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.

Bicycling Marion County, 1900, Part 2

Today is part two of two of covering a map I found on the Indiana State Library website about bicycling in Marion County, and the routes that were available.

Bluff Road: The direct route to Martinsville, Bloomington and points south. It was named after the Bluffs of the White River at Waverly. It was one of the first trails to connect to the Hoosier Capitol, as a lot of settlers would start their journey into Marion County from Waverly.

Clifford Avenue Pike: The extension of 10th Street past the city limits. The bicycle route ended at what is now Arlington Avenue, which connected Clifford Avenue to National Road and Brookville Pike.

Flackville Pike: The town of Flackville was created near what is now 30th Street and Lafayette Road. The Pike leading to the town is an extension of Indianapolis’ 30th Street.

Madison Road: The Madison-Indianapolis State Road, which the later Madison & Indianapolis Railroad would closely follow. Today, Madison Road is now Madison Avenue.

Millers Pike: Today known as Millersville Road, since that is where the road ended. A connecting route back to the White River & Fall Creek Pike used what is now 56th Street.

Myers Pike: This road would, in later life, become Cold Spring Road, connecting the Lafayette Road to the Michigan Road on the west (north) side of the White River.

Pendleton Pike: The old (1830’s) state road to the Falls of Fall Creek, where the town of Pendleton was formed. The old road went through Oakland (now Oaklandon), instead of basically around it like it does now.

Rockville Pike: The original Indianapolis-Rockville State Road. Still called Rockville Road for most of its length today. The old road is hard to navigate at its original beginning, since it was removed when Holt Road was built north of Washington Street. Rockville Avenue is the old road.

Shelbyville Road: The original state road to the seat of Shelby County. Its importance dropped off after the building of the Michigan Road. Near the current intersection of Shelbyville Road and Stop 11 Road/Frye Road, a branch took riders to Acton. At Acton, a branch from the Michigan Road came from the north.

Spring Mills Pike: The original path of Spring Mill Road started at the city limits on Illinois Street, crossing the White River near where Kessler Boulevard does today. It then continued up what is now Spring Mill Road into Hamilton County.

Sugar Flats Pike: The continuation of Central Avenue outside the city limits up to the Central Canal towpath, then following what is now Westfield Boulevard through Nora and into Hamilton County. The bike path led, after leaving Marion County, to the downtown area of Carmel.

Three Notch Pike: What is now Meridian Street was, for around a century, known as the Three Notch Road. The bicycle route followed Meridian Street from the Bluff Road intersection down to the county line.

White River and Fall Creek Pike: Labeled on the map as the White River and Eagle Creek Pike, this old road turned bicycle route followed the continuation of Keystone Avenue past the city limits to its end at River Road. Keep in mind, what is now Keystone Avenue north of White River was built by the state as a replacement for SR 431, which used to use Westfield Boulevard.

1896: Bicycling to Noblesville

In April 1896, as part of the Indianapolis News series of articles concerning bicycle routes from Indianapolis, it is pointed out that “the trip to Noblesville seems to be a favorite ride for Indianapolis wheelmen this season.” The route is listed as being in fine condition, as long as you don’t completely follow the Allisonville Pike.

At the time, the Allisonville Pike was a rerouted version of the original Indianapolis-Fort Wayne state road, at least through most of the city itself. The original road used Central Avenue to Sutherland Avenue, winding its way to the old 39th Street bridge across Fall Creek to follow Fall Creek and Allisonville Road north through the county. The reroute went straight up Central Avenue to Maple Road (now 38th Street), then follows Fall Creek to connect at the 39th Street bridge with the original route.

The conditions of the road to Noblesville were kept in very good shape over the years. It was a very popular route. “There are some fairly stiff hills on the route, but they are all fit for coasting, an the riders can afford to do a little turn on foot after the exhilarating effect of a mile a minute a clip down a steep grade.”

The newspaper article mentions three methods of reaching what is, now, Allisonville Road. First, the paper points out that while the road is in excellent shape, the section of Central Avenue above Fall Creek is not. Which leads to the second point, which is the recommendation to use Meridian Street north to Maple Road, then east to the State Fairgrounds. The third point is that another popular way to get to the Allisonville Road is to follow College Avenue north then skirting Fall Creek using the Millersville Road to the bridge opposite the fairgrounds. That bridge, at this time, is at 39th Street. This last route is “probably the most satisfactory way to reach the road.”

“The Allisonville pike turns northeast in passing the Fair grounds, and for a mile follows Fall creek. Just at the upper edge of the Fair grounds it crosses the L. E. & W. (Lake Erie & Western) tracks.” Those railroad tracks would later become the Nickle Plate formerly used by the Fair Train. Near where Keystone Avenue is now was the location of “one of the most picturesque spots along Fall creek,” or Schofield’s Mill. There was also an old dam just upstream from the mill. The old dam is still there, of sorts. There is also a newer dam basically under Keystone Avenue.

Where Keystone Avenue is now, the road is described as “White river and Fall creek gravel road.” It is opposite of Hammond’s Park, described as “one of the prettiest spots of natural scenery about Indianapolis.” The White River and Fall Creek Road ran through Malott Park and within a quarter mile of Broad Ripple Park, at least according to the News.

Back to the Allisonville Road, 1.75 miles north of Hammond’s Park is a dirt road connecting Malott Park to Millersville. That road, described as both a popular route for bicycle riders and one of the best dirt roads in the county, is now 56th Street. Shortly north of that road, the Pike crossed the L. E. & W. tracks again before a good condition dirt road leading to Broad Ripple Park and Broad Ripple. That road is now 62nd Street.

For the next two miles above the Broad Ripple road, the route is described as “very undulating” road. The Pike then drops into a valley and crosses a small stream before, at the 2.5 mile mark, it enters the village of Allisonville. From Allisonville, a road leads to the west to Dawson’s Bridge and Nora, and to the east leads to Castleton. That road, at the time called the Andy Smith Pike, now is called 82nd Street. Half a mile north of there was a dirt road (now 86th Street) that lead east to the village of Vertland on the LE&W tracks.

Before leaving Marion County, and entering Hamilton County, the old road climbed one of the biggest hills on the entire route. After crossing the county line, the next major crossroad (now 116th Street) connected the Allisonville Pike to Fisher’s Station on the LE&W railroad. From there, it was five miles to the destination of Noblesville.

The article, like the one I posted about the Michigan Road, mentions a route to get back to Indianapolis. In this case, it would be the Westfield Road. I will cover that in a later entry.