Subway Street, Beech Grove

When the Big Four Railway started to build their new yards in what would become the city of Beech Grove, they realized very quickly that train traffic was going to be, at best, horrifying for those that were trying to get to the town from the north and east. The main road from the north was the line separating Center from Warren, and Perry from Franklin townships. This would be called First Avenue in the new town of Beech Grove, and Emerson Avenue in the rest of Marion County.

1905 Map of the Beech Grove area, before construction of the town. Center of the map is where the four townships (Center, Franklin, Perry and Warren) meet, now the intersection of Emerson and Albany Street (Troy Avenue).

This road, before Beech Grove was built, stretched from a point in Washington Township, near Millersville, to the Johnson-Marion County line east of Greenwood. Part of this was considered to be part of the Churchman Free Gravel Road extension when the Big Four started buying the property. What became Albany Street (Troy Avenue in the rest of Marion County) extended from the Bottoms Road (now Harding Street) to what is now Kitley Road near the Hancock-Marion County line.

With the construction of the new railroad shops, and the new town, at Beech Grove, the railroad knew that it wouldn’t be long before it came up that two major roads in the county were being clogged by rail traffic. The elevation movement had already been in full swing in Marion County, although there were no such facilities completed to that point. Arguments were still being had about who was supposed to pay for all the bridges necessary to accomplish the plan. It was here that the planners decided to make sure that both carriage (and later car) traffic was unimpeded by the mass amounts of train traffic.

Emerson Avenue would be cut off just north of the Big Four railroad tracks north of the new town. This would put the cutoff just shy of 1/2 mile north of Albany, or 1/2 mile south of what would become Raymond Street. A new street would be built just north of the northern right-of-way of the railroad tracks, where it would connect 1/2mile east of Emerson, becoming the continuation of Troy Avenue. About 2/10’s of a mile east of Emerson, a new road would be built at a 90 degree angle to the railroad tracks, going under said railroad tracks, connecting to the new Second Avenue and the street running along the southern railroad right-of-way (to become Bethel Avenue) in Beech Grove.

1956 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Subway Street/Connection Street/Emerson Avenue/Bethel Avenue area near Beech Grove. west of the spur tracks leading into the Beech Grove Shops is a stub end of Emerson Avenue starting at Subway Street. It would connect to essentially a long driveway and a house west of Emerson and south of the railroad tracks.

The first street mentioned would be given the name “Connection Street.” The road that would go under the railroad tracks would be called “Subway Street.” The name subway actually has a historical context in Marion County. When traffic at Indianapolis Union Station got beyond horrible, the city of Indianapolis decided to build an underpass along Illinois Street, under the railroad tracks at the station. This was, for years, called the Illinois Street Subway, although it was more a bridge, even a tunnel, than a subway.

This wasn’t to say that Emerson Avenue disappeared completely between the two sides of the railroad tracks. A small section of Emerson Avenue existed from Subway Street north to a road, and house, 1/4 mile north of Albany Street. It existed this way for years. Until the early 1970’s, as a matter of fact.

Indianapolis Star, 15 April 1971. The photograph shows a four lane bridge in the middle of nowhere, over the tracks of what was, at the time, the Penn Central Railroad at Beech Grove. That bridge would be connected to the surrounding area, and would carry Emerson Avenue into Beech Grove from the north.

The new Emerson Avenue bridge over the Penn Central tracks, as they were called then, was completed in Spring 1971, although the connections to the new bridge weren’t complete. The road that connected to the house in the 1956 photo above would become the new Subway Street, which was turned to intersect and cross Emerson Avenue north of the old connection point.

1956 MapIndy aerial photograph with a 2020 overlay of then current conditions. This shows the driveway and the house, that would be removed when Subway Street was relocated with the building of the Emerson Avenue bridge north of Beech Grove.

The new ending of Subway Street would be at Fifth Avenue, instead of Second. Sections of the old Subway Street, from the new turn to Second Avenue, still exist to this day, almost 50 years later. And looking at the Google Map, or even MapIndy, will show that the property lines of the old Subway Street are still valid.

The railroad that created the town of Beech Grove is long gone. The Big Four became part of the New York Central, officially in 1930. The New York Central gave way, in 1968, to the Penn Central, which found the NYC merging with its long time rival the Pennsylvania. Soon after the creation of the National Passenger Rail Corporation, called Amtrak, there was a move to have Amtrak purchase the Beech Grove shops from Penn Central. This would happen in 1975.

A quick glance at the MapIndy property records leads to some confusing things, however. The property that the Amtrak shops is on does actually belong to the National Passenger Rail Corp. But it has to cross property that is still legally owned by the Penn Central Transportation Company. Now, I realize that the tangled web of property ownership and changing railroads can cause such things. But the property right next to it is owned by New York Central Lines LLC c/o CSX Transportation. As does most of the property north of the Amtrak Shops and south of the railroad mainline. The property records lead to a lot of fun reading. There are four different railroad companies legally listed as owners in that area: National Passenger Rail Corp.; CSX Transportation; New York Central Lines LLC (CSX); and Penn Central Corp (c/o C E Parker General Tax Agent Penn Central Trans Co, Chicago, Illinois). What’s strange is that all the property owned by the Penn Central is exempt from property tax.

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 Indianapolis

In 1896,the Indianapolis News published a series of articles about bicycling in and around Indianapolis. That series of articles is what I have been using to create these “Bicycling Thursday” series of posts here at Indiana Transportation History. These articles generally have covered riding different roads, usually old state roads, leaving Indianapolis. I will include links to all of those below. But this article is about something different. There was a proposed bicycling route that covered quite a bit of the north side of the city and Marion County.

Today’s information comes from the Indianapolis News of 14 March 1896. This plan was to be financed via the sale of subscriptions, much like the way that roads were paid for before this, and how Auto Trails, starting in the 1910’s, were going to be financed afterwards. Most of the route wouldn’t use roads in place. Where it did use roads, it would be built along side that road. Most of the route would make use of riding on the banks of water courses through the county.

Proposed bicycle route through Indianapolis and Marin County as described in the Indianapolis News of 14 March 1896.

The potential route started along Indiana Avenue in downtown Indianapolis. It would follow that road to where it crossed Fall Creek. It is mentioned in the News that the condition of Indiana Avenue, at that time, from West Street to Fall Creek, is such that “no worse road was found in going over the entire course than in this street.” The path would then follow the levee along the north bank of Fall Creek “south of the new pumping station of the Water Company.” The proposed route would continue along Fall Creek, then the east bank of the White River until crossing the Indianapolis Belt Railway. Here, the bicycling route would join the Crawfordsville Free Gravel Road until that road crossed the White River. The Crawfordsville Free Gravel Road is now Waterway Boulevard (after having been named Speedway Avenue), and it crossed the river at the Emrichsville Bridge, later replaced by the current 16th Street bridge.

The proposed path would then continue to follow the White River until after it crossed the “Flack Pike,” now 30th Street, passing “many giant sycamores, winding in and out with the deviation of the stream.” Just north of the Flack Pike the river and the Central Canal come close to one another, where the proposed route would switch over to the tow path along the north bank of the canal on its way to Broad Ripple.

“The ride up the tow-path every wheelman and wheelwoman in the city is familiar with – its beauties, its dangers and it tribulations often.” It is described as a beautiful ride. However, washouts, gullies, chuck holes and soft spots are common along the way, “and a sudden dip into the canal has a most dampening effect on enthusiasm.” The tow path continues through Fairview Park, now the site of Butler University. There is a fairly steep climb before the path would cross Illinois Street. Here, a bicycle rider could choose to use either side of the canal to get to Broad Ripple. But the official route would continue along the north tow path.

At Broad Ripple, the path would follow the Westfield Pike north past the Broad Ripple damn and across the White River on a large iron bridge. After crossing the river, the path then turns south to follow the river along the north/west bank to a point where it crosses White River again at what is now the 82nd Street crossing after passing the Haverstick Farm. After crossing White River, it would follow what was then the Fall Creek and White River Free Gravel Road (FCWRFGR) back towards the city. The first part of that free gravel road doesn’t now exist above what is now 79th Street. From there, it is known as River Road to the point where the FCWRFGR turned south on what is now Keystone Avenue.

The new path would be built along the FCWRFGR until it got to Malott Park, at what is now 56th Street. The route would then turn east “on the dirt road from Malott Park to Millersville.” It is mentioned that this dirt road is very narrow in places, with “scarcely room on either side for the path.” Here, the builders of the route hadn’t decided whether to follow Fall Creek’s north bank or the Millersville Free Gravel Road and the south bank of Fall Creek to Meridian Street. Here, riding down Meridian Street would bring rider back to downtown Indianapolis, and the point where the route started.

Some of the path, as described, has, in more recent times, been added to the Indy Parks trail system. It starts on what is now the White River Trail. It then crosses over to the Central Canal Trail above the old Riverside Amusement Park north of 30th Street. At Illinois Street, where the rider in 1896 had two choices, the path chosen by Indy Parks runs along the opposite bank of the Canal than was chosen to be followed then. Most of the rest of the route, that can still be traveled, can be followed by using the streets that exist now. There are a few places where this can’t happen.

The following is a list of the other entries in this “Bicycling Thursday” series.

Indianapolis and Its Decoration Day Race
Allisonville Pike (Allisonville Road to Noblesville)
Crawfordsville Pike (Old Crawfordsville Road to Crawfordsville)
Madison Road (Madison Avenue from Southport to Indianapolis)
Michigan Road North (MLK/Michigan Road north to Augusta)
Michigan Road South (Southeastern Avenue)
National Road West (Washington Street west to Plainfield)
Pendleton Pike (Pendleton Pike to Oaklandon and beyond)
Reveal Road (Dandy Trail through Eagle Creek valley)
Rockville Road (Old Rockville Road from Danville to Indianapolis)
Shelbyville Road (Old Shelbyville Road from Indianapolis to SE Marion County)
Three Notch Road (Meridian Street south to Southport Road)
Westfield Road (Westfield Boulevard and Illinois Street from Westfield south)

Bicycling the Shelbyville Road

Today, I want to focus on the Indianapolis News of 21 March 1896, and one of the bicycling routes contained there in: the Shelbyville Road. The original road was the first connecting the county seats of Marion and Shelby Counties. Today, not only does Shelbyville Road still exist, but a major south side street still keeps a name that is a remnant of the same. That street is called Shelby Street.

The article starts by very plainly stating “one of the pleasantest rides around the city, and one which will probably come nearest suiting all classes of riders, is over the Shelbyville road.” The road is listed as being in “good condition the year round.” However, it is mentioned that the road has “few, if any, picturesque spots.” But, with no big hills and not as traveled as other roads. It is also mentioned that while there are a lot of trees along the route, shade is scant and it is not recommended to ride this route in the heat of summer.

The bicycle ride of the Shelbyville Pike starts at the “head of Virginia Avenue,” the corner of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Washington. “The run out is on the asphalt until the end of the avenue is reached” at what is now Fountain Square. The road then turns south on Shelby Street, but “the cyclist will have to ride with a little care until after crossing the Belt railroad.” Two blocks after that crossing is the official beginning of the Shelbyville Pike. The road has a hard pathway on each side, making bicycling a very nice ride. A grove of cottonwood trees appears shortly after along what is called a branch of Pleasant Run, which is actually Bean Creek south of Garfield Park. These trees are located on the east side of the road, little value to an outbound traveler.

A mile after the Belt Railroad, the Pike turns southeast (along what is now Carson Avenue). A quarter mile later, a dirt road crosses east-west across the Shelbyville Pike. This road is now Troy Avenue. This area would be unofficially called McClainsville, and, at the time of the article, there was a blacksmith shop here. It would also be the location of a school, called McClainsville, which would be replaced by Indianapolis Public School #72, Emma Donnan. The dirt road that is Troy Avenue would allow the rider to connect to the Churchman Pike a little less than two miles to the east at what is now Beech Grove’s 17th Avenue and Albany Street.

The Shelbyville Pike continues on its southeastern journey for almost two miles, where it crosses Lick Creek. A turn to the south after crossing the creek, the road continues for about one-half before turning due east along what is now Thompson Road. One path for a shorter ride is to turn west instead of east, allowing the rider to connect to the Madison Turnpike for the journey back to Indianapolis. Within one half mile after turning east onto Thompson Road, a dirt road heads to the north to connect the rider, two miles north, again to the Churchman Pike. And, again, it is at what is now the corner of 17th Avenue and Albany Street in Beech Grove, as this dirt road is now Sherman Drive. This can also be used as a short ride, as well.

When the Shelbyville Pike turns southeast again, following the dirt road east allows connection, once again, to the Churchman Pike. Also, with a couple of turns later along that line, the rider can get to New Bethel (now Wanamaker) on the Michigan Road. The road to Wanamaker, however, is “out of the question at the present time, and it will probably be two months before they are fit for riding.” Part of this route, at that time, included what was created as the Franklin-Noblesville State Road, now Franklin Road. It is recommended that instead of heading toward he Churchman Pike or Wanamaker, the rider continue southeast on the Shelbyville Pike.

Before the road turns southeast, a pump and tin cup “on the left hand side of the road will tempt many a rider to stop for a brief rest under the trees.” The road then passes an old brickyard, and a grove of heavy timber. The road here had been recently graveled for about one quarter mile and was in rough shape. After that, the road got to be in excellent shape for the following two miles. Two dirt roads, a mile apart, connect north and south. The first “runs through to Irvington and on as far north as Millersville.” This is now Emerson Avenue. The second skirts the end of the Churchman Pike and connects to the Michigan Road. This is now Arlington Avenue. Both are reported as will shaded and have some picturesque spots.

Further along, before crossing Little Buck Creek, the rider will be tempted to take a rest at an orchard just to the south of the road. There is a house here, sitting almost a quarter mile back from the Pike. Ten miles out on the road, the rider will come across a wagon and blacksmith shop owned by Sam Crouch. Across the road from that shop is a very nice well used by farmers that travel the route, but is as inviting to bicyclists. “Crouch is a genial sort of man, and always likes to have the riders stop and shat with him a bit. He is not a novice at bicycle repairing, and last season enabled many an unfortunate rider to pedal back home instead of walking and carrying the wreck of his wheel with him.”

The next landmark, at the 12 mile mark, is the Five Points School House. “It is an unwritten law that all wheelmen shall stop at the school-house for a brief rest, and only the century men (those doing a 100 mile ride in one day) who are going against time take the liberty of evading this law.” A pump is available, as well, here, although a cup may not be at the site all the time. The Five Points School House is located at the intersection of three roads: the Mathews Road which crosses the Shelbyville Road, and a road due west that connects to Glenn’s Valley on the west side of Marion County. The latter is nine miles west of this point. Taking this route would allow the rider to connect, at Glenn’s Valley, to the Bluff Road. It also crosses both the Madison Road and the Three Notch Road. This cross county road was originally called Frye Road, but is known today as Stop 11 Road.

Some riders, at this point, continue the 20 miles onward to Shelbyville through Boggstown. Most, however, will turn toward Glenn’s Valley or turn east on a winding trek towards and into Acton. This is recommended as the Shelbyville Road conditions are not as good and encounters quite a few small hills along its path. Getting to Acton requires using what is described as a mud road that passes Ed Frye’s farm (hence the current name of Frye Road), then turns north on the Franklin-Noblesville State Road to the McGregor gravel road. The McGregor is a in excellent condition and an easy ride for its journey to Acton. More on Acton will be included in a later post.