Indianapolis: Indiana Avenue Bridge Over Fall Creek

Early in the history of town of Indianapolis, when the state started building roads to connect the fledgling capitol to the rest of the state, a road was built from the northwest corner of the original Mile Square, traveling northwest. That road would be called both the Lafayette Road and the Crawfordsville Road, since it went to both. After the road crossed Fall Creek one mile north of the center of the town, it took a route closer to White River. That section would later be called Speedway Avenue and Waterway Boulevard. But the bridge over Fall Creek, connecting the two sections, would take nearly two decades for a true resolution. And it required the removing of several streets, including the historic Lafayette/Crawfordsville Road.

1937 MapIndy Aerial photograph of the Indiana Avenue & 10th Street area.

The bridge is question is shown on the above 1937 MapIndy photo. At that time, the intersection at the bridge was a confusing jumble of streets running in different directions. At what became the intersection of 10th Street and Indiana Avenue, there were also connections to Locke Street (heading south past the City (Wishard) Hospital, and Torbett Street running north of 10th heading east. Many people still referred to 10th Street between this intersection and the White River Parkway as Fall Creek Parkway…but that was its old name by the time this photo was taken.

Indiana Avenue had become a major route for people leaving downtown Indianapolis for the northwest suburbs. The northern end of both of Indiana and Speedway Avenues were connected to 16th Street, which ran west from Indiana Avenue to the Emrichsville Bridge over White River. The state had connected separate sections of 16th Street from Indiana Avenue east to Northwestern Avenue as part of State Road 34. Traffic, therefore, was heavy across the bridge.

That was until the summer of 1936.

It was then that the city of Indianapolis limited the bridge traffic to five tons. Trucks and busses found themselves having to go around the closed bridge by using 10th and 16th Streets. In the fall of 1938, the bridge was closed completely to all traffic. Street cars found themselves now being rerouted around the snarl. Indiana and Speedway Avenues north of Fall Creek simply became cul-du-sacs because they had no southern end at all.

The Indianapolis News of 7 May 1943, in an editorial piece, mentions that in 1936, when trucks were banned from the bridge, the Board of Works announced a $110,000 plan to build a new bridge on the site. “In the fall of 1938, the bridge was closed to traffic and a year later the city was promising solemnly to produce a new one almost immediately.”

That was followed in the fall of 1940 by the City Council and the City Engineer coming together to talk about building a new bridge for Indiana Avenue. The City Engineer was “ordered to determine ‘by the next meeting’ the precise status of the matter.” That went nowhere as it was in 1941 that a discussion was held about finding an old bridge from somewhere else to replace the old Indiana Avenue bridge that had, at that point, been completely closed to traffic for three years.

As mentioned above, the editorial was run in the News in May 1943. The bridge was still closed to traffic.

A week later, on 12 May 1943, the Indianapolis News ran another editorial on the same subject. “Mayor Tyndall expresses in one short sentence what many have had in the back of their minds for years about the Indiana avenue bridge over Fall creek. ‘If the army had to cross it, the bridge would be fixed over night,’ he declared. The bridge has stood year after year, closed to all but pedestrian traffic, while tens of thousands of motorists and others have been forced to detour by way of West and Sixteenth streets to get to the baseball grounds and parts of the city northwest of there.”

The News goes on to mention that many times over the past four and a half years, attempts have been made to remedy the situation. Without result. Some of the blame was placed on pending flood control and prevention improvements to Fall Creek. Those improvements still hadn’t happened. The News was advocating for a solution to the bridge issue sooner than later.

And action was taken when Mayor Robert H. Tyndall cut the ribbon on 1 November 1944 to open the newly repaired Indiana Avenue bridge over Fall Creek. Traffic could begin moving across the facility again. Trolley traffic on the Riverside line would start again on 27 November 1944. And everything was great. For almost six years.

The headline in the Indianapolis News of 24 March 1950 read “Indiana Avenue Bridge Out for Baseball Fans.” Simply, it meant that the old bridge over Fall Creek was closed to traffic again. The sticking point, again, came down to whether to spend $35,000 to patch the bridge, or wait until the flood control improvements made it a requirement to replace the bridge. The flood control project, which was estimated to be around $1,000,000, was still in the works as it had been since the early 1940’s.

As it turned out, less than a month later, the city council voted to appropriate $120,000 to fix the old bridge. This was required before bidding could begin on the the contract to fix it. It would seem that it would take longer than expected. It became a political issue when, in October 1951, just prior to the Marion County elections, the political party in charge was blasted for not taking care of a bridge that not only served baseball fans and residents of the northwestern section of the city, but served as an emergency route to Wishard Hospital, which sat just south of the bridge.

The Indianapolis Star said it best in the first paragraph of a story with the headline “City To Spend $120,000 For New Bridge” on 9 April 1952. That first paragraph read “the city is going to sink $120,000 into a new bridge which may be torn down within three years.” While Mayor Clark of Indianapolis was telling the City Engineer to rebuild the bridge, he was also telling the engineer to continue looking into getting Federal money to move Fall Creek 100 feet to the north as part of the flooding control and prevention program.

The flood control issue would finally be resolved in 1959. On 9 August 1960, the old Indiana Avenue bridge was closed once again, this time for good. The bridge was immediately closed and dismantled. It would be replaced by a four lane facility. The flood control project would also require the creek to actually move 100 feet to the north of its then current position, a rerouting of Speedway Avenue, to be renamed Waterway Boulevard, to a new connection with Stadium (Indiana) Avenue two blocks northwest of its historic location, and a removal of Locke Street and Fall Creek Parkway East Drive for the intersection at 10th and Indiana. (The old Torbett Street had long before been cut off from the intersection, becoming a driveway for the old YMCA that stood on the northeast corner of Fall Creek Parkway and 10th Street.)

17 July 1961, Indianapolis News

The new channel for Fall Creek and the new Indiana Avenue bridge was completed in July 1961, as shown in the above photograph from the Indianapolis News of 17 July 1961. The bridge would be opened to traffic as soon as reconstruction of the intersection at the southern foot of the bridge was completed on 1 August 1961. The below MapIndy aerial photograph from 1962 shows the reconfiguration of the intersection, the new location of Speedway Avenue, and the removal of the ends of Locke Street and Fall Creek Parkway East Drive.

1962 MapIndy aerial photo of the area around the Indiana Avenue bridge over Fall Creek.

Connecting 16th Street from US 52 to SR 29

When I posted about routes to get to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, someone of Facebook had posted a comment about the direct route using Indiana Avenue and 16th Street from downtown Indianapolis. I responded that part of the problem was that 16th Street, at the time (1919) did not exist between Lafayette Road and Northwestern Avenue (now Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street). After crossing the White River on the Emrichsville Bridge, the streets turned either north onto White River Parkway East Drive or southeast onto what was Crawfordsville Road.

The junction of Indiana Avenue/10th Street/Fall Creek/
Crawfordsville Road

It should also be noted that the most people, at that time, thought of Crawfordsville Road (now Waterway Boulevard) as the first choice as it was the one that had been in place the longest. Indiana Avenue came long after the Crawfordsville Road, and both of those streets connected to Indiana Avenue at 10th Street across Fall Creek. The moving of the south end of Waterway Boulevard, as it is today, didn’t happen until sometime after World War II.

But west of the White River, at 16th Street, was both US 52 (Lafayette Road) and SR 34 (16th Street). The state roads followed White River West Drive to Washington Street, because the road didn’t exist east of the river. This would connect US 52 (and possibly SR 34) to US 40 under what is now the Indianapolis Zoo.

It would be shortly after the 1919 map was published that 16th Street would be built from Indiana Avenue to the Emrichsville Bridge. But that was the extent of the new 16th Street. And even then, the 16th Street that was built was north of where it should have been. 16th Street through Marion County, of most of it, is along the half section line. Since the Emrichsville Bridge was angled north as it crossed west to east, 16th Street would be connected north of the half-section line where it belonged.

1926 Indianapolis map of the sections of 16th Street at that time between White River and Northwestern Avenue.

Fast forward to 1933. The Indianapolis Board of Public Works decided on several projects to be completed during the 1934 construction season. Two of the projects included bridges over Fall Creek. One of those would be on 16th Street. By this time, there was a short section of 16th Street from Gent Avenue to Fall Creek and just barely west of Northwestern Avenue.

The bridge over Fall Creek would allow connection between the two sections of 16th Street. Another part of the project would be widening the road that was there. In 1934 money, the project to construct and widen 16th Street from Northwestern Avenue to the Emrichsville Bridge would cost $280,000. The new bridge over Fall Creek would cost $250,000.

A remodel of the Emrichsville Bridge would also be part of the project. The northwest wing of the bridge would be cut off and the south sidewalk to be completely removed to create a better turning angle between the sections of 16th Street on either end. The city wouldn’t have to foot the entire bill for the new construction and widening. The city was working with the Indiana State Highway Commission for federal funding (at that time, a 50/50 split) for the project as the state would most likely (and did) add that section of 16th Street to the state highway system as part of US 52 and SR 34.

Another part of this project would be the widening of West Street from 16th Street to Bluff Road. From Washington Street north West Street was SR 29. From Washington Street south, it would become SR 37. Again, the cost would be shared between the ISHC and the federal government.

Indianapolis News, 27 October 1948

The Emrichsville Bridge would last another 14 years. It was torn down in 1948 to create a wider, more direct bridge for 16th Street/US 52/SR 34 across White River. Ultimately, the new 16th Street from White River to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street would look as it does in the Google map shown below. It would also remain a state road until the late 1970s, when US 136 (formerly SR 34) was removed from inside the I-465 loop. US 52 had been the first removed and rerouted along I-465 when that road was complete from the northwest side to the southeast side.

Getting to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (1940 and before)

Today’s entry will be graphics heavy. This is going to be a very strange Memorial Day weekend in the Hoosier Capital. The “Greatest Spectacle In Racing” has been postponed. But I wanted to look back at how newspapers covered getting to the track…especially before 1940.

Indianapolis Star, 30 May 1919

A look at the Indianapolis Star of 30 May 1919 shows some of the old road names that existed at the time on the west side of Indianapolis. Waterway Boulevard was still Crawfordsville Road in 1919. And that Crawfordsville Road crossed White River on the old Emrichsville Bridge. The Big Eagle Creek Gravel Road is now Cossell Road and Winton Avenue.

Indianapolis News, 29 May 1923
Indianapolis News,
29 May 1923
Indianapolis News, 29 May 1928
Indianapolis News, 29 May 1928
Indianapolis Star, 29 May 1940

Bicycling the Lafayette Road

Bicycle Routes as published on 02 May 1896 in the Indianapolis News. (image courtesy of newspapers.com)

The Indianapolis News, in its bicycling routes series, on 02 May 1896, covered leaving Indianapolis via the Crawfordsville Pike and the Reveal/Centennial Pike. This would bring the “wheelman” of the day through what is now Speedway out to and along the Eagle Creek valley to the town of Trader’s Point. That town was, before the building of the Eagle Creek Reservoir, was located at the crossing of Big Eagle Creek by the White River and Big Eagle Creek Pike, which was built as the Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road. Today, that name has been shortened to Lafayette Road.

After turning southeast along the road out of Trader’s Point, the road crosses the Big Eagle Creek then climbs a “stiff hill.” “After climbing this hill the road is undulating for some distance until the valley of the Big Eagle is left far behind.” Before leaving the hilly area, one half mile from Trader’s Point, is a “pump at the roadside all by itself. The water is very good.” One mile from “the Point” is a dirt road that crosses the Pike west to east. That dirt road, to the east, turns into the New Augusta Free Gravel Road, connecting to the town of that name, the Michigan Road and ending at the Spring Mill and Williams Creek Free Gravel Road.

Two miles from Trader’s Point “is a grocery store and blacksmith shop, where one dirt road turns north and another runs east and west. There is a little settlement at this cross-roads and a pretty white church with a green pump in the church yard.” The road to the north is now Shanghai Road. The east-west road, running from a road on the east side of Big Eagle Creek to the Michigan Road, first became Isenhour Road. That would be changed to 62nd Street with the renumbering of Marion County. There are no remnants of that “little settlement,” as the construction of Interstate 65 wiped out the intersection of 62nd Street and Lafayette Road.

From the settlement southeast, Lafayette Road is “much more level.” The first two roads encountered are the Kissell Road (became High School Road, now gone with the same I-65 construction) that heads south and the Centennial Road (running from the Reveal Road to the Michigan Road at Crooked Creek, now known as 56th Street). One half mile later, the Zionsville and Pike Township Free Gravel Road leaves heading north. That road is now Moller Road from north of 52nd Street to 62nd Street. When it was built, it was part of the Zionsville Pike.

Just southeast of the Zionsville Road junction is a post office town called Snacks. Here there is a white church, store, blacksmith shop, brick schoolhouse, and several houses. Next, the bicyclist would encounter the Russe Road, also known as the Reveal and Russe Free Gravel Road. The east end of this road is at the Lafayette Pike. The west end of this road is at the Crawfordsville Road, at a point one mile east of Clermont. The end at Lafayette Road is now known as 46th Street.

South of what is now 46th Street the Lafayette Pike jogs a little to the due south then more east than southeast, and back to the original line of the road. Those turns are shown in the 1941 aerial photograph to the left. (Image courtesy of MapIndy, a service of the City of Indianapolis.) The News mentioned, also, that the Little Eagle Creek comes very close to, and even parallels, the Lafayette Pike at this point.

The article reports that the road gets into better condition as it gets closer to the city. The next Post Office town encountered is Flackville, located at what is now Tibbs Avenue and Lafayette Road. Before that point, two schoolhouses, one with a green pump in the yard, and two uninviting dirt roads. Those roads, the first heading east, is now 38th Street, and the second heading west in now 34th Street.

At Flackville, several roads are encountered. The Guion Gravel Road turns north towards its end at New Augusta. The Flack Road, now 30th Street, crosses west to east. From here, the rider can follow the Flack Road east to the Michigan Road and back to the city. Continuing along the Lafayette Pike, what is now Tibbs Avenue crosses the road north to south. South of Pike is the Marion County Poor Farm.

Before reaching the Crawfordsville Pike at Emrichsville (now 16th Street), the Lafayette Road encounters the Cooper Avenue Free Gravel Road (now Kessler Boulevard) and the Meyers Free Gravel Road (now Cold Spring Road). The Meyers Road connects to the town of Brooklyn Heights and the Michigan Road near Mount Pleasant (Alliance Post Office).

At Emrichsville, the historic Lafayette and Crawfordsville Roads combine for the trip back to the center of Indianapolis. Both roads crossed the Emrichsville Bridge and followed what is now Waterway Boulevard (see The Lafayette State Road In Downtown Indianapolis). Historically, the Crawfordsville and Lafayette Roads both began at the Michigan Road.

The complete trip, as listed in this article was measured at 32 miles. This included the round trip that went out the Crawfordsville Pike, north along the Reveal and Centennial Roads, and back the Lafayette Road.

Bicycling Indianapolis

In 1896,the Indianapolis News published a series of articles about bicycling in and around Indianapolis. That series of articles is what I have been using to create these “Bicycling Thursday” series of posts here at Indiana Transportation History. These articles generally have covered riding different roads, usually old state roads, leaving Indianapolis. I will include links to all of those below. But this article is about something different. There was a proposed bicycling route that covered quite a bit of the north side of the city and Marion County.

Today’s information comes from the Indianapolis News of 14 March 1896. This plan was to be financed via the sale of subscriptions, much like the way that roads were paid for before this, and how Auto Trails, starting in the 1910’s, were going to be financed afterwards. Most of the route wouldn’t use roads in place. Where it did use roads, it would be built along side that road. Most of the route would make use of riding on the banks of water courses through the county.

Proposed bicycle route through Indianapolis and Marin County as described in the Indianapolis News of 14 March 1896.

The potential route started along Indiana Avenue in downtown Indianapolis. It would follow that road to where it crossed Fall Creek. It is mentioned in the News that the condition of Indiana Avenue, at that time, from West Street to Fall Creek, is such that “no worse road was found in going over the entire course than in this street.” The path would then follow the levee along the north bank of Fall Creek “south of the new pumping station of the Water Company.” The proposed route would continue along Fall Creek, then the east bank of the White River until crossing the Indianapolis Belt Railway. Here, the bicycling route would join the Crawfordsville Free Gravel Road until that road crossed the White River. The Crawfordsville Free Gravel Road is now Waterway Boulevard (after having been named Speedway Avenue), and it crossed the river at the Emrichsville Bridge, later replaced by the current 16th Street bridge.

The proposed path would then continue to follow the White River until after it crossed the “Flack Pike,” now 30th Street, passing “many giant sycamores, winding in and out with the deviation of the stream.” Just north of the Flack Pike the river and the Central Canal come close to one another, where the proposed route would switch over to the tow path along the north bank of the canal on its way to Broad Ripple.

“The ride up the tow-path every wheelman and wheelwoman in the city is familiar with – its beauties, its dangers and it tribulations often.” It is described as a beautiful ride. However, washouts, gullies, chuck holes and soft spots are common along the way, “and a sudden dip into the canal has a most dampening effect on enthusiasm.” The tow path continues through Fairview Park, now the site of Butler University. There is a fairly steep climb before the path would cross Illinois Street. Here, a bicycle rider could choose to use either side of the canal to get to Broad Ripple. But the official route would continue along the north tow path.

At Broad Ripple, the path would follow the Westfield Pike north past the Broad Ripple damn and across the White River on a large iron bridge. After crossing the river, the path then turns south to follow the river along the north/west bank to a point where it crosses White River again at what is now the 82nd Street crossing after passing the Haverstick Farm. After crossing White River, it would follow what was then the Fall Creek and White River Free Gravel Road (FCWRFGR) back towards the city. The first part of that free gravel road doesn’t now exist above what is now 79th Street. From there, it is known as River Road to the point where the FCWRFGR turned south on what is now Keystone Avenue.

The new path would be built along the FCWRFGR until it got to Malott Park, at what is now 56th Street. The route would then turn east “on the dirt road from Malott Park to Millersville.” It is mentioned that this dirt road is very narrow in places, with “scarcely room on either side for the path.” Here, the builders of the route hadn’t decided whether to follow Fall Creek’s north bank or the Millersville Free Gravel Road and the south bank of Fall Creek to Meridian Street. Here, riding down Meridian Street would bring rider back to downtown Indianapolis, and the point where the route started.

Some of the path, as described, has, in more recent times, been added to the Indy Parks trail system. It starts on what is now the White River Trail. It then crosses over to the Central Canal Trail above the old Riverside Amusement Park north of 30th Street. At Illinois Street, where the rider in 1896 had two choices, the path chosen by Indy Parks runs along the opposite bank of the Canal than was chosen to be followed then. Most of the rest of the route, that can still be traveled, can be followed by using the streets that exist now. There are a few places where this can’t happen.

The following is a list of the other entries in this “Bicycling Thursday” series.

Indianapolis and Its Decoration Day Race
Allisonville Pike (Allisonville Road to Noblesville)
Crawfordsville Pike (Old Crawfordsville Road to Crawfordsville)
Madison Road (Madison Avenue from Southport to Indianapolis)
Michigan Road North (MLK/Michigan Road north to Augusta)
Michigan Road South (Southeastern Avenue)
National Road West (Washington Street west to Plainfield)
Pendleton Pike (Pendleton Pike to Oaklandon and beyond)
Reveal Road (Dandy Trail through Eagle Creek valley)
Rockville Road (Old Rockville Road from Danville to Indianapolis)
Shelbyville Road (Old Shelbyville Road from Indianapolis to SE Marion County)
Three Notch Road (Meridian Street south to Southport Road)
Westfield Road (Westfield Boulevard and Illinois Street from Westfield south)