County Roads – Getting Named

County road names. Most people don’t give it much thought. A year ago, I wrote an article about the names used around the state for the county roads. Today, I want to look at some of the histories that I have found about the subject.

The subject of naming rural roads was taken up at different times in different parts of the state. Until that point, roads may or may not have had names…but not as some sort of system. Marion County, for instance, had names like Wall Street Pike (West 21st Street from Speedway west) or the name of the resident that paid to have the road maintained. There really was no pattern to any of it.

The Cambridge City Tribune, of 9 August 1900, described the rumblings like this: “In some parts of Indiana a plan is being discussed for having all the county roads named. At the road crossings the names will be placed on posts, something like the old fashioned finger boards. In addition to that each farmer will have his name displayed on a post at the road side at the entrance to his grounds. Something of the kind will be done in all rural districts with the next few years, and it is very much needed. Farmers are beginning to discuss the matter at their meetings.”

St. Joseph County, according to the South Bend Tribune of 2 April 1918, had been working on names for the county roads since the summer of 1917. A plan was accepted and adopted by the St. Joseph County commissioners on 4 March 1918. The current names were placed on the county roads then. In 1934, the South Bend Tribune made sure to point out that rural roads in St. Joseph County were all marked the same way city streets were…with signs hanging high above the road.

The reasons for naming county roads involved things like mail delivery and safety. In the days of the automobile, it made sense to name the roads for travelers to be able to find places. But it started out as an attempt to be able to speed mail delivery. With rural routes all over the state, it was not unheard of that someone’s mail would be delivered to the wrong part of the county. Giving houses numbers, and roads names made mail easier to locate. As for safety, it goes without saying that if the farmer on such and such road had a structure that was on fire, unless the emergency crews where such and such road was, and where the farmer lived, that fire was going to be completely destrucutive.

The most common method of naming county roads in Indiana was called the “Purdue Grid Coordinates.” It is a system where every place in the rural areas of the county are assigned a location based on a central point in the county. This system often involves the north-south middle of the county to be called “Meridian,” and the east-west to be called “Division.” But that is up to the particular county, actually. Some counties do use “00” for the center.

The system was created by researchers for Purdue University’s Joint Highway Research project in the School of Civil Engineering. The plan was to create a system that would allow easier directions for rural areas. For example, the Lafayette Journal and Courier of 9 Jan 1954, used the following example of Doc Smith trying to find Ben Miller’s farm: “take this highway north about five miles, and then instead of turning with the highway at the big pear orchard, continue straight ahead on the County Farm gravel road. It winds a bit, but after about two miles you’ll come to a five-point intersection. Take the road that cuts slightly to the left, follow it to the second crossroad, then turn left. It’s only about a mile from that corner to Wahoo. You’ll have to inquire at the grocery store for Ben’s farm.”

Franklin County, in 1953, was still considering a naming system for the roads of that area. It had been recommended several years earlier, but nothing was ever done.

Hamilton County decided to start looking at their road names in 1958. It started with a report by the Jaycees. That took several years to work on. It was decided that Hamilton County would not use the Purdue grid system, since most people preferred names to numbers. Numbers were assigned from Indianapolis, giving rise to street numbers above 96th to 296th. Each county road, however, that went north and south was given a secondary number to show how far east and west of Indianapolis’ Meridian Street you were. While names were decided upon in the early 1960’s, most addresses weren’t completely determined until the 1990s.

On 10 October 1961 the Rushville Republican printed the following question when it came to county road names: “Is Rush County going to be among the last in the state to get its county roads named and numbered and house numbers for its rural residences? Decatur County is the latest to join the fold. It’s not a costly procedure and it makes it so much easier to locate places in the country. All it takes is a nod, and a bit of cash, from the county commissioners to permit this community to keep up with its neighbors.”

It would be 1962 when all counties in Indiana finally had a system in place, and signs posted. Indiana had passed a law in 1961 requiring all county road intersections to have road name signs posted.

End of Year 1940: ISHC Projects and Contract Bidding

On 13 December 1940, it was announced that the Indiana State Highway Commission was about to open some bidding on projects, and that the bidding would be received by 31 December. These projects included four grade separations, eight bridges and thirty miles of paving and resurfacing.

Sherman Drive and Big Four, 1937
Sherman Drive and Big Four, 1962

One of the biggest projects on the bidding list involved a city street in Indianapolis. Sherman Drive, a major thoroughfare three miles east of the center of Indianapolis, crossed the Big Four Railroad northeast of the railroad’s major yards at Beech Grove. That yard is just over one mile southeast of the Sherman Drive. According to the press release from the ISHC, “among the grade separations to be built are a 13-span structure on Sherman Drive southeast of Indianapolis, to carry traffic over the CCC & St. Louis Railroad yard.” As shown in the picture to the left, this was an at grade crossing of multiple tracks. The picture at the right shows the same area of Sherman Drive in 1962.

Another bridge project opened for bidding at this time was grade separation on the Marion State Road 9 Bypass, crossing over the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Pennsylvania Railroads. That bridge was planned to be a seven span structure. Another bridge to be built in the Marion area was a 392-foot structure over the Mississinewa River on the same SR 9 bypass. The bridge was to have a 28 foot roadway and sidewalks.

Paving projects included in this round of bidding were: 1.291 miles of US 50 realignment in Washington, Daviess County; 4.938 of SR 1 paving from Leo north to Allen-Dekalb County Line in Allen County; and paving 2.391 miles of SR 9 bypass (Baldwin Avenue) from Second Street in Marion, Grant County.

Another SR 9 project in Grant (and Huntington) County included widening and resurfacing 21.30 miles of SR 9 from 1/2 mile north of Marion to Huntington. The road was to be widened to 22-foot wide. Also in Madison County would be the widening of three miles SR 9 from SR 67 north to the Anderson city limits.

The last road project would be the widening and resurfacing of US 31 from the north edge of Franklin to the south edge of Greenwood, through Whiteland and New Whiteland. This contract would include 9.1 miles of highway.

Guard rail projects were also part of the bidding. Those installations would be in Adams, Allen, Dekalb, Elkhart, Floyd, Franklin, Grant, Hamilton, Hancock, Henry, Huntington, Jackson, Jennings, Johnson, LaGrange, Lawrence, Madison, Marion, Miami, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Randolph, Steuben, Union, Wabash and Whitley Counties. These were on roads 3, 6, 9, 13, 15, 18, 20, 22, 24, 27, 29, 31, 37, 44, 50, 52, 67, 109, 128, 150, 209, 327, 427 and 434.

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.