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.

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.

Interstate 70 Tidbits

Indiana is the home to four major interstates. Two of those share a route across northern Indiana mainly due to geography. (Let’s face it, Lake Michigan is one of those things that is kind of hard to miss.) The other two connect Indianapolis to St. Louis, Chicago, Louisville, and Columbus, Ohio. Today, I want to focus on little newspaper items that I found concerning the main east-west route labelled as Interstate 70.

The plan in Indiana, as approved by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads, had I-70 being a parallel route to US 40. This would be the case through most of the eastern United States.

According to Indiana state law at the time, the Indiana State Highway Commission was required to publish annually its construction plans for the following two years. While most of the projects would be built, some were placeholders and pipe dreams that still, even to this day, never seemed to appear on any official maps. It should be noted that the plans run from 1 July to 1 July, and are subject to change along the way. And, any project after the ending 1 July (in this case 1965) would be on the following two year plan (in this case, 1965-1967).

In the post “State Highway Department Construction Plans for 1963-1965,” I mentioned I-69 and I-74. One interstate highway left off the original two year plan was I-70. The Jasper Herald of 14 November 1961 mentioned that “there was no Interstate 70 construction in the program.” State Highway Commission Chairman David Cohen mentioned that “the problem is, the route is not approved.” However, engineering work on the route would be conducted during that two year plan. 108 miles of I-70 in all the counties that it would be built would be part of the preliminary engineering projects for the 1963-1965 plan.

One of the projects that came to be with the building of I-70 was a replacement for SR 1. The Highway Commission decided to move SR 1 two miles to the east. At the time, SR 1 entered Cambridge City using Boyd Road and Center Street. It left Cambridge City on Dale Avenue at the west end of the town. The state’s new plan was to move SR 1 due north from Milton, removing the road from Boyd Road and Center Street.

The National Road Traveler (Cambridge City) of 10 June 1965 reported that the ISHC would open bids for paving of the newly constructed Interstate 70 from New Lisbon to its end, at the time, east of Cambridge City. The newspaper reported lamented that an oft used county road would be dead ended at the new interstate highway. Cambridge Road, which leaves Cambridge City as Lincoln Drive, would not have a bridge over the highway. This decision was made by the federal Bureau of Public Roads. What would become Old SR 1 and the New SR 1 would cross I-70. But Cambridge Road, being a mile between each, would not. “A bridge for East Cambridge Road would be the third span in the two-mile stretch between new and old Indiana 1 and would be a waste of funds.”

The Muncie Star Press reported on 28 April 1965 that a contract had been let to Rieth-Riley Construction Company for $2,920,987.69 to build the interstate from south of Mohawk east to 1/2 mile west of SR 209. This included three bridges: SR 13 northwest of Greenfield, SR 9 north of Greenfield, and Brandywine Creek northeast of Greenfield. The traffic disaster that would occur near the Hancock County seat was covered 20 April 2019 in an article “I-70 in Greenfield.”

The 1965-1967 two year plan, according to the Muncie Star Press of 18 October 1962, included a grand total of 21.4 miles of Interstate 70 construction. This only included sections in Henry County, and entering Wayne County. But it involved not only building the road, but also constructing 25 bridges in that section.

The 1971-1973 plan, as reported on 26 June 1971 in the Richmond Palladium-Item, included 5.8 miles of Interstate 70 in Marion County: Belmont Avenue to River Avenue (0.9 mile); south leg of the inner belt (1.5 miles); and from what is now called the North Split to Emerson Avenue (3.4 miles).

Indianapolis News, 15 July 1975.
Indianapolis News, 9 January 1975