County Roads – Getting Named

County road names. Most people don’t give it much thought. A year ago, I wrote an article about the names used around the state for the county roads. Today, I want to look at some of the histories that I have found about the subject.

The subject of naming rural roads was taken up at different times in different parts of the state. Until that point, roads may or may not have had names…but not as some sort of system. Marion County, for instance, had names like Wall Street Pike (West 21st Street from Speedway west) or the name of the resident that paid to have the road maintained. There really was no pattern to any of it.

The Cambridge City Tribune, of 9 August 1900, described the rumblings like this: “In some parts of Indiana a plan is being discussed for having all the county roads named. At the road crossings the names will be placed on posts, something like the old fashioned finger boards. In addition to that each farmer will have his name displayed on a post at the road side at the entrance to his grounds. Something of the kind will be done in all rural districts with the next few years, and it is very much needed. Farmers are beginning to discuss the matter at their meetings.”

St. Joseph County, according to the South Bend Tribune of 2 April 1918, had been working on names for the county roads since the summer of 1917. A plan was accepted and adopted by the St. Joseph County commissioners on 4 March 1918. The current names were placed on the county roads then. In 1934, the South Bend Tribune made sure to point out that rural roads in St. Joseph County were all marked the same way city streets were…with signs hanging high above the road.

The reasons for naming county roads involved things like mail delivery and safety. In the days of the automobile, it made sense to name the roads for travelers to be able to find places. But it started out as an attempt to be able to speed mail delivery. With rural routes all over the state, it was not unheard of that someone’s mail would be delivered to the wrong part of the county. Giving houses numbers, and roads names made mail easier to locate. As for safety, it goes without saying that if the farmer on such and such road had a structure that was on fire, unless the emergency crews where such and such road was, and where the farmer lived, that fire was going to be completely destrucutive.

The most common method of naming county roads in Indiana was called the “Purdue Grid Coordinates.” It is a system where every place in the rural areas of the county are assigned a location based on a central point in the county. This system often involves the north-south middle of the county to be called “Meridian,” and the east-west to be called “Division.” But that is up to the particular county, actually. Some counties do use “00” for the center.

The system was created by researchers for Purdue University’s Joint Highway Research project in the School of Civil Engineering. The plan was to create a system that would allow easier directions for rural areas. For example, the Lafayette Journal and Courier of 9 Jan 1954, used the following example of Doc Smith trying to find Ben Miller’s farm: “take this highway north about five miles, and then instead of turning with the highway at the big pear orchard, continue straight ahead on the County Farm gravel road. It winds a bit, but after about two miles you’ll come to a five-point intersection. Take the road that cuts slightly to the left, follow it to the second crossroad, then turn left. It’s only about a mile from that corner to Wahoo. You’ll have to inquire at the grocery store for Ben’s farm.”

Franklin County, in 1953, was still considering a naming system for the roads of that area. It had been recommended several years earlier, but nothing was ever done.

Hamilton County decided to start looking at their road names in 1958. It started with a report by the Jaycees. That took several years to work on. It was decided that Hamilton County would not use the Purdue grid system, since most people preferred names to numbers. Numbers were assigned from Indianapolis, giving rise to street numbers above 96th to 296th. Each county road, however, that went north and south was given a secondary number to show how far east and west of Indianapolis’ Meridian Street you were. While names were decided upon in the early 1960’s, most addresses weren’t completely determined until the 1990s.

On 10 October 1961 the Rushville Republican printed the following question when it came to county road names: “Is Rush County going to be among the last in the state to get its county roads named and numbered and house numbers for its rural residences? Decatur County is the latest to join the fold. It’s not a costly procedure and it makes it so much easier to locate places in the country. All it takes is a nod, and a bit of cash, from the county commissioners to permit this community to keep up with its neighbors.”

It would be 1962 when all counties in Indiana finally had a system in place, and signs posted. Indiana had passed a law in 1961 requiring all county road intersections to have road name signs posted.

National Road Through Richmond

When the National Road was surveyed through Indiana, it had the distinct honor of being one of the straightest roads in the state…another being the Michigan Road. This was on purpose. Most roads through the state were built around whatever was in the way. Very few roads were built for getting from point a to point b in the quickest way possible. That was left to the state to buy the property necessary to do that.

One notable exception is through Richmond.

The area around Richmond started being settled around 1806. By the time the National Road surveyors got there in the early 1830’s, the town had already been established. And in the way of the nearly straight as a board road coming from the Ohio capital of Columbus. So when the road got to Richmond, it made sense to run it straight down Main Street. And that’s what happened.

However, on the west bank of the Whitewater River, upon which Richmond sits, the continuation of the straight line from Ohio would be continued. This would mean that the road would actually start again south of its location through Richmond. One block south, as a matter of fact. This led to the layout of Richmond, and the road, as shown in the following 1840 map snippet.

On this map, it is labeled Cumberland Road.

As you can see, the Cumberland Road is opposite Walnut Street on the west side of the Whitewater River. That would be South A Street today. The name change of the streets would occur sometime before 1893, as shown in the 1893 snippet below.

The National Road bridge over the Whitewater River would be built in the location shown on the first two snippets in 1832. The same bridge served residents of Wayne County and travelers on the National Road for 65 years. News reports across the state were reporting that deconstruction of the bridge would occur in August 1897. (Source: Muncie Evening Press, 13 August 1897) It was reported in the source newspaper that “the work of removing the old National road bridge at Richmond, Ind., will begin next week.”

The slight variations in the location of the bridge between the 1840 and 1893 maps are just that, slight variations and could be attributed to slight errors. A measurement here or there could change the map by a few feet…which looks like the case here. Another map, this time from 1853, shows the same area, more like the 1840 map than the 1893 variety.

The original structure was a very large affair…at least for that time. It was easily as large as the National Road bridge at Indianapolis. The Richmond Palladium-Item of 21 October 1962 did an article on a painter from Centerville that had done two paintings of the old bridge. A picture from the article is below.

Another view drawn of the bridge was published in 1911 in Century Magazine. It would accompany an article about the old bridge written by a Richmond native. That drawing is shown to the left.

In 1916, it was reported in the Cambridge City Tribune of 3 February 1916, that “the total cost of the construction of the temporary bridge across Whitewater at the location of the old National road bridge at Richmond was $4,895, of which the county, city and traction company each pay one-third, or $1,798.” I can find no news story about why a temporary crossing of the river was necessary.

The original route, more or less, of the National Road through Richmond would become Main Market Road 3 in 1917. That designation would be changed to State Road 3 in 1919. The slight difference would be on the west side of the river, where the state road followed First Street, not the river, to travel between Main Street and National Road. By this time, a third bridge over the Whitewater River was serving as the facility to cross that wide gorge. On 1 October 1926, SR 3 would be forever changed to US 40.

1962 USGS Topo map of US 40 through Richmond.

In 1998, INDOT decided to build a new bridge across the river, and reroute the old National Road/US 40 through the city of Richmond. This would put the road on its current path through the city, leaving Main Street out of the mix, at least west of 11th Street, as the major thoroughfare for the first time in almost 200 years. The city of Richmond took over the then abandoned route of US 40, creating a more plaza like environment along the historic street.

The new US 40 bridge that was completed in 2000 was advertised as the fourth bridge to serve as the National Road crossing of the Whitewater. I suppose, in a way, this is true. However, the historic crossing was closer to Main Street, which still has a bridge facility across the wide gorge. Not that I have heard arguments over the issue, it is one that road geeks and historians (or, in my case, both) will probably be discussing for years to come.