Toll Roads In Marion County

Toll Roads. In Indiana, they were a way of life for over half a century. The reason they started was very simple. The counties, after having the state build a road for them, found themselves in a bind when it came to maintaining those roads. So the solution became to sell the roads to private companies, and let them do the work of maintaining the road.

By the 1880’s, the non-existent love affair with the toll road companies was becoming just flat out hatred. Citizens, mainly farmers, were tired of paying to get to the city. This led to just ignoring the toll houses, or finding another way to get to town. This led to the toll companies to lose money. Both sides were arguing for legislation to eliminate toll roads. Residents to make travel cheaper. Businessmen in town to eliminate what they saw as a tax on people to use their businesses. And toll road companies to throwing money at the roads. This led to the counties purchasing these old toll roads back, which I covered in the article “Toll Roads, And State Takeover.”

At one point, Marion County had over 200 miles of toll roads. The county started buying the roads back one at a time. The last road to be purchased, as reported in the Indianapolis Journal of 13 August 1896, was the Pleasant Run Toll Road. The entire four mile length of the road was purchased for $100 a mile. The Pleasant Run Toll Road purchased started at what is now 21st Street and Arlington Avenue, going east for those four miles to end at the Mitthoefer Free Gravel Road. Bet you can’t guess what that road is called today.

The National Road east of Indianapolis started on the way to free road status in September, 1889. The Indianapolis News of 19 September 1889 reported that the “the owners of the Cumberland Gravel Road turned the road between this city and Irvington over to the county this morning and it is now a part of the free gravel road system.” Another benefit of the turnover, at least to Irvington, is that the next day, the Citizen’s Street Railway Company would be granted permission to build a street car line along Washington Street/National Road to Irvington. The plan at the time was to build the street car tracks along the south edge of the road, leaving a 16 foot wide path on the north side of the road for drivers.

In the very same issue of the Indianapolis News, it was reported that “there has been a turnpike war on the Three-notch or Leavenworth road, leading south from Indianapolis to Johnson County.” Residents were claiming that the road was in disrepair, raising money to fight the owner of the turnpike. Many people were running the gates along the road, as there was an agreement to not pay tolls. “At the second gate from the city the pole was cut down by the ‘opposition,’ and there has been trouble all along the line.” A court case in Franklin, the day before, saw the toll road company winning, and the people paying tolls again.

An editorial in the Indianapolis News of 22 June 1892, calls for the remaining toll roads to be taken over by the county. It goes on to talk about the “shun pikes,” local roads built to avoid paying to use the toll roads. The first such “shun pike” in Marion County was English Avenue. It was improved by locals as a way to Irvington without using the Cumberland Toll Road. The next one was Prospect Street, from Fountain Square east.

One toll road that came in from the north became so valueless that the owner of the road tried to give to the county free of charge. Apparently, this wasn’t jumped on by the county commissioners. So the owner went to Noblesville, and had the deed for the toll road transferred, legally, to Marion County. It took twelve months after the deed was registered for the county commissioners to realize that the transfer had even taken place.

The Indianapolis News was the newspaper that was arguing, per an editorial of 22 January 1883, against the county buying the toll roads back. “Why should any county purchase a toll road and make it free? Those who never use it ought not to be taxed to make it free to to (sic) those who benefit by it. While it is a toll road, those who use it pay for it, as they ought.” My, how things can change in less than a decade.

It shouldn’t be lost on people that as the toll roads were being eliminated, the “Good Roads Movement” was starting. While this movement was started by both the post office and riders of bicycles, it would lead directly to what would be known as the Auto Trail era.

Toll roads reached in all directions from the city. In the end, most of the major roads that we use today have been in place for almost two centuries…and had spent time as a toll road. I recommend checking out the following map, which shows the improved roads as of 1895 (Palmer’s Official Road Map of Marion County, Indiana).

Bicycling Thursday: “Race” From Indianapolis to St. Louis

I have made mention numerous times in this blog that when the Good Roads Movement started, it was all about the bicycle…not the automobile. And the biggest thing going at the end of the 19th century was the bicycle race. There were races scheduled across the country in 1895, from Spring to Fall. Indiana would include Fort Wayne (5 August) and South Bend (7 August). But, according to the Indianapolis News of 22 June 1895, “the topic that wheelmen are discussing at present is the coming relay race from Indianapolis to St. Louis.”

It wasn’t so much of a race as a message delivery. At the time, military interest in bicycles wasn’t all that great. But that interest had improved to a point where the military had been involved in a great relay race from Chicago to New York. Indianapolis’ race would involve the bicycle corps of the Indianapolis Light Infantry. The Indianapolis News of 8 June 1895 lists the members of that corps. Many of the 13 members of the corps were Century riders: those that have completed 100 miles in one ride in one day.

This particular relay race would carry a message from the offices of the Indianapolis News to Indianapolis Light Infantry Captain Curtis in the office of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Unlike the Chicago-New York race, which changed riders every five miles, this relay would change riders every 50 miles. The route to be followed would be the National Road west from Indianapolis. Or at least as much of it that was in place at the time.

The first leg would be from Indianapolis to Harmony, Indiana. Harmony is three miles east of downtown Brazil. East of Harmony, the National Road followed pretty much the poath US 40 does now…with the exception of the area of Reelsville. That is an interesting story in itself, and would like to refer you to Jim Grey’s “Down the Road” blog, and the 22 January 2018 entry “Puzzle solved: The National Road at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville in Indiana.”

The next legs connect Harmony to Martinsville, Dexter, and Pocahontas, Illinois, before the last leg carries the message into St. Louis.

What is important to remember is that at the time, the Indiana portion of the race was carried on some road that were considered, at the time, in very good condition. The National Road was, in 1895, just restored to a free road status, having been a toll road (the National Pike) for around half a century. Guide books at the time described the road conditions going downhill fast once you cross the Illinois-Indiana state line.

The “race” didn’t go as planned. “After seeing the dirt, plank, gravel and sand roads, to say nothing of the hills, they (the Indianapolis Light Infantry bicycle corps) realized that they would be unable to make the race in the time they had allowed themselves in case it rained.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 6 July 1895) There was consideration to postpone the race in case of rain. That idea was shot down because “it was decided that it would hardly do for a military relay to be hindered on account of a little rain.” Well, it did rain. And the last three riders would find themselves “hub deep in mud.” The Indiana end of the race it didn’t rain nearly as much.

“Where there were good roads, the first two relay drivers gained one hour and thirty-six minutes on the schedule time.” That would be from Indianapolis to Martinsville, IL. After that, it is reported that mud and clay caked so much into the bicycle wheels that they wouldn’t move. It is noted that “the riders have the consolidation of knowing that over the roads they traveled a messenger on horseback probably could not have made better time.” In the end, the message arrived six hours later than scheduled.

Jim Grey has another page, The National Road in Illinois, for the road trip in that section. And he has The National Road in Western Indiana, Revisited covering his road trips along that section of the road. While this is an older site, it is very interesting when it comes to his road trips across the state and country.

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.

Indianapolis: Crossroads City

Originally published 24 March 2015.

When the Good Roads Movement started in the late 19th century, the primary focus was on, more or less, two things: bicycle transportation and mail delivery. Cars came later into the discussion.

Indianapolis was already a crossroads city. Unfortunately, most of that was eclipsed by being a major crossroads in the world of railroads. While you could get to the city using the trails at the time, Indianapolis really took off when the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad came to town. And to be honest, Indianapolis WAS a town until the railroad was built. 1847 not only marked the coming of the M&I, but the incorporation of the City of Indianapolis.

When the named highways started appearing on the scene, they naturally followed the paths that were already there. The major roads into Indianapolis became a hodge-podge of named routes linking the city to far away destinations.

But what WERE those roads before they became the Dixie, or the Jackson, or any other of the names. That is the purpose of this post.

The National Old Trails Road for 80 years had a shorter name here: the National Road. For those that don’t know, the National Road was built along its route to connect the (then) capital cities of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. (The irony is that there STILL is a road to connect Indianapolis to the now capital of Illinois, it’s just not US 40, it’s US 36).

Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean: The original route from the west connects Indianapolis to Springfield, IL. (See above.) It came into town as the Rockville Road, leaving as the National Road to the east.

Dixie Highway: One route entered from the west along the Crawfordsville Road. The other route entered from the north along Indiana’s first state road, the Michigan Road. One route left the city along the Bluff Road (named for going to the bluffs of the White River at Waverly), the other, again, followed the National Road towards Richmond.

Jackson Highway: Entered from the northwest along the Lafayette Road, left southeast along the Madison Road.

Hoosier Highway: Entered from the northeast along the Oaklandon Turnpike (changed and shortened to Pendleton Pike), left southwest via the Mooresville Road.

Hill & Lake Trail: Entered from the north along the Fort Wayne (Allisonville) Road, left via the Three Notch Road.

Range Line: Entered from the north along the Range Line (Westfield) road, left south via the Madison road.

Some of you may notice that road names are still the same in some cases.

US Highways: They are actually State Roads

I originally posted the following in the Indiana Transportation History group on 11 Jun 2014. It has been slightly edited to correct some “oopsies” in my original.

For those old enough to remember (and I, unfortunately, am not one of them) before the Interstate system came into being, and US routes were the cross-country method of auto transport, this post is for you.

Somewhere lost in the history of transportation is the true story behind the US Highway system. Believe it or not, the Federal Government was late to the “good roads” party, and really only joined it half-heartedly. Let me explain.

Near the end of the 19th Century, there was a craze sweeping the nation – bicycling. The problem was that most roads at the time were basically dirt paths through the country. Some were graveled, yes. Some were bricked, but mainly only in towns. Those that rode bicycles started clamoring for better roads to reliably and safely use their new-fangled transportation method.

The US Post Office was also involved in this movement, mainly because mail was that important. And delivering the mail in some rural locations was troublesome at best.

With the creation of the automobile boom in the early 20th century, the Good Roads Movement started including the drivers of the horseless carriage. Again, because most roads at the time were dusty at best, and practically impassible at worst.

Clubs started nationwide to encourage auto travel (the Hoosier Motor Club was one). Clubs were also started to encourage the creation of travel routes that were more than dirt roads to the next county seat.

These last clubs led to many named highways throughout the nation. For instance, Indianapolis was served by the (Andrew) Jackson Highway, Dixie Highway, Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, National Old Trails Road, the Hoosier Highway, Michigan Road, the Range Line Road, the Hills & Lakes Trail, and the Hoosier Dixie.

The most famous of the Road Clubs was the Lincoln Highway Association, which crossed Indiana through the northern tier of counties. On its trip from New York to San Francisco, it passed through Fort Wayne, Ligonier (included because it was the SECOND Ligonier on the route – the other being in Pennsylvania!), Goshen, Elkhart, South Bend, La Porte, and Valparaiso. (As you can guess, it wasn’t exactly a straight line at first!)

In 1926, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Public Roads finalized a national route system that became the US Highways. This was to combat the numerous named highways that led to some major confusion among the automobile traveling public. The system was discussed starting in 1924, with a preliminary list issued in late 1925.

Named highways painted markers on utility poles most of the time. It, apparently, was not unheard of to have numerous colored markers on one pole. And new named highways were popping up monthly. (They even kept appearing after the numbered highways started appearing.)

A misconception is that a US Highway is a Federal road. US Highways have a distinctive shield with a number. It can also have, legally, a State Road marker. That’s because US highways were really just state roads that shared the same number for its entire distance. So SR 40 in Indiana was also SR 40 in Illinois and Ohio, and so on. (INDOT has even posted SR 421 signage on SR 9 at the entrance ramps to I-74/US 421 in Shelbyville.)

While US highway numbers have come and gone across the state, most of them appeared in one of two phases – 1927 and 1951.

The original US Highways in Indiana were: 12, 20, 24, 27, 30, 31, 31E, 31W, 36, 40, 41, 50, 52, 112, and 150.

The second major phase included US 136, US 231, and US 421.

Between these two phases, the following roads were added:
– US 6 (1928)
– US 33 (1937)
– US 35 (1934) It required changing SR 35 to SR 135.
– US 36 – Yes, it is listed twice. US 36 originally ended at Indianapolis from the west. It was extended east in 1931.
– US 152 – Mostly followed US 52 (Lafayette Road) north from Indianapolis from 1934 to 1938. It never left the state, so it was downgraded to mostly state road 53 (which, strangely, was added BACK into the federal numbering system as US 231).
– US 224 (1933)
– US 460 (1947-1977)

These were added to the system in sections. For instance, US 6 came into Indiana from the east and ended up being routed along what, at the time, was Indiana State Road 6.

There have been many changes in the original US highways. Some have bypassed towns in many places (like US 31). Some have just been removed from the system (like the northern end of US 33). Some were replaced by the interstate system created in 1956 (like US 27 north of Fort Wayne).

The beginning of the end of the major importance of the US Highway system started in 1947, when AASHO deemed it “outmoded.” This led to the creation of the interstate system with a law signed by President Eisenhower in 1956.

The Facebook post that started it all.

On 31 May, 2014, I started a group on Facebook with the same name as this blog: Indiana Transportation History. My admin partner over there, Jim Grey, recommended I come over here. His reasoning was sound: Facebook wants the “now,” but all the work I have done to this point is just almost unavailable…or at least hard to get to. (This was brought home when I was scrolling through the group to get to the subject of this post and it took almost 15 minutes.)

So, I finally got to the end of the line when it came to the earliest posts.

And, hence, I start this new journey of the ITH with the first post that started the original journey on Facebook.

——-

Looking through the Indianapolis News (one of my other interests is genealogy, so I have a subscription to newspapers.com) of 20 Jun 1891, I notice on page four a series of paragraphs about bicycling in Marion and surrounding counties.

This brings to mind the point that the “Good Roads Movement” of the late 19th and early 20th century had less to do with automobiles than it did with bicycling (and mail delivery).

A post somewhere else on Facebook pointed out that travel inns were located between 10 and 15 miles from each other along major routes because that is how far one could get in a DAY in horse-drawn wagons.

Imagine, if you will, that the highways we all use today, were the results of people wanting to ride bicycles safely.

It also gives a different slant on all of the bike routes that the city of Indianapolis is building, doesn’t it?