Straightening of SR 135 in Northern Washington County

Sometimes, the state moves very slowly when it comes to improving routes that, well, from first glance, should have been higher on the priority list. When SR 35 was created with the Great Renumbering of 1 October 1926, a lot of the route was pretty straight forward. That was until you got to just south of the Muscatatuck River in Washington County. Here, the road was the definitive hilly road.

Monroe Township, Washington County
1878

And the road had been that way for a long time. The 1878 map snippet shown to the left shows the Millport Ferry, which was in the location, roughly, of the current SR 135 bridge over the Muscatatuck River. From there, the “direct” route to the next post office, that being at Millport, winds its way through the hilly territory south of the river.

And this routing hadn’t changed. Until the Indiana State Highway Commission started designing a new road to replace the old one in 1954. Yes, nearly three decades after it became a state road, SR 135 (formerly SR 35) was getting some work to make it safer for travelers.

The bridge just west of the old bridge at the location of the old Millport Ferry was opened for bidding in September 1954. The design of the bridge was to be of seven spans, 28 foot of right of way for drivers, and 26 inch pedestrian walkways on each side. The bidding, opened on 21 September of that year, only included the bridge itself. Approaches to the bridge were to be let in another contract. It also didn’t include the tie in to the then current road north of the river.

The bridge that was being replaced had been contracted in 1883. The superstructure of that bridge, to be built completely of iron, was contracted to cost $23.00 a linear foot.

Work on the design of the new SR 135 section was completed in March 1954. According to the Seymour Tribune of 18 March 1954, “It is understood plans for the new highway are normally straight, with the new location scheduled to eliminate the present many curves on the highway, which now has about 40 turns, many of them sharp, in less than two miles.”

Construction on the new section of the road began on 6 June 1955, and according to the Jackson County Banner of 3 August 1955, was expected to “be completed about the first of next year.” The contract connecting the new SR 135 to the new Millport Bridge would be let later, as the bridge had not been completed by that time. Until that bridge was complete, the old bridge would be in use, and the new SR 135 would connect to the old SR 135 just south of the new bridge. The following Google Map snippet shows the old road, the connection to the new road, and the location of the old bridge.

The new section of road would open in mid-December 1955. The entire route was concrete, with the exception of the south approach to the new Millport bridge, which was graveled to allow traffic access to the new bridge. The gravel would be replaced with concrete the following summer. The old iron Millport bridge would be removed soon after the opening of the 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.

US Highways: They are actually State Roads

I originally posted the following in the Indiana Transportation History group on 11 Jun 2014. It has been slightly edited to correct some “oopsies” in my original.

For those old enough to remember (and I, unfortunately, am not one of them) before the Interstate system came into being, and US routes were the cross-country method of auto transport, this post is for you.

Somewhere lost in the history of transportation is the true story behind the US Highway system. Believe it or not, the Federal Government was late to the “good roads” party, and really only joined it half-heartedly. Let me explain.

Near the end of the 19th Century, there was a craze sweeping the nation – bicycling. The problem was that most roads at the time were basically dirt paths through the country. Some were graveled, yes. Some were bricked, but mainly only in towns. Those that rode bicycles started clamoring for better roads to reliably and safely use their new-fangled transportation method.

The US Post Office was also involved in this movement, mainly because mail was that important. And delivering the mail in some rural locations was troublesome at best.

With the creation of the automobile boom in the early 20th century, the Good Roads Movement started including the drivers of the horseless carriage. Again, because most roads at the time were dusty at best, and practically impassible at worst.

Clubs started nationwide to encourage auto travel (the Hoosier Motor Club was one). Clubs were also started to encourage the creation of travel routes that were more than dirt roads to the next county seat.

These last clubs led to many named highways throughout the nation. For instance, Indianapolis was served by the (Andrew) Jackson Highway, Dixie Highway, Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, National Old Trails Road, the Hoosier Highway, Michigan Road, the Range Line Road, the Hills & Lakes Trail, and the Hoosier Dixie.

The most famous of the Road Clubs was the Lincoln Highway Association, which crossed Indiana through the northern tier of counties. On its trip from New York to San Francisco, it passed through Fort Wayne, Ligonier (included because it was the SECOND Ligonier on the route – the other being in Pennsylvania!), Goshen, Elkhart, South Bend, La Porte, and Valparaiso. (As you can guess, it wasn’t exactly a straight line at first!)

In 1926, the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO), in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Public Roads finalized a national route system that became the US Highways. This was to combat the numerous named highways that led to some major confusion among the automobile traveling public. The system was discussed starting in 1924, with a preliminary list issued in late 1925.

Named highways painted markers on utility poles most of the time. It, apparently, was not unheard of to have numerous colored markers on one pole. And new named highways were popping up monthly. (They even kept appearing after the numbered highways started appearing.)

A misconception is that a US Highway is a Federal road. US Highways have a distinctive shield with a number. It can also have, legally, a State Road marker. That’s because US highways were really just state roads that shared the same number for its entire distance. So SR 40 in Indiana was also SR 40 in Illinois and Ohio, and so on. (INDOT has even posted SR 421 signage on SR 9 at the entrance ramps to I-74/US 421 in Shelbyville.)

While US highway numbers have come and gone across the state, most of them appeared in one of two phases – 1927 and 1951.

The original US Highways in Indiana were: 12, 20, 24, 27, 30, 31, 31E, 31W, 36, 40, 41, 50, 52, 112, and 150.

The second major phase included US 136, US 231, and US 421.

Between these two phases, the following roads were added:
– US 6 (1928)
– US 33 (1937)
– US 35 (1934) It required changing SR 35 to SR 135.
– US 36 – Yes, it is listed twice. US 36 originally ended at Indianapolis from the west. It was extended east in 1931.
– US 152 – Mostly followed US 52 (Lafayette Road) north from Indianapolis from 1934 to 1938. It never left the state, so it was downgraded to mostly state road 53 (which, strangely, was added BACK into the federal numbering system as US 231).
– US 224 (1933)
– US 460 (1947-1977)

These were added to the system in sections. For instance, US 6 came into Indiana from the east and ended up being routed along what, at the time, was Indiana State Road 6.

There have been many changes in the original US highways. Some have bypassed towns in many places (like US 31). Some have just been removed from the system (like the northern end of US 33). Some were replaced by the interstate system created in 1956 (like US 27 north of Fort Wayne).

The beginning of the end of the major importance of the US Highway system started in 1947, when AASHO deemed it “outmoded.” This led to the creation of the interstate system with a law signed by President Eisenhower in 1956.