More History Than Transportation – South Indianapolis

1889 map of the section of Perry Township, Marion County, containing the “town” of South Indianapolis.

I decided to write a blog entry that skirts on the transportation history, but really ventures into the history of really two spots in Perry Township, Marion County. This is why it will not be part of the normal rotation of blog entries. It also is a bit of history that I encountered in person, although much after the fact.

In the summer of 1979, my family (my mother, my brother and I) moved to the southside of Indianapolis. The area that we moved to was tucked north of Hanna Avenue and east of State Street. The thing that always puzzled me at the time, being that my mind works at 1000 MPH on things like this, is why the children in the neighborhood, myself included, went to Perry Township schools, and not Indianapolis Public Schools. Now, the area is in Perry Township. But right around one half mile south of my house was (and still is) IPS School #65. It was literally within walking distance. Yet we rode the bus to Clinton Young Elementary, Keystone (now Southport) Middle School, and Southport High School.

I would later come to know that my neighborhood had never been taken into the City of Indianapolis. It was never annexed. But the area south of Hanna, and east of Shelby Street, had been. That area started life as the town of University Heights, being the community that served the Indiana Central College (later University, then University of Indianapolis).

For many years, the children of my area did have a school close by. It was originally Perry Township School Number 4, later to be called University Heights School. This would cause problems for other children later…but we will get to that.

Back to my neighborhood. Sometime after 1870, a new “town” was platted that would be accessed via the Shelbyville Pike (a toll road leading to, you guessed it, Shelbyville). It would be located one quarter mile north of the survey line that was located four miles south of downtown Indianapolis. It would stretch one quarter mile to the west, and one quarter mile south, being square in shape. There would be three streets north to south, and five streets east to west. And, it would be given the name of “South Indianapolis.” Earliest mention I can find for the “town” is when two lots, numbers 115 and 116, were sold by Elias C. Atkins to Henry H. Mason in May 1874. The “town” itself was originally recorded in Plat Record Number 6, page 186, in the Marion County Recorder’s Office.

The street along the north edge, which did connect to the Shelbyville Pike, would connect to a county road that was located 3.25 miles east of the Leavenworth Road (or Three Notch Pike). That road also connected to the Shelbyville Pike on the south to the Center-Perry Township line on the north.

South Indianapolis was never actually incorporated, either. I would assume it was the goal to build a community separate from the city, yet still connected to it by a good road…the toll road that was the Shelbyville Pike.

I have yet to find any actual plats of South Indianapolis available online. What I can tell you is that when I was growing up, my house was listed as being in, according to the official description from the Recorder’s Office, South Indianapolis lots 163 and 164. That property is no longer listed separately, as it was consolidated along the way into the property to the north. But, since the house burned down in my junior year of high school (1984-1985), I can see why that would happen to a lot with a garage and no house on it.

Now, I want to turn back to University Heights. The Church of the United Brethren in Christ wanted to start a college in Indianapolis, but were unable to find a location for it. Developer William Elder, who created several Perry Township neighborhoods, offered to change the name of his pending neighborhood Marion Heights to University Heights, with the hopes that the church would build the college just north of his new development. This was in 1902.

The new University Heights would have a north edge along the survey line that was four miles south of downtown. This would connect that road to the road that created the southern limits of South Indianapolis. With the creation of University Heights, the Perry Township School #4 would move from just south of what would eventually be built as Hanna Avenue on Madison Avenue to a location north of the new town. That would put the school on the grounds, or at least close to it, of the new Indiana Central College. And thus created a location for elementary education for the children of the new development, which would become a town in its own right.

And that would last until 1925. The people of University Heights decided that they wanted to be part of the City of Indianapolis. So annexation was in order. This created a small problem. The children of Indianapolis went to Indianapolis Public Schools. This put the University Heights school, still belonging to Perry Township, out of the district for the children of University Heights. This caused those children to have to be taken to the McClainsville School. McClainsville was at the northern edge of Perry Township at the Shelbyville Road. The school itself was in Center Township, across the street from the town itself…much like the school at University Heights.

The parents of University Heights were in a complete uproar. Because the annexation only included the town, and not the college campus, School #4 was still legally in Perry Township, and thus would remain part of that school district. And even then, the annexation was a very strange thing in itself. At the time, the City of Indianapolis ended at Southern Avenue. The city annexed straight down Shelby Street from Southern Avenue to the street that, by that time, had been named Hanna Avenue. It was originally called Kephart Avenue when it was created by Elder.

This annexation meant that the properties along Shelby Street were still in Perry Township, while the street itself, and the interurban line that ran along it, were in Indianapolis.

The University Heights School was part of a court case in 1933. The city tried to annex the property that contained the school. There were 179 students living in the University Heights neighborhood. So the parents of the area tried to get their very close school to be part of the Indianapolis schools. The court ruled that the city couldn’t annex that property, and the school would remain in Perry Township. Some of the students would have to use the interurban to get to school…either School 72 (formerly McClainsville) or School 35, located at Madison Avenue and Raymond Street.

The township finally sold the school to the Indianapolis Public Schools in 1961. This would cause the students living in the area known as South Indianapolis to be transported to other Perry Township schools. Ultimately, this would mean Clinton Young Elementary. But IPS found themselves unhappy with the University Heights School. Its size was too small to be of use. So work started on creating a new IPS school on South Asbury Street, later to be numbered 65. Both schools survived together for a short time. Finally, the old Perry Township School #4 was closed and sold to the Indiana Central University.

The names of the streets in the “town” of South Indianapolis today are (east-west) National Avenue, Atlantic Street, Pacific Street and Hanna Avenue. (Hanna was the name of a prominent land owner in the area, as shown on the map at the top of this page.) The north-south streets would be (from the east) Aurora, Randolph, Walcott, Asbury and State. Randolph, Walcott and State are most likely not original street names, as they are now named after streets in the old city of Indianapolis in the same general area.

Toll Roads of Center Township, Marion County

A picture in a Facebook group to which I belong got me to revisit this topic, in a different light. The picture was that of the toll schedule, and rules of the road, for the Southport & Indianapolis Gravel Road, also known as the Madison State Road. One of the things that I had mentioned in the previous article (“Toll Roads In Marion County“) is that the counties were to purchase the toll roads from the companies. While this is accurate, it isn’t completely.

Before the county could purchase the road, the voters of each township had to vote whether they wanted the toll roads to become county property. The Indianapolis Journal of 2 April 1890 points out that in Center Township there are eight such roads that could be purchased by the Marion County Commissioners: Indianapolis and Bean Creek; Southport and Indianapolis; Indianapolis and Leavenworth; Indianapolis and Lick Creek; Bluff; Fall Creek; Allisonville and Fall Creek; and the Mars Hill.

The law passed by the Indiana General Assembly stated that the toll roads, if purchased, must be done so at a fair market value. This averaged about $500 a mile in 1890. The companies were to be paid using five year bonds paying 6 percent interest. It is mentioned that Center Township had more toll roads than any other in the county. This makes sense, since Indianapolis is right in the middle of Center Township. Then again, some of it was just barely.

For instance, the Indianapolis & Lick Creek Gravel Road only spent a little over half a mile of its existence in Center Township. Up to then, it had been a city street from what became Fountain Square south. It then crossed Perry and Franklin Townships before leaving Marion County along the south county line east of the Noblesville & Franklin State Road (Franklin Road). The Indianapolis & Lick Creek was originally built as the Shelbyville State Road, and the section in Center Township was Shelby Street from Southern Avenue to Cameron Street, then Carson Avenue to Troy Avenue. In Franklin Township, for its entirety, it is still called Shelbyville Road.

Another short township section would be the Indianapolis & Bean Creek Gravel Road. East of Indianapolis, it left the city limits near English Avenue and Rural Street. It traveled southeast to the township line at Emerson Avenue. For those of you that haven’t guessed it, the Indianapolis & Bean Creek Gravel Road is the original Michigan Road. Inside Indianapolis at that time, it was called Michigan Avenue. It would be changed to Southeastern Avenue shortly thereafter.

The Allisonville and Fall Creek Gravel Road didn’t stay in Center Township alone for long either. The city limits at the time were at what is now 34th and Central. From that point, the Allisonville Road continued along Central Avenue to 38th Street, then turned east to the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Here, the road turned out of Center Township, since the township line is 38th Street. Although it is difficult to follow at the southern end, the road is still called Allisonville Road.

The Fall Creek Gravel Road was on the other side of Fall Creek from the Allisonville and Fall Creek. Both of these roads (with Fall Creek in the name) were remnants of the old Indianapolis to Fort Wayne State Road. The Allisonville & Fall Creek would become the preferred route to get to Fort Wayne from Hoosier capitol. But the original route, at least in Center Township, skirted Fall Creek to the south and east. Until it got to the Center-Washington Township Line. Today, the old toll road is called Sutherland Avenue from 30th Street to 38th Street. As an added fact, the old Fort Wayne State Road crossed Fall Creek at what is now the 39th Street (closed to traffic) Bridge.

As mentioned before, the Southport & Indianapolis Gravel Road was the Madison State Road, now Madison Avenue. But only a little over half a mile of it was in Center Township, the rest was in the city of Indianapolis. That section was from Southern Avenue to Troy Avenue along Madison Avenue.

I should point out that although downtown Indianapolis is in Center Township, the roads inside the city limits belonged to the city. The township government was responsible for those sections of Center Township that weren’t part of Indianapolis. And there were parts of Center Township that legally didn’t become part of the city until UniGov went into effect. The city itself had expanded into other townships long before it completely took over its home township.

The Indianapolis & Leavenworth Gravel Road was also called the Three Notch Road. It left the city as Meridian Street south towards Brown County and Leavenworth along the Ohio River. The Bluff Road, still called that, started life as the Paoli State Road. Both of these roads, like the Madison and Shelbyville Roads listed about, left the city limits at Southern Avenue, and each spent one half mile in Center Township before entering Perry Township for the rest of their journeys out of the county.

If you have seen the pattern yet, the south city limits for a long time of Indianapolis’ history was Southern Avenue. And, yes, that’s why it is called that. There is an Eastern Avenue called that for the same reason. The first street after Eastern Avenue is Rural Street. You can’t make this stuff up.

The only quirk in the Journal article that I can see is the claiming that the Mars Hill Gravel Road existed in Center Township. It did, I guess. The city limits at the time ended on the west side at Belmont Avenue. That also happens to be the township line separating Center and Wayne Townships. The Mars Hill Gravel Road started at Morris and Belmont, travelling south to where Belmont crosses Eagle Creek, then the Mars Hill road turned southwest, and out of Center Township, along Kentucky Avenue and Maywood Avenue…or what was created as the Mooresville State Road.

There are several roads that aren’t listed by the Journal article that some of you might have noticed are missing. First, and absolutely the most well known, is the National Road. None of the toll road sections of the National Road were in Center Township. The city limits were Belmont Avenue on the west (the township line), and the eastern end of Irvington, well past the Emerson Avenue township line on the east.

The Indianapolis & Lanesville Gravel Road, also known as the Pendleton Pike, also no longer crossed Emerson Avenue, ending at 30th Street. Even though the Indianapolis City limits didn’t cross the Pendleton Road until about where 25th Street would cross…aka right through the middle of the Brightwood railroad yards.

The Michigan Road northwest out of Marion County also didn’t enter Center Township. The city limits by that time were at 38th Street, the Center Township line. That is why, to this day, Michigan Road, the name, ends at 38th Street, and inside the old city limits it is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

And last, but not least, the Lafayette Road. The line separating Center and Wayne Townships actually cut through the eastern landing of the Emrichsville Bridge, which carried the Crawfordsville and Lafayette Roads across White River right about where 16th Street is now. So the 16th Street bridge, and all of Lafayette Road, are outside Center Township.

Removing the Bluff Road Bridge Over the Illinois Central/Indiana Railroad

The year is 1902, and the Indianapolis Southern Railroad has just been chartered to enter the city of Indianapolis and rumble through the Marion County countryside south of the city. Once the railroad entered Perry Township from Center Township (at what is now Troy Avenue), the railroad right of way followed the survey line one mile west of the Three Notch Road (Meridian Street) and two miles west of the Range Line (Shelby Street). Just south of what would become Stop 8 Road, now Edgewood Avenue, the railroad crossed the Bluff Free Gravel Road.

Rail and road traffic near this intersection of the Indianapolis Southern and the Bluff Road wasn’t a real problem for several years after the building of the railroad. In 1914, the Bluff Road was to become part of the Dixie Highway. This highway, connecting south Florida to Chicago and northern Michigan, actually connected to Indianapolis, the hometown of its creator, in four different directions. This led to a traffic increase along the Bluff Road, creating more problems at the railroad crossing which was at a very bad angle to begin with.

The problem was made worse when the state took over the Bluff Road in 1923, making it original State Road 22. This made the Indiana State Highway Commission responsible for the maintenance of the very old road. In 1925, the state decided that enough was enough, and a bridge was built over the Indianapolis Southern railroad, which had become part of the Illinois Central.

The bridge that was built was a very narrow facility. Two lanes wide, at best. But it would serve its purpose, creating a safe crossing of the Illinois Central by SR 22, or as it would soon become, SR 37. And it did just that until the state started moving SR 37 to the west in 1964, and completing the job in 1965. The overpass then became property of Marion County. And here is where it went downhill.

MapIndy 1937 aerial image of the Bluff Road bridge
over the Illinois Central Railroad.

Reconstruction work on the deteriorating span was scheduled in both 1971 and 1977. The Indianapolis Transportation Board posted a long list of bridge projects for that year in newspapers in mid May 1971 and early April 1977. By 1984, the city was looking at removing the bridge all together. Unfortunately, getting the right of way to do this proved troublesome. The bridge was built with very little clearance when it came to the actual right-of-way used. It was suggested by John Willen, DOT Chief Engineer, that land acquisition was a problem, and that the bridge would not be replaced due to decreased rail traffic at that location.

Legal notice was published in the newspapers in December 1984 that the Indianapolis Department of Transportation, with the cooperation of the Federal Highway Administration and the Indiana Department of Highways, had decided that the overpass on Bluff Road over what was then the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad would be removed and an at-grade crossing would be put in its place. “The proposed project begins at a point approximately 210 feet south of Banta Road, then extends in a northerly direction mostly along the existing alignment of Bluff Road, and terminates at a point about 750 feet south of Edgewood Avenue for a total project length of 0.42 mile (2,210 feet).” In addition to the removal of the overpass, the following was listed as part of the project: “The portion of Bluff Crest Drive between Bluff Road and Bluff Crest Lane, approximately 280 feet will be removed and Bluff Crest Drive access to Bluff Road will be terminated.”

MapIndy aerial image from 1986 of the
Bluff Road bridge over the Indiana Railroad.

In September 1986, the city of Indianapolis introduced a resolution to implement a five ton weight limit on the overpass. The notification of the resolution in the newspapers of the time stated “whereas, the Indianapolis Department of Transportation Street Engineering Division was notified that certain portions of this structure had a stage of deterioration.” Prior to this, the bridge had had a ten ton weight limit. In May 1987, the bridge was closed completely as the city of Indianapolis decided it would be better off replacing the structure with an at-grade crossing. The city reported that the work would be completed by 15 July 1987. The original plan to remove Bluff Crest Drive was apparently just dropped along the way. That residential street still connects to Bluff Road in the same location as it had before the removal of the overpass.

On 29 July 1987, the Indianapolis Star announced that “Bluff Road, closed since April from Banta Road to Edgewood Avenue for extensive reconstruction, was reopened for traffic Tuesday (28 July 1987).” The project cost the city $540,000 and involved the removal of the “severely deteriorated Indianapolis Southern Railroad overpass built in 1925.” Even in the end of the overpass’ life, the newspaper still called it the Indianapolis Southern instead of the company that had taken it over just the year before, the Indiana Railroad.

I-465 Construction, the PRR and Madison Avenue

Indianapolis served as a railroad capital for many years before the coming of the automobile. Since surface roads connected Indianapolis to many points in the state in many directions, it was logical that the coming of the automobile would lead to a concentration of automobile routes. But those were still subject to the locations of railroads. The interstate would change all that.

The purpose of the interstate was to create a high speed, limited interruption traffic flow. This, by definition, would require the new interstates to deal with going over or under those rail routes. Most of those intersections were accomplished with the interstate going over the railroads. And these overpasses are high, due to the clearances that were going to be required by the railroads at the time.

If one looks at a map of Interstate 465, one would notice that there is only one railroad bridge over the interstate. That bridge is the original Madison & Indianapolis, then Pennsylvania Railroad, on the southside. The reason for this really came down to the location of the interstate more than anything else.

When the interstate’s location was decided, it would follow closely to the original chosen location to SR 100 which it was replacing. That original location, in terms of Indianapolis modern street names, was Shadeland Avenue, 82nd/86th Street, High School Road, and Thompson Road. A quick glance at a map shows this.

On the southside, through the south central part of the county, this led to the interstate route traversing through the Lick Creek “valley.” The Pennsylvania Railroad already had a bridge over Lick Creek in the area. That same bridge also crossed the road leading into what was Longacre Park (being turned into a trailer park from September 1963), which had been in that location since 1926.

Louisville & Indiana (former Madison & Indianapolis/Panhandle/Pennsylvania Railroad) bridge over Lick Creek and Lick Creek Parkway into Longacre Mobile Home Park. This Google Maps image was sampled on 10 May 2020, from an image captured in June 2019. This image shows both the original bridge and the 1964 concrete expansion places on top to raise the level of the railroad.

The level of the railroad over that section of the coming interstate was right around 13 feet above ground level. This amount of clearance wasn’t enough for the State Highway Commission. This would require the Pennsylvania Railroad to raise the level of the railroad about three feet. This can be seen by the concrete extension over and above the old stone bridge over Lick Creek and Lick Creek Parkway just south of the interstate.

Google Map aerial photo of the Louisville & Indiana crossing of Interstate 465. Image was sampled 10 May 2020.

The Indianapolis Star of 27 March 1964, in a news story announcing road closures throughout the area, mentions that “Lawrence Street will be blocked for two weeks while the Pennsylvania Railroad elevated and repairs the tracks in connection with Interstate 465 construction.”

Also at work at the time was the Madison Avenue crossing of Interstate 465. Before the coming of the interstate, Madison Avenue had been a two lane state road, SR 431, south of Shelby Street. The main access to Longacre Park was actually north of Lick Creek, as shown in the following 1952 aerial photograph from MapIndy. The trailer park along Madison Avenue at Redfern Drive would come into direct play when I-465 started construction through the area.

1957 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Lick Creek area from Madison Avenue to Longacre Park.

Before the interstate construction would reach the area, a redesign of the Madison Avenue crossing of the area was already in process. The new bridge across the future interstate and Lick Creek would be two lanes in each direction. To accommodate this construction, a new, temporary, Madison Avenue would have to be built to bypass the area of the new bridge. Also, utility lines would also have to moved to the east.

1962 MapIndy aerial image of the area of Madison Avenue and Lick Creek.

The image to the left is the 1962 aerial photograph of the area from MapIndy. It shows the bypass Madison Avenue being built through the mobile home park at Redfern Drive mentioned above. The bypass would start south of the current Lick Creek Parkway, and reconnect to Madison Avenue right at the angled intersection of Shelby Street. The bypass route can be seen as the brighter road through the left center of the photo. (It hadn’t seen traffic yet, and as such was brand new concrete.)

Some people have wondered why Madison Avenue is the only (former) State Road that did not have an interchange with Interstate 465. Spacing is the only answer I could come up with. The Pennsylvania Railroad is one-quarter mile, or so, east of Madison Avenue. East Street, the US 31 bypass built in the early 1940’s, is one half mile west of Madison Avenue…not counting the ramp lengths. Shelby Street is one half mile east of East Street through its entire length through Marion County.

1962 MapIndy closeup aerial photo of the Madison Avenue bridge construction over future I-465 and Lick Creek.

The bypass Madison Avenue built in 1962 would become the frontage road in what was later the Madison Mobile Home Park. It is now called McConnell Way. A quick glance at utility lines through the area show that they weren’t been moved back to the side of Madison Avenue after construction was completed. The following aerial photograph, from 1972, shows the construction through the area completed.

1972 MapIndy aerial photograph of Madison Avenue and (then) Penn Central crossing of I-465 and Lick Creek.

For those interested, the cover photo for this post is the same area shown in all the other photos as would have been seen in 1937. That image is also from MapIndy. MapIndy is available online at: http://maps.indy.gov/MapIndy/index.html.

Beech Grove Traction

1906. A rural station stop on the Big Four Railroad, originally called Ingalls (or Ingallston), has just been incorporated as a shop town for the same Big Four Railroad. It’s official name at this point became Beech Grove. The new town that grew from the building of the railroad shops, covered in my blog entry “Beech Grove,” found itself barely accessible by anything other than the very railroad that built it. It wouldn’t be long until that would change.

First, the town was actually accessible by route of an old toll road that had been built to reach the farm of a local resident, a Mr. Churchman. That road, for the longest time, had been called the Churchman Pike, even after the county bought it back from the toll road company. The Churchman Pike connected to the town via what would become Albany Street, a survey section line that also acts as the separator between all of the southern townships and the central townships in Marion County. Dirt roads along the other survey lines – which would later become Troy and Emerson Avenues – also led to the area that would become Beech Grove. The old train station, Ingalls or Beech Grove, was at the survey line (Emerson Avenue) and the railroad track. Today, that would be under the Emerson Avenue bridge over the railroad.

But it wouldn’t be long before another method of transportation would make its presence known, and try to work its way into the railroad city. Electric Traction, also known as the interurban, had made its way into Indianapolis, officially, with the opening of the Greenwood line on 1 January 1900. After that, companies started popping up all over the United States. And Indianapolis became a hub for the new transportation form.

But this would create a problem. Steam railroads, which all standard railroads were called at the time, saw the new Traction companies as direct competition. Even though the gauge (width between the tracks) was the same on both, traffic interchange was one of those things that the steam roads were going to keep to an absolute minimum. And since the Traction companies specialized in moving people, this was even more reason for the steam roads to dislike the interurbans.

And now someone wants to add an interurban route to a town BUILT by the railroad? The short answer…yes. The reason for this was actually based in the nature of the steam railroad itself. Passenger trains, taking people from Beech Grove to downtown Indianapolis, weren’t scheduled at very convenient times for citizens of the new town. While the company that had invested in, and created, the town, the Beech Grove Improvement Company, tried running its own special trains to downtown Indianapolis, it was at the whim of the very busy Big Four line from Indianapolis to Cincinnati. In comes the planners of the electric traction.

It started in 1909. A company called the Shore Line Traction Company applied for a franchise to run a traction line from the Indianapolis city limits (point unknown) to Beech Grove. Louis McMains, a real estate agent, put in the petition to the County Commissioners. In October 1909, the petition asked that the Shore Line Traction Company be allowed to use the Churchman Pike from the city limits near Keystone and Churchman Avenues to the corporation limit of Beech Grove. It also asked for some straightening work along the road, and the right of way be widened by 27 feet (adding 13.5 feet on each side). “The petition signifies that the property owners on each side of the pike are willing to part with the necessary land to widen the road.” (Source: Indianapolis News, 14 October 1909)

The county had problems with the widening…especially when it came to the Churchman Pike bridge over Bean Creek (between Walker and Southern Avenues today). The bridge had been in disrepair for years, listed as such as early as 1891. Whether the bridge had been repaired or replaced at this point is unknown. Suffice it to say, the county wasn’t really likely to spend money to replace the bridge.

The petition mentioned that the plan for the Churchman Pike is to widen it to 66 feet, allowing two tracks to be built in the center, with only one track being built to start the company. The new company already had a franchise in hand for the route inside Beech Grove itself.

The Shore Line Traction Company found itself trying to come up with a new route to Beech Grove when the county balked at the Bean Creek bridge. With that, the company was not heard from again.

But shortly after the above petition was filed, a new company would be incorporated – the Beech Grove Traction Company. This company was officially started on 30 December 1909. It had the same goal as the Shore Line Transit Company – connect Beech Grove and downtown Indianapolis.

There was more progress with the Beech Grove Traction than there was with Shore Line. The Indianapolis News of 2 April 1910 reported that the Beech Grove company had elected its corporate officers and announced that grading work would begin soon on the line. Rails, ties and cars had already been ordered. Work on the new Churchman Pike bridge over Bean Creek had begun on 28 March 1910. Officials of the traction company were negotiating with the Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company “for use of the tracks of the latter company in Shelby Street and Virginia Avenue for entrance to the business district.”

The franchise rights had been awarded by Marion County and the town of Beech Grove. When construction was to begin in April, the company had no agreement with the city of Indianapolis about using the city street railway tracks to enter the downtown area. This agreement would not have been reached until September 1910. This caused construction to be delayed until November 1910.

Even before the track was complete, the first train run over part of the line happened on 20 March 1911. Seven days later, regular service began. The Beech Grove end of the line was on what became Garstang Avenue east of First (Emerson) Avenue. The track then ran north on First Avenue to Main Street. Following Main Street west, it turned north on 17th Avenue (Sherman Drive) for one block, to turn northwest on Churchman Pike (Avenue). The route then turned west on LeGrande Avenue to connect to the city street railway system at Shelby Street.

1917 Map of the route of the Beech Grove Traction Company.

At first, the company found itself very popular. The Beech Grove Traction only owned, at the start, four cars to travel between the two ends. But there were so many people that wanted to use the new train that the company found itself running trains every 40 minutes from daybreak to midnight. The time table showed that first car left for Indianapolis at 0530, with the first car from Indianapolis arriving at 0610. A nickel would get a rider from Beech Grove to Shelby Street and LeGrande. A dime would get you all the way to the Traction Terminal.

Now, one might ask about why someone would get off the interurban at Shelby Street. Rightly so. But a trip to Garfield Park would require a change to a city street car. Or, one could catch the interurban to Greenwood, Franklin, Columbus and even Louisville at the end of the city Shelby Street line…which was at the Greenwood Line Stop 1 at Perry Street, south of Troy Avenue, on Shelby Street.

But business along the Beech Grove Traction line would start falling off rather quickly. The Big Four, with the completion of the traction line, stopped issuing passes to employees and families to ride the steam train. This made the interurban the best way to get to downtown Indianapolis. In the early days, most traffic was Big Four shop employees coming to and from work from their homes in Indianapolis. Due to the success of the town of Beech Grove, these employees were moving to the town. This caused a drop in traffic on the traction line. And due to shops being built along Main Street, the traffic drop wasn’t made up for in shopping trips to the stores of downtown Indianapolis.

By 1914, an average of 24 round trips ran each day along the line, with a schedule of 1 hour 10 minutes between trains. That had slowed down to 16 round trips a day by March 1916. And, as is typical of Indiana railroads of the time, the Beech Grove Traction Company found itself falling into receivership in December 1917, caused by increased costs without the subsequent increase in revenue.

Lawsuits were filed. Newspapers reported that the traction line wouldn’t be necessary for much longer, since with the improvement of city streets, bus service between Beech Grove and Indianapolis would replace the electric traction line. In a strange twist of fate, the operator of the bus competition to the Beech Grove Traction ceased his bus company and took over the traction line as railway superintendent. Fortunes improved…for the time being.

One of the things that the line started was carrying mail from the Fountain Square post office to the post office in Beech Grove. This started shortly after completion of the line until it was discontinued in the late 1920s.

The little line lumbered on for almost two decades after receivership…barely. It was recommended in November 1923 that the line be closed and sold. Revenues increased with the permission given to raise fares. But the company found itself sold to make up $30,000 in debt due to maintenance and new rolling stock in 1925. The new buyer made a condition – if a bus line was approved, the sale would be null and void, and the line would be junked. Again, lawsuits were filed, and a bus line was granted an injunction to operate. And the bus company was purchased by the traction line…and both were operated at the same time. It found itself teetering financially, yet still managing to survive.

The Great Depression hurt the line, just like it did almost everything else at the time. But it managed to survive…for a while. The Public Service Commission of Indiana, on 7 January 1937, officially told the company that it was to close the line. Indianapolis Railways, the power provider for the line, complained to the PSCI that Beech Grove Traction owed in the neighborhood of $20,000 for power…which Indianapolis Railways turned off at 0100 on 8 January 1937. And hence, the end of the Beech Grove Traction line. Some people hadn’t seen the notices about the end of service, and were waiting at stops on a cold 8 January morning.

The last vestiges of the traction company would last until 21 August 1973. The company’s car barn, at First and Garstang, would last until demolition started that day.

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.)

Madison Avenue Expressway

In the early 1950’s, much had been done to help with traffic issues throughout the city of Indianapolis. With the exception, as pointed out by the Indianapolis News Editorial Staff on 21 June 1954, of the south side. But things were going to be changing soon. The Indiana State Highway Commission decided that there will be another upgrade to US 31 in the state. This time, in the city of Indianapolis on the south side. But many things not only had to come together to do this project, many controversies were unleashed with the project, as well.

First mention of the project, at least in the newspapers, came in August 1953. The Indianapolis News of 6 August 1953 covered the project on page 23. The $3 million project would lower the roadway of Madison Avenue, at the time US 31, some 20 feet to allow for the road to pass under the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Louisville line and the Indianapolis Belt Railway. A large chunk of the money for the project was to be paid out for the acquisition of properties in the 15 block project area. However, most of the coverage in that day’s News was the fact that the State Highway Commission was creating a “District of Dead Ends.” Apparently, the original plan was to start at Morris/Prospect Streets, working south. It was later decided that the work would begin at Terrace Avenue, leaving that street connected to Madison Avenue at the north end of the project.

However, from Terrace to the Indianapolis Belt Railway, no less than six streets were going to be cut in two. Palmer, which actually connected to Madison Avenue at the Pennsylvania Railroad crossing was sure to be removed. Lincoln would be cut off at the Pennsylvania Railroad. Both Minnesota and Iowa would be truncated, as they both crossed Madison in a straight line. Caven did a stutter step type crossing of the state highway. Adler ended at Madison, just north of the Belt. South of the Belt, LeGrande Avenue stutter stepped its way across Madison Avenue, as well.

While the expressway was the major part of the project, that wasn’t the entire scope. From Southern Avenue, one half mile south of Raymond Street, to where Madison Avenue becomes Delaware Street near what was Wilkins Street (now the I-70 overpass), the road would be widened to a six lane facility. Right-of-way would be purchased on opposite sides of the road, with the section from Southern to Pleasant Run Parkway, and from the Pennsylvania Railroad north to Delaware Street being taken from the east side of the street. Between Pleasant Run Parkway and the PRR, the west side would be taken for the project.

A look at a satellite image of the area today shows exactly how much property was taken in each section. The new Madison Avenue is actually west of Old Madison Avenue. (Old Madison Avenue is one of the very few roads in Marion County that includes a hint that it used to be an important facility. And even then, this only occurred when the new street signs started showing up around the year 2000, because prior to that, the street was officially called “Madison Avenue.”) The old road, which sits along the top of the hill that was created with the new road, is in two sections, the the old Belt Railway crossing removed, connecting where Iowa Street was to Raymond Street. All of the property from the old road to the alley between Delaware Street and Madison Avenue was taken for the new canyon expressway.

As an Indianapolis history aside right here, one of the most famous restaurants on Indianapolis’ south side, the Key West Shrimp House, existed in this section of Madison Avenue. It was half way between LeGrande Avenue and Raymond Street (2138 Madison Avenue). By 1955, due to pending construction, it had moved to its more famous location, 2861 Madison Avenue. Almost anyone, of sufficient age, can tell you about the pink building on Madison Avenue that once housed the Key West. Now, they still have a location…at the other end of the road – in Madison, Indiana.

Not only was the road going to be part of the project, in October 1953, it was announced that the ISHC was going to take a “pedestrian census” to see whether a pedestrian bridge would have to be built somewhere in the project area. Plans were to have pedestrian crossings at both Terrace and LeGrande Avenues. However, the project removed the LeGrande Avenue crossing when the construction was completed. The only true pedestrian specific accommodation made in the project area would be a walking bridge crossing at Palmer Street.

Contracts for the first phases of construction of the new Madison Avenue were announced in May 1954. And while the south side of Indianapolis had always been hampered by narrow roads and railroad crossings, causing it to lag behind the rest of the city, it wasn’t long until newspaper editorial staffs began to realize what was about to become a real problem. The Indianapolis News Editorial of 21 June 1954 spelled it out quite succinctly: this is gonna get bad. “Of course, the Madison Avenue expressway is coming – but there will be a crisis for the south side motorists before the expressway is completed.” With the pending closure of Madison Avenue during construction, something that could last up to two years, an already strained city traffic system would be stretched to the limit. And most of that traffic, according to the thoughts of the Indianapolis News, through Fountain Square. “Cars pile up along Shelby, Virginia and Prospect trying to get through the area. This goes on morning, noon and night.” “One improvement has been made. Woodlawn has been straightened and widened between Virginia and Shelby. But the project primarily has provided more parking space and does not help move traffic.”

It would be in December 1954 that the state announced a change in the construction plans. The original idea was that Prospect and Morris Streets would connect to Madison Avenue as they always had, as shown in this snippet from a 1915 map of Indianapolis. Morris crossed straight over Madison Avenue, with Prospect being almost one block north. It is important to note that both these streets are important arteries in Indianapolis traffic. And, they are survey roads, meaning that their location is along a survey line. (That line is Morris Street west of Shelby Street, and Prospect west of it. Shelby Street is a survey correction line, so every street corrects to the north at or near Shelby Street on the south side.) It was announced that the state would create an underpass for Morris Street, with connecting facilities to allow traffic access to Morris and Prospect Streets. As it turned out, east bound Prospect Street became a very long ramp to allow northbound Madison Avenue traffic access to west bound Morris Street. In the same vein, a slightly moved westbound Morris Street became the eastbound Morris to northbound Madison ramp.

This change, along with the grade separation at Raymond Street that had been announced the previous August, were recommended by the United States Bureau of Public Roads, which provided half of the funding for the project. These two changes added over $1 million to the entire project. Construction on the Madison Avenue expressway was “probably” going to start in 1955. But plans for the new changes hadn’t even been worked out as of the announcement, so no one was quite sure of that.

June 1955 saw the start of getting rid of “the old Shrimp House, 18 homes, and an undisclosed number of garages near Raymond and Madison.” The state would be auctioning off the properties on 28 June 1955. Those properties would have have to be moved within 30 days of the auction. The same day that the auction was announced, it was also mentioned that construction was expect to begin that summer. As it turned out, November 1955 came news that the construction would begin in 1956, as contracts had just been awarded for the project.

That didn’t apply to other locations along the project area. It was announced that the new Madison Avenue bridge over Pleasant Run would be opened to traffic on 29 July 1955. The plan was to open four lanes of the six lane span that day. Since Madison Avenue had been closed, at this point, for almost a year, traffic had been slowed to a crawl anyway.

Indianapolis News, 25 September 1956, showing construction of the Madison Avenue expressway at the Indianapolis Belt Railway.

Another sticking point with the local news media, especially the Indianapolis News, was the lack of security when it came to all the old buildings that were being removed in the construction area. This was especially apparent when it came to the fact that there were three schools in or near the construction zone: School 31 on Lincoln Street east of Madison; School 35 at Madison and Raymond; and Manual High School at Pleasant Run and Madison. There were a bunch of buildings that looked like tornado damage, and more than fair share of basements that were just open to the public without any protection whatsoever.

The article to the left, which was published on 22 March 1956, shows the opinion of the Indianapolis News, and the parents of students in the area. Especially at School 35.

Indianapolis News, 25 September 1956, showing the construction area on Madison Avenue, and expressing the Indianapolis News’ concern about the safety of children in the area. An exact location of this photograph has not been determined, but not for lack of trying.

All wasn’t roses on the ISHC end, either. I will cover it in a later post, but irregularities were exposed in 1957 when it came to property acquirement for the Madison Avenue Expressway project. These irregularities were exposed in April 1957, and found itself in court the following October. It involved someone making a ton of money from real estate purchases and sales in 1954 and 1955. Part of the problem was that these types of shenanigans caused the delay of construction, and hence, an extension of the traffic nightmare on the south side of the city. It was, in June 1957, projected that construction would be completed by September 1958.

That construction projection would be close to true, as the 1959 Indiana Official Highway Map cover shows. The new Madison Avenue Expressway was shown in its brand new, completed, status. But even with the completion of the project, the controversy remained. Stanley T. Siegel, Indianapolis traffic engineer, stated, according to the Indianapolis Star, that the project is a “beautiful road that starts nowhere and leads to noplace.” Mr. Seigel took a lot of criticism for that opinion. The problem is, on the surface, he is absolutely right. What he didn’t take into his consideration is the removal of a narrow, overcrowded street (now Old Madison Avenue), and the constrictions placed on it by two busy railroad crossings (which, at the time, they were very busy), and made a better connection with a very busy United States highway running through south central Marion County.

The Expressway would be completely opened to traffic officially on 23 September 1958. It would still be technically closed for another week for curbing and other details, and the interchange at Morris/Prospect Streets would not be ready for several more weeks after that (for railroad elevation just west of the interchange). The project would cost almost $8 million, more than twice the original estimate. It was also announced that the State Highway Department had plans to extend the expressway another 10 miles. This extension would be along State Road 431, also known as Madison Avenue, in the non-bypassed sections of the old road.

Bicycling the Three Notch Road

In the late 19th Century, when the bicycle was taking the world by storm, Indianapolis became such a “wheelman” city that it even had a “bicycle row,” along Pennsylvania Street, where most of the bicycle shops were. And one of the most favorite routes for bicyclists to live their hobby was the Three Notch Road. That is, as long as it wasn’t where the road started. More on that in a minute.

The Three Notch Road, of Leavenworth Road, which I covered here, was the route that connected Indianapolis to the rural areas of Brown County, including Nashville, before there was a state highway system. When SR 35 (later 135) came into being in Marion, Johnson, Morgan and Brown Counties, at the Indianapolis end it would have signs posted about how to get to Brown County State Park along the route.

Most of the information for this post comes from the Indianapolis News of 4 April 1896. This is a continuation of their series of information for the bicyclists.

The Three Notch Road was a continuation of Meridian Street. According to the News, it “has always been a favorite ride for the Indianapolis wheelmen. It is comparatively level, and nearly always in excellent condition. There is more shade along this road than is found on many of the turnpikes leading out of the city, and it passed through one of the most fertile regions of the county.” The route is recommended for both short and long rides, and it is also recommended that one go out the Three Notch Road and back the Madison Road.

The old road started at what was then the edge of Indianapolis, the Belt Railway. On the north side of the Belt, there was (and still is) a branch off the road. The branch lead off to Waverly along the Bluff (or Paoli State) Road. Once crossing the Belt, the Three Notch became basically impassible south to the crossing of Pleasant Run (about a mile). The description in the newspaper actually reads “it is supposed to begin at the Belt railway crossing, but for a mile south of that point it now little resembles a gravel road. Judging from its current condition, it will be weeks before the road between the Belt and Pleasant run will be fit for a wheel.”

The crossing of Pleasant Run was almost to what was, for the longest time, the city limits on the south side of Indianapolis. That line was at Southern Avenue, the reason that the street was named that in the first place. A bridge was under construction of the creek at the time of the article. Most of the route was relatively flat, but there was one “sharp, steep hill” just after crossing Pleasant Run. It wasn’t that long. From the creek, it topped out at what is now Bakemeyer Street. It is noted that if the rider wants to skip the bad road conditions and the hill, simply take the Madison Road south to a dirt road that connects between the two roads just south of the hill. That would be Yoke Street today, which is just south of the Concordia Cemetery. (It is still possible to travel this originally dirt road that became Yoke Street…but it requires darting through a parking lot between the Wheeler Mission Thrift Store and Planet Fitness [as of 30 September 2019].)

The next road encountered marks the line between Center and Perry Townships. This dirt road “goes east as far as the Churchman pike, crossing the Madison and Shelbyville roads. To the west, it crossed the Bluff road, and runs to the river a mile and a half away.” This road now has the name of Troy Avenue. The Churchman Pike is now Churchman Avenue, and connects at what it is now 17th Avenue and Albany Street in Beech Grove. Before that, it crosses the Madison Road (Madison Avenue) and Shelbyville Road (Carson Avenue).

One half mile south of the road mentioned above is a road that is in such bad shape, the newspaper recommends avoiding it, since it is rarely used. Today, that road can be found by St. Roch Catholic School on the southeast corner. It is now Sumner Avenue.

Before reaching Lick Creek, two dirt roads lead off to the west. The first again connects the Three Notch to the Bluff. Today, that is Hanna Avenue. “The rider is advised to beware the second road, however, as it wanders off into the country for a short distance and then fades from sight, getting tangled up in a farm yard.” The street sign at the Meridian Street end of this dead end road proclaims it as Edwards Avenue today.

At Lick Creek, it is noted, that the road is in excellent condition. There is also a “immense white barn, which, from its size and neat appearance, is an attractive feature of the landscape.” The next reference is something that needs some research. I am not quite sure what the writer is talking about in the following passage. “A dirt road turns east three and three-quarter miles from the Belt and runs across the county, connecting with the Michigan Road. This is a delightful ride in the summer, but now the road is muddy.” One would think that it mentions what is now Thompson Road…and it does run most of the way to the Michigan Road at the time. But only from a point halfway between the Three Notch and the range survey line (now Shelby Street). That halfway point is now East Street, or US 31. Also, Thompson Road doesn’t make it all the way to Michigan Road (Southeastern Avenue). It does, however, connect (more or less) directly to the same town, Shelbyville, as the Michigan Road.

Indianapolis News, 10 April 1896. Part of a map of the entirety of Marion County included on page 9 of that issue of the newspaper. This snippet shows that area from the Three Notch Road east to the Michigan Road as it existed at the time. Most of the highlighted road is now called Thompson Road.

The Three Notch Road after this dirt road, according to the News, turns slightly to the southwest. This would make the dirt road Thompson, but the mileage doesn’t match, nor does the map snippet above.

The next puzzle in the article is that it mentions two cemeteries that the old road passed after the slight southwesterly turn, “but only for a short distance. It climbs and winds round a hill on which is situated a small burying ground, the chief feature of which is a large stone vault facing north. It can be seen for miles. The road swings around the hill and down the other side. Just back of this hill, on the east, is another cemetery.” At the corner of Meridian Street and Epler Avenue is Round Hill Cemetery. There is mention of a small church in the area, “in a grove of trees to the east of the pike.” Here, a dirt road again connects to the Madison and Bluff Roads, then getting lost in the White River bottoms west of the Bluff Road. This would be Epler Avenue today.

Less than half a mile later, another longer dirt road crossed the Three Notch Pike. This road connects the Bluff Road to the west to the Michigan Road on the east. This road is right about the same spot that Little Buck Creek is crossed, making the road the current Edgewood Avenue.

The last point mentioned in the article is the location of Webb Post Office, located at the Southport Pike, seven miles south of Monument Circle. From this point, the rider can choose to cross over to the Madison Road (and the town of Southport) for travel back to the city, or continue the 30 miles south to Brown County. Riding the Southport Pike requires crossing Little Buck Creek “four times inside half a mile.”

From here, the Three Notch Road continues through Johnson and Morgan Counties before reaching Brown County. The old road, which became SR 35 (later SR 135), is mentioned here and here.