The Beginnings of Interstate 70 in Indiana

When I was younger, before I really started getting into becoming a road geek, the only road that I could tell you anything about was Interstate 70. It was the first one that I could remember. This was because I spent, at least in the back seat of the car, a LOT of time on that road. It was the first road that I remember learning things like exit signs and mileage markers. My family is from Pennsylvania. I describe getting to my ancestor’s location as driving on I-70 to the end, and keep going. (The end being New Stanton, PA. I-70 changes into US 119 there.) But, this is an Indiana Transportation History blog, not a history discussion about me.

Interstate 70 has been voted by some YouTubers the greatest of the cross-country interstates. The first newspaper reference that I have found about it came from the Muncie Star Press of 29 November 1957. The Headline read: “‘Interstate 70’ Name of New Highway.” The story went on to state “Federal Interstate Highway 70 is the name officially chosen for the projected New York-to-St. Louis federal super-highway that is to follow a course roughly parallel to U.S. 40. Its marked will be a shield with a red, blue and white background carrying the word Interstate across the top, the word Indiana at the bottom and in the center the figure 70.”

The National Road Traveler of Cambridge City reported, on 27 March 1958, that the Indiana Farm Bureau met with about 150 Henry County farmers to explain the rights of property owners along the new route. “The right-of-way for Interstate 70 will be 300 feet, which amounts to about 30 acres per mile.” The farmers were told that when considering the value of the property, keep in mind everything there – buildings, wells, septic tanks, fences and the cost of the land.

When the decision was being made about where to locate Interstate 70, there were a lot of things in play. Believe it or not, there were financial things taken into consideration. The plan was to put I-70 from 1.75 to 2 miles north of U.S. 40 According to the Tri-County Banner, Knightstown, of 6 February 1958, “highway engineers believe that the corridor between the two highways would be wide enough to constitute valuable industrial and business sites, conveniently located to rail as well as highway facilities.” Yes, you read that right. The location of railroad facilities was considered, at least in Indiana, for the location of the interstate.

Another thing mentioned in this article is that the plan was to try to use section lines as much as possible. Given the information put out, it would put the interstate, according to the newspaper, south of Spiceland. This would be located south of the Central School in the area. But the section line actually ran along the south edge of Spiceland, and through the school itself. That section line is located 2.5 miles north of U.S. 40. “Survey crews are already at work north of Richmond and it has been announced that the proposed highway will be slightly more than 2.6 miles north of U.S. 40 at Centerville, but will then swing slightly southward. The road will leave Wayne county about two miles north of U.S. 40 at Cambridge City.”

The Richmond Palladium-Item of 18 December 1958 reported “Record-Breaking Road Plan Includes Bypass.” The Chairman of the Indiana State Highway Commission was interviewed about the pending project. Chairman John Peters mentioned that the bids for the I-70 project at Richmond would be taken in March 1959. Right-of-way purchasing would also be started in early 1959. He also mentioned that three changes in the routing of the bypass, at the request of residents of both Richmond and Wayne County, have delayed the project for about a year.

This is just a small snippet of what went into creating Interstate 70 across, at least, eastern Indiana. At some point, I will be covering western Indiana. And the other interstates in the state.

Cambridge City, 1870

Today, I want to look at another historic map available from the Indiana State Library Online. This map is, as the subject states, of Cambridge City in 1870. It is available here: http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/2896/rec/31

Cambridge City…for the longest time it was essentially a cross roads town, but not with the number of mud paths to the city. There was a state road to the north of town…but I have been unable to find where it went. Today, that state road is Delaware Street. But the major contributors to the transportation success of Cambridge City would be the National Road and the White Water Canal.

Later, the town was crossed by three different railroad companies, which would, in the end become the New York Central (Big Four), the Nickle Plate and the Pennsylvania. Of which only one exists today.

Cambridge City today shows its history, although a majority of the traffic passes a couple of miles north along Interstate 70.

I plan on just letting the map do most of the talking for me today. I really hope you find it as interesting as I do.

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.

Creation of the Whitewater Canal

27 January 1836. An act was passed through the Indiana General Assembly that would create what would become the Whitewater Canal. Talk of a canal had been circulating the Whitewater River valley since 1822 or before. It was 1822 when articles about such a canal were being published. Around this time, delegates from Franklin, Wayne, Union, Randolph, Fayette and Dearborn Counties held a meeting at Harrison to look at the possibilities of creating a canal.

The talk of a canal had progressed to the point that a survey was started in 1824. The original surveyor, a Colonel Shriver, passed away while performing this function. A Colonel Stansbury took over the job of surveying the potential route of a canal. But winter set in before he could really start work, and the survey was put on hold. Until June 1834. That was when a survey performed by William Gooding was completed. That survey routed the potential canal down the Whitewater valley from Nettle Creek, near Cambridge City, to Lawrenceburg.

Support for all things transport would heat up in 1835. Work began on a large internal improvement bill to build railroads, roads and canals throughout the state. This would be the known as the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act (MIIA) of 1836. This law would create several projects that would help form early Indiana…and help bankrupt it, as well. This one bill helped push the state to create a commission to write a new state constitution in 1851…one that forbade the state going into debt.

The MIIA would specifically create what would become the Whitewater Canal. It was mentioned in section one of the act. “The Whitewater Canal, commencing on the west branch of the Whitewater river, at the crossing of the national road, thence passing down the valley of the same to the Ohio river at Lawrenceburgh, and extending up the said west branch of Whitewater above the National road as far as may be practicble.”

Anyone that has looked at a map of Indiana will notice one minor detail. The Whitewater River doesn’t go to Lawrenceburg. It actually connects to the Little Miami River northeast of Elizabethtown, Ohio. Those that wrote the MIIA noticed this, as well. It was mentioned in the bill that “if the state of Ohio shall ultimately refuse to grant leave for the construction of that part of the Whitewater Canal which passes through her territory” a railroad should be built from Harrison (Ohio) to Lawrenceburg. That railroad would have to stay within the borders of Indiana.

A total of $1.4 million was set aside for the creation of the Whitewater Canal. The act also allowed for a connection between the Whitewater and Central Canals (the Central Canal would connect through Indianapolis) somewhere in Madison or Delaware Counties.

Section 16 of the MIIA allowed for the board of Canal Commissioners “to enter upon and take possession of, and use any singular lands, streams, and materials of any and every description necessary for the prosecution and completion of the improvements contemplated by this act.” This gave the Commissioners, and anyone assigned by them, the right to take whatever was necessary to complete the Whitewater Canal, and the other projects listed in the MIIA.

The original minimum dimensions of the Whitewater Canal were later determined to be at least 26 feet wide at the bottom, 40 feet wide at the top, and have at least four feet of water depth. This was, however, subject to increasing, if such increase could be done without increasing the cost of construction. The tow path was to be at least 10 feet wide, with the berm bank (opposite bank) being at least six. Both banks would have to have sufficient footing at the bottom to allow a slope of 21 inches for each 12 of height. And the two banks would have to be built two feet above the canal’s waterline. The total right-of-way for the canal would then total 63 feet from outside shoulder of one bank to the outside shoulder of the other.

By 1839, the first section of the canal, from Lawrenceburg to Brookville, was opened. The first boat, the “Ben Franklin” owned by Long and Westerfield of Lawrenceburg, arrived at Brookville on 18 June 1839. Two more boats, the Litlle Western and the Niagara, arrived the next day.

1840 found the state in bad financial shape. The canal had been completed from Lawrenceburg to Brookville, and half of the work from Brookville to Cambridge City had been completed. This cost the state, to that point, $664,665. It was at this point all work on the projects listed in the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act was discontinued.

The Board of Internal Improvements, the government agency tasked with completing all of the MIIA projects, was abolished in January 1842. The plan was to move those projects from public works to private companies. The same month, on 20 January 1842, the Whitewater Valley Canal Company was chartered. The state then turned over all property involving the canal to the new company. The new company was to complete the canal to Cambridge City and receive, as compensation, all revenues from tolls, water power, rents and other incomes for 15 years after the completion of the project.

The canal slowly increased its length. By 1843, it had reached Laurel. Connersville became an active canal town in 1845. The end of the line at Cambridge City would be reached in 1846. The Whitewater Valley Canal Company spent a grand total of $500,000 to complete the original scope of the canal’s purpose.

Unfortunately, the hopes that the canal would prove a boon to the area were dashed relatively quickly. Most of the problems stemmed from bad engineering. By 1848, two aqueducts were swept away, and several feeder dams were nearly destroyed. Once fixed, navigation began again…lasting a year until the normal Indiana floods caused suspension of canal traffic once again.

The canal was put back into operational shape for a time. But things didn’t go well for the company that continued to lose money on the enterprise. It all came to a head on 26 November 1862 when the Cincinnati & Indiana Railroad Company took over the property under Indiana’s condemnation laws. The canal’s receivers were paid $55,000 for the property, and the railroad became the owner of the old canal. All property of the canal company within the state of Indiana would be deeded to the railroad. Ultimately, the railroad would become the White Water Valley Railroad, a part of the Big Four and the New York Central.