West Marion County and I-465

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The first part of the new beltway (almost) around Indianapolis started on the westside of Marion County. As mentioned in other articles, the original plan was to start Interstate 465 at Interstate 65 on the northwest side, with the replacement for State Road 100 (which I-465 officially was) heading south from there to circle around the county from there. Interchanges were planned at I-65, I-74/US 136, 10th Street, US 36 (Rockville Road), US 40 (Washington Street), Weir Cook Municipal Airport (Airport Expressway), Interstate 70, and SR 67 (Kentucky Avenue). According to USGS topo maps, like that included below, show that there was a stub ramp connecting I-465 to 62nd Street, although the ramp connecting to 62nd Street was listed as still proposed six years later.

1962 USGS topographic map showing the original interchange connection Interstate 65 and Interstate 465.

Construction started along the corridor in 1959. The Indianapolis News ran a series of pictures showing the plans set out by the State Highway Department. If you noticed the list of interchanges above, there were no plans for 56th Street or 38th Street to have ways to access 465. Bridges were to be built over 465 at 56th, 46th, 38th, 34th, and 21st Streets. (21st Street was a very special, and contentious, situation. I covered it in the article: “Building I-465 at West 21st Street. [8 May 2020]”)

Indianapolis News, 14 December 1959, showing the Indiana State Highway Department’s plans for the new Interstate 465 (also still called State Road 100 at the time) at the northern terminus of the highway.

The plans for Interstate 65 at that point were to continue to have it replace US 52 (Lafayette Road). The US 52 bypass at Lebanon was made part of the new I-65. The temporary plan was to connect I-65 just southeast of I-465 directly to US 52 until construction could continue. Then I-65 would also be US 52 from that point to northwest of Lebanon. I mention this only because the loop around Indianapolis was, apparently, easier to get approved than trying to run I-65 through town. (And since it would take another 16 years to complete, even to the point that an addition was planned to I-465 and completed before I-65 through Marion County says it all.)

It wouldn’t take long after the original plans for the interstate were laid down that changes were made. The non-planned 38th Street interchange was added to the deal. It was to be a partial cloverleaf interchange connecting to 38th Street at that point. Marion County had decided to build 38th Street from Lafayette Road east to the new White River bridge to be built by the city. At that point in history, 38th Street was a county road with nothing resembling the connections it has today as a major west side thoroughfare.

Indianapolis News, 11 December 1959, showing the future connection to 38th Street from I-465. This ramp would be built much later, when 38th Street was finally connected as a thoroughfare across Marion County.

The next interchange south of the “gonna be built someday” 38th Street was the connection to another interstate highway, Interstate 74. The plans shown in the Indianapolis News differ slightly from what was actually built. US 136 (Crawfordsville Road) is directly connected to the east end of the proposed interstate connection. This would change. It looks like the proposed interchange was moved slightly north, and Crawfordsville Road west of High School Road was turned north to connect to High School Road. This would be where US 136 would ultimately officially end.

Indianapolis News, 10 December 1959, showing the proposed connection between interstates 74 and 465. The original plan, and this was carried out, is that Interstate 74 would “travel over,” ISHD/INDOT term for multiplex, with I-465 from northwest to southeast Marion County.
1953 Topo map showing the intersection of West 10th Street and High School Road.

The next section did change, at least at one interchange, quite a bit. But before I describe that, let’s talk about the placement of I-465 from Vermont Street north to about where 16th Street would be, if it continued to High School/Girls School Road. The new interstate was planned, in that section, to be built directly over High School Road. This is not really a stretch, since High School Road, from Washington Street south to the Airport, was the original State Road 100. And I-465 was, for all intents and purposes, State Road 100 according to ISHD.

I have written a detailed history of SR 100 (SR 100: How did it come to be? [9 March 2019]) and an article about how, at one point, the connection between SR 100 on BOTH sides of Marion County were to have cloverleaf interchanges (“The Cloverleaf Interchanges at US 40 and SR 100” [20 November 2019]). If SR 100 had been completed on the west side, like it was on the north and east sides, I have no doubt that it would have followed High School Road north, probably, ultimately, to 86th Street, which was SR 100 along the northwest side.

The change in interchanges happened at 10th Street. The original plan was for a full cloverleaf interchange at that intersection. This would have pushed the eastbound 10th Street to southbound 465 ramp back closer to Glen Arm Road, where High School Road was rerouted to miss the interchange. What was ultimately built was a jumbled three-quarter cloverleaf with a flyover from westbound 10th to southbound 465.

In the end, High School Road was basically built over by 465 from Vermont to 10th Streets. 10th Street is a survey correction line, so High School actually moves slightly to the east at that point, as shown in the topo map to the left. For more information about survey lines, check out “Survey Lines and County Roads. (29 March 2019)”

Indianapolis News, 9 December 1959, showing the Indiana State Highway Department plans for I-465 from just south of the New York Central railroad tracks to just north of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad tracks, including what was to originally be full cloverleaf interchanges at 10th Street and Rockville Road.
1953 USGS topo map of the area of Washington Street and High School Road. The area marked “Ben Davis” would be the location of the new cloverleaf interchange between US 40 and I-465.

From the looks of aerial photos in 1959 as shown in the Indianapolis News, the interchange at Washington Street was going to be very destructive. (Keep in mind that as of the writing of this article, MapIndy, my go to source for historic aerial photos of Marion County no longer offers that service. Maps are available, but the aerial photos are gone.) In addition to the shunting of Morris Street (a survey line and historic route of its own accord), most of where the interchange between US 40 and I-465 was basically what had been the town of Ben Davis.

Another thing would have to happen before this interchange would be built. It was determined, and reported, in July 1959 that an improvement of West Washington Street would have to occur before the interstate reached that point. US 40 was to be widened in the area. The work on Washington Street, however, would have to wait until sewer work in the area was completed…probably in 1961. Plans to widen Washington Street from 40 feet to 68 feet wide, with a four foot median and an eight parking lane on each side, were decided upon. Very little of that plan exists today…and if it does, it’s hard to find.

Indianapolis News, 8 December 1959, showing the proposed area of US 40 and Interstate 465.

The last area covered by the Indianapolis News in the series of articles (actually, it was the first since the editor staff decided to post them south to north, even though the interstate was built north to south!) shows the area of I-465 near Weir Cook Municipal Airport. The one change that I can see is what would become Airport Expressway (check out “Indianapolis’ Raymond Street Expressway” [4 February 2020] for the history of what started out as the Bradbury Expressway) was proposed to connect to the airport heading slightly north of due west, just above Southern Avenue. This section of the (now) Sam Jones Expressway is due east-west at the point it connects to Interstate 465. For a history of what is now Indianapolis International Airport, check out “Indianapolis Municipal Airport.” (20 August 2019)

Indianapolis News, 7 December 1959. This newspaper snippet shows the area of proposed I-465 near the (then) Weir Cook Municipal Airport (now Indianapolis International).

That covers the first of the construction of the State Road 100 replacement. I want to share this one last snippet from the Indianapolis News of 19 October 1960. It shows the construction of I-465/I-65/US 52 at 62nd Street…or the original northern end of Interstate 465.

Indianapolis News, 19 October 1960, showing the original northern end of Interstate 465.

1912 Proposed Indianapolis Street Name Changes, Part 2

Today, I want to continue the list of streets that were proposed to have name changes during the City Council meeting of 4 March 1912. The list was quite long. And most of them didn’t happen. Or if they did, they are long gone now. This is a follow-up to yesterday’s “1912 Proposed Indianapolis Street Name Changes, Part 1.”

The first one today never was completed, but also didn’t retain the name it had before the proposal. Cooper Avenue between Lafayette Road and the line that separates Wayne and Washington Townships (now 38th Street) was to become Concord Street. At the time, Cooper Avenue did end at Lafayette Road. But a relatively straight line due south would connect to Concord Street just north of 16th Street (between 17th and 18th, actually). By 1926, Concord Street would be completed from Lafayette Road to 16th Street (also still known as Crawfordsville Road by some). It would have a name change as well…but not to Cooper. Concord from 16th to Lafayette, and Cooper from Lafayette to 56th (Centennial Road), would be given the name Kessler Boulevard. It is still called Cooper Road between 56th Street (Centennial Road) and 62nd Street (Isenhour Road).

Before the subject proposal, Brightwood’s Depot Street, from Massachusetts Avenue south to 21st Street, and (what looks like) Laycook Avenue (hard to read on most maps) from 21st south to 19th would be renamed Avondale Place. A street that connected Pratt to 16th Street would be built, and, with Avondale Place, would become Avondale Street. This never happened. Avondale Place still exists, and from what I can tell, what was supposed to be Avondale Street south of 16th Street became known as Kealing Street. Avondale Place south of 21st Street would be removed for industrial development. Avondale Place would be ripped in two by the construction of Interstate 70 in the early to mid 1970’s. (The interstate opened to traffic in 1976.)

The next street name change also never occurred. The new name for the many sections of streets would be Chase. It was to include the first alley west of Bloomington Street from Washington Street to White River, Inwood Street from White River to Michigan Street, Kane Street from Michigan to Walnut Street and Dexter Street from 18th to 22nd Streets. I am not sure about the alley, but I believe it went away when White River Parkway was bent to connect to Washington Street outside the new Indianapolis Zoo. Inwood and Kane Streets are long gone, buried under IUPUI concrete. Dexter Street still exists.

Another large number of segments that would be proposed to become one name was Blake Street. At the time, Blake Street existed from the White River end of Washington Avenue (the original path of the National Road and location of the National Road covered bridge over White River until 1904) north to Pratt Street northeast of Indiana Avenue. Dett Street at Southern Avenue, Brooks Street from 10th to 13th Street, Isabella Street from Myrtis to Udell, Fairview Terrace from Haughey Avenue and 44th Street, and Crown Street from 44th to 45th Street were all included in this change. Dett Street no longer exists…but did at the White River end of Southern Avenue west of Meridian Street. The original Blake Street still exists, in sections. It runs through the IUPUI campus today. Brooks Street still exists. Isabella Street would become Franklin Place. The last two sections are near Butler University. Fairview Place still exists to 43rd Street. Crown Street is between 43rd and 44th Street. I would bet that the street numbers were wrong in the proposal, and that 44th was meant to be 43rd, and 45th was meant to be 44th.

Thomas Street between Brookville Road and English Avenue, Mineral Street from 10th to 19th Streets and Brightwood’s Foundry Street would actually be changed…but not immediately due to this proposal. Those streets would be changed to the name that the street along that line had between Washington Street and 10th Street – Denny Street.

There are still more on the list. As the Indianapolis News mentioned in the last paragraph of the story: “These ordinances are a part of about five hundred contemplated changes in street names. It is Copeland’s plan to give a common name to several streets of different names on the same line. The plan has been approved by postoffice authorities.”

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.

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.

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.