A Quick Look At Today’s State Roads, From A Historical View

A Facebook direct message from a reader of the blog started the research bug going again. Now, while I am still looking up information on his particular subject (transportation to Center Valley in Hendricks County, particularly a possible railroad there), part of his subject did come up. As well as a few others. Today, I want to look at the things that I have found while researching that topic…while not finding much about the topic.

The “town” of Center Valley is along the route that would become State Road 39 just north of the Morgan-Hendricks line. A post office existed there from 1855 to 1902. But what is important is the route that rumbles north to south through the town…the aforementioned SR 39. It wouldn’t be until 1932 when that section of SR 39 was added to the state highway system. But, the designation “state road” goes back quite a bit…like 1833.

The 17th General Assembly of Indiana passed into law several state roads. The first I want to mention would be the one that would make Center Valley (or, more to the point Centre Valley) a place. The route that would eventually become SR 39 was built as the Martinsville-Danville-Frankfort State Road. The southern end would be part of the state highway system from 1920 – the bridge over White River west of Martinsville. The northern end would be part of original State Road 6, connecting Lebanon to Frankfort. As original SR 6, it would become SR 39 with the Great Renumbering.

Two more state roads would from Martinsville would be added to Indiana with this meeting of the General Assembly. The first is one that would not become part of the state highway system. It was described as “an act to locate a state road from Martinsville, in the county of Morgan, by the way of Cox’s mill and Solomon Dunagan’s, in said Morgan county, to Stilesville, in the county of Hendricks.” This is an example of how the General Assembly would set up a “state road” through a particular person’s land. I would assume that what is now Tudor Road, southeast of Stilesville, was part of this road.

Another state road project including Martinsville did make it to the state highway system… eventually. The act created “a state road from Martinsville, in Morgan County, to intersect the state road leading from Madison to Indianapolis, at Edinburgh, in Johnson county by the way of Morgantown in said Morgan county.” This state road would be added back into the state highway system in the 1930’s…as State Road 252. A history of that road is available from ITH here.

But Martinsville wasn’t the only beneficiary of that particular meeting of the General Assembly.

A state road was created by the General Assembly to connect the town of Lagrange, in Tippecanoe County, to Logansport, in Cass County. Where is LaGrange? Well, it was a town along the Wabash River at the Warren-Tippecanoe County line. It was founded by Isaac Shelby in 1827…and had a post office from 1832 to 1835. It’s prime was with the Wabash Canal during the riverboat era. When the Wabash Railroad was built on the opposite side of the Wabash River, the town of LaGrange just dried up and disappeared.

Another road that was created at that time would connect Williamsport to the Illinois-Indiana State line via Lebanon (sic), now West Lebanon, and the now abandoned town of Chesapeake (about two miles east of Marshfield). This route will require some research.

Part of the road that would become, in time, SR 46 between Newbern and Bloomington would be added as a state road in 1833. The original road would start at the Michigan Road in Napoleon, travel through Camden (unknown today), Newbern, and Columbus to Bloomington. The section from Newbern to Columbus was part of the state highway system as SR 46, until INDOT truncated SR 9, turning the old SR 9 into SR 46.

Stilesville would be mentioned again as a state road was created to connect it to Crawfordsville via New Maysville.

The last road for this article would be a road that is still in existence, more or less, but not part of the modern state highway system. The description of the act was “to locate a state road from Green Castle, in Putnam county, to Carlisle, in Sullivan county, by way of Manhattan in Putnam county and Bowlingreen and New Brunswick, in Clay county.” Some day, I want to do more research on this road.

Rockville State Road, US 36, near Bainbridge

When the original state roads were built, the state of Indiana created a road that connected Indianapolis to Rockville, via Danville. That road, still known today as Rockville Road in Marion County, is almost as straight as any road can get in this state. However, there were places where straight just wasn’t possible. Such a place is in Putnam County.

It should be noted that there were two things at play when it came to the building of the original state roads. First, the construction was done to keep costs to a minimum. There was no need to cat a path through a hill when one could just go around it. Path of least resistance was the motto of the day. Second, as a general rule, the state didn’t tend to take people’s property to build a road that would just be turned over to the county after it was built. This is one of the reasons that a road connecting two towns in early Indiana didn’t always go directly between two points. While it isn’t as noticeable on maps today, a quick glance at older maps shows the curvy way someone got from point A to point B in the early days of the state.

The Rockville State Road was (mostly) built along a section line, meaning very little property would have to be taken to create it. Generally, property lines in Indiana tend to work along the survey lines. Survey line separate townships, ranges and sections. Most of the time, property was purchased in one section or another, usually not crossing the section line. But there were several places that the old road did have to venture off of the survey lines beaten path.

One was east of Danville. Main Street through the city was the original Rockville State Road. When a short bypass between Danville and Avon was built, the old road was kept in place, but turned slightly at both the western and eastern ends. The following Google Map snippet shows the old property lines when it came to the western (Danville) end of old Main Street/SR 31/US 36. Main Street turns southwest, while the old property lines turn due west to connect to Danville itself.

The other section was a much larger bypass built by the state in 1933. East of Bainbridge, the old state road took a dive to the south of the survey line…sometimes venturing almost a mile south of the line itself. The following map is from 1911, showing the postal routes that were followed at that time, and showing the old Rockville State road in its original alignment.

As shown on the map, going west to east, the old road started turning southeastward in Section 12, continuing further southeast in Section 7, and hitting its southern most point in Section 8. From there, it worked its way back northeastward until it reached the section line again in Section 10. This created a variance from the section line that was nearly four miles long.

Editor’s Note: As is typical of the original surveys, sections along the western edge of the range [sections 6, 7, 18, 19, 30 and 31] are smaller than one mile wide. The Range Line between those sections listed above, and sections 1, 12, 13, 24, 25 and 36 of the range west, is known as a correction line. This can be spotted throughout the state, not only by the less than one mile wide sections, but the occasional deviance from a straight line going west to east. In Marion County, Shelby Street and Franklin Road are those correction lines…and looking at the roads crossing them shows the correction. The survey line along the north edge of the map is the township line, separating survey townships 15 North and 16 North. Following that line to the east, it becomes part of the Danville State Road in eastern Hendricks County, 10th Street (the geographic center) through Marion County, and the numbering center of Hancock County. It is also a correction line in the surveys, so sometimes survey lines jog a bit when crossing it as well.

This section of the old road was very curvy, narrow, and did not lend itself well to the pending explosion of traffic that would be coming its way with the creation of the Auto Trails and, later, the State Highway System. When the Pike’s Peak Ocean to Ocean highway was created, it followed the old Rockville Road from Rockville to Indianapolis. Thus, it followed this curvy, winding line through Putnam County.

Things would change in 1933, when the Indiana State Highway Commission announced that construction would begin on US 36 from Danville to Bainbridge. This project would complete the straightening of the federal highway from west of Indianapolis to the Illinois-Indiana State Line. The Indianapolis Star of 1 April 1933 reported “a twenty-five mile detour from Danville to Bainbridge on United States Road 36 over pavement and dustless type road has been established to take care of traffic pending completion of new pavement between Danville and Bainbridge which will complete the project from Indianapolis to the Illinois state line.”

The above Google map snippet shows the exact same area as covered by the 1911 USPS map shown above. The route of US 36 through the area, shown in yellow, is the 1933 bypass built by the ISHC. The old road is still very narrow and winding, but still can be traveled to this day. The Indiana Official Highway map of 1933 shows the new road under construction, with the old road removed from the map. By the time the next official map was released for June 1934, the new road was completed and opened. The following is the 1936 survey map of Putnam County roads, including road width, constructing materials and bridge of the same area.

The new roadway included bridges marked as AS, AT, and AU on this map. The old road included CN, CM, CH, CG, and CK. (Note, they are marked on the map in lower case letters. I am using upper case to denote them since it is easier to read.) Both AS and AU were built 24 feet wide, while AT was built 20 feet wide. All three had a safe working load of 20 tons.

The old road’s bridges were a bit more complicated. CN was 12.7 feet high, 12.7 feet wide, and had a safe working load of three tons. CK was 16 feet wide and could handle 15 tons. CM was 19.5 feet wide, with a working limit of 20 tons. This would make it almost equal to the bridge that replaced it (AT), only being six inches narrower with the same work load limit. Both CG and CH were 20 feet wide with a 20 ton safe load limit.

The old road, according to the figures on the 1936 map, had a right-of-way 40 feet wide. The new US 36 through the area had a right-of-way of 60 feet in width. Most of the county roads in the area had a right-of-way narrower than the old Rockville State Road, usually less than 10 feet.

The other part of this realignment project was through Bainbridge itself. The old road traversed the town along Main Street. The new road bypassed Main Street to the north…by only one block. It still does to this day.

Jim Grey, on his old web site, covers the sections of the old road that connect to the current US 36 fairly well. That page is at: http://www.jimgrey.net/Roads/US36West/04_Bainbridge.htm. I think I have read somewhere that this website will be migrated over to his WordPress blog, “Down The Road.” If this is the case, get it while you can. And who knows, maybe after all the “stay at home” mess is over, I might make a trip out to this section of the old road to take some onsite surveys. (I would love to say take pictures…but my lack of photography skills is only surpassed by my complete lack of patience to take the time to make them good. Not gonna lie here, folks.)

National Road at Reelsville

1952 USGS topographic map of the Reelsville area.

When the National Road came to Indiana, part of the requirements for the building of the road was that it be in as straight a line a possible connecting Indianapolis to Vandalia, Illinois (then the capital of that state). Southwest of Indianapolis, the terrain got a little rough to be able to maintain a straight line. Especially in Putnam County. But the surveyors did a very good job in keeping it as straight a line as possible.

1864 map of southwestern Putnam County courtesy of the Library Of Congress. The National Road runs through the southern part of Section 19, the center of Sections 20 through 23. The Big Walnut Creek bridge that washed out in 1875 is in the eastern central portion of Section 20.

And so, the National Road chugged along for around four decades. In 1875, a bridge over Big Walnut Creek, southwest of Reelsville was washed out…and not replaced at the time. Since the National Road, at the time, belonged to a private company, they decided to reroute the road through the town of Reelsville. This would solve the connection problem, road wise, between Terre Haute and Indianapolis, but would create a few more while it was at it.

The Terre Haute & Richmond (TH&R) Railroad was chartered on 24 January 1847 to connect the two title cities through Indianapolis. By 1852, the TH&R had built a railroad connecting Terre Haute to Indianapolis. This railroad, near Reelsville, was to the north of Big Walnut Creek from where the National Road was, and connected to the town of Reelsville proper. There was even a station at Reelsville. On 6 March 1865, the Terre Haute & Richmond became the Terre Haute & Indianapolis.

The National Road replacement route took travelers up a long hill into Reelsville. At the town, the new road, which had been in place long before being used as a bypass, followed and crossed the TH&I several times before reconnecting to the original National Road. These railroad crossings were considered some of the worst in the state, especially due to the angle of the crossing.

1912 United States Postal Service map of southwestern Putnam county showing the roads around Reelsville. Notice that the National Road, marked as Mail Road RE 2 east of Reelsville, does continue after turning north to enter Reelsville proper. The old road did still contain houses, even though through traffic had been gone from the route for 37 years.

The Terre Haute & Indianapolis Railroad ceased to exist as a separate entity on 1 January 1905. That was the day that the TH&I, the St. Louis, Vandalia & Terre Haute, the Terre Haute & Logansport, the Logansport & Toledo and the Indianapolis & Vincennes merged to become the Vandalia Railroad Company. Among the items that were taken up by the new Vandalia was the crossings near Reelsville. Money was set aside in 1907 to correct the problem. By the end of 1912 (October to be exact), the Brazil Daily Times was reporting that no such work had been completed to date.

Part of the plan in 1912 was to return the original National Road route to use. According to the same article in the Brazil Daily Times, this would cut 1/2 mile off of the route then in use through Reelsville. And, the railroad crossing situation, with its inherent dangers, would be addressed…and partially eliminated. But, as with other well laid out plans, this did not go to schedule. At all.

The National Old Trails Road, an Auto Trail that, through Indiana, mostly followed the original National Road used the Reelsville cut off when it was created. The old route was still out of commission at Big Walnut Creek. This situation would not be resolved until after the (second) creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission in 1919. ISHC surveyors were out in the field looking at ways to improve the situation at Reelsville, with the decision made that a bridge would be built in the same location that had been used over 80 years prior when the National Road, now called State Road 3, was built. The new bridge would be a concrete arch facility.

Even then, the new bridge for the National Road would take some time to get started. Over two years, as a matter of fact. Construction started on the replacement of the National Road in January 1922. The winter that year was relatively mild, allowing for construction to start very early in the year. But it was decided that the new route of State Road 3 would skirt the Pennsylvania Lines (the then operators, later owners, of what was the Vandalia Railroad) to the south, bringing the new National Road closer to the Big Walnut Creek.

Even then, the replacement route would only be in place for less than two decades. The Highway Commission made plans to make a true four lane highway across Indiana along what was then the US 40 corridor (which was original State Road 3 until the Great Renumbering of 1 October 1926). The new new road would take a straight course through the area south of Reelsville, the railroad and the old new path of SR 3/US 40. This realignment would occur in 1941.

Editor’s Note: This post took a long time to convince me to write. There are several subjects that I have been avoiding because they are MUCH better covered by others. In this case, my Co-Admin of the Facebook ITH Group, Jim Grey, covered it much better than I ever will. And, generally, he has done a great job covering the entire National Road. His post, “Puzzle solved: The National Road at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville in Indiana,” served as the spring board for this post. The irony is that some articles that I posted in the ITH Facebook group led to the puzzles being solved for Jim. Such is the way of the world in this field. I recommend checking out Jim’s stuff when you get the chance. He is more of a road trip person, going out to see what’s on the ground. I tend to look more into the documented history of the same scenes.