A Quick Look At Today’s State Roads, From A Historical View

A Facebook direct message from a reader of the blog started the research bug going again. Now, while I am still looking up information on his particular subject (transportation to Center Valley in Hendricks County, particularly a possible railroad there), part of his subject did come up. As well as a few others. Today, I want to look at the things that I have found while researching that topic…while not finding much about the topic.

The “town” of Center Valley is along the route that would become State Road 39 just north of the Morgan-Hendricks line. A post office existed there from 1855 to 1902. But what is important is the route that rumbles north to south through the town…the aforementioned SR 39. It wouldn’t be until 1932 when that section of SR 39 was added to the state highway system. But, the designation “state road” goes back quite a bit…like 1833.

The 17th General Assembly of Indiana passed into law several state roads. The first I want to mention would be the one that would make Center Valley (or, more to the point Centre Valley) a place. The route that would eventually become SR 39 was built as the Martinsville-Danville-Frankfort State Road. The southern end would be part of the state highway system from 1920 – the bridge over White River west of Martinsville. The northern end would be part of original State Road 6, connecting Lebanon to Frankfort. As original SR 6, it would become SR 39 with the Great Renumbering.

Two more state roads would from Martinsville would be added to Indiana with this meeting of the General Assembly. The first is one that would not become part of the state highway system. It was described as “an act to locate a state road from Martinsville, in the county of Morgan, by the way of Cox’s mill and Solomon Dunagan’s, in said Morgan county, to Stilesville, in the county of Hendricks.” This is an example of how the General Assembly would set up a “state road” through a particular person’s land. I would assume that what is now Tudor Road, southeast of Stilesville, was part of this road.

Another state road project including Martinsville did make it to the state highway system… eventually. The act created “a state road from Martinsville, in Morgan County, to intersect the state road leading from Madison to Indianapolis, at Edinburgh, in Johnson county by the way of Morgantown in said Morgan county.” This state road would be added back into the state highway system in the 1930’s…as State Road 252. A history of that road is available from ITH here.

But Martinsville wasn’t the only beneficiary of that particular meeting of the General Assembly.

A state road was created by the General Assembly to connect the town of Lagrange, in Tippecanoe County, to Logansport, in Cass County. Where is LaGrange? Well, it was a town along the Wabash River at the Warren-Tippecanoe County line. It was founded by Isaac Shelby in 1827…and had a post office from 1832 to 1835. It’s prime was with the Wabash Canal during the riverboat era. When the Wabash Railroad was built on the opposite side of the Wabash River, the town of LaGrange just dried up and disappeared.

Another road that was created at that time would connect Williamsport to the Illinois-Indiana State line via Lebanon (sic), now West Lebanon, and the now abandoned town of Chesapeake (about two miles east of Marshfield). This route will require some research.

Part of the road that would become, in time, SR 46 between Newbern and Bloomington would be added as a state road in 1833. The original road would start at the Michigan Road in Napoleon, travel through Camden (unknown today), Newbern, and Columbus to Bloomington. The section from Newbern to Columbus was part of the state highway system as SR 46, until INDOT truncated SR 9, turning the old SR 9 into SR 46.

Stilesville would be mentioned again as a state road was created to connect it to Crawfordsville via New Maysville.

The last road for this article would be a road that is still in existence, more or less, but not part of the modern state highway system. The description of the act was “to locate a state road from Green Castle, in Putnam county, to Carlisle, in Sullivan county, by way of Manhattan in Putnam county and Bowlingreen and New Brunswick, in Clay county.” Some day, I want to do more research on this road.

1910: The National Road West of Indianapolis

Today, I want to show some map snippets of the National Road, and its replacement sections, as of 1910. Now, there is a small problem with this. The maps that I am going to use here are from the United States Postal Service from 1910. And while they are available from the Indiana State Library online, there are two that are noticeably absent from the collection: Clay and Marion Counties.

Marion County is easy to deal with. There are so many historic maps of Marion County available on the web that if I really wanted to, I could get something to cover the area. Clay County is an entirely different story. That is going to take some work.

Many people, today, are used to the straight ribbon of asphalt and concrete that is US 40 through Indiana. But that wasn’t the case when the road was created in the 1830’s. As was the standard operating procedure at the time, roads were built as straight as they could be. There was no heavy machinery to move a hill, or flatten a valley, in the early to mid 1800’s. Surveyors were extremely important at that time, to get the best road possible. If it could come in using less materials, and more importantly, less money, so be it. Most bridges across streams along the way crossed at a right angle to the stream. This was to make the bridge both safer and less expensive.

The hilly terrain of the area southwest of Indianapolis made the National Road surveyors a bit of hassle, as well. Hence, the relatively straight road that we know today was a lot of work and bending the old road into shape…and out of existence. The following maps show the road as it was in 1910. I wanted to give a comparison map from USGS maps…but the earliest available at this time is 1941, meaning that the road has already been replaced in most areas. And looking at Google Maps, there are very few sections that still exist of the original road that was replaced. But, I hope that these maps will start your own research into the original federal highway.

1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Vigo County west of the Wabash River.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Eastern Vigo County.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Western Putnam County.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Eastern Putnam County.

The map above shows the Reelsville bypass of the original National Road. I covered it in the article “National Road at Reelsville.”

1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Western Hendricks County.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Eastern Hendricks County.