Toll Roads, and State Takeover

There was a point in Indiana transportation history when the majority of “improved roads” in the state were toll roads. The National Road, for instance, originally built across Indiana in the 1830’s, fell, by 1842, into the maintenance responsibility of the counties through which it passed. Congress turned over the National Road to the state in 1848. In 1852, the entire road was let to a toll road company.

The National Road wasn’t the only one. Almost every major road in the state went through the toll road treatment. It wasn’t only the “state” roads that ended up being made into turnpikes. Land owners could, and did, by law create their own toll roads.

In 1883, a law was passed by the Indiana General Assembly that allowed for the “Appraisement, Purchase and Conversion of Toll Roads into Free Roads, and for their Maintenance as Free Roads.” This allowed counties to purchase toll roads when :they have been petitioned to do so by a majority of the land owners and stockholders in said toll road.” Often times, it would be put to a vote by the residents of the county. From what I have seen in newspapers, Cass County (Logansport) tried at least three times to get a positive vote. It would take several years for this law to become fully used by the counties of the state.

The Richmond Item of 10 February 1893 reported that the county had issued its list of purchase prices for toll roads in Wayne County. (For instance, The National Road was appraised at $12,000. This would end up not being the original road east of Richmond, having been replaced by the Richmond-Eaton Pike. That road is now called “Old National Road.”) The Fort Wayne Daily News of 13 December 1897 reports that Allen County has finally appraised the Fort Wayne and Little River Turnpike, the last toll road in Allen County.

Indianapolis News, 25 October 1889. List of toll roads that
were purchased by the Marion County commissioners
to become “free gravel” roads.

The purchases were going on all over the state. Looking through newspapers.com, with a search of “toll road” from every available newspaper in Indiana, the number of newspapers is fairly large. That only includes entries between 1800 and 1940.

Indianapolis News, 25 October 1889. List of roads that still
collect tolls, but have been petitioned to be purchased.

The attached snippets show the toll and free road situation in Marion County in October 1889. The bottom of the picture to the left shows that, at this time, Marion County contained 215 miles of gravel road, 70 being toll roads. Looking at a map of Marion County of that period, this is just a very small percentage of the roads in the county.

Until the counties started taking over the turnpikes (or toll roads, you decided which to use), toll houses were not only a common sight all around Indiana, they were basically landmarks. There is still one in existence along the old Michigan Road northwest of Indianapolis. Another Jim Grey entry, “For sale: Michigan Road Toll House” covers this quite well.

Now, the only toll road in the state is the Indiana Toll Road that runs across the top tier of counties. It is basically an extension of one toll road (or turnpike in Ohio and Pennsylvania) from Chicago to Philadelphia. This may change in the future. No one can ever be sure.

The Tail of Two Roads: National Road and Centerville State Road

Look at a map of Indiana, and one will notice that the direct route between Centerville and Indianapolis is US 40. While this is true, it is also not entirely so. First, reroutes and bypasses of the old road, especially between Knightstown and Dunreith, have made the route slightly longer. (The above mentioned section can be traveled by the old road, mostly. The Dunreith end has been moved for safety reasons.)

But, there is a second thing to consider here. The first route to connect Indianapolis and Centerville was the Centerville State Road. This road ran slightly south of the path of the future National Road from Greenfield east. This state road was built in 1832 over what was mainly a path. Parts of this route still exist in places. But most of it has been abandoned over the years having been replaced by the National Road in (at least in Hancock County) 1835.

Along the way, some towns just sort of went away because the road went away. There was a village south of Knightstown on the old Centerville State Road called West Liberty. The Indiana Gazetteer of 1833 lists the village as being “on the west bank of the Blue River on the road leading from Centreville (original spelling) to Indianapolis.” That road forms the county line, at that point, between Rush and Henry Counties.

According to an article in the Greenfield Daily Reporter of 08 October 1928, the old state road ran “practically due east and west.” The article goes on to say that the “National Road, although few realize it, veers slightly to the north as it goes eastward.” A quick glance at a map of Indiana, in closer detail, puts the old Centerville State Road on a line basically even with what is now 10th Street in Indianapolis. (Actually, the road that forms the geographic center of Marion County.) Centerville is on a straight line with what would be 25th Street (1.5 miles north). Richmond is on a line that would connect to 30th Street (2 miles north of 10th Street).

With the coming of the National Road, the old road fell into disuse. It would be abandoned in parts, revert to township (and, ultimately, county) control in others. I can’t begin to state with any certainty the route that the old route took to get the 1.5 miles north into Centerville.

Looking at the attached Google map image, the old state road, if it ran true east and west, would be the main street in Milton, Indiana, in the lower left hand corner. Just looking at the map shows a possible route. But since the road was abandoned in places, I am not willing to say with any absolute conviction that that was the road. More research is coming. Who knows, it may end with what George Carlin said his teachers said in class: “it’s a mystery.”