Carroll County Toll Road Violence

In the late 19th century, laws were passed to allow county governments to purchase the toll roads that existed. The toll road was appraised, and an offer was made by the county to the owners of the road. Often times, it was a pretty straight forward deal. Sometimes, it wasn’t.

In Carroll County, it was not.

Most of the toll roads in the state were gone by the start of the 20th century. However, there was at least one in existence, the Burlington Turnpike. As late as August, 1900, the Burlington road was still a toll road. The Indianapolis News of 23 August 1900 reports that the turnpike company was offering a $2,000 reward for the arrest, and conviction, of the person, or persons, that dynamited a toll house along the road on 21 August 1900.

To that point, according to the article, people opposed to the toll company have destroyed two bridges and two toll houses. The toll keeper at a third toll house received a letter on 22 August, warning him to leave the toll house by that night. He complied. There was thoughts at the time that the third toll house would be dynamited, as well.

The people of Carroll County are up in arms that this old road is still a turnpike. There are several forces at play in the situation, as well. Carroll County commissioners refuse to buy the road. This is also supported by the businessmen of Delphi, that believe that trade would migrate to Logansport. They believe that would take business away “which rightly belong to Delphi.”

Other argue, contrary to the state law concerning such things, that if the road becomes free, it should do so without Carroll County spending any money at all on the project. Cass County already purchased their share of the road. Carroll County offered $400 a mile for the Burlington Pike. The owners in Logansport turned it down for being too low.

The county commissioners, at this point, found themselves in a precarious situation. While it was the goal to make the Burlington Pike a free road, as it was the last toll road in Carroll County, it brought on two very different mindsets that led to a mob rule situation. First were the people that wanted the road purchased but balked at the price. On the other hand were the people that demanded that the toll road company just give it, for free, to the county.

And then the fecal matter hit the rotating air movement machine.

“When it finally became apparent that nothing was to be expected of the commissioners, mutterings of mob law were heard, and in May the big bridge over Deer creek, near Burlington, was burned. A few nights later the Rock creek bridge was fired, and the Rock creek toll-house was destroyed by dynamite. A guard had been stationed at the gate, but he meekly obeyed the leaders of the mob when told to hitch up his horse and get out.”

As if that weren’t enough, the Rock Creek “bridge was not damaged much, and on the following evening the work was completed by a charge of dynamite.” The toll road company responded by placing guards at bridges and toll houses. They also places armed men to patrol the nine miles of road between the Carroll County line and Burlington. “This plan proved effective until Monday night, when it was tacitly understood that hostilities would cease, pending a decision as to purchase. It developed, however, that this change of front was simply a ruse to rid of the guards, and the dynamiters got in their work again Tuesday night.”

The toll road, constructed in 1867, was built using subscriptions and work solicited along the route. The response was great. But the claim was that there was a promise to make the road free after 20 years, or 1887. Certainly not going into 1900. To add insult to injury, the residents of the area claim that very little had been done to the road over the past fifteen years. “The bridges were in poor repair, so that it was unsafe to run traction engines and heavy loads over them.”

Carroll County officials were, apparently, of no help. “The Carroll county officials have offered no assistance. Cass county condemns the lawlessness over the border and declares that such violence would not be tolerated in Cass.”

Another Indianapolis News article, dated 8 May 1901, states that the toll road company and Carroll County officials finally made a purchase agreement. The final purchase price was listed at $3,600. An astute reader will notice that the purchase price agreed to was $400 a mile. I’ll just let that sink in for a minute.

The last article mentioned that “this turnpike is a part of the old Government plank road from Indianapolis to Michigan City.” The section that I see six days a week going to and from work still has the original name: Michigan Road.

A follow up news story to the Burlington Road incident discusses the dynamiting of the old Wabash and Erie Canal dam across the Wabash River at Pittsburgh (unincorporated location across the Wabash River from Delphi) twenty years earlier. The guard was overpowered, and the northern half of the dam was blown up. According to the Indianapolis News of 24 August 1900, “no prosecution followed, and it is the opinion of many people now that the efforts of the turnpike company to prosecute those who used dynamite on the Burlington Road will also come to naught.”

As an aside, apparently mob rule in Carroll County was a big problem. Someone started a saloon in Burlington, only to have it repeatedly dynamited. The exact word used in the newspaper was “frequently.”

Road Boosting: Michigan Road

In 1917, when the first Indiana State Highway Commission law was passed, the state set aside five “Main Market Highways.” There was a concerted effort to make sure that the Michigan Road, the first state built road, was included in those five. It wasn’t.

So, when in 1919, a new State Highway Commission law was passed, the hope was that, again, the old Michigan Road would be included. It would take some time, but most of the road would be added to the state system. By the time of the great renumbering of 1926, the original road from Madison to Bryantsburg and from Napoleon to Michigan City would be part of the system, mostly under one number (SR 29).

But there were a lot of people working to make sure that the Michigan Road wasn’t forgotten. For instance, the Logansport Pharos-Reporter of 10 April 1919 reports that, according to the headline, “Everyone Must Help To Boost Michigan Road.” Attorney Charles Yarlott, chairman of the Michigan Road Association, “emphasized the need of township organization and the pressure that must and can be brought to bear upon the state highway commission if the people will only work toward that end.”

An editorial in the same newspaper from 2 July 1917, makes the case to locate the new military road along the Michigan Road. “The Michigan Road is unquestionably the logical line for the new government military road to follow from the south to the north through Indiana. This road is as old almost as is the military history of the Hoosier state.” Two paragraphs later, the editorial includes the line “the building of the Michigan Road, a national military road at its birth, had teh endorsement of the state and the nation as to location, and when the engineers laid it out the were compelled to pass upon all points of location which now seem to be up for consideration, teh result being that the Michigan Road is just where it is because the logic of military necessity at the time and for the future indicated that that was the proper place.”

A letter to the editor of the Indianapolis News dated 2 December 1920 pleaded the case for taking the entire Michigan Road, including the section from Napoleon to Bryantsburg, into the state system. The writer goes on to state “Madison has put up a great fight for the Michigan plank road to Versailles (a sort of hybrid affair, neither ‘hoss nor mule’) which abandons nineteen miles of the original Michigan Road.” He further states that “I have been an advocate about thirty years of the Michigan road as originally surveyed and built by the Second legislature.”

It didn’t stop there. The South Bend Tribune of 21 June 1921 reports that the Michigan Road is still left out of the state system. 100 members of the Michigan Road Association appealed to Governor McCray and the state highway commission on 20 June 1921 for such action. They won the endorsement of the Governor, and a commission to look into taking over the road was promised. Many cities along the route have stated “the Michigan Road is traveled more in the northern half than the Range line road between Indianapolis and South Bend, which was originally set aside as a state highway.”

(Editor’s Note: Most of the Michigan Road in Saint Joseph County WAS in the state system…starting with the law of 1917. From the south, the old road was part of State Road 1, the Range Line Road. And to the west, the old road was part of the Lincoln Highway to Rolling Prairie, which was originally State Road 2.)

Of course, there were other parts of the state that had some problems with the Michigan Road. An editorial in the Huntington Press of 3 March 1923 stated “a news item, printed in yesterday’s issue of The Press, says the state highway commission will take over the Michigan road from Logansport to Rochester and will pave it. Quite interesting! The highways under state administration in Huntington county were taken over in 1920 and not a foot of them has been paved.”

Before the creation of the Main Market Highway 1, a person none other than Carl Fisher made a passionate plea for the state to include the Michigan Road from South Bend to Indianapolis as the original MMH #1, and not the Range Line Road. Of course, at the time, that section of the old road was also the route of Fisher’s brainchild, the Dixie Highway.

Eventually, most of the old road became, once again, a state property. Until sections were bypassed along the way.

US Highways: They are actually State Roads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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