Marion County: Wall Street Pike

Today, I want to look at a road that most people wouldn’t know by the name. I will not share the name it has today until the end, so that I can keep my readers guessing throughout the article. But, suffice it to say, it is an important road on the westside of Marion County. It was also a toll road that led from the Crawfordsville Pike westward to the Hendricks County line. It would also keep the “Wall Street Pike” name until it was officially changed in 1968.

But I want to share a couple of stories about the road today.

Indianapolis Star, 7 July 1927. Wall Street Pike covered bridge over Eagle Creek burned to the ground.

In July 1927, a fire destroyed the Wall Street Pike covered bridge over Eagle Creek. The bridge according to the Indianapolis Star of 7 July 1927 was described thus: “After stubbornly fighting the onrush of civilization and modernity for more than sixty years, the covered bridge over Eagle Creek on the Wall street pike, about four and a half miles northwest of Indianapolis, was destroyed by fire yesterday afternoon.”

The Wall Street Pike Bridge was one of only four covered bridges left in Marion County at the time of the fire. The article goes on to locate the three remaining ones: White River near Southport, Indian Creek a short distance east of Fort Benjamin Harrison, and Williams Creek at 75th Street.

Arrival of the fire department, from Engine House #9 at 537 Belleview Place, was too late to save the structure. Before the first spray of water hit the bridge, it was was wavering on its foundation. It then fell into the creek. Hundreds of people watched as the bridge timbers sank into Eagle Creek. “The timbers seemed to recall the countless number of buggies, carriages, old farm wagons, oxen teams, pioneers on horseback, and others, that had passed over it since the day it was dedicated with speeches and music by the Indianapolis ‘town band.'”

The cost of the bridge, when it was built, was estimated at $15,000. It was estimated that it would cost three times that much to replace it in 1927 with the same materials. The structure had been built using black walnut and ash trees, often hewn by local farmers. Maintenance of the bridge, which mainly consisted of reflooring, had been done over time. The last time was about three weeks before the fire.

Wall Street Pike was closed for several weeks while a new $20,000 concrete bridge was built in the place of the old covered bridge. County commissioners would be asked to fund the new bridge…and the appropriation would be brought up at the next meeting.

“Until erection of the concrete bridge the open space between the banks of the stream where the old bridge once stood will reflect its memory and if creeks could talk, the waters would mourn the loss of a good, true and lasting friend.” (Source: Indianapolis Star, 7 July 1927)

The other story I wanted to share is that of the Pugh homestead. Jacob Pugh came to Marion County from Randolph County, North Carolina, in 1821, shortly after the creation of the county itself. He purchased hundreds of acres on the north side of the survey line that would become Wall Street Pike. A son-in-law purchased even more land to the northwest of Jacob Pugh. That land would later become Camp Dellwood.

Indianapolis Star, 20 December 1931.

The pictured house above was built by one of Jacob’s sons, Jesse, in 1846. It had been built from tulip wood. In the 1920’s, the house was sold to the Ashby family.

To tie this back to Indiana Transportation history, the beginning of the article in the Indianapolis Star. “Wall Street pike branches west from Crawfordsville road at the old toll gate which is still standing about six miles from the center of town. West from Eagle creek on this pike, which was one of the first gravel roads in this vicinity, stretches a double row of maple trees, forming a green avenue for about half a mile.”

Now comes the time I bring the Wall Street Pike into the present. From the public announcements in the Indianapolis Star of 9 March 1968 comes the following snippets:

“Pursuant to Section 20 of Chapter 283 of the Acts of the Indiana General Assembly for 1955, as amended by Chapter 380 of the Acts of the Indiana General Assembly for 1959, the Metropolitan Plan Commission of Marion County, Indiana, proposes the following Resolutions Establishing, Reestablishing or Changing The Names of Certain Streets in Marion County, Indiana:”

“68-ST-R-2 – That the name of the street presently known as WALL STREET PIKE from Cunningham Road continuing west to W. County Line Road, is hereby changed to, established as and will hereafter be designated as W. 21ST STREET.”

National Road Tidbits

Over the long history of what was the National Road, there are tons of stories told. Tales of lives, tolls, decisions, and other things that have been basically lost to history.

A brief history of the road screams to be told. President Thomas Jefferson signed the law creating the Cumberland, or National, Road on 29 March 1806. The commission that charted the road decided that Braddock’s Road would be followed from Cumberland, MD, to Brownsville, PA. Pennsylvania only approved the road if it would pass through Uniontown and Washington, PA. So, the road followed a native american trail from Brownsville to Washington. From there, the road was was to go to either Wheeling, VA (now WV) or Steubenville, OH. Wheeling won after some influence of Henry Clay.

It would not be until 3 March 1825 that the Congress gave the green light to extension of this road. Appropriations were outlaid to build the road to Zanesville, OH, and survey the route through the capital cities of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. By 1832, the National Road reached the Indiana-Ohio State Line. (An astute reader now asks the question why the National Road doesn’t connect to Springfield, IL. Well, the capital of Illinois at the time was Vandalia, which is one the National Road. Springfield became the capital in 1839.) Hence, the history of the building of the National Road…in shortcut fashion.

But local stories abound when it comes to the road. For instance, in Richmond, according to the Richmond Paladium-Item of 2 October 1910, “Main street turns near Ninth and makes a slight curve towards the northwest. One hundred years ago there was a large mud puddle north of Main street and when the National road was constructed the contractors built it around the puddle. Main street retained the curve.”

The National Road would also be the site of a County Seat War in Wayne County. Wayne County’s government had been located in Centerville since it was legally moved from Salisbury with an act of 21 December 1916. (The last meeting of county commissioners was held at Salisbury in August, 1817. [Indiana Boundaries: Territory, State and County, available on ancestry.com]) Later, a Wayne County courthouse was built in Richmond. Richmond officials went to Centerville to move the government. Centerville refused. The Richmond interests actually used cannon fire in the effort to move the county seat from Centerville to Richmond. According to the Plymouth Weekly Republican of 24 December 1874, the United States Supreme Court, with a unanimous decision, ended the county seat war in favor of Richmond. “The struggle between Richmond and Centerville has been protracted nearly two years.”

On 3 May 1919, the Indianapolis News published a story about the conditions and construction of the National Road through Indiana from the perspective of “caravans of motor lorries during war.” Very little of the old road was improved at the time of World War I. While most of the wartime traffic occurred by railroad, quite a bit went by truck. Very few roads at the time were improved, making travel no better than it had been for years. And, with the increase in truck traffic, the “Famous Old Highway Has Gone to Wreck – Miles of Hard Going Are to Be Found Along the Indiana Link of the Road Between Richmond and Terre Haute.”

The story of a couple of farmers in Wayne County is also worth mentioning. On the old road, west of Richmond, lived a man and woman “around which is woven one of the first romances of the National road in Indiana.” The story of their romance isn’t covered, being that it “does not concern us here.” Anyway, they bought a farm and became successful. However, a toll gate was built not far from their farm, requiring a toll to be paid to reach Richmond. They objected to this toll, to the point of building a road, on their property, around the toll gate.

With the National Road came the tavern. There were numerous taverns built along the way. Keep in mind that a tavern, at the time, included anything that a traveler needed to rest: food, drink, beds, and stables. One of the things reasons that US 40 is such a slow route across Indiana is the tavern. Towns sprung up around the tavern. Towns were placed at convenient intervals depending on the distance one could travel in a day. In the motoring era, these “convenient intervals” led to the motor hotel, or motel. In the four miles that I travel the National Road daily, from Cumberland to I-465, there are still three motel buildings in existence. I remember many more that have been demolished over the 50+ years that I have been alive.

In Indianapolis, the last vestiges of the National Road in downtown survived into the 20th century. Early in the century, the old National Road bridge, a covered bridge that originally carried the National Road over the White River, was finally removed. That bridge had been in place for over 70 years, although most traffic, at that point, had been using the Washington Street bridge. It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that the original road, called Washington Avenue, was removed. Today, a walking path has been built along the path of the old road.

Over the 180+ years of the National Road in Indiana, there have been many lives affected. Their stories are out there. I hope to find more of them in the future.