Indianapolis Track Elevation, Revisited

In the early 1910’s, the City of Indianapolis and the several railroad companies that entered downtown came to an agreement to elevate the tracks connecting to Union Station. But, technically, it was one railroad that was responsible for dealing with doing the work. The tracks leading to the Union Station all belonged to the Indianapolis Union Railway (IU).

The original contracts that were let for the work, as reported in the Indianapolis Star of 28 January 1913, also included a determined elevation level for the tracks and the grade to be put in place.

The story in the Star reported that there were problems in the City Council about the contract, and delays involved with it. The Law Subcommittee, consisting of R. W. McBride, Caleb S. Denny, Ralph Bamberger, Reginald H. Sullivan and Frank E. Gavin, “reported adversely on the contract.” The main concern was that the city would be on the hook for helping to pay for “increasing the facilities of the railroads.” The Council announced that they want to talk to lawyers about this situation.

Now to the specifics of what is to be done. Article Two of the contract laid out grades and elevation levels of the tracks through downtown. The tracks were to be elevated to the level of the railroad bridges over the White River, rising at a grade of 4/10 of a foot per 100 feet eastward to Illinois Street. From Illinois to Pennsylvania Streets, the tracks were to be level. After Pennsylvania Street, the downgrade would be .256 feet per 100 feet to Virginia Avenue. It would go back up .335 feet per 100 feet until the center of Washington Street. The Panhandle (PRR) and Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton (B&O) tracks were to descend .7 feet per 100 from East Street to Noble Street (College Avenue). The grade of the wye to connect the Madison line, also part of the Panhandle at that point, would ascend at a rate of .76 feet per 100 from Meridian Street to South Street. From Delaware Street to South Street, the wye would ascend .88 feet per 100.

The street clearances were also laid out in Article two of the contract. The following is what was decided, from the newspaper itself:

Indianapolis Star, 28 June 1913, Elevations for Indianapolis Union Railway tracks through downtown Indianapolis.


Of all the streets that would be affected by the elevation, only one was to be removed from the map of the city of Indianapolis. That street was then called Liberty Avenue. Today, it is called Park Avenue.

What caused part of the problem with the City Council is the idea that the ordinance basically ordering the railroad to perform this work (passed in 1905) stated that the city and county would contribute to the elevation of the tracks. But the city refused to pay for any expansion of railroad facilities during this time. Any expansion of the yard facilities that would occur while the elevation was taking place would be borne by the railroad.

The cost was broken up in the contract as follows: Indianapolis Union Railway pays 75%; the remaining 25% would be shared by the City of Indianapolis, the County of Marion, the Town of Woodruff Place and the Indianapolis Street Railway Company/Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company (both at this point are owned by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company).

“It is provided, however, that the railway company alone shall bear the cost of laying the tracks after the elevation is completed.”

The history of the track elevation in Indianapolis was covered in the Indiana Transportation History entry of 7 October 2019 called “Indianapolis Track Elevation.”

1889: National Road in Warren Township, Marion County

Since it was built, the National Road has held an important place in the history of Marion County. Obviously, the city itself benefitted from the coming of the road. The road was built from east to west, which means when it reached Marion County, Warren Township would be first in line.

1889 map of Cumberland, Indiana

Cumberland. The town was laid out shortly after the coming of the road. The name of the town came from the other name for the National Road. Or, more to the point, the terminus of the road – Cumberland, Maryland. The town was laid out by Henry Brady on 7 July 1831. The original plat only included four blocks, bounded by what was called North, South, East and West Streets (now Niles Street, Saturn Street, Muessing Street and one that no longer exists).

The railroad would come to Cumberland in 1853. The Indiana Central Railway built 71.94 miles of track that year, connecting Indianapolis to the Ohio state line east of Richmond.

The next things that were encountered on the way west were a church and a toll gate one mile west of the county line. The church, built in 1855, was St. John’s Church, but the corner stone is written in the language of the congregation – German. The road would be named later German Church Road. The toll house was opposite the church, on the southwest corner of German Church and Washington.

At the corner of the National and Franklin Roads, a country schoolhouse was located on the southwest corner.

1889 map of Irvington, Indiana

Irvington. Before entering Center Township at what is now Emerson Avenue, the town of Irvington in encountered. Incorporated in March 1873, it was designed as a town of “refinement and culture.” That same year, the Northwestern Christian University was enticed to move to the new town with a 25 acre land donation and a grant of $150,000. The university was tucked between the two railroads that ran through the area, and along the western edge of the town.

Indianapolis Street Car Saturday – Getting to Irvington

1870. Sylvester Johnson and Jacob Julian laid out a town four miles east of Monument Circle on the National Road (or, at that time, the Cumberland Turnpike). They named their town after Washington Irving, hence Irvington. In the fall of 1875, the North Western Christian University moved from its home at College and Home Avenues (now College Avenue and 13th Street) to the southwest corner of Irvington between the Panhandle (Pennsylvania Railroad) and the Junction (Baltimore & Ohio) tracks. At the same time, there was a mule car line being built to the new suburb.

1889 Map of Irvington, Indiana.

The Irvington Street Car line was planned along the following route: From Virginia Avenue and South Street, east on South Street (now Fletcher Avenue) to Reid Street (now State Street), north on Reid to English Avenue, east to English to Butler, north on Butler to Burgess, east on Burgess to Audubon, and north on Audubon to end just south of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The line, according to the Indianapolis News on 25 February 1875, was expected to be in operation in June 1875.

On 2 August 1875, a small paragraph was in the Indianapolis News mentioned “the construction of the Irvington street railway has not come to a standstill, owing to a lack of funds, as stated in the Journal, but on account of the wet weather. The Stratford bridge has been washed away and it is impossible to ballast the track.” Two weeks later, the News reported, in a story about the new college campus, that the Irvington line was quickly nearing completion.

The line opened later in October 1875. The trip from downtown to North Western Christian University, using mule cars, was 45 minutes. It wasn’t long before the Irvington street car line found itself closed to service. A freight train on the Indianapolis, Cincinnati & Lafayette jumped the tracks, causing a large section of the street car line to be ripped up. The IC&L crossed the street car line at English Avenue just east of Reid Street (now State Street). “In consequence no cars are running to-day on that line.”

Some might be wondering why service to Irvington was routed along English Avenue. As mentioned in my last blog post (Toll Roads in Marion County), Washington Street was a toll road outside the city limits. English Avenue was called a “shun pike,” a road that was improved and extended to avoid paying tolls to the toll road companies. That, and I believe that the toll road would have charged the street railways to use the road.

The line route was changed in 1881, when it was removed from Burgess to University Avenue between Butler Avenue and Audubon Avenue. That would be the last change in that line until the power lines stopped being used on 15 August 1934.

The East Washington line was mentioned in the last “Indianapolis Street Car Saturday.” The franchise for the Citizen’s Street Railway East Washington line extension to Irvington was issued on 20 September 1889, the day after the National Road was purchased by the county from the toll road company.

Indianapolis and the Original ISHC State Road System

I have posted much about the creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission. As of the posting of this article, the age of the Commission is either 103 or 101 years old. The original ISHC was established in 1917…but met with a lot of problems. It was finally nailed down in 1919 and made permanent.

This also creates a dating problem when it comes to the state highways. The first five state highways, then known as Main Market Roads, were established in 1917 with the original ISHC. Two of those original Main Market Highways connected to Indianapolis. The original National Road had been given the number Main Market Road 3. The Range Line Road, connecting Indianapolis to Peru, and through further connections, to South Bend, was given the Main Market Road 1 label.

When it was finally established, the ISHC changed the name of the Main Market Road to State Road, in keeping with other states surrounding Indiana. The markers used along the roads, painted onto utility poles like the old Auto Trail markers were, resembled the image to the left…the state shape with the words “STATE ROAD” and the route number. In this case, as of 1920, State Road 2 was the original route of the Lincoln Highway through northern Indiana.

The state highway system was designed to, eventually, connect every county seat and town of over 5,000 population, to each other. Indianapolis, as the state capital and the largest city in the state, would have connections aiming in every direction. Most of those roads marked with the original numbers would still be state roads into the 1970s and early 1980s, before the Indiana Department of Highways started removing state roads inside the Interstate 465 loop…and INDOT finishing the job on 1 July 1999. These road were removed for state statutory limitation reasons, and I have discussed that in a previous blog entry. So I won’t do it here.

The original state road numbers that came to Indiana varied greatly, as did their directions. There were no set rules when it came to state road numbers. They were assigned as they came…and stayed that way until the first renumbering of 1923, or the Great Renumbering of 1926.

Let’s look at the original state roads in Marion County, some of which actually did not reach Indianapolis itself.

State Road 1: As mentioned before, State Road 1 was originally called Main Market Highway 1. North of Indianapolis, it followed the Range Line Road, a local Auto Trail, through Carmel, Westfield, to Kokomo and points north. The route north followed Meridian Street north to Westfield Boulevard, then Westfield Boulevard on out to Carmel and beyond. In Carmel, the old road is still called Range Line Road, and serves as the main north-south drag through the town, as it does in Westfield.

South of Indianapolis, State Road 1, like its Main Market Highway predecessor, followed the old Madison State Road out of the city to Southport, Greenwood, Franklin and Columbus. The original SR 1 route is still able to be driven through the south side of Indianapolis, with the exception of the section replaced in the 1950s by the Madison Avenue Expressway. But Old Madison Avenue exists, if you can find your way back there.

While the entirety of original State Road 1 became US 31 with the Great Renumbering, bypasses in Marion County were put in place very early. The northern section, through Broad Ripple, and Carmel was replaced as early as 1930. The southern section, including the Southport/Greenwood bypass, was put in place in the 1940s.

State Road 3: As mentioned above, Main Market Highway/State Road 3 followed the National Road through Marion County. One exception to this is the section of the 1830s National Road that crossed the White River downtown. That section of the old road was removed in 1904 with the demolition of the National Road covered bridge and its replacement with a new, and short lived, Washington Street bridge. With a couple of exceptions other than that (the Bridgeport straightening of the early 1930s, and the new Eagle Creek bridge built in the late 1930s), the old road was followed very accurately until the mid-1980s with the creation of White River State Park. The successor to original SR 3, US 40, was moved to make room for the park. Both US 40 and US 31 lost their designations on 1 July 1999 with the removal of those two routes inside the I-465 loop.

State Road 6: This old state road was a through route when it came to Marion County. From the north, it followed the route of the original Indianapolis-Lafayette State Road from Lebanon. After passing through downtown Indianapolis, it left the county using the original Michigan Road on its way to Shelbyville and Greensburg. The original State Road 6 followed the Michigan Road Auto Trail, not the Historic Michigan Road, meaning it still went to Madison, but it went by way of Versailles, which the historic road did not. With the Great Renumbering, the northern SR 6 became US 52, while the southern SR 6 became SR 29 – later to be renumbered again to US 421.

State Road 22: This road, as it was originally laid out, only lasted from 1920 to 1923. Out of Indianapolis, it followed the old Mooresville State Road through southwestern Marion County. It was designated the original route from Indianapolis to Martinsville, as described in this blog entry. This road will be discussed again a few paragraphs from now.

State Road 39: Another 1830s state road that was taken into the Indiana State Highway Commission’s custody in 1919. This road followed the old Brookville State Road from the National Road out of the county through New Palestine to Rushville and Brookville. The original end of that road, both the 1830s original and the 1919 state highway, is discussed here. The road would become, in October 1926, the other section of US 52 through Indianapolis. It would also eventually become the first state highway removed inside the I-465 loop in Marion County. And even then, it would be rerouted in the late 1990s to go the other way around the county.

That covers the 1919 highways. More would come to Marion County before 1923.

State Road 12: Originally, this road, north of Martinsville, was the old State Road 22 mentioned above. When a new SR 22 was created, the SR 12 number was continued from Martinsville to Indianapolis along the old Vincennes and Mooresville State Roads. This road, in October 1926, would become part of the new State Road 67.

State Road 15: While the southern route of the Michigan Road was State Road 6, the northern part, heading off to Logansport, was added later and given the number State Road 15. The entire route of the historic Michigan Road would never become a state highway, but major sections did…although late in the creation of the state highway system. With the Great Renumbering, this road became SR 29, and in 1951, redesignated, like its southern half, US 421.

State Road 22: Here we go again. State Road 22 was given to the route between Indianapolis and Paoli. In 1919, that included the route along the west bank of the White River from Martinsville to Indianapolis along the Mooresville Road. This was changed by 1923 to keep SR 22 on the east side of White River, where it followed the old Paoli State Road, and the Bluff Road, through Waverly to the south edge of downtown Indianapolis at Meridian and South Streets. This was one of the routes of the Dixie Highway through Indianapolis, and would later become part of SR 37 in 1926.

State Road 31: In 1920, when this road was originally created, it turned south to connect to the National Road west of Plainfield. It had followed the Rockville Road from Montezuma to Danville, then turned southeasterly to meet State Road 3. By 1923, the road was moved from what would later become part of what is now SR 39 to continuing on the Rockville Road into Marion County. State Road 31 would meet the National Road outside the city limits of Indianapolis at what is now the intersection of Holt Road and Washington Street. It would become US 36 before it was extended along the new section of what is now Rockville Road to the intersection at Eagle Creek with Washington Street.

State Road 37: One of two state road numbers that still served Indianapolis after the road numbers were changed in October 1926 (the other being State Road 31). The original State Road 37 left Marion County in a northeasterly direction on its way to Pendleton, Anderson and Muncie. Inside the city limits, the street name was Massachusetts Avenue. When it reached the city limits, the name of the road changed to Pendleton Pike. This still occurs today, with the name change at the old city limits at 38th Street. In October 1926, the number of this road would change to State Road 67.

There were two other major state roads in Marion County, but they weren’t part of the state highway system until after the Great Renumbering. One was the Crawfordsville State Road, part of the original Dixie Highway, connecting Indianapolis to Crawfordsville via Speedway, Clermont, Brownsburg, and half a dozen other towns. It would be added to the state highway system by 1929 as State Road 34. The number would change later to US 136.

The other road was the original Fort Wayne State Road, also known as the Noblesville State Road, but even more commonly called the Allisonville Road. It would be added to the state highway system in 1932 as State Road 13. Less than a decade later, its number would be changed to the more familiar State Road 37.