County Roads – Getting Named

County road names. Most people don’t give it much thought. A year ago, I wrote an article about the names used around the state for the county roads. Today, I want to look at some of the histories that I have found about the subject.

The subject of naming rural roads was taken up at different times in different parts of the state. Until that point, roads may or may not have had names…but not as some sort of system. Marion County, for instance, had names like Wall Street Pike (West 21st Street from Speedway west) or the name of the resident that paid to have the road maintained. There really was no pattern to any of it.

The Cambridge City Tribune, of 9 August 1900, described the rumblings like this: “In some parts of Indiana a plan is being discussed for having all the county roads named. At the road crossings the names will be placed on posts, something like the old fashioned finger boards. In addition to that each farmer will have his name displayed on a post at the road side at the entrance to his grounds. Something of the kind will be done in all rural districts with the next few years, and it is very much needed. Farmers are beginning to discuss the matter at their meetings.”

St. Joseph County, according to the South Bend Tribune of 2 April 1918, had been working on names for the county roads since the summer of 1917. A plan was accepted and adopted by the St. Joseph County commissioners on 4 March 1918. The current names were placed on the county roads then. In 1934, the South Bend Tribune made sure to point out that rural roads in St. Joseph County were all marked the same way city streets were…with signs hanging high above the road.

The reasons for naming county roads involved things like mail delivery and safety. In the days of the automobile, it made sense to name the roads for travelers to be able to find places. But it started out as an attempt to be able to speed mail delivery. With rural routes all over the state, it was not unheard of that someone’s mail would be delivered to the wrong part of the county. Giving houses numbers, and roads names made mail easier to locate. As for safety, it goes without saying that if the farmer on such and such road had a structure that was on fire, unless the emergency crews where such and such road was, and where the farmer lived, that fire was going to be completely destrucutive.

The most common method of naming county roads in Indiana was called the “Purdue Grid Coordinates.” It is a system where every place in the rural areas of the county are assigned a location based on a central point in the county. This system often involves the north-south middle of the county to be called “Meridian,” and the east-west to be called “Division.” But that is up to the particular county, actually. Some counties do use “00” for the center.

The system was created by researchers for Purdue University’s Joint Highway Research project in the School of Civil Engineering. The plan was to create a system that would allow easier directions for rural areas. For example, the Lafayette Journal and Courier of 9 Jan 1954, used the following example of Doc Smith trying to find Ben Miller’s farm: “take this highway north about five miles, and then instead of turning with the highway at the big pear orchard, continue straight ahead on the County Farm gravel road. It winds a bit, but after about two miles you’ll come to a five-point intersection. Take the road that cuts slightly to the left, follow it to the second crossroad, then turn left. It’s only about a mile from that corner to Wahoo. You’ll have to inquire at the grocery store for Ben’s farm.”

Franklin County, in 1953, was still considering a naming system for the roads of that area. It had been recommended several years earlier, but nothing was ever done.

Hamilton County decided to start looking at their road names in 1958. It started with a report by the Jaycees. That took several years to work on. It was decided that Hamilton County would not use the Purdue grid system, since most people preferred names to numbers. Numbers were assigned from Indianapolis, giving rise to street numbers above 96th to 296th. Each county road, however, that went north and south was given a secondary number to show how far east and west of Indianapolis’ Meridian Street you were. While names were decided upon in the early 1960’s, most addresses weren’t completely determined until the 1990s.

On 10 October 1961 the Rushville Republican printed the following question when it came to county road names: “Is Rush County going to be among the last in the state to get its county roads named and numbered and house numbers for its rural residences? Decatur County is the latest to join the fold. It’s not a costly procedure and it makes it so much easier to locate places in the country. All it takes is a nod, and a bit of cash, from the county commissioners to permit this community to keep up with its neighbors.”

It would be 1962 when all counties in Indiana finally had a system in place, and signs posted. Indiana had passed a law in 1961 requiring all county road intersections to have road name signs posted.