INDOT’s Reference Post System

In 1999, the Indiana Department of Transportation decided that it was time to come up with a system that would help better keep track of features along the roads that for which it was responsible. While is would be based, according to INDOT, on the mileage of the road, it was not a milepost system. It was a locator for maintenance items, other than signs, on the state highway system.

RPS 86 on US 40, Marion County, Indiana (Washington Park Cemetery). From Google Maps, snipped 23 December 2020.

There are many parts to the system. The one that most people would have seen, but not really noticed, were the signs that were put up for use with the system. These consisted of small blue signs with a mile number on it, with a smaller sign, if needed, below it with an offset to that mile on it. The signs themselves were barely wider than the post they were on. Very small in relation to most highway signs. Since they are technically only for INDOT use, their size wasn’t a concern. The public wouldn’t notice them, lessening the sign pollution that departments of transportation have been trying to keep under control forever.

RP 88, Offset .88, US 40 bridge of Buck Creek, Cumberland

I really wish I could have had a better snippet for the offset post, but then, the idea was to give the reader the image of what they roughly look like, so the reader would know what to look for.

The RPS manual is very detailed in its information. For instance, the picture to the left is listed as “RP_U_40_Post_86,” meaning “Reference Post, US 40, Post 86.” The one on the right is listed as “CUMBERLAND CORP. LINE BR 4588 O BUCK CREEK,” at least in the 2004 manual.

US 40 is a very prime example of why this system isn’t to be used as a mileage post system. The system was setup prior to the 1 July 1999 decommissioning of US 31, SR 37 and US 40 inside the Interstate 465 loop. What was, in 1999, marked as mile 86 on US 40 is, in 2020, at mile 92.37 on that very same road in 2004. In 2016, the last update from INDOT, it was listed as US 40 mile 65.179. The legal definition of US 40 was lengthened when it was rerouted along the southside of Indianapolis on I-465 in 2004. By a little over six miles. By 2016, the extra mileage along I-465 was removed to show a more accurate road mileage count towards INDOT’s limit of 12,000 miles.

But there is a bit more to the reference post system that comes into play. Each highway listed in the RPS not only includes the complete mileage for the road in Indiana, but they are also listed by the mileage per county, as well. For instance, reference post 86 above is listed as Marion County mile 24.06 in 2004. In the 2016 manual, that mileage is 5.027.

Then, the reference post system records almost everything along the road. This includes EVERY village/town/city street that intersects with the posted road. For instance, near reference post 86 is, in the 2004 manual, “86 + 0.21 24.52 IR 4193 LT (DELBRICK LN).” At reference post location 86.21, 24.52 route miles into Marion County, Delbrick Lane connects to Washington Street (US 40) on the left (north) side of the road. Directions are listed from the increasing number of the reference post. Every street is listed, although almost none of them have a reference post sign.

Also, the corporation limits of towns and cities are listed by the reference post location, although there is no reference post installed most of the time. This even includes old corporation limits. For instance, in the 2016 manual, reference post 85+0.686 is listed as “City or Town Limit – Indianapolis.” Post Road is reference post 86+0.668. Legally, Indianapolis continues for another at least two miles (the sign welcoming one to Indianapolis is west of German Church Road, the county line is another mile east of that, but that is in the town of Cumberland. And even legally, Cumberland is part of Indianapolis. It is as confusing as all get out, but suffice it to say, for the past 50 years, the city limits of Indianapolis have been the county limits of Marion County, with some exceptions. Certainly not Post Road.

But the idea of the legal multiplex of I-465 with almost every INDOT road in Marion County (there are two that don’t mix with I-465: US 136 and SR 135) that brings up another question. What about multiplexes of state roads?

When the system was created in 1999, it was designed with a hierarchy of roads. That hierarchy was interstate, US highway, then state road, in that order. INDOT does not use the term “multiplex” officially. It is called “travel over” in Indiana. The following picture comes from the INDOT RPS guide of 1999 showing how “travel overs” are handled when it comes to marking the mileage of the road.

Indiana Department of Transportation Reference Post System Users Guide, May 1999.

As you can see, near Frankfort, US 421 takes precedence with the little blue signs. SR 39 is junior to SR 38 when it comes to the signs, only due to the fact that 38 is before 39 numerically.

The system underwent some changes between 2004 and 2015. In 2015, it was made perfectly clear that the manual may contain some mistakes, but that every effort was taken to avoid them.

There was also a special note involving US 40 in Vigo County. When US 40 was removed from most of Vigo County, and rerouted along I-70 and SR 46, the RPS system was not changed to reflect that. The section of US 40 that “travels over” SR 46 is still labelled as SR 46. Here is INDOT’s explanation: “US 40 in Vigo County has a special issue that needs to be addressed. Due to relinquishments and creating a travel over for US 40, the alignment does not follow the historic path. US 40 now traverses where SR 46 has traditionally been and SR 46 is considered the Travel Over on US 40. However, the existing reference posts are still for the SR 46 route and are running in a contrary direction to the increasing direction of US 40. Therefore, for the purposes of this book, RP and Offset for the first 3 miles of US are based on the State Log Measure until it reaches the traditional location for US 40 and then jumps to RP 11 + 00 at the intersection of SR 46 and US 40.”

I mentioned above about the original system being put in place prior to the decommissioning of routes in Marion County. It is important to note that there were more routes affected than just those that were moved to I-465. Those routes were US 31, SR 37 and US 40. The mileage on those roads got weird, yes. But there were two others that were affected by the change…and one most people didn’t even realize.

SR 135 was rerouted from Troy Avenue to Thompson Road, cutting two miles out of the official route. This just required moving the little blue signs from north of Thompson Road, and surveying what else would need signs. And what wouldn’t.

The other route affect wasn’t even marked when it was decommissioned. Shadeland Avenue on the east side of Marion County was still legally SR 100 from I-465 to US 40 (Washington Street) until 1 July 1999. For the longest time, the only marker on SR 100 was a smaller blue sign below the reference post signs that read “100.”

INDOT has available on their website the RPS manuals for 2004, 2015 and 2016. Also available is the users guide from 1999. Here are the links for each: Users Guide200420152016

Subway Street, Beech Grove

When the Big Four Railway started to build their new yards in what would become the city of Beech Grove, they realized very quickly that train traffic was going to be, at best, horrifying for those that were trying to get to the town from the north and east. The main road from the north was the line separating Center from Warren, and Perry from Franklin townships. This would be called First Avenue in the new town of Beech Grove, and Emerson Avenue in the rest of Marion County.

1905 Map of the Beech Grove area, before construction of the town. Center of the map is where the four townships (Center, Franklin, Perry and Warren) meet, now the intersection of Emerson and Albany Street (Troy Avenue).

This road, before Beech Grove was built, stretched from a point in Washington Township, near Millersville, to the Johnson-Marion County line east of Greenwood. Part of this was considered to be part of the Churchman Free Gravel Road extension when the Big Four started buying the property. What became Albany Street (Troy Avenue in the rest of Marion County) extended from the Bottoms Road (now Harding Street) to what is now Kitley Road near the Hancock-Marion County line.

With the construction of the new railroad shops, and the new town, at Beech Grove, the railroad knew that it wouldn’t be long before it came up that two major roads in the county were being clogged by rail traffic. The elevation movement had already been in full swing in Marion County, although there were no such facilities completed to that point. Arguments were still being had about who was supposed to pay for all the bridges necessary to accomplish the plan. It was here that the planners decided to make sure that both carriage (and later car) traffic was unimpeded by the mass amounts of train traffic.

Emerson Avenue would be cut off just north of the Big Four railroad tracks north of the new town. This would put the cutoff just shy of 1/2 mile north of Albany, or 1/2 mile south of what would become Raymond Street. A new street would be built just north of the northern right-of-way of the railroad tracks, where it would connect 1/2mile east of Emerson, becoming the continuation of Troy Avenue. About 2/10’s of a mile east of Emerson, a new road would be built at a 90 degree angle to the railroad tracks, going under said railroad tracks, connecting to the new Second Avenue and the street running along the southern railroad right-of-way (to become Bethel Avenue) in Beech Grove.

1956 MapIndy aerial photograph of the Subway Street/Connection Street/Emerson Avenue/Bethel Avenue area near Beech Grove. west of the spur tracks leading into the Beech Grove Shops is a stub end of Emerson Avenue starting at Subway Street. It would connect to essentially a long driveway and a house west of Emerson and south of the railroad tracks.

The first street mentioned would be given the name “Connection Street.” The road that would go under the railroad tracks would be called “Subway Street.” The name subway actually has a historical context in Marion County. When traffic at Indianapolis Union Station got beyond horrible, the city of Indianapolis decided to build an underpass along Illinois Street, under the railroad tracks at the station. This was, for years, called the Illinois Street Subway, although it was more a bridge, even a tunnel, than a subway.

This wasn’t to say that Emerson Avenue disappeared completely between the two sides of the railroad tracks. A small section of Emerson Avenue existed from Subway Street north to a road, and house, 1/4 mile north of Albany Street. It existed this way for years. Until the early 1970’s, as a matter of fact.

Indianapolis Star, 15 April 1971. The photograph shows a four lane bridge in the middle of nowhere, over the tracks of what was, at the time, the Penn Central Railroad at Beech Grove. That bridge would be connected to the surrounding area, and would carry Emerson Avenue into Beech Grove from the north.

The new Emerson Avenue bridge over the Penn Central tracks, as they were called then, was completed in Spring 1971, although the connections to the new bridge weren’t complete. The road that connected to the house in the 1956 photo above would become the new Subway Street, which was turned to intersect and cross Emerson Avenue north of the old connection point.

1956 MapIndy aerial photograph with a 2020 overlay of then current conditions. This shows the driveway and the house, that would be removed when Subway Street was relocated with the building of the Emerson Avenue bridge north of Beech Grove.

The new ending of Subway Street would be at Fifth Avenue, instead of Second. Sections of the old Subway Street, from the new turn to Second Avenue, still exist to this day, almost 50 years later. And looking at the Google Map, or even MapIndy, will show that the property lines of the old Subway Street are still valid.

The railroad that created the town of Beech Grove is long gone. The Big Four became part of the New York Central, officially in 1930. The New York Central gave way, in 1968, to the Penn Central, which found the NYC merging with its long time rival the Pennsylvania. Soon after the creation of the National Passenger Rail Corporation, called Amtrak, there was a move to have Amtrak purchase the Beech Grove shops from Penn Central. This would happen in 1975.

A quick glance at the MapIndy property records leads to some confusing things, however. The property that the Amtrak shops is on does actually belong to the National Passenger Rail Corp. But it has to cross property that is still legally owned by the Penn Central Transportation Company. Now, I realize that the tangled web of property ownership and changing railroads can cause such things. But the property right next to it is owned by New York Central Lines LLC c/o CSX Transportation. As does most of the property north of the Amtrak Shops and south of the railroad mainline. The property records lead to a lot of fun reading. There are four different railroad companies legally listed as owners in that area: National Passenger Rail Corp.; CSX Transportation; New York Central Lines LLC (CSX); and Penn Central Corp (c/o C E Parker General Tax Agent Penn Central Trans Co, Chicago, Illinois). What’s strange is that all the property owned by the Penn Central is exempt from property tax.

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.

The Beginning, and End, of SR 534

As the Indiana State Highway Commission’s inventory of state roads was growing, the thought of putting a bypass around the city of Indianapolis hit the planning sheets. The original plan started appearing on official highway maps in 1932. But little would be done for almost a decade. In 1941, the start of a bypass road was contracted…and built. But there was more to it than just a section along the east side from Fort Harrison to Nora.

Yes, that’s right. From Fort Harrison to Nora. The original road that was started in 1941 followed 56th Street from Fort Harrison out to a new construction road along what was, and still is, the Shadeland corridor. At the time, it was Shadeland Road. But that corridor only ran from 10th Street to 56th Street, creating a dead end road north of 56th Street into the Woolen Gardens. A complete history of the road is available as “SR 100: How did it come to be?

The Indianapolis News, 24 July 1941
Legal notice for contract to build SR 534 from
56th Street to Castleton.

Things started happening on the bypass route in 1941, when the first contracts were let. As is typical of the ISHC at the time, the road was contracted separately from the bridges. The first contracts for the road were let in July 1941. The legal notices were published for the contract, as shown on the left. The bids were to be in the hands of the ISHC by 5 August 1941 at 10 AM Central Standard Time (the time zone Indianapolis was in at the time). The plan was for a reinforced concrete road surface north from 56th Street to the old state road that turned west along what is now 82nd Street.

The bridge over Fall Creek was let out for contract in September 1941, with the description “structure on State Road 534” details as a five span arch bridge “over Fall Creek, 2.7 Mi. North of Lawrence.” Those spans were to be, in order: one at 40 feet; three at 80 feet, and one at 40 feet. The bridge was to be of reinforced concrete arch design. Bids were to be at the ISHC by 10 AM CST on 7 October 1941.

The next leg of the road was published for contract in December 1941, with a due date of 16 December 1941. It was to include 4.578 miles of reinforced concrete from Nora to Castleton. (For the route prior to SR 534 construction, check out 82nd and 86th Street Before SR 534 (SR 100).) This would complete the first opened section of SR 534 in Indiana.

Then World War II started.

The Indianapolis News, of 21 December 1942, opined that the ISHC was in a holding pattern when it came to the building of the bypass road. The road was not mentioned by number, but the route was discussed. “One link, approaching Ft. Benjamin Harrison by way of Allisonville and Castleton, has been completed and is in use. The belt highway, discussed for years, will extend south, intersection Roads 40, 52 and 29, until it reaches the Thompson Road, where it will continue west, intersecting Roads 31, 37 and 67.” With the Shadeland Road corridor only extending as far as 10th Street, this would require the acquisition of right-of-way and building of four miles of new road from 10th Street to Troy Avenue/Southeastern Avenue/SR 29. South from here, the road was already in place as the Five Points Road.

“At Valley Mills it will turn north, crossing roads 40, 36 and 34, eventually intersecting Road 52, where it will join the northern east-and-west link that has been built.” This would put the road along the High School Road corridor on the west side. This would also include a state road that connected US 40 to the Indianapolis Municipal Airport. That state road was designated SR 100 when it was commissioned.

“The practical value of such a construction program has long been recognized, both for ordinary traffic and for commercial vehicles that will be enabled to by-pass Indianapolis without contributing to traffic congestion be traversing the downtown streets.”

The article concluded as follows: “A belt line around Indianapolis has been considered ever since the old days of the “Dandy Trail” when gravel roads were marked and motorists wore linen dusters. The successor to that trail is one of the numerous tasks that are being held in abeyance until the war is won.”

The designation of SR 534 would be applied to the east leg from Washington Street north to 82nd Street, then along the 82nd/86th Street corridor to SR 29, Michigan Road. In the summer of 1949, the following was published in the Indianapolis News: “Some of our highways are known by name as well as number. Thus the route called State Road 534 could be more easily found if you called it Shadeland Drive. This road, leading north from Road 40, east of Indianapolis, intersects with Roads 31, 431, 37, 52 and 29 and is part of what, some day, will be a belt line around the city. But what we started out to say is that on the new Indiana highway maps it is 534 no longer. The new number is 100.”

And with that, the ISHC removed one of the “daughters” of State Road 34, stretching the SR 100 designation from a short section of High School Road to the entire bypass. Or, at least, the sections that would be completed before it was entirely replaced by Interstate 465.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.