Subway Street, Beech Grove

When the Big Four Railway started to build their new yards in what would become the city of Beech Grove, they realized very quickly that train traffic was going to be, at best, horrifying for those that were trying to get to the town from the north and east. The main road from the north was the line separating Center from Warren, and Perry from Franklin townships. This would be called First Avenue in the new town of Beech Grove, and Emerson Avenue in the rest of Marion County.

1905 Map of the Beech Grove area, before construction of the town. Center of the map is where the four townships (Center, Franklin, Perry and Warren) meet, now the intersection of Emerson and Albany Street (Troy Avenue).

This road, before Beech Grove was built, stretched from a point in Washington Township, near Millersville, to the Johnson-Marion County line east of Greenwood. Part of this was considered to be part of the Churchman Free Gravel Road extension when the Big Four started buying the property. What became Albany Street (Troy Avenue in the rest of Marion County) extended from the Bottoms Road (now Harding Street) to what is now Kitley Road near the Hancock-Marion County line.

With the construction of the new railroad shops, and the new town, at Beech Grove, the railroad knew that it wouldn’t be long before it came up that two major roads in the county were being clogged by rail traffic. The elevation movement had already been in full swing in Marion County, although there were no such facilities completed to that point. Arguments were still being had about who was supposed to pay for all the bridges necessary to accomplish the plan. It was here that the planners decided to make sure that both carriage (and later car) traffic was unimpeded by the mass amounts of train traffic.

Emerson Avenue would be cut off just north of the Big Four railroad tracks north of the new town. This would put the cutoff just shy of 1/2 mile north of Albany, or 1/2 mile south of what would become Raymond Street. A new street would be built just north of the northern right-of-way of the railroad tracks, where it would connect 1/2mile east of Emerson, becoming the continuation of Troy Avenue. About 2/10’s of a mile east of Emerson, a new road would be built at a 90 degree angle to the railroad tracks, going under said railroad tracks, connecting to the new Second Avenue and the street running along the southern railroad right-of-way (to become Bethel Avenue) in Beech Grove.

1956 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Subway Street/Connection Street/Emerson Avenue/Bethel Avenue area near Beech Grove. west of the spur tracks leading into the Beech Grove Shops is a stub end of Emerson Avenue starting at Subway Street. It would connect to essentially a long driveway and a house west of Emerson and south of the railroad tracks.

The first street mentioned would be given the name “Connection Street.” The road that would go under the railroad tracks would be called “Subway Street.” The name subway actually has a historical context in Marion County. When traffic at Indianapolis Union Station got beyond horrible, the city of Indianapolis decided to build an underpass along Illinois Street, under the railroad tracks at the station. This was, for years, called the Illinois Street Subway, although it was more a bridge, even a tunnel, than a subway.

This wasn’t to say that Emerson Avenue disappeared completely between the two sides of the railroad tracks. A small section of Emerson Avenue existed from Subway Street north to a road, and house, 1/4 mile north of Albany Street. It existed this way for years. Until the early 1970’s, as a matter of fact.

Indianapolis Star, 15 April 1971. The photograph shows a four lane bridge in the middle of nowhere, over the tracks of what was, at the time, the Penn Central Railroad at Beech Grove. That bridge would be connected to the surrounding area, and would carry Emerson Avenue into Beech Grove from the north.

The new Emerson Avenue bridge over the Penn Central tracks, as they were called then, was completed in Spring 1971, although the connections to the new bridge weren’t complete. The road that connected to the house in the 1956 photo above would become the new Subway Street, which was turned to intersect and cross Emerson Avenue north of the old connection point.

1956 MapIndy aerial photograph with a 2020 overlay of then current conditions. This shows the driveway and the house, that would be removed when Subway Street was relocated with the building of the Emerson Avenue bridge north of Beech Grove.

The new ending of Subway Street would be at Fifth Avenue, instead of Second. Sections of the old Subway Street, from the new turn to Second Avenue, still exist to this day, almost 50 years later. And looking at the Google Map, or even MapIndy, will show that the property lines of the old Subway Street are still valid.

The railroad that created the town of Beech Grove is long gone. The Big Four became part of the New York Central, officially in 1930. The New York Central gave way, in 1968, to the Penn Central, which found the NYC merging with its long time rival the Pennsylvania. Soon after the creation of the National Passenger Rail Corporation, called Amtrak, there was a move to have Amtrak purchase the Beech Grove shops from Penn Central. This would happen in 1975.

A quick glance at the MapIndy property records leads to some confusing things, however. The property that the Amtrak shops is on does actually belong to the National Passenger Rail Corp. But it has to cross property that is still legally owned by the Penn Central Transportation Company. Now, I realize that the tangled web of property ownership and changing railroads can cause such things. But the property right next to it is owned by New York Central Lines LLC c/o CSX Transportation. As does most of the property north of the Amtrak Shops and south of the railroad mainline. The property records lead to a lot of fun reading. There are four different railroad companies legally listed as owners in that area: National Passenger Rail Corp.; CSX Transportation; New York Central Lines LLC (CSX); and Penn Central Corp (c/o C E Parker General Tax Agent Penn Central Trans Co, Chicago, Illinois). What’s strange is that all the property owned by the Penn Central is exempt from property tax.

Toll Roads of Center Township, Marion County

A picture in a Facebook group to which I belong got me to revisit this topic, in a different light. The picture was that of the toll schedule, and rules of the road, for the Southport & Indianapolis Gravel Road, also known as the Madison State Road. One of the things that I had mentioned in the previous article (“Toll Roads In Marion County“) is that the counties were to purchase the toll roads from the companies. While this is accurate, it isn’t completely.

Before the county could purchase the road, the voters of each township had to vote whether they wanted the toll roads to become county property. The Indianapolis Journal of 2 April 1890 points out that in Center Township there are eight such roads that could be purchased by the Marion County Commissioners: Indianapolis and Bean Creek; Southport and Indianapolis; Indianapolis and Leavenworth; Indianapolis and Lick Creek; Bluff; Fall Creek; Allisonville and Fall Creek; and the Mars Hill.

The law passed by the Indiana General Assembly stated that the toll roads, if purchased, must be done so at a fair market value. This averaged about $500 a mile in 1890. The companies were to be paid using five year bonds paying 6 percent interest. It is mentioned that Center Township had more toll roads than any other in the county. This makes sense, since Indianapolis is right in the middle of Center Township. Then again, some of it was just barely.

For instance, the Indianapolis & Lick Creek Gravel Road only spent a little over half a mile of its existence in Center Township. Up to then, it had been a city street from what became Fountain Square south. It then crossed Perry and Franklin Townships before leaving Marion County along the south county line east of the Noblesville & Franklin State Road (Franklin Road). The Indianapolis & Lick Creek was originally built as the Shelbyville State Road, and the section in Center Township was Shelby Street from Southern Avenue to Cameron Street, then Carson Avenue to Troy Avenue. In Franklin Township, for its entirety, it is still called Shelbyville Road.

Another short township section would be the Indianapolis & Bean Creek Gravel Road. East of Indianapolis, it left the city limits near English Avenue and Rural Street. It traveled southeast to the township line at Emerson Avenue. For those of you that haven’t guessed it, the Indianapolis & Bean Creek Gravel Road is the original Michigan Road. Inside Indianapolis at that time, it was called Michigan Avenue. It would be changed to Southeastern Avenue shortly thereafter.

The Allisonville and Fall Creek Gravel Road didn’t stay in Center Township alone for long either. The city limits at the time were at what is now 34th and Central. From that point, the Allisonville Road continued along Central Avenue to 38th Street, then turned east to the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Here, the road turned out of Center Township, since the township line is 38th Street. Although it is difficult to follow at the southern end, the road is still called Allisonville Road.

The Fall Creek Gravel Road was on the other side of Fall Creek from the Allisonville and Fall Creek. Both of these roads (with Fall Creek in the name) were remnants of the old Indianapolis to Fort Wayne State Road. The Allisonville & Fall Creek would become the preferred route to get to Fort Wayne from Hoosier capitol. But the original route, at least in Center Township, skirted Fall Creek to the south and east. Until it got to the Center-Washington Township Line. Today, the old toll road is called Sutherland Avenue from 30th Street to 38th Street. As an added fact, the old Fort Wayne State Road crossed Fall Creek at what is now the 39th Street (closed to traffic) Bridge.

As mentioned before, the Southport & Indianapolis Gravel Road was the Madison State Road, now Madison Avenue. But only a little over half a mile of it was in Center Township, the rest was in the city of Indianapolis. That section was from Southern Avenue to Troy Avenue along Madison Avenue.

I should point out that although downtown Indianapolis is in Center Township, the roads inside the city limits belonged to the city. The township government was responsible for those sections of Center Township that weren’t part of Indianapolis. And there were parts of Center Township that legally didn’t become part of the city until UniGov went into effect. The city itself had expanded into other townships long before it completely took over its home township.

The Indianapolis & Leavenworth Gravel Road was also called the Three Notch Road. It left the city as Meridian Street south towards Brown County and Leavenworth along the Ohio River. The Bluff Road, still called that, started life as the Paoli State Road. Both of these roads, like the Madison and Shelbyville Roads listed about, left the city limits at Southern Avenue, and each spent one half mile in Center Township before entering Perry Township for the rest of their journeys out of the county.

If you have seen the pattern yet, the south city limits for a long time of Indianapolis’ history was Southern Avenue. And, yes, that’s why it is called that. There is an Eastern Avenue called that for the same reason. The first street after Eastern Avenue is Rural Street. You can’t make this stuff up.

The only quirk in the Journal article that I can see is the claiming that the Mars Hill Gravel Road existed in Center Township. It did, I guess. The city limits at the time ended on the west side at Belmont Avenue. That also happens to be the township line separating Center and Wayne Townships. The Mars Hill Gravel Road started at Morris and Belmont, travelling south to where Belmont crosses Eagle Creek, then the Mars Hill road turned southwest, and out of Center Township, along Kentucky Avenue and Maywood Avenue…or what was created as the Mooresville State Road.

There are several roads that aren’t listed by the Journal article that some of you might have noticed are missing. First, and absolutely the most well known, is the National Road. None of the toll road sections of the National Road were in Center Township. The city limits were Belmont Avenue on the west (the township line), and the eastern end of Irvington, well past the Emerson Avenue township line on the east.

The Indianapolis & Lanesville Gravel Road, also known as the Pendleton Pike, also no longer crossed Emerson Avenue, ending at 30th Street. Even though the Indianapolis City limits didn’t cross the Pendleton Road until about where 25th Street would cross…aka right through the middle of the Brightwood railroad yards.

The Michigan Road northwest out of Marion County also didn’t enter Center Township. The city limits by that time were at 38th Street, the Center Township line. That is why, to this day, Michigan Road, the name, ends at 38th Street, and inside the old city limits it is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

And last, but not least, the Lafayette Road. The line separating Center and Wayne Townships actually cut through the eastern landing of the Emrichsville Bridge, which carried the Crawfordsville and Lafayette Roads across White River right about where 16th Street is now. So the 16th Street bridge, and all of Lafayette Road, are outside Center Township.