Bicycling Marion County, 1900, Part 2

Today is part two of two of covering a map I found on the Indiana State Library website about bicycling in Marion County, and the routes that were available.

Bluff Road: The direct route to Martinsville, Bloomington and points south. It was named after the Bluffs of the White River at Waverly. It was one of the first trails to connect to the Hoosier Capitol, as a lot of settlers would start their journey into Marion County from Waverly.

Clifford Avenue Pike: The extension of 10th Street past the city limits. The bicycle route ended at what is now Arlington Avenue, which connected Clifford Avenue to National Road and Brookville Pike.

Flackville Pike: The town of Flackville was created near what is now 30th Street and Lafayette Road. The Pike leading to the town is an extension of Indianapolis’ 30th Street.

Madison Road: The Madison-Indianapolis State Road, which the later Madison & Indianapolis Railroad would closely follow. Today, Madison Road is now Madison Avenue.

Millers Pike: Today known as Millersville Road, since that is where the road ended. A connecting route back to the White River & Fall Creek Pike used what is now 56th Street.

Myers Pike: This road would, in later life, become Cold Spring Road, connecting the Lafayette Road to the Michigan Road on the west (north) side of the White River.

Pendleton Pike: The old (1830’s) state road to the Falls of Fall Creek, where the town of Pendleton was formed. The old road went through Oakland (now Oaklandon), instead of basically around it like it does now.

Rockville Pike: The original Indianapolis-Rockville State Road. Still called Rockville Road for most of its length today. The old road is hard to navigate at its original beginning, since it was removed when Holt Road was built north of Washington Street. Rockville Avenue is the old road.

Shelbyville Road: The original state road to the seat of Shelby County. Its importance dropped off after the building of the Michigan Road. Near the current intersection of Shelbyville Road and Stop 11 Road/Frye Road, a branch took riders to Acton. At Acton, a branch from the Michigan Road came from the north.

Spring Mills Pike: The original path of Spring Mill Road started at the city limits on Illinois Street, crossing the White River near where Kessler Boulevard does today. It then continued up what is now Spring Mill Road into Hamilton County.

Sugar Flats Pike: The continuation of Central Avenue outside the city limits up to the Central Canal towpath, then following what is now Westfield Boulevard through Nora and into Hamilton County. The bike path led, after leaving Marion County, to the downtown area of Carmel.

Three Notch Pike: What is now Meridian Street was, for around a century, known as the Three Notch Road. The bicycle route followed Meridian Street from the Bluff Road intersection down to the county line.

White River and Fall Creek Pike: Labeled on the map as the White River and Eagle Creek Pike, this old road turned bicycle route followed the continuation of Keystone Avenue past the city limits to its end at River Road. Keep in mind, what is now Keystone Avenue north of White River was built by the state as a replacement for SR 431, which used to use Westfield Boulevard.

Bicycling the Michigan Road

Toward the end of the 19th Century, and into the early 20th, a movement was underway in the United States called “the Good Roads Movement.” This movement led to a great many things that helped make the current transportation situation much better: state highway departments, Federal funding of roads, Auto Trails, hard surface roads, etc. But what is usually lost in the whole scheme of things is the fact that when the Good Roads movement started, motor vehicle transportation was not the primary concern. It started as a two pronged effort to improve the roads for two purposes: bicycles and mail delivery.

Most of the longer distance roads in the state had been given to toll road companies for maintenance. The idea was that the companies would take the money from tolls to keep the road in good condition. Unfortunately, most of the time these roads turned into a cash grab for the toll road owners. What started out as fairly good condition roads devolved into mud paths connecting distant points. Most of the toll roads turned into basically wider paths through the rural areas that were dusty in dry weather, and mud pits in wet. When bicycles started becoming more and more common, this was unacceptable. When the counties bought back the toll roads, money was tight and it didn’t get much better.

Throughout the mid-1890s, the Indianapolis News would publish articles of interest to bicyclists. Many of these articles covered routes for those riders to follow. Today’s subject is from the News of 18 April 1896, covering “Bicycle Route North,” or the old Michigan Road.

Keeping in mind that the Michigan Road was laid out in the 1830s, and designed for horse transport, the newspaper stated that “the Michigan road is rather in ill repute among cyclists, on account of the many bad hills which mark its pathway for several miles out of the city.” Due to these hills and valleys, the Michigan Road ended up with two reputations: 1) it was only recommended for expert hill climbers, and 2) the “Michigan road to the north is forgotten,” with cyclists using other roads to the north and “it is probably less used than any of the gravel roads leading out of the city.” The News commented that “wheelmen in this make a serious mistake, for there is no prettier trip leading out of Indianapolis than the one out over the Michigan road to Augusta, or even further.”

Indianapolis News, 18 April 1896, map showing routes to the north of Indianapolis.

The subject article goes on to describe the recommended route for cyclists to follow. This series of articles usually included the subject road out of the city, with another route back. This particular article starts by recommending that riders avoid the Michigan Road south of Fall Creek. They state that riders should start out of the city on Illinois Street, instead, “and it is only a run of four blocks across to the Michigan road.”

“Once beyond Fall Creek, the road becomes a hard, firm gravel road, which is in excellent condition.” The road, at the time, ran parallel to the street car tracks taking passengers to North Indianapolis. The first hill is just north of the suburb. “The first hill is not so bad. It is simply a forerunner of what is to come.”

After running along the west edge of Crown Hill Cemetery, a big hill to the north of the cemetery is encountered. A small valley, “before passing the Country Club lane,” gives a little respite before more hill climbing begins. There were two more hills, considered “bad,” before reaching the Central Canal. Between the canal and White River, the road narrows quite a bit. The bridge over the White River is said to be an old covered bridge with a deck, while being replaced that spring, was in bad condition. The News reports that until the deck is replaced “the rider going at a good rate of speed will think he has run foul of a bucking bronco before he gets through.”

After crossing the river proper, the river bottom of about 1/4 mile was crossed. This is where the International School is today. Then begins another big hill. The road in that section as in rough shape, that will “try the mettle of any rider indeed.” Once at the top of the hill, however, the view of the White River was very beautiful. At the top of the hill, a “dirt road turns west and then south running along the river for a short distance, then swinging out through Brooklyn Heights, and connecting with the Meyers gravel road.” This is now Cold Spring Road.

Two more short hills would be encountered before reaching Mount Pleasant (Mount Alliance Post Office) at what is now Grandview Avenue. From there, the old road is listed as being tree lined, and therefore, a great place to ride on a hot day with all the shade. Many crossroads are encountered before reaching Crooked Creek (at the current Kessler Boulevard). After Crooked Creek, the old road then starts across farm fields, losing what is considered, by the newspaper, all of its beauty. The road at Crooked Creek leads to Crow’s Nest, if the rider so chooses to follow that road.

1.5 miles north of Crooked Creek is the town of Augusta. The town was the namesake of the toll company that had owned the road prior to Marion County buying it back. Just before Augusta is the New Augusta turnpike, which is now 71st Street west, and Westlane Road east. Going west, the road goes to, get this, New Augusta, which started as “Augusta Station” on the Lafayette & Indianapolis Railroad. It is stated that going into Augusta, however, is recommended “as there is an excellent well in front of one of the stores. There is also a blacksmith shop, who says he knows something about a bicycle.”

From there, “the ride north over the Michigan road can be continued for many a mile if desired. The road is in excellent condition in this county, but is reported to be badly cut up in Hamilton county.”

The article then goes into side journeys from the Michigan Road. Those are beyond the scope of this entry. But I will be covering more of these articles in the future, and covering the side journeys listed in separate blog posts.