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.

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.

Flooded Indiana

Weather in Indiana. Anyone that has been in the state at this time of year knows that we are entering what best can be described as the rainy season. With it comes the almost annual flooding that will inevitably occur. Flooding is something, though, that can happen at any time of the year. January is notorious for it. Though, it is not as though the flooding is a new thing. It has happened in Indiana for as long as there has been a state of Indiana. And possibly long before. Some of the floods make massive changes to the landscape of the state. Some just get a shrug of shoulders and a shake of the head.

One of the most changing floods in the modern history of Indiana has to be that of 1913. One of the most famous (road) victims of that flood had to be the Washington Street bridge in downtown Indianapolis. But the entire state was punished that January 1913. New Albany, at the Falls of The Ohio (a natural low water point in the entire river channel) almost everything south of the Southern Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad tracks was under water. The Pennsylvania Railroad ordered that its freight house in New Albany be abandoned. Said freight house had been under five feet of water in floods of 1907. In Evansville, the Ohio Street bridge (I would assume over Pigeon Creek) is “paritally submerged by water,” according to the Evansville Press of 15 January 1913. Especially hard hit were towns along the Ohio River. Several of these would be partly wiped out. Some would be moved to higher ground.

The flood that changed Indiana the most was that of 1937. The area had been devastated by floods in 1936…but the winter of 1937 was more damaging. January 1937 saw the massive closing of state roads due to ice and flooding. The list that was published in newspapers on 23 January 1937 included large numbers of roads. Just the US Highways listed included: US 31 north and south of Seymour, south of Memphis, at Speeds and north of New Albany; US 31E north of junction with SR 231 and junction SR 62; US 41 at Hazelton and Patoka; US 50 west of Brownstown, from Lawrenceburg to Aurora, west of Washington; US 52 from Brookville to West Harrison; US 150 west of Palmyra, at Fredricksburg, at Prospect, and east of Shoals. The list of closed highway is roughly 12 column inches long in the Richmond Item of 23 January 1937. The same newspaper mentions that the only road open from Richmond to Cincinnati is US 127 through Eaton, Ohio.

The aftermath of the 1937 floods would change the landscape across the state quite a bit. In addition to plans for 13 new reservoirs (many of which would not be built), levee and bridge construction would be commenced throughout the state. It was noted that many of the city street bridges at Indianapolis were too short to be safe in case of a flood rivaling or beating that of 1913. Improvements would be planned, and budgeted, for the Warfleigh section of Indianapolis, the Fall Creek area of Indianapolis, sections of the Wabash River in Peru and Logansport, and the White River at Anderson and Muncie.

There are additional reports of flooded state roads and such from many years between 1927 and 1950. January 1932 reported that three sections of SR 37 between Bloomington and Bedford have been damaged by rock slides caused by the same rain that had that part of SR 67 between Romona and Gosport, and at Edwardsport, under water. More flooding reports appear in March 1925, March 1927, November 1927, January 1930, March 1933, May 1935, August 1938, February 1942 and April 1948. This is just a quick look at the available newspaper data.