US 36 in Indiana

Indiana has always been known as the “Crossroads of America.” For the most part, highways connecting Indiana to the rest of the United States have been through routes. But in the beginning of the US highway system (i.e. that on 1 October 1926, when it came to life in Indiana), there was one that ended near the western edge of the city of Indianapolis: US 36.

Let’s step back quite a bit before October 1926. What is now US 36 began life as the Indianapolis-Rockville State Road, basically a wagon trail connecting the capital city to the county seat of Parke County. Along the way, it also connected to the county seat of Hendricks County, Danville. What is currently US 36 west of Hendricks County is part of the original road. However, there were several sections that were straightened out by the state over the years.

When the Auto Route era started, the Rockville Road (now a series of county gravel roads) was included as part of the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway. I have copies of maps spanning 1918 to 1920 showing this. Also, the Federal Highway Administration shows this in a series of strip maps. This link shows the section from Indianapolis to Chrisman, IL.: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/ppmap05.cfm

(East of Indianapolis, at this time, the PPOO followed the National Old Trails Road, including the Eaton Cut-off, towards Dayton, OH.)

By 1923, the PPOO had moved, according to the website http://www.ppoo.org. The 1923 route was moved to come into Indiana along what was original SR 33 across Indiana. OSR 33 became SR 34 (and, later, US 136) from the Illinois-Indiana state line to Crawfordsville, then became SR 32 through Lebanon, Noblesville, Anderson, Muncie and Winchester to the Indiana-Ohio State Line at Union City.

The old PPOO, Rockville Road, by 1923, became SR 31 from SR 10 (future SR 63) to its connection with OSR 3 (the National Road) at what is now Holt Road and Washington Street. (To use the original road, either east or west, requires a journey through a Steak ‘n Shake parking lot. This is a fact that I have repeatedly used throughout the existence of both this blog and the Facebook group that spawned it.)

Indianapolis News, 27 September 1926.
The “Great Renumbering” is about to occur in Indiana.
This snippet shows the pending US 36 description.

With the Great Renumbering of 1 October 1926, US highways were added to the state, and US 36 was among them. The route of the original PPOO, the one that became SR 31, became the route of US 36. However, the section that connected Chrisman, IL, to SR 63 was incomplete and under construction. Since, at the time, it had not been a section of the state highway system, the ISHC was playing catch up to get it up to speed. Also, at the time, the original US 36 connected to the National Road at the above mentioned Steak ‘n Shake (i.e. Washington Street and Holt Road). Holt Road originally came from the south and ended at this intersection. It would be many years later, even after the removal of US 36 to I-465’s south leg, that Holt Road would be built to the dead end (more or less) that it is today.

Indianapolis News, 28 April 1928.
Signs posted by the ISHC at the corner of
Meridian and Washington Streets
in Indianapolis.

That’s right. US 36 ended in Indianapolis. It followed US 40 downtown, but most maps I have seen from the era aren’t detailed enough to show that. The only proof I have of that is a picture from the Indianapolis News of 28 April 1928. It shows a “highway totem pole” at the corner of West Washington Street and Meridian Street. (That point was a multiplex consisting, in the order the state put them, US 40, US 52, US 36 and SR 29. US 36 stayed in that status for at least the next five years.

I am doing further research into the location of US 36 along the Rockville Road/Rockville Avenue corridor. For the longest time, the section that is Rockville Road now from Washington Street to what is called Rockville Avenue didn’t exist. As a matter of fact, official Indiana State Highway Commission maps show that Rockville Avenue was US 36 all the way up to 1930. What is now Rockville Road east of Rockville Avenue, apparently was the dream of the E. L. Cothrell Realty Company. In 1925, they started building a new neighborhood, which could be reached by going “out West Washington street to the 3500 block.” By 1927, it would finally list the Rockville Road as part of the marketing, as all houses would front either Creston (the name of the development) or Rockville. As shown in the map below, it would seem that the “new” Rockville Road was built expressly for the Creston development.

Map, courtesy of Google Maps, showing the Rockville Road from Washington Street to the original road now called Rockville Avenue. Creston Drive, the main side street of the Creston development started in 1925 is shown, as well. (Map was captured using Microsoft Snipping Tool on 1 April 2019.

By 1932, the extension of US 36 started. The signs marking US 36 were extended along what was then SR 67 (Massachusetts Avenue/Pendleton Pike) and, when near Pendleton, along SR 9/SR 67 to Huntsville, where a road was authorized to connect Huntsville to Ohio SR 200 at the state line west of Palestine, OH. At that time, the designation US 36 entered Ohio as the cross state line continuation of SR 32 at Union City. That US 36 connected Union City to Greenville, OH.

Indiana State Highway Commission official 1932 map showing US 36 both at Pendleton and in Ohio from Union City to Greenville. The red dotted line from Huntsville east through Sulphur Springs, Mount Summitt, Mooreland to the JCT SR 21 south of Losantville, and the red dotted line from JCT SR 21 north of Losantville, east through Modoc and Lynn to connect OH SR 200 show the authorized route of the extension of US 36.

By 1933, the state had under its jurisdiction the complete route that would be US 36 in Indiana. There were some changes along the way, with sections moved and bypassed here and there. The first bypass was being built in 1935, which would be a replacement for the section through downtown Indianapolis. By 1936, US 36, and SR 67, would be turned north along SR 29 (later US 421, today West Street/Martin Luther King Jr. Street) to 38th Street. Then east along 38th Street to its connection to Pendleton Pike. (BTW – officially, this is the beginning of what is now called Pendleton Pike. 38th Street, at the time, was the edge of the city most of the way. As such, inside 38th Street, the old Pendleton Pike is called Massachusetts Avenue. That will be the subject of a later post…I promise.)

The major bypass would also be in Marion County. In the late 1970’s, the Indiana Highway Department, and its successor, the Indiana Department of Transportation, would start handing state roads back to the counties. In Marion County, as far as US 36 was concerned, that would mean that the designation US 36 would turn onto I-465, using the road from Rockville Road on the west side, along the south leg, to Pendleton Pike on the northeast side.

When Property Owners Put Themselves Ahead of Military

In 1903, the United States Army opened a fort in Lawrence Township called Fort Benjamin Harrison. It was quite the fixture in Marion County for a lot of years, until the late 1990s when the federal government decided that the fort was no longer needed. Fort Benjamin Harrison was returned to the state, most of which became Fort Harrison State Park. But if one property owner had his way, the fort would have moved out a long time before it actually did…like in 1918.

The Indianapolis News of 27 May 1918 reports that a project that the military wanted was on hold due to a lawsuit filed by a property owner. The project in question was the improvement in Lawrence Township of the Pendleton Pike, the quickest route between downtown Indianapolis and Fort Benjamin Harrison.

John Reichart, through his lawyer William V. Rooker, filed a suit in circuit court against the improvement of the Pendleton Pike. His suit was intended to benefit property that he owned along the Thomas C. Day Road. According to the article, “due to particularities of the antique road laws of Indiana, may have a priority right of construction over the Pendleton Pike.” The suit was brought on the theory that the payment by the county for the Pendleton Pike project “would cloud the title of his client’s property in view of the priority right this road might have over the Pendleton Pike.” The road in question forms the township line between Warren and Lawrence Townships. That road today is called 38th Street.

Due to the road indebtedness limit of Lawrence Township, the improvement of both roads would not be possible. The Chamber of Commerce, through its military affairs committee, started out to get all of the petitioners of the Day Road to sign waivers allowing for improvement of Pendleton Pike. Forty five people signed the waivers. There were only three people that did not.

The first hearing of the suit was set for 1 June 1918, in the court room of Judge Louis B. Ewbank. Although Judge Ewbank could deny the injunction, “an appeal to the supreme court might still further delay the work on the road.” At this point, according to the News, the improvement of the Pendleton Pike could be delayed until 1919.

The question that comes up is why did the state not step in and claim the road for the state? Well, the constitutionality of the State Highway Commission law of 1917 was still in play. It wouldn’t be until the new law was passed in 1919 that state could have done anything about it. Even then, the Pendleton Pike wasn’t accepted into the state system, at least to the Marion-Hancock County Line, until at least 1922. By 1923, the road all the way to Pendleton became state road 37.

Due to World War I, traffic to and from Fort Harrison increased exponentially. Crushed stone was put on the old Pike out to Acre (now Post) Road. County commissioners “spent practically all of the road maintenance fund of the county in keeping up the repair of the fort roads as best they could.” John J. Griffith, county road superintendent, describes the graveling, at a cost of $8,000, was “like throwing money into a ditch as far as any permanent benefit was concerned. The traffic to the fort made it necessary for half of this stretch of road to be temporarily repaired, while the other half was used by vehicles.” The county is, at the time of this article, trying to get the Thirtieth Street road from Pendleton Pike to the post, or Acre, road improved as a bypass to allow construction on the Pike. Acre Road is a stone road running from Washington Street (National Road) north to the fort. It is reported in good condition.

Mr. Johnson, County Attorney, recommended that another way of fixing the road may be available. “The surest way to get the permanent improvement of the pike in Lawrence township completed by fall would be for a number of patriotic men to agree to underwrite the bonds for the improvement, so that the contractor could go ahead with the work while the legal questions were being thrashed out.” The bonds in question were estimated to be in the neighborhoo of $73,000.

The News makes the point that the Day Road would be of no benefit to the fort. It is also noted that it is “doubtful if the state council of defense would give its approval for its construction at this time even though the question of the fort road were not involved.”

A motion in the case would be filed on 21 May 1918 to separate the actions into two cases, one for Pendleton Pike, and one for the Main Market Highways. It would seem that the lawsuit filed by William Rooker had postponed not only the Pendleton Pike work, but also that on the Main Market Highways designated by the State Highway Commission law of 1917.

By 4 July 1918, the News reported the the State Council of Defense recommended that Marion County’s Center Township annex Lawrence Township to ensure that the Pike gets the improvements needed. Even the lawyer, William Rooker, stated that he would drop his lawsuit if this plan was put into place. Needless to say, there were eight other governmental townships in Marion County, and the residents of those townships, that were not at all enthused with the idea of becoming part of Center Township.

Through the efforts of both Marion County and the State of Indiana, Fort Benjamin Harrison would remain in Lawrence Township. As it turned out, the end of World War I in 1918 would decrease the crush of traffic to the fort, allowing some time to complete the Pendleton Pike and Day Road projects.