Ben Davis and Mickleyville, Wayne Township, Marion County

1852. The Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad was building its main line from Terre Haute to Indianapolis. Six miles west of the center of town, the railroad decided that they would build a station. But only if someone would take care of it. There were no takers, and the railroad skipped the place. There was, however, a signal put in place in case someone did want to board or leave the train in the empty field 3/10th of a mile south of the National Road.

It would be over two decades before a platform was built at the location. This was after the assignment of a ticket agent, John Pierson, that would go to the railroad location to sell tickets right before train time. Mr. Pierson would go on to acquire a lease from the railroad, by this time the Terre Haute & Indianapolis, so that he could build a small station and store room. In 1877, the Ben Davis Post Office would be opened, and two years later an express office was added to the station.

1895 map of Ben Davis Post Office

But the station never belonged to the railroad itself, so John Pierson sold it to another person, Wilson Morrow. Morrow went on to sell the station, and the goods in storage, to Humphrey Forshea, the then current station agent. Forshea was also the name of the road that stretched south from the National Road to a point 1 mile south of what is now Minnesota Street, as shown in the 1895 map to the left. The end of the road shown on the map is roughly where High School Road turns east to go around the Indianapolis International Airport.

The station and post office was named after Benjamin Davis, a first customer of the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad. Mr. Davis would ship loads of wood and lumber from the future Ben Davis to Indianapolis. He was born in Lewis County, Kentucky, on 27 October 1821. He died at his home at 2406 Parker Avenue, in Brightwood, on 24 January 1899. He had been a railroad contractor and the owner of a livery stable in the city.

Another town in the area was located where what is now Morris Street crossed the National Road. J. A. Mickley, merchant, built a store at the location that would later be called Mickleyville. Mr. Mickley would become a cobbler at Ben Davis after coming to Indiana from Pennsylvania in 1868. In 1873, he moved to the National Road location. Mickley Avenue, which is a block west of Washington Street and Morris Street, was named after the unincorporated town.

When the National Road was a toll road, the tollgate was located at what became Mickleyville. This makes sense since what is now Morris Street was also a privately owned road…called the Emma Hansch (Free Gravel) Road, which ran from the county line (now Raceway Road) east to the National Road. East from the National Road, along the same line of Morris Street, was the Jesse Wright (Free Gravel) Road that extended eastward to what is now Warman Street.

There were other post offices started in Wayne Township, Marion County. Including one along the National Road, called Bridgeport. Others, which I will cover in a later post, included: Clermont (Crawfordsville Road and the Peoria & Eastern Railroad); Mitchell Station, at the Wall Street Pike and the Baltimore & Ohio; Brooklyn Heights, on the Lafayette & Indianapolis between what is now 34th and 38th Streets; Glendale, north of Crawfordsville Road (16th Street) on the Lafayette Road; Sabine on the Indianapolis & St. Louis Railway near what is now Girls School Road; Maywood on the Vincennes State Road and the same railroad; Haughville; and Mount Jackson, both of these last ones were along the National Road.

Terre Haute, 1854

The mid-19th Century in Indiana was both a traveler’s nightmare and dream. At that time, the state was criss-crossed, or soon would be, with multiple railroads and several canals. And Terre Haute found itself at the crossroads of both. Today, I want to look at Terre Haute through the use of a map that is available at the Indiana State Library online. That maps is at the following link: http://cdm16066.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p15078coll8/id/1064/rec/7.

First, the National Road came to the town. The idea was that the National Road would be an improved highway, in good condition throughout the state. By the time of this map, it had already been sold to toll road companies. Those companies, in exchange for keeping the road in good condition, would be allowed to charge people to use it. The National Road would connect to Wabash Street in Terre Haute, but didn’t cross the Wabash River along that path. There was a Terre Haute Draw Bridge that crossed the river along the Ohio Street corridor.

The second method of transport that would enter the town was the Wabash & Erie Canal. This canal was the longest such facility in the United States, connecting Fort Wayne to Evansville. It entered the city from the north, separating from the river near where Florida Street is, then finding itself next to the river again around Sycamore Street. At Eagle Street, the canal made a turn back to the north in a loop that would carry it back to a point along what would be Spruce Street, then Canal Street. This section is now part of the Indiana State University campus. It would turn south again just past Ninth Street, cross the National Road, then head off to the southeast as it continued its way to Evansville.

The Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad, planned to connect the two title cities through Indianapolis, came into town from the northeast, with the railroad itself ending in a station on the north side of National Road at what is now 10th Street. The railroad that would become the Vandalia connected to the TH&R near what is now 13th Street, making a looping turn to head out along the Tippecanoe Street corridor to cross the Wabash River.

The other railroad in town, the Evansville & Crawfordsville, had its station on the southside of the National Road, across the street from the TH&R station. This railroad continued north out of town, following the current rail corridor on its way toward Crawfordsville. It, too, followed the 10th Street corridor before turning west, following the same Tippecanoe Street corridor up to and crossing the Wabash.

The area between 9th and 10th Streets at the National Road would, ultimately, include all four of these transportation facilities. Today, only the path of the old E&C still exists, although part of the old TH&R is available for use as a rail trail. The old canal bed has been removed for many years.

US 40: Bridgeport to Plainfield

When the National Road was surveyed in the 19th century, the people that laid out the road had very little to worry about when it came to man made obstructions to its path. The road was built in the most efficient way possible. Not necessarily the straightest, but the most efficient. An example of this is just west of downtown Indianapolis with the National Road bridge. The original route crossed the White River at a 90 degree angle…typical of bridge building at the time. And although that bridge would be later supplemented, then replaced, by a straighter Washington Street bridge, the old bridge would survive until 1904…a little over 70 years.

Another section of the old National Road that would survive into the 20th century before getting the straightening treatment would be the section starting just west of Bridgeport, heading toward Plainfield. Here, for two and half miles, the National Road would first curve its way across a creek, then find its way, in 1852, across a dangerous railroad crossing near the Marion-Hendricks County line.

Let’s start with the railroad crossing. In 1850, the Terre Haute & Richmond Railroad was chartered to create a route between its two title cities through Indianapolis. Typical railroad construction involves laying out the route to be as flat as possible. Through most of Indiana, being that most of the terrain is relatively flat, this is not a problem. The routing of the the TH&R west of Plainfield found itself winding through some very hilly territory. At Plainfield, the road started on a straight path to the Hoosier capital. When construction was completed in 1852 to Indianapolis, the railroad was a very straight line from west of Plainfield to Indianapolis.

Railroad construction at the time also didn’t take into consideration the roads that were in place when they were built. One half mile west of the Marion-Hendricks County line, at a spot that would later become known as Six Points, the TH&R was built to have a very flat crossing of the National Road. A crossing of about 15 degrees. On a clock, that is about the angle from 12:00 to 12:02:30, or half way between 2 and 3 minutes. Given the little amounts of traffic, the speed of trains, and what little there was normally involved horses, this was not seen as a problem.

Fast forward to the Auto Trail era when automobiles were taking over. Train traffic was booming, locomotive speeds were much higher, and the traffic was getting clogged with cars and trucks. The crossing at Six Points became one of the most dangerous in the state. With the state takeover of the old National Road as Original State Road 3 in 1917, the Indiana State Highway Commission became responsible for the conditions of both the road and the railroad crossing at this point. As traffic increased, this dangerous situation would remain into the mid-1930’s, when the ISHC started turning what had become US 40 into a divided highway across the entire state. The routing of US 40 curved to the north of the old road, crossing the Hendricks County Road (later to become 1050 East) a little over .1 mile north of the old crossing. The railroad, by this time the Pennsylvania Railroad, was then crossed at a 30 degree angle three tenths of a mile west of the Six Points Road.

This improved the situation at the crossing…but didn’t fix it completely. There were news stories of crashes, sometimes fatal, between cars and trains at that crossing, as well. But it did improve the situation.

The other quirk in the National Road would be the crossing of the creek at the west edge of Bridgeport. Bridgeport was an old village, mainly started as a watering hole along the old National Road. It is located less than 1/2 mile east of the Marion-Hendricks County line. At the west edge of town, the National Road curved slightly north of its straight path to cross over the White Lick Creek. The road then turned to become a straight line again aiming towards Plainfield.

This Google Map snippet shows the property lines of the old National Road from a point west of Raceway Road to west of Bridgeport. The road labelled “Old Washington Street” is the original path of the National Road/US 40.
This MapIndy aerial photograph, taken in 1941, shows the construction of the new US 40 west of Bridgeport.

When the state started working on connecting the two sections of already widened US 40, the section that remained was through Bridgeport and over the White Lick Creek Bridge. The work started on this section in 1941. The first task was to eliminate the curve at the White Lick Creek, making a straight line road between the 1936 bypass of Six Points and Bridgeport. It was mentioned in the Indianapolis News of 7 July 1941 that traffic through Bridgeport had dropped quite a bit with the old National Road/US 40 being closed for this construction. By 1942, the new section of US 40 would be completed, and the old road was left to flounder in the weeds.

National Road at Reelsville

1952 USGS topographic map of the Reelsville area.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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