Just a short post to show how state roads have changed.
I have covered Auto Trails and the original state road numbers several times over the past nearly two years. I had done a post about the rerouting of the Pike’s Peak Ocean-To-Ocean Highway through Indiana. But the original route, as covered by fellow blogger (and ITH Facebook Group co-admin) Jim Grey, traveled across the western part of the state using the US 36 corridor. (The latest is “US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in Danville, Indiana,” among others) I’d like to say it followed the current US 36, but it’s been moved several times over the years.
As I had mentioned in other posts along the way, many of the roads that were added originally to the state highway system were part of the Auto Trails systems that crossed the United States. When the Pike’s Peak road was taken into the state system, it was given the designation “State Road 31.” Well, sort of.
OSR 31 started in the west at OSR 10, across the Wabash River west of Montezuma. From there, it went through Montezuma, Rockville, and Bainbridge to Danville. From Danville, the PPOO rumbled across Hendricks and Marion Counties along what is now Rockville Road (and Rockville Avenue – because Rockville Road didn’t connect to Washington Street directly until later). The original SR 31, however, connected to the National Road (then Original State Road 3) at a completely different location.
Strangely, the route of the original SR 31 is now not part of the state highway system. Current SR 39 leaves Danville via Cross Street south towards Martinsville. Original State Road 31 turned south from Main Street on Jefferson Street. Jefferson Street turns into Blake Street, then Cartersburg Road. The state road connected to OSR 3 southeast of Cartersburg.
The drive from Danville to Cartersburg is quite a nice one.
With the Great Renumbering in October 1926, original state road 31 became US 36. Again, sort of. The section from Danville to Cartersburg was removed from the highway system at that time. US 36 continued on into Marion County, as shown in the article “Road Trip 1926: US 36.” Just like the original eastern end of OSR 31, the original eastern end of US 36 is now gone, ending at a parking lot.
Today, I want to focus on US 50 on the other side of the state. Yesterday, I covered the original US 50 from Vincennes to Wheatland. Today, the last eight miles heading into Aurora. When the Indiana State Highway Commission was created in 1917, the future US 50 was included…but not as a single road. From Mitchell north to Bedford, then east, it was original state road 4. From Mitchell west, it was original state road 5.
The other thing I want to look at it the location of the original road. Unless you have driven in that section of Indiana, it is hard to fathom the difficulty in building a road through southern Indiana. Most of the state is (relatively) flat. Along the Ohio River, not so much. As someone whose family came from Pennsylvania, I realize the sheer insanity of building a road where the land has to be followed…not plowed through.
In northern and central Indiana, most roads can be built in a straightish line. Obviously, there are hills one has to skirt, and rivers to cross. But most of the land is relatively flat. That ends about 40 miles south of Indianapolis. And abruptly. I am only going to use snippets from one map (and a quick Google map) for this post…that of the 1943 USGS Topographic Map of the Aurora, Indiana, quadrangle. I have made five snippets…one a complete overview, and the other four are basically two miles at a time. I will be going from east to west in this case.
I know this is hard to see. That is why I have broken it down into smaller chunks. But this gives the overview of the whole area. Consider that each of the brown lines on this map are 10 feet changes in elevation. This gives a whole new meaning to up and down, eh?
The original US 50 entered Aurora from the north on what is now Main Street. North of Hogan Creek, Google Maps lists it as George Street. Where George Street meets US 50 north of Aurora, US 50 pretty much follows the old path, for a while, on its way to Lawrenceburg. A turn west on Third Street, and following the old road is still possible. Another turn south on Bridgeway Street, then west on Fourth Street, then original US 50 leaves the small burgh of Aurora. Google Maps shows the old road as Conwell Street. Before it connects into the current US 50, it turns south on Indiana Avenue, still staying south and east of the current US highway.
The problem with following the old road from here is that it has been cut off from the rest of the highway system. Indiana Avenue, before it would connect to current US 50 again, it curves east away from its old path. The Google map snippet to the left shows a blue line where the old road crossed the area that is now US 50, changing from what is now Indiana Avenue into Trester Hill Road.
As you can see from the topo maps of before the new road was built, the frontier path, later state road, that became US 50 originally skirted the edges of the topographical lay of the land. Without looking closer, I can not tell if it is a valley or the top of the ridge that the old road follows. A look on Google Earth shows it may be a valley that the road is keeping to.
The last four miles that I will be covering in this entry are pretty much using the old road as it was created in the early to mid 1800’s. Yes, the road is that old. The area that the road follows is called the Mount Tabor Ridge on this map. And the old road tries to keep climbs and descends as small as possible. This made sense, since getting horses, or even worse, oxen, to climb a hill was a chore in itself. Now, add a wagon, or saddlebags, and it got worse. There are stories abound that tell of someone hurt, or worse, killed trying to traverse steep hills.
This map shows the end of today’s coverage area. Not that I don’t want to keep going west from here. The next topo map available is the Dillsboro quadrangle, but it is dated 1958.
Following the original US 50 through the area gives an idea of what was required when a road was commissioned to go from point A to point B. Just looking at this route shows why the first team that went into “the wild” when it came to building a road would be the surveyors. Of course, this has always been true, for any road built in history. It wouldn’t have been good to draw a straight line on a map and just told someone to build that straight line. Especially through the landscape of southern Indiana.
When the National Road was surveyed through Indiana, it had the distinct honor of being one of the straightest roads in the state…another being the Michigan Road. This was on purpose. Most roads through the state were built around whatever was in the way. Very few roads were built for getting from point a to point b in the quickest way possible. That was left to the state to buy the property necessary to do that.
One notable exception is through Richmond.
The area around Richmond started being settled around 1806. By the time the National Road surveyors got there in the early 1830’s, the town had already been established. And in the way of the nearly straight as a board road coming from the Ohio capital of Columbus. So when the road got to Richmond, it made sense to run it straight down Main Street. And that’s what happened.
However, on the west bank of the Whitewater River, upon which Richmond sits, the continuation of the straight line from Ohio would be continued. This would mean that the road would actually start again south of its location through Richmond. One block south, as a matter of fact. This led to the layout of Richmond, and the road, as shown in the following 1840 map snippet.
On this map, it is labeled Cumberland Road.
As you can see, the Cumberland Road is opposite Walnut Street on the west side of the Whitewater River. That would be South A Street today. The name change of the streets would occur sometime before 1893, as shown in the 1893 snippet below.
The National Road bridge over the Whitewater River would be built in the location shown on the first two snippets in 1832. The same bridge served residents of Wayne County and travelers on the National Road for 65 years. News reports across the state were reporting that deconstruction of the bridge would occur in August 1897. (Source: Muncie Evening Press, 13 August 1897) It was reported in the source newspaper that “the work of removing the old National road bridge at Richmond, Ind., will begin next week.”
The slight variations in the location of the bridge between the 1840 and 1893 maps are just that, slight variations and could be attributed to slight errors. A measurement here or there could change the map by a few feet…which looks like the case here. Another map, this time from 1853, shows the same area, more like the 1840 map than the 1893 variety.
The original structure was a very large affair…at least for that time. It was easily as large as the National Road bridge at Indianapolis. The Richmond Palladium-Item of 21 October 1962 did an article on a painter from Centerville that had done two paintings of the old bridge. A picture from the article is below.
Another view drawn of the bridge was published in 1911 in Century Magazine. It would accompany an article about the old bridge written by a Richmond native. That drawing is shown to the left.
In 1916, it was reported in the Cambridge City Tribune of 3 February 1916, that “the total cost of the construction of the temporary bridge across Whitewater at the location of the old National road bridge at Richmond was $4,895, of which the county, city and traction company each pay one-third, or $1,798.” I can find no news story about why a temporary crossing of the river was necessary.
The original route, more or less, of the National Road through Richmond would become Main Market Road 3 in 1917. That designation would be changed to State Road 3 in 1919. The slight difference would be on the west side of the river, where the state road followed First Street, not the river, to travel between Main Street and National Road. By this time, a third bridge over the Whitewater River was serving as the facility to cross that wide gorge. On 1 October 1926, SR 3 would be forever changed to US 40.
In 1998, INDOT decided to build a new bridge across the river, and reroute the old National Road/US 40 through the city of Richmond. This would put the road on its current path through the city, leaving Main Street out of the mix, at least west of 11th Street, as the major thoroughfare for the first time in almost 200 years. The city of Richmond took over the then abandoned route of US 40, creating a more plaza like environment along the historic street.
The new US 40 bridge that was completed in 2000 was advertised as the fourth bridge to serve as the National Road crossing of the Whitewater. I suppose, in a way, this is true. However, the historic crossing was closer to Main Street, which still has a bridge facility across the wide gorge. Not that I have heard arguments over the issue, it is one that road geeks and historians (or, in my case, both) will probably be discussing for years to come.
In the Auto Trail era, I have mentioned many times that there where many roads that crept up all over the state. Many of these Auto Trails connected Indiana to far flung locations across the United States. Today, I want to discuss a road that connected Cincinnati, Ohio, to Kalamazoo, Michigan, through the eastern part of Indiana – the Ohio-Indiana-Michigan Way.
On old Rand McNally maps of the era, the OIM was listed as number nine in their list. I was never sure why Rand put the roads in the order they did. It certainly wasn’t in any kind of chronological order, since the Dixie Highway and the Lincoln Highway, two of the longest, most important and oldest Auto Trails around, were numbers 25 and 34 respectively.
Most of the original road is still followable today. From the south, it entered Indiana at College Corner, Ohio, southeast of Liberty. After passing through Cottage Grove, it made its way into Liberty. In Liberty, from what I can tell, it followed Liberty Avenue, Union Street, turning north on Main Street, then followed Market Street north out of town. Since it entered Indiana, it followed the route now covered by US 27. North of Liberty, an old bypassed section of the same US 27 is the original route of the OIM.
Just north of Potter Shop Road, or Old Indiana 122, the OIM turned northeast on Esteb Road, which it followed until it connects back into US 27. South of Richmond, the old road and US 27 split again, with the old road following Liberty Avenue on its way into the Wayne County seat.
Leaving north out of Richmond, it again follows what is now US 27 towards Chester. Before reaching that town, the old road turns north to follow Arba Pike, then turns northwest on Martin Road to again connect to the current highway.
After leaving Fountain City to the north, a small section of the road is now out of service. At Bockhofer Road, to follow the old OIM, turn left and then turn right on Hough Road. This trip will keet the traveler off of the modern highway for a little over 2 miles, when the old road and the current highway come together again to travel to Lynn.
At Lynn, a westerly turn onto Church Street will take the traveler out of Lynn. At the end of Church Street, at County Road 100 East, the OIM turned north. Here it followed that county road for five miles, where, at CR 300 South, it connects, once again, to US 27. Just north of CR 200 South, it followed what is now Old US 27 into, and through, Winchester.
The section through Geneva gets a little hard to follow. North of Geneva, however, the road veers to the northeast, following Covered Bridge Road to CR 0, which it follows to north of Monroe. Again, the old OIM connects to the current US 27 north of the town. At Decatur, the old road turns onto Winchester Street, the through town follows Second Street. Again, it connects to US 27 for its journey toward Fort Wayne.
At Fort Wayne, Decatur Road is the original path of the OIM…while US 27 was rerouted to the west. It’s best to follow US 27 through Fort Wayne. North of the city, the road changes to become SR 3. South of Huntertown, the old path veers off onto Lima Road and old State Road 3 until the two come back together north of Avilla. South of Kendallville, turn onto Main Street to enter that town. Here, it basically follows US 6 to SR 9, where it turns north bound for Michigan.
The next major detour from a state road occurs south of Valentine, where the OIM turned west on what is now County Road 500 South. At LaGrange, the OIM followed what is now Old State Road 9 north out of town to what is now SR 120. Here it turned west to connect back to the current SR 9 for the last of its journey to the Michigan State line and points north.
On 27 April, 1975, the Kokomo Tribune ran a full page story about with the headline “Clues to old interurban road still traceable in Tipton County.” The first paragraph was: “TIPTON – Nearly 40 years after the last of Tipton County’s interurbans was abandoned, it is still possible to retrace their rights-of-ways.” Many are the stories that were included in that article. I want to share some of it here today.
Along the old interurban lines, at that time, were many things that can immediately show the location of the old right-of-way. Bridge abutments are the most obvious. But there were also concrete collars, placed around electric poles for the safety of the pole. These collars were four feet high. They lined both sides of the tracks.
But the article goes on to point out other things that aren’t so obvious.
“In a goat pasture about a mile west of Hobbs, the interurban roadway appears as a flat plateau running alone the south side of Ind, 28.” Hobbs, according to Google Maps, is where SR 28 and SR 213 come together. Just south of SR 28 on SR 213, at CR 150S, “utility poles cutting through a field mark the southern edge of the interurban right-of-way.” Between the two mentions places in this paragraph, “a 20-feet-wide strip has been removed from a woods along the highway.”
The Union Traction Company of Indiana operated two interurban lines through Tipton County. The first, which would include the locations from the previous paragraph, ran from Elwood to Tipton through Hobbs. The other ran north through Tipton County, starting in Indianapolis, and connecting Atlanta, Tipton and Sharpsville before leaving the county. Another line that was planned, and construction started, but was never finished, would have connected Tipton to Frankfort.
The article states that “it is easiest today to find the old routes in rural areas. Construction and growth in cities have covered up the old tracks there. The interurbans often ran alongside highways and regular railroads, and the rural folks have not been in a hurry to obliterate the roadbeds.”
The line crossing Tipton County from the south followed the old Nickle Plate tracks across the county into Tipton. The Interurban repair yards, known as “the shops” (as related by 76 year old Dempsey Goodnight, a lineman and conductor for 10 years for the Union Traction Company), were located just north of Cicero Creek at Tipton. Work on the traction cars happened at this location. An electric substation was also contained on the yard’s property. By 1975, the old two story building was being used by a seed company.
That right of way left the Nickle Plate right-of-way to go west on Madison Street. According to Goodnight, between Independence and East Streets, there “used to be a stucco house. I remember when a street car jumped the tracks here and hit the porch.”
The ticket and dispatch offices, as well as the freight house, were located at the corner of Main and Madison Streets. By 1975, the freight depot, located on the west end of the ticket/dispatch office, had been torn down and replaced.
The route through Tipton turned north on Main Street, west on Dearborn Street, and north on Green Street. A boarding house for travelers was located at 612 Green Street, according to Goodnight. From there, the line headed northwest toward Sharpsville and Kokomo.
Jefferson Street was the entry point into Tipton for the line from Elwood, and made a loop in the downtown area. That loop was south on Independence Street, west on Madison Street, north on West Street back to Jefferson Street and its trip back towards Elwood.
“When the interurbans were built, the 75-foot utility poles were set in concrete. As the lines were abandoned, the poles were removed but many of the concrete bases were left in place, now looking like old lawn planters.”
Between Tipton and Hobbs, the old ROW was located about 20 feet south of SR 28. At Hobbs, the interurban followed CR 150S until just east of the SR 213 intersection, where it followed the old Norfolk & Western tracks, along the south side of the ROW, for four miles. Near CR 700E, the interurban veered south, just to turn back north to cross the N&W on a viaduct..
The ROW south from Tipton followed the old Nickle Plate as far as CR 500S, where it moved to the west around a cemetery. It then turned east again to cross a road, railroad and a creek. One of the abutments for that overpass still exist along CR 100 W and the Nickle Plate tracks, as seen here.
It looks like there may be a road trip in my future to see what is actually left of these two interurban lines. From what I can tell from Google Maps, there isn’t much. But, inquiring minds want to know. And If nothing else, I have an inquiring mind.
Cover photo courtesy of Justin L. Grayson, as was the idea for the post.
When the railroads started coming to towns across the United States, it was a sign of prestige to have a railroad company build a line through the middle of a city street. While the towns thought it was something to be proud of, crossing the tracks was almost impossible. Lafayette was a town of rail crossings…and street running. As I have written about before, Lafayette was the home of several railroad lines. But toward the middle of the 1990’s, this was going to change…with the help of a lot of federal, state and local tax money.
The actual beginning of discussions about relocating railroad tracks through the city of Lafayette occurred in 1926, when the city first proposed such relocations. Between 1963 and 1973, a series of engineering studies were commissioned by city officials to look at the possibility.
The idea of moving the railroad tracks through Lafayette started moving forward in 1974, when a study was conducted by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI). It was announced by Mayor James Riehle, on 11 July 1975, that a project director was named for the relocation. That director would be Herbert Thomas, vice-president of transportation at Kaiser Engineers, Inc. His local resident manager would be James Ellis.
It was also announced that day that the first two phases of the project would be completed in about ten months from that time. Phase one included the above mentioned SRI study. Phase two would consist primarily of engineering. The final two phases, design and construction, were not put on any schedule as of July 1975.
Mr. Thomas said “relocation plans here are not the biggest he has seen in the country, but said ‘the Lafayette project would be a major one for any city,'” as reported in the Lafayette Journal and Courier of 12 July 1975. He also referred to the “railroad-motor vehicle situation in Lafayette ‘a serious problem,’ noting that on a previous visit he was stopped by a train while hurrying to reach Weir Cook Airport.”
According to the Journal and Courier, “one important aspect of the Kaiser work will be to determine if the negative impact on the Monon Avenue area can be lessened.” Thomas said that “the alignment developed so far can only be reguarded (sic) as preliminary.”
One year later, in July 1976, Kaiser Engineering was set to begin look at the various alternatives to the new railroad location. Project Manager Ken Knevel said that the company would concentrate its work on the riverfront corridor since it received the most support locally. “Everything we’re doing now is just in response to individuals’ comments. The riverfront has been indicated as the preferred corridor.” (Source: Lafayette Journal and Courier, 24 July 1976.) Paul Stitt of the Norfolk & Western and Jack Smith of the Louisville & Nashville both agreed that the riverfront corridor would be best for both their companies’ operations. Conrail’s representative, John Partridge, said “otehr alternative corridors – bypassing the city and using the current N&W and L&N lines – is less satisfactory than the riverfront.”
The Louisville and Nashville, by way of their purchase of the Monon, was running trains through the middle of Fifth Street at the time. However, they did own a stub line that started just north of Main Street (and the Main Street bridge across the Tippecanoe River) traveling northeast to connect to the the street running route, and railroad yards, northeast of Fifth Street. Connecting this stub to the Nickel Plate and Wabash two blocks south along the riverfront would not be that much of a stretch.
Funding was going to be a constant problem, especially from the mid-1970’s to 1980. Washington had become very tight fisted when it came to money. The mayor of Lafayette had gone to Washington DC in March 1977 to ensure that funding would be available for the project through 1980. There were no guarantees.
There were as many as 19 railroad relocation projects in some sort of process in the late 1970’s. Lafayette had gained national attention because it involved consolidating three railroad companies into one line through the city.
Between 1976 and 1978, two neighborhoods were the focus of studies for the relocation plan. Those neighborhoods, the Wabash and the Monon, were going to be directly affected by the moving of the tracks.
The first construction phase finally started in October 1984, when Congress appropriated $7 million. Less than a year later, in September 1985, five homes were torn down to prepare to place Wabash Avenue 23 feet below the relocated train tracks. Things started looking bad again in 1987 when a pending Presidential Veto threatened $20 million in funding over five years for the project…and the insistence from Federal officials that state and local governments pony up 20% of the cost. Something in which INDOT said they weren’t really keen on participating. That veto was overridden by the House and Senate.
The next phase of construction after the override of that veto included a replacement for the Main Street bridge over the Wabash River, new approach ramps to the Harrison Bridge (now Old US 231) and a rail corridor between Ninth Street and Wabash Avenue to replace the Fifth Street street running tracks. A new $11 million North Ninth Street rail underpass was scheduled to being construction in late 1987.
By 1994, the street running along Fifth Street had come to an end. According to the Journal and Courier of 22 July 1994, those were “crossings eliminated today.” Also according to the same newspaper graphic, phase 5 was to be completed in 1998-99 that would relocate the Norfolk Southern’s Wabash double-track corridor to the riverfront route, eliminating 24 crossings from Kossuth Street to Underwood Street.
The project’s offices would finally closed down on 1 August 2003. There were a lot of behind the scenes work that needed to be finished by the office, but the relocation was done. There was also one thing, historically, that was brought up when construction was occurring in 1993. While digging up the foundation of the old Big Four Station in Lafayette, some timbers from the Wabash & Erie Canal were found. The officials with the Railroad Relocation sent those timbers to Columbia, SC, for preservation. They were returned to Lafayette and given to the Tippecanoe County Historical Society for display.
The project would cost a grand total of $186 million in the end. It would not only affect rail transport through the area, but road transport changed as well. The old Main Street bridge in downtown Lafayette was changed to a pedestrian facility. Ultimately, all INDOT facilities in the city itself would be removed…leaving no state or US roads to downtown.
1906. A rural station stop on the Big Four Railroad, originally called Ingalls (or Ingallston), has just been incorporated as a shop town for the same Big Four Railroad. It’s official name at this point became Beech Grove. The new town that grew from the building of the railroad shops, covered in my blog entry “Beech Grove,” found itself barely accessible by anything other than the very railroad that built it. It wouldn’t be long until that would change.
First, the town was actually accessible by route of an old toll road that had been built to reach the farm of a local resident, a Mr. Churchman. That road, for the longest time, had been called the Churchman Pike, even after the county bought it back from the toll road company. The Churchman Pike connected to the town via what would become Albany Street, a survey section line that also acts as the separator between all of the southern townships and the central townships in Marion County. Dirt roads along the other survey lines – which would later become Troy and Emerson Avenues – also led to the area that would become Beech Grove. The old train station, Ingalls or Beech Grove, was at the survey line (Emerson Avenue) and the railroad track. Today, that would be under the Emerson Avenue bridge over the railroad.
But it wouldn’t be long before another method of transportation would make its presence known, and try to work its way into the railroad city. Electric Traction, also known as the interurban, had made its way into Indianapolis, officially, with the opening of the Greenwood line on 1 January 1900. After that, companies started popping up all over the United States. And Indianapolis became a hub for the new transportation form.
But this would create a problem. Steam railroads, which all standard railroads were called at the time, saw the new Traction companies as direct competition. Even though the gauge (width between the tracks) was the same on both, traffic interchange was one of those things that the steam roads were going to keep to an absolute minimum. And since the Traction companies specialized in moving people, this was even more reason for the steam roads to dislike the interurbans.
And now someone wants to add an interurban route to a town BUILT by the railroad? The short answer…yes. The reason for this was actually based in the nature of the steam railroad itself. Passenger trains, taking people from Beech Grove to downtown Indianapolis, weren’t scheduled at very convenient times for citizens of the new town. While the company that had invested in, and created, the town, the Beech Grove Improvement Company, tried running its own special trains to downtown Indianapolis, it was at the whim of the very busy Big Four line from Indianapolis to Cincinnati. In comes the planners of the electric traction.
It started in 1909. A company called the Shore Line Traction Company applied for a franchise to run a traction line from the Indianapolis city limits (point unknown) to Beech Grove. Louis McMains, a real estate agent, put in the petition to the County Commissioners. In October 1909, the petition asked that the Shore Line Traction Company be allowed to use the Churchman Pike from the city limits near Keystone and Churchman Avenues to the corporation limit of Beech Grove. It also asked for some straightening work along the road, and the right of way be widened by 27 feet (adding 13.5 feet on each side). “The petition signifies that the property owners on each side of the pike are willing to part with the necessary land to widen the road.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 14 October 1909)
The county had problems with the widening…especially when it came to the Churchman Pike bridge over Bean Creek (between Walker and Southern Avenues today). The bridge had been in disrepair for years, listed as such as early as 1891. Whether the bridge had been repaired or replaced at this point is unknown. Suffice it to say, the county wasn’t really likely to spend money to replace the bridge.
The petition mentioned that the plan for the Churchman Pike is to widen it to 66 feet, allowing two tracks to be built in the center, with only one track being built to start the company. The new company already had a franchise in hand for the route inside Beech Grove itself.
The Shore Line Traction Company found itself trying to come up with a new route to Beech Grove when the county balked at the Bean Creek bridge. With that, the company was not heard from again.
But shortly after the above petition was filed, a new company would be incorporated – the Beech Grove Traction Company. This company was officially started on 30 December 1909. It had the same goal as the Shore Line Transit Company – connect Beech Grove and downtown Indianapolis.
There was more progress with the Beech Grove Traction than there was with Shore Line. The Indianapolis News of 2 April 1910 reported that the Beech Grove company had elected its corporate officers and announced that grading work would begin soon on the line. Rails, ties and cars had already been ordered. Work on the new Churchman Pike bridge over Bean Creek had begun on 28 March 1910. Officials of the traction company were negotiating with the Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company “for use of the tracks of the latter company in Shelby Street and Virginia Avenue for entrance to the business district.”
The franchise rights had been awarded by Marion County and the town of Beech Grove. When construction was to begin in April, the company had no agreement with the city of Indianapolis about using the city street railway tracks to enter the downtown area. This agreement would not have been reached until September 1910. This caused construction to be delayed until November 1910.
Even before the track was complete, the first train run over part of the line happened on 20 March 1911. Seven days later, regular service began. The Beech Grove end of the line was on what became Garstang Avenue east of First (Emerson) Avenue. The track then ran north on First Avenue to Main Street. Following Main Street west, it turned north on 17th Avenue (Sherman Drive) for one block, to turn northwest on Churchman Pike (Avenue). The route then turned west on LeGrande Avenue to connect to the city street railway system at Shelby Street.
At first, the company found itself very popular. The Beech Grove Traction only owned, at the start, four cars to travel between the two ends. But there were so many people that wanted to use the new train that the company found itself running trains every 40 minutes from daybreak to midnight. The time table showed that first car left for Indianapolis at 0530, with the first car from Indianapolis arriving at 0610. A nickel would get a rider from Beech Grove to Shelby Street and LeGrande. A dime would get you all the way to the Traction Terminal.
Now, one might ask about why someone would get off the interurban at Shelby Street. Rightly so. But a trip to Garfield Park would require a change to a city street car. Or, one could catch the interurban to Greenwood, Franklin, Columbus and even Louisville at the end of the city Shelby Street line…which was at the Greenwood Line Stop 1 at Perry Street, south of Troy Avenue, on Shelby Street.
But business along the Beech Grove Traction line would start falling off rather quickly. The Big Four, with the completion of the traction line, stopped issuing passes to employees and families to ride the steam train. This made the interurban the best way to get to downtown Indianapolis. In the early days, most traffic was Big Four shop employees coming to and from work from their homes in Indianapolis. Due to the success of the town of Beech Grove, these employees were moving to the town. This caused a drop in traffic on the traction line. And due to shops being built along Main Street, the traffic drop wasn’t made up for in shopping trips to the stores of downtown Indianapolis.
By 1914, an average of 24 round trips ran each day along the line, with a schedule of 1 hour 10 minutes between trains. That had slowed down to 16 round trips a day by March 1916. And, as is typical of Indiana railroads of the time, the Beech Grove Traction Company found itself falling into receivership in December 1917, caused by increased costs without the subsequent increase in revenue.
Lawsuits were filed. Newspapers reported that the traction line wouldn’t be necessary for much longer, since with the improvement of city streets, bus service between Beech Grove and Indianapolis would replace the electric traction line. In a strange twist of fate, the operator of the bus competition to the Beech Grove Traction ceased his bus company and took over the traction line as railway superintendent. Fortunes improved…for the time being.
One of the things that the line started was carrying mail from the Fountain Square post office to the post office in Beech Grove. This started shortly after completion of the line until it was discontinued in the late 1920s.
The little line lumbered on for almost two decades after receivership…barely. It was recommended in November 1923 that the line be closed and sold. Revenues increased with the permission given to raise fares. But the company found itself sold to make up $30,000 in debt due to maintenance and new rolling stock in 1925. The new buyer made a condition – if a bus line was approved, the sale would be null and void, and the line would be junked. Again, lawsuits were filed, and a bus line was granted an injunction to operate. And the bus company was purchased by the traction line…and both were operated at the same time. It found itself teetering financially, yet still managing to survive.
The Great Depression hurt the line, just like it did almost everything else at the time. But it managed to survive…for a while. The Public Service Commission of Indiana, on 7 January 1937, officially told the company that it was to close the line. Indianapolis Railways, the power provider for the line, complained to the PSCI that Beech Grove Traction owed in the neighborhood of $20,000 for power…which Indianapolis Railways turned off at 0100 on 8 January 1937. And hence, the end of the Beech Grove Traction line. Some people hadn’t seen the notices about the end of service, and were waiting at stops on a cold 8 January morning.
The last vestiges of the traction company would last until 21 August 1973. The company’s car barn, at First and Garstang, would last until demolition started that day.
When the original state roads were built, the state of Indiana created a road that connected Indianapolis to Rockville, via Danville. That road, still known today as Rockville Road in Marion County, is almost as straight as any road can get in this state. However, there were places where straight just wasn’t possible. Such a place is in Putnam County.
It should be noted that there were two things at play when it came to the building of the original state roads. First, the construction was done to keep costs to a minimum. There was no need to cat a path through a hill when one could just go around it. Path of least resistance was the motto of the day. Second, as a general rule, the state didn’t tend to take people’s property to build a road that would just be turned over to the county after it was built. This is one of the reasons that a road connecting two towns in early Indiana didn’t always go directly between two points. While it isn’t as noticeable on maps today, a quick glance at older maps shows the curvy way someone got from point A to point B in the early days of the state.
The Rockville State Road was (mostly) built along a section line, meaning very little property would have to be taken to create it. Generally, property lines in Indiana tend to work along the survey lines. Survey line separate townships, ranges and sections. Most of the time, property was purchased in one section or another, usually not crossing the section line. But there were several places that the old road did have to venture off of the survey lines beaten path.
One was east of Danville. Main Street through the city was the original Rockville State Road. When a short bypass between Danville and Avon was built, the old road was kept in place, but turned slightly at both the western and eastern ends. The following Google Map snippet shows the old property lines when it came to the western (Danville) end of old Main Street/SR 31/US 36. Main Street turns southwest, while the old property lines turn due west to connect to Danville itself.
The other section was a much larger bypass built by the state in 1933. East of Bainbridge, the old state road took a dive to the south of the survey line…sometimes venturing almost a mile south of the line itself. The following map is from 1911, showing the postal routes that were followed at that time, and showing the old Rockville State road in its original alignment.
As shown on the map, going west to east, the old road started turning southeastward in Section 12, continuing further southeast in Section 7, and hitting its southern most point in Section 8. From there, it worked its way back northeastward until it reached the section line again in Section 10. This created a variance from the section line that was nearly four miles long.
Editor’s Note: As is typical of the original surveys, sections along the western edge of the range [sections 6, 7, 18, 19, 30 and 31] are smaller than one mile wide. The Range Line between those sections listed above, and sections 1, 12, 13, 24, 25 and 36 of the range west, is known as a correction line. This can be spotted throughout the state, not only by the less than one mile wide sections, but the occasional deviance from a straight line going west to east. In Marion County, Shelby Street and Franklin Road are those correction lines…and looking at the roads crossing them shows the correction. The survey line along the north edge of the map is the township line, separating survey townships 15 North and 16 North. Following that line to the east, it becomes part of the Danville State Road in eastern Hendricks County, 10th Street (the geographic center) through Marion County, and the numbering center of Hancock County. It is also a correction line in the surveys, so sometimes survey lines jog a bit when crossing it as well.
This section of the old road was very curvy, narrow, and did not lend itself well to the pending explosion of traffic that would be coming its way with the creation of the Auto Trails and, later, the State Highway System. When the Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean highway was created, it followed the old Rockville Road from Rockville to Indianapolis. Thus, it followed this curvy, winding line through Putnam County.
Things would change in 1933, when the Indiana State Highway Commission announced that construction would begin on US 36 from Danville to Bainbridge. This project would complete the straightening of the federal highway from west of Indianapolis to the Illinois-Indiana State Line. The Indianapolis Star of 1 April 1933 reported “a twenty-five mile detour from Danville to Bainbridge on United States Road 36 over pavement and dustless type road has been established to take care of traffic pending completion of new pavement between Danville and Bainbridge which will complete the project from Indianapolis to the Illinois state line.”
The above Google map snippet shows the exact same area as covered by the 1911 USPS map shown above. The route of US 36 through the area, shown in yellow, is the 1933 bypass built by the ISHC. The old road is still very narrow and winding, but still can be traveled to this day. The Indiana Official Highway map of 1933 shows the new road under construction, with the old road removed from the map. By the time the next official map was released for June 1934, the new road was completed and opened. The following is the 1936 survey map of Putnam County roads, including road width, constructing materials and bridge of the same area.
The new roadway included bridges marked as AS, AT, and AU on this map. The old road included CN, CM, CH, CG, and CK. (Note, they are marked on the map in lower case letters. I am using upper case to denote them since it is easier to read.) Both AS and AU were built 24 feet wide, while AT was built 20 feet wide. All three had a safe working load of 20 tons.
The old road’s bridges were a bit more complicated. CN was 12.7 feet high, 12.7 feet wide, and had a safe working load of three tons. CK was 16 feet wide and could handle 15 tons. CM was 19.5 feet wide, with a working limit of 20 tons. This would make it almost equal to the bridge that replaced it (AT), only being six inches narrower with the same work load limit. Both CG and CH were 20 feet wide with a 20 ton safe load limit.
The old road, according to the figures on the 1936 map, had a right-of-way 40 feet wide. The new US 36 through the area had a right-of-way of 60 feet in width. Most of the county roads in the area had a right-of-way narrower than the old Rockville State Road, usually less than 10 feet.
The other part of this realignment project was through Bainbridge itself. The old road traversed the town along Main Street. The new road bypassed Main Street to the north…by only one block. It still does to this day.
Jim Grey, on his old web site, covers the sections of the old road that connect to the current US 36 fairly well. That page is at: http://www.jimgrey.net/Roads/US36West/04_Bainbridge.htm. I think I have read somewhere that this website will be migrated over to his WordPress blog, “Down The Road.” If this is the case, get it while you can. And who knows, maybe after all the “stay at home” mess is over, I might make a trip out to this section of the old road to take some onsite surveys. (I would love to say take pictures…but my lack of photography skills is only surpassed by my complete lack of patience to take the time to make them good. Not gonna lie here, folks.)
Over the long history of what was the National Road, there are tons of stories told. Tales of lives, tolls, decisions, and other things that have been basically lost to history.
A brief history of the road screams to be told. President Thomas Jefferson signed the law creating the Cumberland, or National, Road on 29 March 1806. The commission that charted the road decided that Braddock’s Road would be followed from Cumberland, MD, to Brownsville, PA. Pennsylvania only approved the road if it would pass through Uniontown and Washington, PA. So, the road followed a native american trail from Brownsville to Washington. From there, the road was was to go to either Wheeling, VA (now WV) or Steubenville, OH. Wheeling won after some influence of Henry Clay.
It would not be until 3 March 1825 that the Congress gave the green light to extension of this road. Appropriations were outlaid to build the road to Zanesville, OH, and survey the route through the capital cities of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. By 1832, the National Road reached the Indiana-Ohio State Line. (An astute reader now asks the question why the National Road doesn’t connect to Springfield, IL. Well, the capital of Illinois at the time was Vandalia, which is one the National Road. Springfield became the capital in 1839.) Hence, the history of the building of the National Road…in shortcut fashion.
But local stories abound when it comes to the road. For instance, in Richmond, according to the Richmond Paladium-Item of 2 October 1910, “Main street turns near Ninth and makes a slight curve towards the northwest. One hundred years ago there was a large mud puddle north of Main street and when the National road was constructed the contractors built it around the puddle. Main street retained the curve.”
The National Road would also be the site of a County Seat War in Wayne County. Wayne County’s government had been located in Centerville since it was legally moved from Salisbury with an act of 21 December 1916. (The last meeting of county commissioners was held at Salisbury in August, 1817. [Indiana Boundaries: Territory, State and County, available on ancestry.com]) Later, a Wayne County courthouse was built in Richmond. Richmond officials went to Centerville to move the government. Centerville refused. The Richmond interests actually used cannon fire in the effort to move the county seat from Centerville to Richmond. According to the Plymouth Weekly Republican of 24 December 1874, the United States Supreme Court, with a unanimous decision, ended the county seat war in favor of Richmond. “The struggle between Richmond and Centerville has been protracted nearly two years.”
On 3 May 1919, the Indianapolis News published a story about the conditions and construction of the National Road through Indiana from the perspective of “caravans of motor lorries during war.” Very little of the old road was improved at the time of World War I. While most of the wartime traffic occurred by railroad, quite a bit went by truck. Very few roads at the time were improved, making travel no better than it had been for years. And, with the increase in truck traffic, the “Famous Old Highway Has Gone to Wreck – Miles of Hard Going Are to Be Found Along the Indiana Link of the Road Between Richmond and Terre Haute.”
The story of a couple of farmers in Wayne County is also worth mentioning. On the old road, west of Richmond, lived a man and woman “around which is woven one of the first romances of the National road in Indiana.” The story of their romance isn’t covered, being that it “does not concern us here.” Anyway, they bought a farm and became successful. However, a toll gate was built not far from their farm, requiring a toll to be paid to reach Richmond. They objected to this toll, to the point of building a road, on their property, around the toll gate.
With the National Road came the tavern. There were numerous taverns built along the way. Keep in mind that a tavern, at the time, included anything that a traveler needed to rest: food, drink, beds, and stables. One of the things reasons that US 40 is such a slow route across Indiana is the tavern. Towns sprung up around the tavern. Towns were placed at convenient intervals depending on the distance one could travel in a day. In the motoring era, these “convenient intervals” led to the motor hotel, or motel. In the four miles that I travel the National Road daily, from Cumberland to I-465, there are still three motel buildings in existence. I remember many more that have been demolished over the 50+ years that I have been alive.
In Indianapolis, the last vestiges of the National Road in downtown survived into the 20th century. Early in the century, the old National Road bridge, a covered bridge that originally carried the National Road over the White River, was finally removed. That bridge had been in place for over 70 years, although most traffic, at that point, had been using the Washington Street bridge. It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that the original road, called Washington Avenue, was removed. Today, a walking path has been built along the path of the old road.
Over the 180+ years of the National Road in Indiana, there have been many lives affected. Their stories are out there. I hope to find more of them in the future.