Newspaper Blurbs about Lincoln Highway in Indiana

I spend a lot of time looking through old newspapers. It all started with my genealogical research. But I realized that this blog could benefit from the very same resources. And, if you have followed this blog, you know I do use them a lot. Today, I want to cover some newspaper articles about the early days of the Lincoln Highway, and construction of same.

The Indianapolis News of 18 June 1914 spent almost an entire column page to the Lincoln Highway. The majority of the article was about what Carl Fisher planned when it came to both the Lincoln Highway and the Michigan Road in his home state. Fisher was in South Bend, witnessing the beginning of work on his brain child. According to the News, he “has started another big movement. It is the improvement of the Michigan road from Indianapolis to South Bend to connect the speedway city with the coats-to-coast highway and to give central and southern Indiana an outlet to it.”

Plans were also to have a “General Good Roads Day” in Marion, Boone, Clinton, Cass, Fulton, Marshall and St. Joseph Counties. He was also calling for the oiling of that road. Calls for a state trunk road system were announced, as well.

The plans for the Lincoln Highway in South Bend called for an 18 foot cement road way with three foot graveled shoulders on each side, make for a total 24 foot wide road right-of-way. Fisher let the St. Joseph County Commissioners know that specifications only called for a 15 foot roadway, with the same three foot shoulders. This would make the right-of-way a total of 21 feet wide.

The cement mixture, according to Fisher, was also too expensive for the work. He recommended that the mixture include one part cement, two parts sand and three parts gravel. This was the same mixture that had been successfully in use in Wayne County, Michigan. This one change decreased the cost of construction of the Lincoln Highway across St. Joseph County from around $194,000 to roughly $150,000.

The Lincoln Highway was, at the time of this article, also completely marked across northern Indiana. Traffic along the new Auto Trail was increasing with travelers moving between the two coasts. The prospect of major traffic from the east going to the California-Panama Exposition in 1915 was on the minds of the people involved with completing the highway across the United States.

Fisher also expressed his concern that the Lincoln Highway be built “under competent engineers and honest contractors.” His belief that “nothing shows worse than concrete construction any underlying graft. It only takes two or three years to label a skimping contractor a thief or an incompetent.”

As a human interest story, less than a month later, in the Indianapolis Star of 19 July 1914, it was announced that “Fred Callahan, the young man who walked from New York to San Francisco and who is now walking back over the Lincoln Highway, reached Ashland, O., a short time ago. He averages about thirty miles a day and has covered more than 5,000 miles. He carries a pack on his back weighing about thirty-five pounds. Callahan says the Lincoln Highway is being put in good shape all across the country, and he ought to know.”

An article covering the entire Lincoln Highway in the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette of 13 January 1918 mentions that of the 94 counties crossed by the Lincoln Highway in the United States, only one has completely finished the concrete pavement of the route. That county is St. Joseph, Indiana. The same article mentions that there is an official feeder road to the Lincoln Highway at Dyer. That feeder road connects the coast-to-coast highway to the city of Chicago.

The Indianapolis Star of 7 July 1918 mentions the work that the Indiana State Highway Commission made appropriations for that year. The ISHC, created in 1917, had taken the original route of the Lincoln Highway into the fledgling state highway system. It was called Main Market Road 2. According to the newspaper, $37,000 was allocated for the Lincoln Highway between Elkhart and the Elkhart-St. Joseph County line. The same amount was earmarked be Elkhart County. St. Joseph County was also starting the grading of the highway near Osceola. A contract for a new bridge in St. Joseph County was also let.

Tree planting was the news of the day in the South Bend Tribune of 25 June 1921. St. Joseph County planned to plant as many as 5,000 trees along the national highways that connected to South Bend. Keep in mind that both of Carl Fisher’s “children,” the Lincoln Highway and the Dixie Highway, met in South Bend. The roadside was “barren,” according to the newspaper. They also ran the following two pictures to make their point.

South Bend Tribune, 25 June 1921.

One of the bad things about looking through newspapers for a topic like the Lincoln Highway is that it was such an important feature in the United States that news from across the country would appear in the newspaper. Most of the coverage was for the national perspective, not the Hoosier one. I will continue to scour the newspapers of the state to find more information like this. Just that some projects are so large that local information is usually mainly ignored.

1930’s Indianapolis Street Name Changes

Street name changes in Indianapolis have been a constant thing. Major renamings have occurred several times. But minor changes were made throughout the history of the city. Today, I want to look at some of the minor changes that happened, or would have happened, in the 1930’s. There is no particular reason I chose the 1930’s, other than the fact that was the time period that I was researching for something that didn’t pan out.

In June 2019, I wrote an article called “Why Do Indianapolis Street Numbers Start at 9?” Originally, it was planned that 10th would be the first numbered street. But right before Christmas 1931, the City Council decided that the new lowest street number would be Nine. Pratt Street, a historic name in the city, would be changed to Ninth Street. The street had been named after Julius Pratt, a prominent citizen in the early days of the area. “Somebody conceived the idea that the name was not sufficiently dignified and, naturally, it was not difficult to get an array of signatures on a petition to change it.’ (Indianapolis Star, 23 December 1931, pp 8)

A street extension, mostly by the city, but would be taken over by the state later, called for a street name change. Daisy Avenue, a street that connected Raymond Street just east of the White River to Bluff Road was changed to West Street. This was in preparation for the city to complete West Street from 16th Street to Bluff Road. The ordinance making the street name change was passed by the City Council on 15 October 1934. Eventually, the entire section of West Street mentioned (from Bluff Road to 16th Street) would find itself part of the state highway system. South of Washington Street, it became SR 37, replacing Bluff Avenue (Road) and Meridian Street. (SR 37 ended in downtown Indianapolis at the time.)

In April 1937, a “discussion” between the City of Indianapolis and residents of Irvington were started, and finished, about the changing of street names in the neighborhood. The biggest fear was that Julian Avenue, named after one of the founders of the town, would be changed to Maryland Street in an effort to keep street names consistent through the city. The City Council announced that very few changes would be recommended…and there would be public meetings about them as they were announced.

There was a post in one of the newsgroups on Facebook to which I subscribe. The poster was asking about a relative that lived on Manlove Street. What happened to Manlove Street? May 1939, a series of 11 name changes were urged on the northside. These name changes would be between 42nd and 52nd Streets. The names were to be changed to the names of roughly the same streets north of 59th Street.

These name changes were: Arsenal to Indianola; Sheldon to Rosslyn; Hovey to Primrose; Ralston Avenue to Ralston Drive; Schofield to Buckingham Avenue; Sangster to Norwaldo; Manlove to Crittenden; Baltimore to Evanston; Caroline to Burlington; Hillside to Cambridge and Brouse to Allenby. Not all of these proposed changes were actually done.

There weren’t many. Street name changes are not taken lightly due to all of the things that go along with it: new street signs; address changes with the post office; property records; etc. But I plan to cover more as time goes on.

Indianapolis Track Elevation, Revisited

In the early 1910’s, the City of Indianapolis and the several railroad companies that entered downtown came to an agreement to elevate the tracks connecting to Union Station. But, technically, it was one railroad that was responsible for dealing with doing the work. The tracks leading to the Union Station all belonged to the Indianapolis Union Railway (IU).

The original contracts that were let for the work, as reported in the Indianapolis Star of 28 January 1913, also included a determined elevation level for the tracks and the grade to be put in place.

The story in the Star reported that there were problems in the City Council about the contract, and delays involved with it. The Law Subcommittee, consisting of R. W. McBride, Caleb S. Denny, Ralph Bamberger, Reginald H. Sullivan and Frank E. Gavin, “reported adversely on the contract.” The main concern was that the city would be on the hook for helping to pay for “increasing the facilities of the railroads.” The Council announced that they want to talk to lawyers about this situation.

Now to the specifics of what is to be done. Article Two of the contract laid out grades and elevation levels of the tracks through downtown. The tracks were to be elevated to the level of the railroad bridges over the White River, rising at a grade of 4/10 of a foot per 100 feet eastward to Illinois Street. From Illinois to Pennsylvania Streets, the tracks were to be level. After Pennsylvania Street, the downgrade would be .256 feet per 100 feet to Virginia Avenue. It would go back up .335 feet per 100 feet until the center of Washington Street. The Panhandle (PRR) and Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton (B&O) tracks were to descend .7 feet per 100 from East Street to Noble Street (College Avenue). The grade of the wye to connect the Madison line, also part of the Panhandle at that point, would ascend at a rate of .76 feet per 100 from Meridian Street to South Street. From Delaware Street to South Street, the wye would ascend .88 feet per 100.

The street clearances were also laid out in Article two of the contract. The following is what was decided, from the newspaper itself:

Indianapolis Star, 28 June 1913, Elevations for Indianapolis Union Railway tracks through downtown Indianapolis.


Of all the streets that would be affected by the elevation, only one was to be removed from the map of the city of Indianapolis. That street was then called Liberty Avenue. Today, it is called Park Avenue.

What caused part of the problem with the City Council is the idea that the ordinance basically ordering the railroad to perform this work (passed in 1905) stated that the city and county would contribute to the elevation of the tracks. But the city refused to pay for any expansion of railroad facilities during this time. Any expansion of the yard facilities that would occur while the elevation was taking place would be borne by the railroad.

The cost was broken up in the contract as follows: Indianapolis Union Railway pays 75%; the remaining 25% would be shared by the City of Indianapolis, the County of Marion, the Town of Woodruff Place and the Indianapolis Street Railway Company/Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company (both at this point are owned by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company).

“It is provided, however, that the railway company alone shall bear the cost of laying the tracks after the elevation is completed.”

The history of the track elevation in Indianapolis was covered in the Indiana Transportation History entry of 7 October 2019 called “Indianapolis Track Elevation.”

Marion County: Wall Street Pike

Today, I want to look at a road that most people wouldn’t know by the name. I will not share the name it has today until the end, so that I can keep my readers guessing throughout the article. But, suffice it to say, it is an important road on the westside of Marion County. It was also a toll road that led from the Crawfordsville Pike westward to the Hendricks County line. It would also keep the “Wall Street Pike” name until it was officially changed in 1968.

But I want to share a couple of stories about the road today.

Indianapolis Star, 7 July 1927. Wall Street Pike covered bridge over Eagle Creek burned to the ground.

In July 1927, a fire destroyed the Wall Street Pike covered bridge over Eagle Creek. The bridge according to the Indianapolis Star of 7 July 1927 was described thus: “After stubbornly fighting the onrush of civilization and modernity for more than sixty years, the covered bridge over Eagle Creek on the Wall street pike, about four and a half miles northwest of Indianapolis, was destroyed by fire yesterday afternoon.”

The Wall Street Pike Bridge was one of only four covered bridges left in Marion County at the time of the fire. The article goes on to locate the three remaining ones: White River near Southport, Indian Creek a short distance east of Fort Benjamin Harrison, and Williams Creek at 75th Street.

Arrival of the fire department, from Engine House #9 at 537 Belleview Place, was too late to save the structure. Before the first spray of water hit the bridge, it was was wavering on its foundation. It then fell into the creek. Hundreds of people watched as the bridge timbers sank into Eagle Creek. “The timbers seemed to recall the countless number of buggies, carriages, old farm wagons, oxen teams, pioneers on horseback, and others, that had passed over it since the day it was dedicated with speeches and music by the Indianapolis ‘town band.'”

The cost of the bridge, when it was built, was estimated at $15,000. It was estimated that it would cost three times that much to replace it in 1927 with the same materials. The structure had been built using black walnut and ash trees, often hewn by local farmers. Maintenance of the bridge, which mainly consisted of reflooring, had been done over time. The last time was about three weeks before the fire.

Wall Street Pike was closed for several weeks while a new $20,000 concrete bridge was built in the place of the old covered bridge. County commissioners would be asked to fund the new bridge…and the appropriation would be brought up at the next meeting.

“Until erection of the concrete bridge the open space between the banks of the stream where the old bridge once stood will reflect its memory and if creeks could talk, the waters would mourn the loss of a good, true and lasting friend.” (Source: Indianapolis Star, 7 July 1927)

The other story I wanted to share is that of the Pugh homestead. Jacob Pugh came to Marion County from Randolph County, North Carolina, in 1821, shortly after the creation of the county itself. He purchased hundreds of acres on the north side of the survey line that would become Wall Street Pike. A son-in-law purchased even more land to the northwest of Jacob Pugh. That land would later become Camp Dellwood.

Indianapolis Star, 20 December 1931.

The pictured house above was built by one of Jacob’s sons, Jesse, in 1846. It had been built from tulip wood. In the 1920’s, the house was sold to the Ashby family.

To tie this back to Indiana Transportation history, the beginning of the article in the Indianapolis Star. “Wall Street pike branches west from Crawfordsville road at the old toll gate which is still standing about six miles from the center of town. West from Eagle creek on this pike, which was one of the first gravel roads in this vicinity, stretches a double row of maple trees, forming a green avenue for about half a mile.”

Now comes the time I bring the Wall Street Pike into the present. From the public announcements in the Indianapolis Star of 9 March 1968 comes the following snippets:

“Pursuant to Section 20 of Chapter 283 of the Acts of the Indiana General Assembly for 1955, as amended by Chapter 380 of the Acts of the Indiana General Assembly for 1959, the Metropolitan Plan Commission of Marion County, Indiana, proposes the following Resolutions Establishing, Reestablishing or Changing The Names of Certain Streets in Marion County, Indiana:”

“68-ST-R-2 – That the name of the street presently known as WALL STREET PIKE from Cunningham Road continuing west to W. County Line Road, is hereby changed to, established as and will hereafter be designated as W. 21ST STREET.”

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.

1917: Main Roads to Fort Benjamin Harrison Need Work

When Fort Benjamin Harrison was built in Lawrence Township, in northeastern Marion County, getting there was quite the chore. It has been built along the Big Four’s Bellefontaine, or Bee, line. This allowed steam locomotives to pass by the new Army post on a regular basis. The Big Four, with its affiliation with the New York Central, could get Army traffic to and from the fort to almost any place in the United States without much effort.

The workforce for the new fort would come on either the Bee line, or the new Indiana Union Traction line that connected Indianapolis to Anderson, Muncie and Fort Wayne. Although it didn’t last much more than three decades, this was an important way to access the fort. The station for that interurban line still exists…and is open to the public as a Mexican restaurant (as of this writing) called the Hacienda.

But automobile traffic was becoming more and more important. Even more important was the transit of Army vehicles to and from Fort Benjamin Harrison. To that end, in the spring of 1917, the commander of the station, General Edwin F. Glenn, sought to get improvements to the road system to the fort. With this in mind, he held a conference with Marion County government and business leaders to share what he had in mind.

The Indianapolis Star, 10 June 1917. Map of the north east side of Marion County, showing improvements needed to access Fort Benjamin Harrison.

First and foremost in the General’s mind was the main road to the fort – the Pendleton Pike. Technically, the Pendleton Pike started at the limits of the City of Indianapolis at Bee Line connection to the Indianapolis Belt Railway just east of Brightwood Avenue (Sherman Drive). West of that point, it was called Massachusetts Avenue. The county had taken over the Pendleton Toll Road in the late 1880s. But little was done for its improvement or maintenance. By the time the Army created the fort, the road was little more than a connection to other roads in rural Marion County and downtown Indianapolis. Many battles were fought about the improvement of the road, lasting past the end of World War I, when such improvements were vital.

The Pendleton Pike, in 1917, was being improved…slowly but surely. The plan was to concrete the road from the Indianapolis City Limits to 38th Street, just west of what is now Shadeland Avenue. From there, the first of the two sections to the fort’s main north-south entrance, would be improved with heavy stone. This would take the heavy stone from 38th Street to the old Noblesville-Franklin State Road, or Franklin Road. The next section would be graveled. This section ran from Franklin Road to the Yerger or Acre Free Gravel Road, now known as Post Road. The section of the Post Road, connecting Pendleton Pike to the interior of Fort Benjamin Harrison, was being hard surfaced with a “special preparation,” according to the Indianapolis Star of 10 June 1917.

The next road to get attention was the “54th Street Road,” connecting west from the fort to Millersville. Those of you from the area might be a little confused. The village of Millersville was along the Fall Creek, just inside the Washington Township border at what is now Emerson Way. The main drag from Fort Benjamin Harrison is now called 56th Street, not 54th. That road was built along the half-survey line starting where the Millersville and Fall Creek Free Gravel Roads come together near what is now Emerson Way at Millersville Road. The highlighted section of the following MapIndy photo, from 1952, shows the original route connecting the Millersville Road to the old Fall Creek & Mud Creek Road. (At the time, what is now Rucker Road continued south of what is now Fall Creek Road. It would be that way until sometime before 1962, when two lakes were built. The Rucker Road extension would finally be taken out sometime between 1979 and 1986.)

The Millersville Road, according to the Indianapolis Star “is by no means a direct route to the fort. It begins at Thirty-eighth street and Fall Creek and meanders northeast about eight miles to the famous Baker’s bridge and thence southeast a quarter of a mile to the fort grounds.” Baker’s Bridge is along the old Noblesville-Franklin State Road, now called Boy Scout Road, in the northwest corner of the Fort Benjamin Harrison grounds. General Glenn wanted the entirety of the Millersville Road covered with gravel…a job that, according to the General, with five wagons in two days. The first three miles of the Millersville Road had already been improved with asphalt. The next half mile being oiled gravel. The rest of the road was gravel…and work was being done at the time to repair damage done by large, heavy, loads transiting the road.

Other roads being worked on for access to the fort were the National Road from Irvington to Acre Road, Emerson Avenue, Arlington Avenue, 34th Street and the Acre Road itself.

At the time, National Road was the actual name of the Washington Street extension outside the limits of the City of Indianapolis at Sheridan Avenue in Irvington. West of Sheridan, it was Washington. East of that point, it was the National Road. The first mile of the National Road, from Sheridan Avenue, was being concreted. That would end near what is now Shortridge Road and Washington Street. The next two miles from Shortridge Road east were already concreted at that time. That would take it to a point east of Acre (Post) Road. The Acre Road, as of 10 June 1917, was closed for construction of a stone road stretching five miles north to the Pendleton Pike and into the fort.

Emerson and Arlington Avenues were also under construction at the time. Both were being concreted from Washington Street (both are west of Sheridan Avenue) to the Pendleton Pike. Emerson Avenue met Pendleton Pike at roughly 30th Street. Emerson Avenue, at least the southern section of said, ended at the Bee Line. Neither 30th Street nor Emerson Avenue crossed the railroad tracks, and passage past those tracks was done at an underpass on 32nd Street.

Arlington Avenue meets Pendleton Pike (now Massachusetts Avenue) at 34th Street. Improvements along 34th Street included asphalt paving from the Lake Erie & Western (Nickel Plate) Railroad crossing for three miles to the east to what was the northern section of Emerson Avenue. From there to Arlington Avenue, 34th Street was a stone road. Prior to being called 34th Street, the road was the Fall Creek & Warren Township Free Gravel Road.

It would take some time until the roads were improved for to the General’s liking. With the creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1917, the National Road was taken over as Main Market Road #3. It wouldn’t be until 1923 that the Pendleton Pike would find itself part of the state highway system, entering that system as Original State Road 37. By then, the war was over, and traffic to Fort Benjamin Harrison had, while not stopping completely, had slowed considerably as it normally does after the completion of a war. The fort would, eventually, get its connections to the road system other than SR 67/US 36 (Pendleton Pike). In 1941, 56th Street west out of the fort would become part of SR 534, a designation it would only hold for a few years before that state road was routed straight down Shadeland Avenue. With the building of the Interstate system, which was technically built for the defense of the United States, Fort Benjamin Harrison would find itself with two exits from I-465 (Pendleton Pike and 56th Street) and one on I-70 (Post Road). I suppose the Post Road exit on I-74 could technically be listed as part of that…but it is quite a distance from the Fort.

The Status of Indiana Road Building, 1928

Within the first decade of the second creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission, the state found itself building, maintaining and upgrading roads at a furious pace. Up to that point, the ISHC was taking over roads slowly. This also meant that paving of those roads was slowly creeping forward. But 1928 saw the biggest improvement in state highways to that time. The Indianapolis Star of 16 January 1929 had an entire section called the “Good Roads Review” that covered the feat.

After the passing of the second ISHC act in 1919, the state started adding to the highway system as it could. A limiting factor, at the time, was money. The ISHC finances were slow in coming together. But it was also important to hold to the mandate of connecting the seats of government for each of the 92 Indiana counties to each other via state highways. A program of road and bridge building was pushed by Governor Harry Leslie in 1928. To that end, the ISHC was hoping for a large infusion of money to further the program, and to put Indiana on par with its neighbors when it came to good quality roads. Governor Leslie addressed the General Assembly to pass a bill to give the ISHC an additional 5 to 6 million dollars for the goal.

At the time, the state highway system consisted of 5,000 miles of roads, 2,800 of which were still in need of improvement. Most state highways at the time were gravel. But maintenance costs were skyrocketing due to major increases in traffic. This led the ISHC to believe that paving, instead of maintaining, these roads was both more cost effective and beneficial to the motorist of the Hoosier State.

At the close of the 1928 fiscal year, Indiana had improved 1,060.1 miles of its Federal aid highway system. Most of that was spent towards paving the roads, not just maintaining them. To put it into perspective, Indiana had 4,701.5 miles of Federal aid roads at the end of the same fiscal year. That meant that only 22.5 percent of those road had been improved. This put Indiana 31st in the Union when it came to the mileage of those roads. Most other states were gravelling roads as Indiana was pushing concrete road surfaces. Texas, for example, had completed as much as 50% of their Federal aid roads, much of that in gravel.

The government of the state had placed a higher priority on the “more bang for the buck” idea of infrastructure improvements. This stemmed from when the state would just throw money at projects, and almost had to file for bankruptcy. That in turn led to the Indiana Constitution of 1851, which forced financial responsibility on the government.

But that didn’t help Indiana in the sheer numbers of paved mileage. Illinois and Michigan both had 6,000 miles of paved road. Ohio had 11,000. Kentucky, at the end of 1928, had 4,000.

The plan for 1929 called for 220 miles of paved roads to be added to the state highway system. The Star listed those projects in the collection of articles. US 24 (called State Road 24 in the newspaper – there is no difference, really) would have 75 miles of paving done in 1929: 35 miles between Monticello and Huntington; and 40 miles at the eastern end of the road. US 50 between Vincennes and Aurora would add 50 miles of pavement. SR 29 between Greensburg and Shelbyville, 27 miles, would also get the same treatment. Another planned project was 27 miles of SR 37 between Bloomington and Bedford.

Two gaps in US 27 between Fort Wayne and Richmond would be completed during the summer of 1929. One, a 12 mile stretch north of Winchester. The other, 10 miles south of Berne. SR 16 was planned for 15 miles of paving between Rensselaer and Remington. The last project listed included US 150, with about two miles near West Baden on the list.

Removing the Bluff Road Bridge Over the Illinois Central/Indiana Railroad

The year is 1902, and the Indianapolis Southern Railroad has just been chartered to enter the city of Indianapolis and rumble through the Marion County countryside south of the city. Once the railroad entered Perry Township from Center Township (at what is now Troy Avenue), the railroad right of way followed the survey line one mile west of the Three Notch Road (Meridian Street) and two miles west of the Range Line (Shelby Street). Just south of what would become Stop 8 Road, now Edgewood Avenue, the railroad crossed the Bluff Free Gravel Road.

Rail and road traffic near this intersection of the Indianapolis Southern and the Bluff Road wasn’t a real problem for several years after the building of the railroad. In 1914, the Bluff Road was to become part of the Dixie Highway. This highway, connecting south Florida to Chicago and northern Michigan, actually connected to Indianapolis, the hometown of its creator, in four different directions. This led to a traffic increase along the Bluff Road, creating more problems at the railroad crossing which was at a very bad angle to begin with.

The problem was made worse when the state took over the Bluff Road in 1923, making it original State Road 22. This made the Indiana State Highway Commission responsible for the maintenance of the very old road. In 1925, the state decided that enough was enough, and a bridge was built over the Indianapolis Southern railroad, which had become part of the Illinois Central.

The bridge that was built was a very narrow facility. Two lanes wide, at best. But it would serve its purpose, creating a safe crossing of the Illinois Central by SR 22, or as it would soon become, SR 37. And it did just that until the state started moving SR 37 to the west in 1964, and completing the job in 1965. The overpass then became property of Marion County. And here is where it went downhill.

MapIndy 1937 aerial image of the Bluff Road bridge
over the Illinois Central Railroad.

Reconstruction work on the deteriorating span was scheduled in both 1971 and 1977. The Indianapolis Transportation Board posted a long list of bridge projects for that year in newspapers in mid May 1971 and early April 1977. By 1984, the city was looking at removing the bridge all together. Unfortunately, getting the right of way to do this proved troublesome. The bridge was built with very little clearance when it came to the actual right-of-way used. It was suggested by John Willen, DOT Chief Engineer, that land acquisition was a problem, and that the bridge would not be replaced due to decreased rail traffic at that location.

Legal notice was published in the newspapers in December 1984 that the Indianapolis Department of Transportation, with the cooperation of the Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Highways, had decided that the overpass on Bluff Road over what was then the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad would be removed and an at-grade crossing would be put in its place. “The proposed project begins at a point approximately 210 feet south of Banta Road, then extends in a northerly direction mostly along the existing alignment of Bluff Road, and terminates at a point about 750 feet south of Edgewood Avenue for a total project length of 0.42 mile (2,210 feet).” In addition to the removal of the overpass, the following was listed as part of the project: “The portion of Bluff Crest Drive between Bluff Road and Bluff Crest Lane, approximately 280 feet will be removed and Bluff Crest Drive access to Bluff Road will be terminated.”

MapIndy aerial image from 1986 of the
Bluff Road bridge over the Indiana Railroad.

In September 1986, the city of Indianapolis introduced a resolution to implement a five ton weight limit on the overpass. The notification of the resolution in the newspapers of the time stated “whereas, the Indianapolis Department of Transportation Street Engineering Division was notified that certain portions of this structure had a stage of deterioration.” Prior to this, the bridge had had a ten ton weight limit. In May 1987, the bridge was closed completely as the city of Indianapolis decided it would be better off replacing the structure with an at-grade crossing. The city reported that the work would be completed by 15 July 1987. The original plan to remove Bluff Crest Drive was apparently just dropped along the way. That residential street still connects to Bluff Road in the same location as it had before the removal of the overpass.

On 29 July 1987, the Indianapolis Star announced that “Bluff Road, closed since April from Banta Road to Edgewood Avenue for extensive reconstruction, was reopened for traffic Tuesday (28 July 1987).” The project cost the city $540,000 and involved the removal of the “severely deteriorated Indianapolis Southern Railroad overpass built in 1925.” Even in the end of the overpass’ life, the newspaper still called it the Indianapolis Southern instead of the company that had taken it over just the year before, the Indiana Railroad.

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

I-465 Construction, the PRR and Madison Avenue

Indianapolis served as a railroad capital for many years before the coming of the automobile. Since surface roads connected Indianapolis to many points in the state in many directions, it was logical that the coming of the automobile would lead to a concentration of automobile routes. But those were still subject to the locations of railroads. The interstate would change all that.

The purpose of the interstate was to create a high speed, limited interruption traffic flow. This, by definition, would require the new interstates to deal with going over or under those rail routes. Most of those intersections were accomplished with the interstate going over the railroads. And these overpasses are high, due to the clearances that were going to be required by the railroads at the time.

If one looks at a map of Interstate 465, one would notice that there is only one railroad bridge over the interstate. That bridge is the original Madison & Indianapolis, then Pennsylvania Railroad, on the southside. The reason for this really came down to the location of the interstate more than anything else.

When the interstate’s location was decided, it would follow closely to the original chosen location to SR 100 which it was replacing. That original location, in terms of Indianapolis modern street names, was Shadeland Avenue, 82nd/86th Street, High School Road, and Thompson Road. A quick glance at a map shows this.

On the southside, through the south central part of the county, this led to the interstate route traversing through the Lick Creek “valley.” The Pennsylvania Railroad already had a bridge over Lick Creek in the area. That same bridge also crossed the road leading into what was Longacre Park (being turned into a trailer park from September 1963), which had been in that location since 1926.

Louisville & Indiana (former Madison & Indianapolis/Panhandle/Pennsylvania Railroad) bridge over Lick Creek and Lick Creek Parkway into Longacre Mobile Home Park. This Google Maps image was sampled on 10 May 2020, from an image captured in June 2019. This image shows both the original bridge and the 1964 concrete expansion places on top to raise the level of the railroad.

The level of the railroad over that section of the coming interstate was right around 13 feet above ground level. This amount of clearance wasn’t enough for the State Highway Commission. This would require the Pennsylvania Railroad to raise the level of the railroad about three feet. This can be seen by the concrete extension over and above the old stone bridge over Lick Creek and Lick Creek Parkway just south of the interstate.

Google Map aerial photo of the Louisville & Indiana crossing of Interstate 465. Image was sampled 10 May 2020.

The Indianapolis Star of 27 March 1964, in a news story announcing road closures throughout the area, mentions that “Lawrence Street will be blocked for two weeks while the Pennsylvania Railroad elevated and repairs the tracks in connection with Interstate 465 construction.”

Also at work at the time was the Madison Avenue crossing of Interstate 465. Before the coming of the interstate, Madison Avenue had been a two lane state road, SR 431, south of Shelby Street. The main access to Longacre Park was actually north of Lick Creek, as shown in the following 1952 aerial photograph from MapIndy. The trailer park along Madison Avenue at Redfern Drive would come into direct play when I-465 started construction through the area.

1957 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Lick Creek area from Madison Avenue to Longacre Park.

Before the interstate construction would reach the area, a redesign of the Madison Avenue crossing of the area was already in process. The new bridge across the future interstate and Lick Creek would be two lanes in each direction. To accommodate this construction, a new, temporary, Madison Avenue would have to be built to bypass the area of the new bridge. Also, utility lines would also have to moved to the east.

1962 MapIndy aerial image of the area of Madison Avenue and Lick Creek.

The image to the left is the 1962 aerial photograph of the area from MapIndy. It shows the bypass Madison Avenue being built through the mobile home park at Redfern Drive mentioned above. The bypass would start south of the current Lick Creek Parkway, and reconnect to Madison Avenue right at the angled intersection of Shelby Street. The bypass route can be seen as the brighter road through the left center of the photo. (It hadn’t seen traffic yet, and as such was brand new concrete.)

Some people have wondered why Madison Avenue is the only (former) State Road that did not have an interchange with Interstate 465. Spacing is the only answer I could come up with. The Pennsylvania Railroad is one-quarter mile, or so, east of Madison Avenue. East Street, the US 31 bypass built in the early 1940’s, is one half mile west of Madison Avenue…not counting the ramp lengths. Shelby Street is one half mile east of East Street through its entire length through Marion County.

1962 MapIndy closeup aerial photo of the Madison Avenue bridge construction over future I-465 and Lick Creek.

The bypass Madison Avenue built in 1962 would become the frontage road in what was later the Madison Mobile Home Park. It is now called McConnell Way. A quick glance at utility lines through the area show that they weren’t been moved back to the side of Madison Avenue after construction was completed. The following aerial photograph, from 1972, shows the construction through the area completed.

1972 MapIndy aerial photograph of Madison Avenue and (then) Penn Central crossing of I-465 and Lick Creek.

For those interested, the cover photo for this post is the same area shown in all the other photos as would have been seen in 1937. That image is also from MapIndy. MapIndy is available online at: http://maps.indy.gov/MapIndy/index.html.

Building I-465 at West 21st Street

When the interstate system worked its way to Indiana, the plan for a bypass around Indianapolis was on the books as part of the project. Even before the route numbers were nailed down, the destinations and relative locations were in place. What would become I-465 would take almost a decade to build – more if you count the section from I-65 to I-865 on the northwest side of Marion County. (For more information about that statement, see “The Beginning of I-465,” published on 16 May 2019.) But I-465 was contentious…and not entirely for the reasons one would think.

Indianapolis Star, 11 August 1961.

The first real bone of contention (other than the coming destruction of entire sections of Marion County) was the area where I-465 and 21st Street meet on the west side. The section of the current interstate from Crawfordsville Road south to almost 10th Street runs very close to Big Eagle Creek. The town of Speedway at the time suffered from flooding on a regular basis. The state planned for 21st Street to cross over the interstate. Local residents, and county government, wanted the opposite…the interstate to cross over 21st Street. Part of the argument was that the state had already planned to elevate sections of the road on both sides of 21st Street. Why not keep the elevation for the 21st Street section.

Part of the argument was flooding…or the potential for such. People in the town of Speedway were under the impression that running 21st Street under the interstate would form a valve to keep flooding to a minimum. As the Indianapolis Star pointed out in an editorial piece on 24 August 1961, “nothing could be further from the truth.” The interstate was graded far above the maximum flood level at Eagle Creek. The building of an underpass for 21st Street, it is pointed out, would require a complete new system of levees to be built to control the flooding of 21st Street. The problem for Speedway and flooding was not an interstate overpass, but major work needed on Eagle Creek.

It was pointed out in another article that the plans for I-465 included, in the embankment for the bridges, four channels for water to flow through the area not actually in Eagle Creek. The Indianapolis Star of 9 July 1961 reported that Joseph I. Perrey, chief engineer for the Indiana Flood Control and Water Resources Commission, stated that no matter what was built at I-465 and 21st Street, the problem with Speedway flooding was more controlled by the 21st Street bridge over Eagle Creek. “The construction of 21st Street either under or over Interstate 465 will have no affect in stopping flooding.” Mr. Perrey continued “but a new county bridge could alleviate the situation somewhat.”

Progress was made towards changing the state’s mind about the 21st Street overpass. Summer of 1961 saw a flurry of activity. The state agreed to change the project, if the county put up a $50,000 bond to cover any cost overruns due to the change. The deadline for the county agreeing to that provision, and thus the contract to change the plans, was 21 August 1961. County Commissioners agreed to sign the deal that day, if they could include a provision to delay the posting of the bond. By law, the county said, it would take five days to make the money available.

But the State Highway Commission was also in a bind at this point. Construction had reached a point where concrete was ready to pour. Any delay in that poring could have resulted in the contractor suing the state. In addition to the changing of 21st Street from an overpass to an underpass, the county was asking that 21st Street be built four lanes wide, instead of two, to “avoid a greater expenditure if 21st must be widened later.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 21 August 1961)

The whole thing was made worse when the county questioned the state about the current status of the contract. (Source: Indianapolis Star, 8 September 1961) “The State Highway Commission yesterday refused the ‘bait’ offered by the Marion County Board of Commissioners to cancel the contract obligating the county commissioners to pay for the time the state suspended operations on Interstate 465.” The state was expected to send the county a bill for the six day shutdown of construction on the interstate due to the county trying to raise the bond money. The county, for its part, wanted the contract to be declared cancelled…which the state wasn’t having.

Add to this, the county stating that they weren’t paying anything until a full accounting was relayed to them. They expected it to be, roughly, $1,000 a day, not the $25,000 the State Highway Commission expected.

Meanwhile, the whole decision to build a 21st Street bridge over I-465 was being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads. That investigation started when three local residents accused the Highway Commissioner of conflict of interest, and hinted that his three sons would benefit from the building of an overpass. Indications were that libel suits would start flying from the Commissioner’s sons once cleared by the Federal investigation.

“The controversy over the intersection of I-465 and 21st Street was started by Jules T. Gradison who owns the land around the intersection. He demanded that 21st Street pass under I-465 and the state agreed to the change when the county commissioners offered to pay the extra cost, estimated at from $150,000 to $200,000.” Mr. Gradison also pointed out that he would have given any extra acreage needed to change the plan free of charge.

21st Street crosses over I-465 to this day. The overpass is also, to this day, only two lanes wide. With the many reconstructions of I-465 through that area, the 21st Street overpass has allowed for the widening of 465 needed over the years.

Farmers Ferry

Greene County, 1989. A ferry across the White River, owned by Greene County, is sold to private interests. The ferry had been in roughly the same location for over 120 years. The Greene County Commissioners decided that the cost of maintenance and insurance was getting too much to keep giving the free service to the public. Slowing use didn’t help much. With no income, and an outlay of between $10,000 and $15,000 annually, the county sold the ferry, ending a service that had seen its fair share of tourists and mishaps over its history.

1950 USGS Topographical Map of Farmers and Farmers Ferry.

Farmers Ferry began life crossing the White River at the unincorporated town of Farmers, an Owen County community 12 miles south of Spencer on both the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad and the Indianapolis-Vincennes state road (which would, eventually, become SR 67). The town was named after a merchant in the area. The railroad, which had commenced construction in 1867, built a station at the town called Farmers Station. A post office there opened in 1869. That post office was changed from Farmers Station to Farmers in 1882, and closed in 1931.

The ferry was used, once the railroad was in operation, to move cattle and hogs across the White River to be loaded onto trains to be sold in Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Stock Yards were located close to the Indianapolis end of the I&V, making this railroad convenient for farmers in the area. The ferry service chugged along its merry way until 1918, when a change of course of the White River caused the service to migrate downstream by about one half mile into Greene County. The wooden ferry boat was replaced with a steel one in 1930. The moving of the river caused the town of Farmers, which at the turn of the 20th Century, had “three doctors, two drugstores, three groceries, and ice plant and a feed mill,” (Source: Indianapolis News, 3 August 1977) to become, by 1977, a place described as “although you can find Farmers on the official Indiana highway map, there is nothing here but a pump with no handle.”

Local residents were working on replacing the ferry as early as 1940. According to the Linton Daily Citizen of 28 February 1940, petitions had been filed with the Greene County Board of Commissioners asking for the old SR 54 bridge across the White River at Elliston be moved to replace the ferry near Farmers. Dirt approaches had been built, but the cost of moving and maintaining the bridge were too much for the county to bear. At the time, the ferry cost around $6,000 yearly.

One of the best descriptions of the Farmers Ferry was published in the Indianapolis Star of 1 February 1948. “Just south of the Owen-Greene County line a winding country road branched off Indiana Highway 67, meanders through cornfields and woodland and after a mile or so comes to an abrupt end in front of a cottage-like dwelling on the west bank of White River. Tied up at a rude landing below the little house is the Green (sic) County Navy – an unimpressive two-craft fleet but, nonetheless, the only county-owned navy in all Indiana.” The ferry operator at the time was George Baker, referred to, jokingly, as “Admiral Baker.” At the time of this article, “the officials of Greene County presently are engaged in modernizing their fleet. They have on order, with delivery promised soon, a new flagship – an all-metal 10 feet longer than the present ferry.” “I ought to get a new uniform to go with the new boat,” Baker says.

Over its history, the ferry had seen its share of mishaps. In 1957 or 1958, due to poor loading of the ferry, two loads of cattle were dumped into the river. Clyde W. Thompson, local resident, stated recalled the story that happened to his father. The cattle swam back to the bank and climbed out of the river “after their dip.” (Source: Indianapolis Star, 2 July 1989). “One ferryman had the distinction of sinking the same truck – his own – twice: once when it slipped off the ferry, and again when it rolled into the water from the bank.” A truckload of lime slipped from the ferry on 17 April 1956. (Source: Linton Daily Citizen, 18 April 1956) The truck was declared a total loss, and the load of lime was swept away by the swift currents of the White River.

The South Bend Tribune of 1 November 1981 interviewed the ferry operator at the time, Bernard Calvert. With the $700 a month he was paid to run the ferry, he was helping support poor families in Malaysia and the Philippines. His personal history was covered in that story. I don’t plan on going into it here. Suffice it to say after losing almost everything, he decided that it wasn’t going to happen again.

By the time an article was published in the Princeton Daily Clarion on 14 May 1965, there were only two intrastate ferries left in Indiana. One was Farmers. The other was southwest of Bloomfield, which had began operation in 1957 to replace a 400-foot long covered bridge built in 1889. The bridge approaches were undermined by the 1957 spring floods, forcing the county to decide a ferry was cheaper than building a new bridge. This made Greene County unique in that it operated two toll-free ferries, as the Linton Daily Citizen of 20 June 1960 pointed out, “across a stream that’s considered ‘not navigable,’ White River.” The two ferry boats were referred to as the “Greene County Navy.”

Martinsville Reporter-Times, 27 June 2004, picture showing the Farmers Ferry in 1987, two years before it was closed. The article attached to this photo is a “this week in history.”

The Farmers Ferry, by 1987, had dropped to an average usage of six people a day. The ferryman at that time, Jesse Burton, made roughly $7,000 a year to run the facility. Those people worked the fields in the area. They used the ferry to avoid the 26 mile journey to cross the river otherwise.

The Greene County Commissioners sold the ferry to Carter M. Fortune, who had just purchased a ranch along the river. The ranch, known by locals as the “Flying-T,” who sold to Fortune by the family of Clyde W. Thompson, mentioned above. Fortune’s goal was to keep the ferry active, but due to insurance concerns, only for private use. At that point, the Farmers Ferry had been listed in tourist brochures as the “last passenger ferry in Indiana.” With the closing of the Farmers Ferry, crossing the White River required travelers to either go south to Worthington, where SR 157 crosses the river, or to Freedom where the CR 590 bridge allows passage. These crossings are ten miles apart.

Bridge at New Harmony

Along the Wabash River is the town of New Harmony. The town dates from 1814, founded by the Harmony Society under the leadership of George Rapp. The Harmony Society was a group of German Lutherans that had separated from the official church and immigrated to the United States. That group, by 1824, moved back to Pennsylvania. The town then was purchased by Welsh industrialist Robert Owen for the purpose of creating a utopian community. That plan failed, but the community did contribute to American society.

Fast forward around 100 years. On 1 May 1928, the United States Congress chartered a private company, the Big Wabash Bridge Company of Carmi, Illinois, to build and maintain a bridge crossing the Wabash River between Carmi and New Harmony. Built by the Nashville Bridge Company of Nashville, Tennessee, the bridge opened to much fanfare on 30 December 1930. The bridge, as originally designed, is just shy of 2,600 feet long, with a 20 foot wide roadway on 47 spans.

Shortly after opening, the Indiana State Highway Commission made the New Harmony Toll Bridge a part of SR 66. Within a decade of that opening, ownership concerns began occurring. A bill passed through the Indiana General Assembly in 1939 created what was to be called the Indiana Toll Bridge Commission (ITBC). The ITBC was immediately asked by the Harmony Way Bridge Company, the then current owners of the bridge, to purchase the structure. Opposition to the bill creating the ITBC was questioning the end purpose of the commission, as State Senator Roy Dentiston, Rochester, stated, the bill was introduced in “an attempt to pull the irons out of the fire for somebody.” (Source: Indianapolis Star, 12 August 1939)

The bill became law without the signature of then Governor M. Clifford Townsend. Once the ITBC was created, questions also crept up about the fact that the commission was meeting behind closed doors. Meetings were held with various people “in the event the commission should buy the New Harmony bridge.” “‘No commitments have been made to anybody,’ George C. Simler of Corydon, commission president, said.”

The plan to buy the bridge went through in 1940. The ITBC agreed to buy the bridge, built for $640,000, for $945,000, with a surplus fund of $105,000 for emergencies. Governor Townsend had already blocked an effort, in 1939, to purchase the bridge for $1.3 million. The ITBC was in the process of not only buying the bridge at New Harmony, but building a toll bridge at Mauckport. Bonds for the purchase were sold, dated 1 October 1940 with a maturation date of 1 October 1960. But, the ITBC pointed out, that tolls collected from the bridge would not only retire the bonds in eight to ten years, but that the bridge would be made free to use around the same time. Operation costs were estimated to be $15,000 to $16,000 a year including painting, maintenance, and insurance.

The fallout from both the creation of the ITBC and the pending purchase of the Harmony Way Bridge was massive. Lawsuits were filed in the matter. The Indiana General Assembly heard a bill repealing the creation of the commission. The biggest complaint was the purchase price of the bridge. A. S. Thomas, representing the Indiana Farm Bureau, “said engineers have estimated that the bridge could now be built for approximately $475,000.” (Source: Indianapolis Star, 29 January 1941) “We consider the purchase price not based on good judgment. I am not trying to keep anyone in southern or western Indiana from having a bridge, but we are interested in the people who use that bridge,” Thomas added. Attorney for the ITBC, Lew O’Bannon (grandfather of future Governor Frank O’Bannon), explained that “at the present rate of income from the bridge it would be paid for in approximately 10 years and then converted into a free bridge.”

In the end, the state did not purchase the New Harmony bridge. Later in 1941, the United States Congress created a joint Illinois-Indiana agency called the White County Bridge Commission (WCBC) to purchase the structure for $895,000. This would be the organization that still owns the bridge to this day.

Tolling facilities had been on the eastern end of the bridge until replaced, in 1951, with the toll house that still exists on the Illinois side of the river.

In 1957, the Army Corps of Engineers warned that the structure was in danger of being destroyed or cut off by the Wabash River. (Source: Terre Haute Tribune, 31 May 1957) Testimony occurred before the House Public Works Appropriation Subcommittee asking for $405,000 for the shoring up of the west bank of the Wabash. The river had been developing a series of new bends. These threatened the stability of the bridge. The new channel being created by nature could have cut the bridge off from Illinois completely. Louis C. Rabaut, Democrat Representitive from Michigan, pointed out that during the Wabash Flood of 1943, the New Harmony bridge was the only crossing of the Wabash that remained open.

In 1961, the operations of the White County Bridge Commission came under Congressional scrutiny. Senator Robert S. Kerr, Democrat of Oklahoma, Chairman of the Senate Public Works Committee, announced that “his committee now wants to learn all about the manner in which the bridge at New Harmony, Ind., is operated. He said full investigation and hearings will be held.” (Source: Indianapolis Star, 22 September 1961) The whole ordeal was started by Representative Winfield K. Denton of Indiana, who had been trying to end the White County Commission for the previous six years. The effort was to free the bridge of tolls. Denton had put in a “secret amendment” into a bridge auditing bill to allow the Secretary of Commerce to name a new commission for the bridge, after wiping out the then current one. Denton stated that the facility had collected $4 million in tolls since the creation of the commission, but was still a toll bridge. The General Accounting Office had issued a scathing report in 1955 about the commission, prompting the entire scenario. After these hearings, the commission was left in place.

Funding became a serious issue, coming to a head in 2001, when the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs granted the WCBC a total of $120,000 for upgrades to the facility. The plan was to close the bridge at the end of 2001. At this point, the facility was in such poor condition that neither state wanted to take over operations and maintenance. It was, according to the Indianapolis Star of 12 December 2001, estimated that $2.2 million to $3.6 million would be required to bring the bridge up to Federal standards. It was also estimated that it would cost $25 million to replace.

According to the same article, the bridge had dropped its tolling earlier in 2001. This didn’t last very long. Daily average crossings, in 1999, numbered 2,660 vehicles. In October 2001 it was announced that the bridge would be closed by the end of that year. That ended up not happening. Officials of New Harmony were pleased with that news, as “closing the bridge would double the driving distance between the two towns (Carmi and New Harmony) from seven to 14 miles. That could be dangerous for emergency vehicles or people trying to reach a hospital.”

September 2007 did see the closing of the facility…but not permanently. Damage to one of the concrete piers warranted the closing for emergency repairs. At this time, the WCBC was operating on an annual budget of $460,000, not enough to keep the bridge in good condition. Again, the commission asked the departments of transportation of both Illinois and Indiana to take over the bridge. And again, this was shot down due to the cost of bringing the bridge up to federal standards. The bridge would reopen in April 2008.

In September 2011, it was made public that the bridge was in need of $8.4 million in repairs to bring it out of “structurally deficient” status. (Source: Seymour Tribune, 30 September 2011) This status was also applied at the time to the Sherman Minton Bridge carrying Interstate 64 over the Ohio River near Louisville. The difference between to two structures was that the Sherman Minton Bridge was a state owned facility. It also carried much more traffic. The end of the bridge’s useful life came to an end in May 2012 when it was announced that it would be closed at noon on 29 May 2012. This was announced by the WCBC on 21 May 2012. Unfortunately, that 29 May date was pushed up to immediately, as in 21 May 2012.

Today, the bridge still stands. It has been cut off from both ends, abandoned in place. Indiana SR 66 and Illinois SR 14 are still maintained up to a point near the approaches to the old structure. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, having received that honor in 2007.