Railroads of Indiana, 1850

One of the beautiful things of the internet, one of the things that make doing something like the Indiana Transportation History blog so easy, is the access to a world of information. Yes, some is accurate, and some isn’t. But my favorite resources, as I have shown over the past almost two years, is maps. While maps can be wrong at times, or more to the point, based on “future” information that doesn’t come to be, they are still a great resource if you can figure where they went wrong.

Today, I found another map that grabbed my interest. Looking at a map of railroads in Indiana, even today, there are railroads all over the state. A railroad map from the turn of the 20th Century is a spider web of routes crossing the state in all kinds of directions. But the map that I found today is one of Indiana in 1850. It is an interesting look what was, and how many changes have come about in the 170 years since it was printed.

When railroads started being built in the state, just like everywhere else, it was a jumble of little companies, usually with destination cities in the company title. There were 15 railroads on the map at the time, with some that were proposed. One of them was in Ohio, but would later be part of an Indiana system when it was completed. The map that I found showed the railroad routes as straight lines, not the actual routes themselves. I am going to cover them in the order the map numbered them.

Number 1: Madison and Indianapolis Railroad. I have covered this railroad many times, as it was the first long distance railroad built in Indiana. The engineering of this route, which included the steepest railroad tracks in the nation, was top notch at the time. Although it was originally been on the cheap, using iron strapped rails instead of the “T” rail that would become standard (and much safer) later. In the end, it would become part of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Number 2: Shelbyville Lateral Branch. This line was built as a feeder road to the Madison & Indianapolis. Its history isn’t terribly long. It connected the Madison & Indianapolis at Edinburgh to Shelbyville, opening up farm produce from Shelby County to the world at large. The railroad, depending on what history you read because it is very spotty, would last around five years before it was abandoned.

Number 3: Shelbyville & Rushville Railroad. Shelbyville was a “rail center” for a little while in the 1850’s and 1860’s. This route connected the two title towns, opening Rush County to the markets available on the Madison & Indianapolis.

Number 4: Shelbyville & Knightstown Railroad. Another short lived railroad, that would open southern Henry County to the same markets served by the above three. This company would last less than a decade, according to the source. Again, the history is spotty about this road at best. Later, part of route would become part of a railroad again, but instead of connecting Knightstown to Shelbyville, it would connect to Rushville.

Number 5: Columbus, Nashville & Bloomington. Trying to find any history on this road is difficult at best. I am not even sure if it existed at all. This will require more research.

Number 6: Martinsville Branch Railroad. Another road, like the one above. History is hard to find like the one above. It connected the Madison & Indianapolis to Martinsville. Later, the same connection would be made, in 1853, from the M&I at Franklin to Martinsville. That railroad would would be the Fairland, Franklin & Martinsville.

Number 7: Indianapolis & Bellefontaine Railroad. This route connected Indianapolis to Pendleton, Anderson, Muncie and Winchester to ultimately Bellefontaine, Ohio. Down the road, this would be one of the founding parts of the Big Four Railroad. It is still in use today as part of CSX.

Number 8: Indianapolis & Peru Railroad. Today, this is mostly known as the Nickel Plate connecting Indianapolis, Noblesville, Tipton, Kokomo and Peru. Or at least what’s left of it. At one point, for about nine months, it was consolidated with the Madison & Indianapolis creating a route from Madison to Peru under one umbrella. Shareholders, and the courts, put an end to that marriage, creating two separate companies again.

Number 9: Indianapolis & Lafayette Railroad. Another constituent part of what would become the Big Four Railroad. At one point, at the Indianapolis end, the line came down alongside the Central Canal. It would be also be the scene of a large train wreck that would kill members of the Purdue University football team (Part 1 and Part 2).

Number 10: Lafayette & Crawfordsville Railroad. This railroad would later become part of the Chicago, Indianapolis & Louisville, later known as the Monon. At the end of this article, I will show the only proposed railroad that in included on this map, which would be a connecting route from Crawfordsville to Bedford, thus creating the remaining part of the Monon mainline through western Indiana.

Number 11: Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Richmond Railroad. The original plan for this railroad was to connect the entire state, east to west, following roughly the National Road corridor. It would never be built past Indianapolis. Over the years, it would become part of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Number 12: New Albany & Salem Railroad. This would be the southern end of what would become the Monon. There were several companies between the New Albany & Salem and the Monon. I covered the history of the Monon in two parts, part 1 and part 2.

Number 13: Jeffersonville & Columbus Railroad. Most references to this road refer to it as the Jeffersonville, or “J.” The plan was to build the line all the way to Indianapolis. The problem came with the management of the Madison & Indianapolis. As the first railroad, the M&I assumed the attitude that they were the kings of the state’s railroads and others, especially direct competitors like the “J,” should just be good little kids and do what they are told.

There is a story about the M&I not wanting to help another railroad, because they weren’t in business to provide charity to other companies. The company they turned down would be the THI&R, which would be far more successful than the M&I in the end.

The M&I refused to cooperate with the J. So, ultimately, the J not only invested in feeder lines, taking traffic from the M&I, they started building a parallel track to the M&I. Ultimately, the J would end up buying the struggling M&I. And, like the M&I, would become part of the Pennsylvania system.

Number 14: Lawrenceburg & Greensburg Railroad. This road was built to connect the markets of Decatur and Ripley Counties to the markets at Cincinnati. Ultimately, the plan was to build the road all the way to Indianapolis, allowing a more direct route from the Hoosier capital to the Queen City of the Ohio. Traffic would be barged from Lawrenceburg to Cincinnati, which was faster than the already in place barged traffic from Madison to Cincinnati.

Number 15: Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. The only reason that I am mentioning this is because it would be the foundation of what would ultimately become the Baltimore & Ohio connecting Indianapolis to Cincinnati directly.

As mentioned above, the only proposed railroad on this map is the future Monon route connecting Bedford to Crawfordsville. Several towns along the proposed route would not be serviced by any other railroad company for years. And today, most of this route no longer exists, having been given back to the locals when the bigger companies were created, and the route became excessively redundant.

There is one more transportation facility included on this map. The Wabash & Erie Canal from Evansville to Fort Wayne and beyond is marked on it.

The entire map that I used for this article is available here: Railroad map of Indiana, by Col. Thomas A. Morris, Civil Engineer, | Library of Congress (loc.gov)

Expanding SR 37 from Martinsville to Oolitic

20 December 1970. The Sunday Herald-Times (Sunday edition of the Bloomington Herald-Telephone and the Bedford Times-Mail) has as the lead story at the top of page one, “All Four-Lane 37 To Be Started In 1971.” It discusses the last projects that would make SR 37 a divided highway from the Martinsville Bypass to Oolitic. It was the beginning of the projects…all scheduled to start before the end of 1971.

Chairman of the Indiana State Highway Commission at the time, Ruel W. Steele, stated that the ISHC had let eight contracts, totaling over $22.5 million, along the highway corridor. The section between Bloomington and Martinsville was under going right of way purchasing, with construction projected to start in the fall of 1971. Right of way purchasing would consist of one contract. Construction would be divided into two contracts.

“We expect to clear the right of way on the south half of the Bloomington-Martinsville project by some time in July of next year,” said Steele, “and on the north half by September. We expect to have both sections under contract next year – the south half by September, and the north portion before the end of the year.” Construction of this section should go quickly, the newspaper mentions, because it will mostly be widening the current road from two to four lanes in place. “There will be some places along the corridor where the new lanes will be west of the present road, and some where it will be to the east.”

One section was already under construction. A new northbound SR 37 bridge over Indian Creek, south of Martinsville, was being built 60 feet east of the then current two lane bridge. Once the new bridge was completed, traffic would be rerouted to the new facility while the old bridge was rebuilt. In Indiana, most contracts for road construction are let separately for roads and bridges.

Included with the discussions with Mr. Steele was a status report on all of SR 37 from south of Bedford to the south end of the Martinsville bypass. The Bedford bypass was anticipated to start construction in Spring 1972. Due to rough terrain and three sets of bridges having to be built, the Bedford bypass was to be the most expensive part of the entire project. It will be the last project to be put under contract.

4.8 miles of the new highway from Oolitic to south of the Monroe County line was, at this time, 40 percent complete and 15 percent ahead of schedule. Completion was scheduled for December 1971. The next 3.3 mile section, to just north of the Monroe County line, was scheduled for completion by 1 June 1972.

The next 2.5 mile section from 1.5 miles north of the Monroe County line to three miles south of Dillman Road had been let to contract the previous week. This included an interchange at Monroe Dam Road, allowing access to Lake Monroe, and bridges over the Monon and Clear Creek. This section was scheduled for completion by December 1972.

Right of way problems were being resolved for the next 2.5 miles, all south of Dillman Road. Most property had been acquired, but some condemnation suits would have to be filed. The right of way was expected to be cleared within the next two weeks from the publication of this article, except for the condemnation suits which would be filed by 15 January 1971. The new Bloomington bypass would start at the end of this section, one half mile south of Dillman Road.

March 1971 was the scheduled date for the start of right of way purchasing for the south four miles, from south of Dillman Road to SR 45, of the new Bloomington bypass. The Commission expected to have the right of way cleared by August 1971, and contracts to be let by the end of that year.

Herald-Times photo, 20 December 1970. New road for SR 37 bypass west of Bloomington.

Four miles of the middle section of the Bloomington bypass, from SR 45 to SR 46, as shown in the newspaper photo above, was progressing quickly. This section was anticipated completed by 1 September 1971. The next section, however, was being re-let when the bids for the first round of contracts came in over engineer’s estimates. The second round of contract letting would commence on 26 January 1971, with “hopefully the contract will be let January 28.”

“Steele said eight separate projects – five highway and three bridge – are now under contract, including the Ind. 46 companion project which extends from the new four-lane Ind. 37 to Indiana University. There are six more projects to be let to contract in the entire relocation from White River to Martinsville.”

In October, 1971, contracts were opened for four projects as part of the new SR 37: the south section of the Bloomington Bypass; additional two lanes on the Martinsville bypass; bridges over Clear Creek and the Monon; and bridges over the Illinois Central Railroad. The Clear Creek/Monon bridge is a twin bridge, each with five spans. The IC bridge consisted of two bridges each with three spans. With these contracts, the only part of the new SR 37 that still needed to be opened to contract bidding included the Bedford bypass and from the north end of the Bloomington bypass to near the Morgan-Monroe County line. (Source: Bedford Daily Times-Mail, 26 October 1971)

Westfield Boulevard Bridge Over White River

Indianapolis News photo, 2 October 1974

1891. A steel bridge was built to cross the White River north of Broad Ripple on what was then called the Indianapolis & Westfield Free Gravel Road. As was typical of the time, the bridge crossed the White River at a 90 degree angle, making for the approaches, especially the southern approach, were a little tight. The bridge would be used until the city of Indianapolis would have to tear it down in 1977.

The bridge built in 1891 was a replacement for a bridge that had served for many years at the location. The road had been originally built as the Westfield State Road in the 1830’s. Later, in the late 1840’s, the road would be sold to a toll road company for maintenance and to become a turnpike. This would last until the late 1880’s, when it was purchased back by Marion County for the free use of travelers. It would still be the Free Gravel Road when the new bridge was built.

The original road would cross the river as shown in the 1972 aerial photograph above. The sudden right turn approaching the bridge from the south would later create a bottle neck that the State wanted to take care of…or just bypass altogether.

In the mid-1910’s, the old Westfield State Road would acquire a new name: the Range Line Road, an Auto-Trail that would connect Indianapolis to Kokomo and Peru through Westfield. The Range Line Road gained its name because it followed the survey line that separated Range 3 East and Range 4 East in the survey that divided Indiana into one mile square sections.

Another name was given to the road in 1917 – Main Market Road 1. This was the predecessor to State Road 1, which this became in 1919. This brought the Westfield Road, and its two lane bridge over White River into the state highway system. But it wouldn’t be long until the Indiana State Highway Commission discovered the errors in the naming of this route as a major State Road. While in Indianapolis, and up to what is now 86th Street (later SR 534/100), the road was winding and narrow.

Part of being part of the state highway system is that state roads are, with very few exceptions, automatically truck routes. And running trucks through Broad Ripple, even today, could best be described as “fun,” at least sarcastically. The old state road followed Westfield Boulevard from Meridian Street until it turned north in Broad Ripple…making the turn at Winthrop Avenue and the Monon Railroad tracks interesting. It also gets tight while hugging the White River.

The state would bypass this section of US 31 by building a new road straight north along the Meridian Street corridor. This caused a lot of protesting from the people of Carmel, fearing that their main drag, Range Line Road, would be left to rot, and travelers would be guided around the town. While US 31 bypassed this section, it would be given a replacement state road number: SR 431.

Meanwhile, the White River bridge lumbered on. By 1931, SR 431 was now using the facility. It would stay that way until the building of I-465…which would cause the state to move SR 431 from Westfield Boulevard to Keystone Avenue. The state’s maintenance of the White River bridge would end in 1968.

It didn’t take long for the bridge to fall into disrepair. By 1974, it was recommended to the city that the road and bridge be closed completely to traffic. If not immediately, at most within the next two years. The city would lower the weight limit to five tons in 1974. But this did not solve the pending problems with the bridge. In addition, around the 7300 block of Westfield, was another bridge over what is known as the “overflow channel,” a small White River cutoff north of the main channel of the river. The bridge over the overflow channel was in as bad or worse shape than the truss bridge in the 6700 block of Westfield.

1972 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Westfield Boulevard bridge over the White River Overflow Channel in the 7300 block of Westfield Boulevard.

The main bridge would be closed in 1977 for the building of a replacement of the facility. Business owners of Broad Ripple, as early as 1974, had been arguing for either fixing or replacing the bridge in place. Their discussions concerned the fact that straightening the road would allow for high speed traffic to come in through “Broad Ripple’s back door.” Keeping the tight and winding approaches to the White River bridge would slow traffic down before entering the neighborhood. Both ideas were continuously shot down by the city of Indianapolis, the owners of the facility. The City went so far as to recommending that Westfield Boulevard be closed between Broad Ripple Avenue and 75th Street, thus removing the need to replace the bridge altogether.

As it turned out, the bridge would be replaced. Or, more to the point, bypassed. The next photo, a 1978 aerial taken from MapIndy, shows the new bridge and the old bridge it replaced. The old bridge would be completely removed from aerial photos the following year.

1978 MapIndy aerial photograph showing the replacement Westfield Boulevard bridge over White River, and the location of the old bridge.

The new bridge would open on 12 June 1978. But the road wouldn’t. In an example of just fantastic government planning, the Overflow Channel bridge would be closed in either August or September of 1978 for replacement. This would cause the new bridge to be used for only local traffic until the following year, 1979, when the new overflow channel bridge would be completed.

1993 aerial MapIndy photograph showing the Westfield Boulevard bridge over the White River Overflow Channel (7300 block of Westfield Boulevard). Also shown is the abandoned Monon Railroad, prior to the creation of the Monon Trail.

With the opening of the Overflow Channel bridge, Westfield Boulevard was opened again for traffic from Broad Ripple to Nora…and hence north to the downtowns of Carmel and Westfield. While reaching downtown Westfield using the old road has become more difficult with the redesign of US 31 through Hamilton County, it still can be followed on maps – and for the most part in cars, as well.

Indianapolis and Its Decoration Day Race

If there is one thing that Indianapolis is known for, it is racing. Oh, yes. Almost anyone in the WORLD would respond “Indianapolis 500” if you mention the city. Memorial Day weekend has become a time when the population of the city doubles and triples, with all of the visitors coming to watch “the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” But the subject of this post isn’t something related to a farm field with a large rectangle with curved corners in Speedway. As a matter of fact, the subject article of this post dates from the Indianapolis News of 23 May 1896, some 13 years before that other race started.

Before it became known as Memorial Day, 30 May of each year was known as Decoration Day. The holiday floated depending on the location of 30 May on the calendar. It was declared a Federal Holiday in 1868. In Indianapolis, the end of May signified, among other things, the end of the “rainy season,” otherwise known in the rest of the world as Spring. The weather starts getting drier and hotter right after Decoration Day. So it made almost perfect sense to use that holiday as a day to get together to watch a race.

Indianapolis News, 23 May 1896. This map shows the route of the annual Decoration Day Bicycle Road Race of 1896.

The Indianapolis Cycle Club and the Cycle Board of Trade put together the annual Decoration Day Road Race through the streets of Indianapolis. At the time of the source article, thirty men were in the list of racers. Those racers, unlike previous years, weren’t all from Indianapolis. Entries would be taken until 26 May, the following Tuesday. It was estimated that seventy-five to one hundred riders would be at the starting line when the race kicked off. Batches of racers would be set off on the 13.625 mile course at intervals of one minute.

Prizes for the race, due to its amateur status, could not include money. But there were 38 prizes to be given to the riders. The rules state that each rider is only allowed to win one prize. Prizes include four different bicycles, tires, suits, caps, hats, electric lantern, a Kodak, fishing rods, shoes, lamps, golf hoses, sweaters, luggage and a speed indicator. These prizes came from merchants across the city. Carl G. Fisher, future creator of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways, and his bicycle store donated two sweaters, a pair of shoes, and a “speed indicator.”

The course was chosen due to the relative good condition of the route. “It is probable that not another road race will be run on Decoration Day throughout the entire country on a finer course than the one which will be used here.” There are a few bad spots along the way, but they are few and far between.

The race started at the corner of Meridian and 14th (now 21st) Streets , heading north to 30th (now 38th) Street. Here it turned west one block to follow Illinois Street, which since it was outside the city limits at the time, was called the Indianapolis and Westfield Road (which is now Illinois Street and Westfield Boulevard to Broad Ripple). From there, it followed what is now Broad Ripple Avenue to the Fall Creek and White River Gravel Road (now called Keystone Avenue). South along the Fall Creek Road, the course then turned southwest onto the Allisonville Pike (now Fall Creek Boulevard). The Allisonville Pike went as far as what is now 38th Street, with the Allisonville name being used across that numbered street. The route then turned south on Meridian Street at 30th, going back to the starting point at 14th.

A three block stretch of asphalt starts, and finishes, the course. Two bad street car track crossings, one at 26th (34nd) Street and the other at 28th (36th) Street, are encountered. From the Fall Creek bridge to 30th (38th) Street is “one of the worst spots along the whole course.” Potholes and loose gravel make this section a rough going. Turning at 30th (38th) Street gets interesting, with a wooden culvert to be crossed, with boards at one end being lose. Three-eighths of a mile after turning onto Illinois Street riders will encounter a small rise. Further along Illinois Street requires crossing a wooden culvert, a small wooden bridge and climbing a 200 yard long, fairly stiff hill. “This hill stops just beyond the carriage entrance for Fairview Park (now the location of Butler University).” This entrance would be at what is now 46th Street. From here, for the next one-half mile, is a gradual down grade. At the canal, the route drops along a steep grade for about 100 yards.

“Some riders may seek to cross the canal and take advantage of the cycle path, but this will not be allowed.” The first quarter mile along what is now Westfield Boulevard is reported in excellent condition. Then comes 300 yards of horrible conditions, including potholes on both sides of the road. After that, fresh gravel with wheel tracks already in place on each side of center.

At Broad Ripple, the course encounters the Monon tracks and follows the street car tracks along what is Broad Ripple Avenue (previously 62nd Street). The Broad Ripple section is reported as being the worst section of the entire course. One of the best parts of the route is along the Fall Creek and White River Road. “Men who are still in the hunt will be able to come down this road at a lightning clip.” This road runs along the west border of Malott Park (at what is now 52nd Street), and just south of the village is the crossing of the Lake Erie & Western Railroad (Nickle Plate). (As an aside, the street that runs along the railroad tracks is now called Erie due to the name of the railroad company. This is common throughout Indianapolis.)

A turn onto Allisonville Pike (Fall Creek Boulevard), the LE&W tracks are crossed again near 38th Street. Then the course, still following the old Allisonville Pike turns west along 38th Street until Meridian Street, while the Allisonville Road turned south on what is now Central Avenue. The Monon tracks are crossed again on the west side of the Fairgrounds. At Meridian Street, the repeat of the conditions encountered on the way out happens. To avoid having racers cutting across the course, checkers were located at each cross street. “If the race is at all close, there will be a great sprint from Fall Creek to the tape.”

Racing, it seems, has been a part of Indianapolis’s Memorial Day for much longer than the creation of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which included a partner that provided prizes for this race.

** edited 06/03/2021 by Paula Trefun Simpson to note that the ‘canal’ mentioned was the Central Canal