US 50 West from Aurora

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.

Dec 1917: Main Market Roads Officially Announced

When the law creating the Indiana State Highway Commission was passed in early 1917, the announcement was also made that there were would five main market highways, later known as state roads, designated by that commission. There was a general idea of which roads would be involved, bot nothing set in stone. That is, until December 1917.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette of 12 December 1917 announced the selection of the new main market highways. ISHC officials traveled throughout the state deciding which roads would be part of the new, and yet controversial, system. “A former election of four of the five routes was tentative, and although the general directions of the four roads announced formerly have been adhered to in the official selection, many changes have been made.”

The plan was to create a system which was typical of Indiana’s general demeanor: serve as many people as possible with as little cost and intrusion as possible. Due to the shape of the state of Indiana, it was decided that there would be three roads crossing the state, west to east, from the Illinois state line to the Ohio state line. One north-south road would be designated through the middle of the state. This was the basis of the first four main market roads. A fifth road would connect the fourth road to the Illinois state line in the southern part of the state. The December 1917 system included roughly 800 miles of roads.

The main market highways were officially described as follows: “No. 1. The highway beginning at the Indiana and Michigan state line, thence southerly through South Bend, Plymouth, Rochester, Peru, Kokomo, Westfield, Carmel, Indianapolis, Franklin, Columbus, Seymour, Scottsburg, Sellersburg, New Albany and Jeffersonville.” In the Auto Trail era, there was no one highway this route followed. It seems that it was planned very early to have a split in the highway at the south end, with one branch going to New Albany, and one going to Jeffersonville. And although the route numbers have changed, that split has existed in one form or another since that time.

Main Market Road #2: “The highway passing through the northern part of the state, beginning, at the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Dyer, Valparaiso, Laporte, South Bend, Goshen and Fort Wayne via the Lincoln Highway to the Ohio and Indiana state line.” Depending on how one reads that, it could be that the Lincoln Highway was only used from Fort Wayne to the Ohio state line. This is far from true. It was decided that the entire original route of the Lincoln Highway through the state would be used for Road #2.

Main Market Road #3: “The highway crossing the central part of the state, commonly called the old national road trail, beginning at the corner of the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Terre Haute, Brazil, Putnamville, Plainfield, Indianapolis, Greenfield, Knightstown, Cambridge City and Richmond to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #4: “The road crossing the southern part of the state, beginning at Evansville, thence easterly through Boonville, Huntingburg, Jasper, West Baden, Paoli, Mitchell, Bedford, Seymour, North Vernon, Versailles, Dillsboro, Aurora and Lawrenceburg to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #5: “The road connecting Vincennes and Mitchell, via Wheatland, Washington, Loogootee and Shoals.” Basically, this road was designated to connect main market road 4 to Vincennes. Again, this is due to the shape of the state. A (more or less) straight line across Indiana from Cincinnati west would, as is shown by the route of the current US 50, connect to Vincennes, leaving people south of there without a main market road. Evansville was, and still is, one of the top five largest cities in the state, population wise. So ignoring that city would not have been possible.

The article ends with the following: “The total mileage of the roads represents less than one-half of the total 2,000 miles of ‘main market highways’ which the commission may designate under the new state highway commission law prior to 1921.” The law that passed in 1917 created a state highway system so that Indiana could benefit from federal money for good roads. It wasn’t until the law was redone in 1919, with all of the 1917 law’s Constitutional questions answered, that the Indiana State Highway System was officially made part of the landscape.