Highways listed included: US 31 north and south of Seymour, south of Memphis, at Speeds and north of New Albany; US 31E north of junction with SR 231 and junction SR 62; US 41 at Hazelton and Patoka; US 50 west of Brownstown, from Lawrenceburg to Aurora, west of Washington; US 52 from Brookville to West Harrison; US 150 west of Palmyra, at Fredricksburg, at Prospect, and east of Shoals. The list of closed highway is roughly 12 column inches long in the Richmond Item of 23 January 1937. The same newspaper mentions that the only road open from Richmond to Cincinnati is US 127 through Eaton, Ohio.

The aftermath of the 1937 floods would change the landscape across the state quite a bit. In addition to plans for 13 new reservoirs (many of which would not be built), levee and bridge construction would be commenced throughout the state. It was noted that many of the city street bridges at Indianapolis were too short to be safe in case of a flood rivaling or beating that of 1913. Improvements would be planned, and budgeted, for the Warfleigh section of Indianapolis, the Fall Creek area of Indianapolis, sections of the Wabash River in Peru and Logansport, and the White River at Anderson and Muncie.

There are additional reports of flooded state roads and such from many years between 1927 and 1950. January 1932 reported that three sections of SR 37 between Bloomington and Bedford have been damaged by rock slides caused by the same rain that had that part of SR 67 between Romona and Gosport, and at Edwardsport, under water. More flooding reports appear in March 1925, March 1927, November 1927, January 1930, March 1933, May 1935, August 1938, February 1942 and April 1948. This is just a quick look at the available newspaper data.