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.

Bicycling Thursday: “Race” From Indianapolis to St. Louis

I have made mention numerous times in this blog that when the Good Roads Movement started, it was all about the bicycle…not the automobile. And the biggest thing going at the end of the 19th century was the bicycle race. There were races scheduled across the country in 1895, from Spring to Fall. Indiana would include Fort Wayne (5 August) and South Bend (7 August). But, according to the Indianapolis News of 22 June 1895, “the topic that wheelmen are discussing at present is the coming relay race from Indianapolis to St. Louis.”

It wasn’t so much of a race as a message delivery. At the time, military interest in bicycles wasn’t all that great. But that interest had improved to a point where the military had been involved in a great relay race from Chicago to New York. Indianapolis’ race would involve the bicycle corps of the Indianapolis Light Infantry. The Indianapolis News of 8 June 1895 lists the members of that corps. Many of the 13 members of the corps were Century riders: those that have completed 100 miles in one ride in one day.

This particular relay race would carry a message from the offices of the Indianapolis News to Indianapolis Light Infantry Captain Curtis in the office of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Unlike the Chicago-New York race, which changed riders every five miles, this relay would change riders every 50 miles. The route to be followed would be the National Road west from Indianapolis. Or at least as much of it that was in place at the time.

The first leg would be from Indianapolis to Harmony, Indiana. Harmony is three miles east of downtown Brazil. East of Harmony, the National Road followed pretty much the poath US 40 does now…with the exception of the area of Reelsville. That is an interesting story in itself, and would like to refer you to Jim Grey’s “Down the Road” blog, and the 22 January 2018 entry “Puzzle solved: The National Road at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville in Indiana.”

The next legs connect Harmony to Martinsville, Dexter, and Pocahontas, Illinois, before the last leg carries the message into St. Louis.

What is important to remember is that at the time, the Indiana portion of the race was carried on some road that were considered, at the time, in very good condition. The National Road was, in 1895, just restored to a free road status, having been a toll road (the National Pike) for around half a century. Guide books at the time described the road conditions going downhill fast once you cross the Illinois-Indiana state line.

The “race” didn’t go as planned. “After seeing the dirt, plank, gravel and sand roads, to say nothing of the hills, they (the Indianapolis Light Infantry bicycle corps) realized that they would be unable to make the race in the time they had allowed themselves in case it rained.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 6 July 1895) There was consideration to postpone the race in case of rain. That idea was shot down because “it was decided that it would hardly do for a military relay to be hindered on account of a little rain.” Well, it did rain. And the last three riders would find themselves “hub deep in mud.” The Indiana end of the race it didn’t rain nearly as much.

“Where there were good roads, the first two relay drivers gained one hour and thirty-six minutes on the schedule time.” That would be from Indianapolis to Martinsville, IL. After that, it is reported that mud and clay caked so much into the bicycle wheels that they wouldn’t move. It is noted that “the riders have the consolidation of knowing that over the roads they traveled a messenger on horseback probably could not have made better time.” In the end, the message arrived six hours later than scheduled.

Jim Grey has another page, The National Road in Illinois, for the road trip in that section. And he has The National Road in Western Indiana, Revisited covering his road trips along that section of the road. While this is an older site, it is very interesting when it comes to his road trips across the state and country.