The Beginnings of Interstate 70 in Indiana

When I was younger, before I really started getting into becoming a road geek, the only road that I could tell you anything about was Interstate 70. It was the first one that I could remember. This was because I spent, at least in the back seat of the car, a LOT of time on that road. It was the first road that I remember learning things like exit signs and mileage markers. My family is from Pennsylvania. I describe getting to my ancestor’s location as driving on I-70 to the end, and keep going. (The end being New Stanton, PA. I-70 changes into US 119 there.) But, this is an Indiana Transportation History blog, not a history discussion about me.

Interstate 70 has been voted by some YouTubers the greatest of the cross-country interstates. The first newspaper reference that I have found about it came from the Muncie Star Press of 29 November 1957. The Headline read: “‘Interstate 70’ Name of New Highway.” The story went on to state “Federal Interstate Highway 70 is the name officially chosen for the projected New York-to-St. Louis federal super-highway that is to follow a course roughly parallel to U.S. 40. Its marked will be a shield with a red, blue and white background carrying the word Interstate across the top, the word Indiana at the bottom and in the center the figure 70.”

The National Road Traveler of Cambridge City reported, on 27 March 1958, that the Indiana Farm Bureau met with about 150 Henry County farmers to explain the rights of property owners along the new route. “The right-of-way for Interstate 70 will be 300 feet, which amounts to about 30 acres per mile.” The farmers were told that when considering the value of the property, keep in mind everything there – buildings, wells, septic tanks, fences and the cost of the land.

When the decision was being made about where to locate Interstate 70, there were a lot of things in play. Believe it or not, there were financial things taken into consideration. The plan was to put I-70 from 1.75 to 2 miles north of U.S. 40 According to the Tri-County Banner, Knightstown, of 6 February 1958, “highway engineers believe that the corridor between the two highways would be wide enough to constitute valuable industrial and business sites, conveniently located to rail as well as highway facilities.” Yes, you read that right. The location of railroad facilities was considered, at least in Indiana, for the location of the interstate.

Another thing mentioned in this article is that the plan was to try to use section lines as much as possible. Given the information put out, it would put the interstate, according to the newspaper, south of Spiceland. This would be located south of the Central School in the area. But the section line actually ran along the south edge of Spiceland, and through the school itself. That section line is located 2.5 miles north of U.S. 40. “Survey crews are already at work north of Richmond and it has been announced that the proposed highway will be slightly more than 2.6 miles north of U.S. 40 at Centerville, but will then swing slightly southward. The road will leave Wayne county about two miles north of U.S. 40 at Cambridge City.”

The Richmond Palladium-Item of 18 December 1958 reported “Record-Breaking Road Plan Includes Bypass.” The Chairman of the Indiana State Highway Commission was interviewed about the pending project. Chairman John Peters mentioned that the bids for the I-70 project at Richmond would be taken in March 1959. Right-of-way purchasing would also be started in early 1959. He also mentioned that three changes in the routing of the bypass, at the request of residents of both Richmond and Wayne County, have delayed the project for about a year.

This is just a small snippet of what went into creating Interstate 70 across, at least, eastern Indiana. At some point, I will be covering western Indiana. And the other interstates in the state.

West Marion County and I-465

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is images.jpg

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.

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

1910: The National Road West of Indianapolis

Today, I want to show some map snippets of the National Road, and its replacement sections, as of 1910. Now, there is a small problem with this. The maps that I am going to use here are from the United States Postal Service from 1910. And while they are available from the Indiana State Library online, there are two that are noticeably absent from the collection: Clay and Marion Counties.

Marion County is easy to deal with. There are so many historic maps of Marion County available on the web that if I really wanted to, I could get something to cover the area. Clay County is an entirely different story. That is going to take some work.

Many people, today, are used to the straight ribbon of asphalt and concrete that is US 40 through Indiana. But that wasn’t the case when the road was created in the 1830’s. As was the standard operating procedure at the time, roads were built as straight as they could be. There was no heavy machinery to move a hill, or flatten a valley, in the early to mid 1800’s. Surveyors were extremely important at that time, to get the best road possible. If it could come in using less materials, and more importantly, less money, so be it. Most bridges across streams along the way crossed at a right angle to the stream. This was to make the bridge both safer and less expensive.

The hilly terrain of the area southwest of Indianapolis made the National Road surveyors a bit of hassle, as well. Hence, the relatively straight road that we know today was a lot of work and bending the old road into shape…and out of existence. The following maps show the road as it was in 1910. I wanted to give a comparison map from USGS maps…but the earliest available at this time is 1941, meaning that the road has already been replaced in most areas. And looking at Google Maps, there are very few sections that still exist of the original road that was replaced. But, I hope that these maps will start your own research into the original federal highway.

1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Vigo County west of the Wabash River.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Eastern Vigo County.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Western Putnam County.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Eastern Putnam County.

The map above shows the Reelsville bypass of the original National Road. I covered it in the article “National Road at Reelsville.”

1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Western Hendricks County.
1910 USPS Map of Rural Delivery Routes in Eastern Hendricks County.

National Road Through Richmond

When the National Road was surveyed through Indiana, it had the distinct honor of being one of the straightest roads in the state…another being the Michigan Road. This was on purpose. Most roads through the state were built around whatever was in the way. Very few roads were built for getting from point a to point b in the quickest way possible. That was left to the state to buy the property necessary to do that.

One notable exception is through Richmond.

The area around Richmond started being settled around 1806. By the time the National Road surveyors got there in the early 1830’s, the town had already been established. And in the way of the nearly straight as a board road coming from the Ohio capital of Columbus. So when the road got to Richmond, it made sense to run it straight down Main Street. And that’s what happened.

However, on the west bank of the Whitewater River, upon which Richmond sits, the continuation of the straight line from Ohio would be continued. This would mean that the road would actually start again south of its location through Richmond. One block south, as a matter of fact. This led to the layout of Richmond, and the road, as shown in the following 1840 map snippet.

On this map, it is labeled Cumberland Road.

As you can see, the Cumberland Road is opposite Walnut Street on the west side of the Whitewater River. That would be South A Street today. The name change of the streets would occur sometime before 1893, as shown in the 1893 snippet below.

The National Road bridge over the Whitewater River would be built in the location shown on the first two snippets in 1832. The same bridge served residents of Wayne County and travelers on the National Road for 65 years. News reports across the state were reporting that deconstruction of the bridge would occur in August 1897. (Source: Muncie Evening Press, 13 August 1897) It was reported in the source newspaper that “the work of removing the old National road bridge at Richmond, Ind., will begin next week.”

The slight variations in the location of the bridge between the 1840 and 1893 maps are just that, slight variations and could be attributed to slight errors. A measurement here or there could change the map by a few feet…which looks like the case here. Another map, this time from 1853, shows the same area, more like the 1840 map than the 1893 variety.

The original structure was a very large affair…at least for that time. It was easily as large as the National Road bridge at Indianapolis. The Richmond Palladium-Item of 21 October 1962 did an article on a painter from Centerville that had done two paintings of the old bridge. A picture from the article is below.

Another view drawn of the bridge was published in 1911 in Century Magazine. It would accompany an article about the old bridge written by a Richmond native. That drawing is shown to the left.

In 1916, it was reported in the Cambridge City Tribune of 3 February 1916, that “the total cost of the construction of the temporary bridge across Whitewater at the location of the old National road bridge at Richmond was $4,895, of which the county, city and traction company each pay one-third, or $1,798.” I can find no news story about why a temporary crossing of the river was necessary.

The original route, more or less, of the National Road through Richmond would become Main Market Road 3 in 1917. That designation would be changed to State Road 3 in 1919. The slight difference would be on the west side of the river, where the state road followed First Street, not the river, to travel between Main Street and National Road. By this time, a third bridge over the Whitewater River was serving as the facility to cross that wide gorge. On 1 October 1926, SR 3 would be forever changed to US 40.

1962 USGS Topo map of US 40 through Richmond.

In 1998, INDOT decided to build a new bridge across the river, and reroute the old National Road/US 40 through the city of Richmond. This would put the road on its current path through the city, leaving Main Street out of the mix, at least west of 11th Street, as the major thoroughfare for the first time in almost 200 years. The city of Richmond took over the then abandoned route of US 40, creating a more plaza like environment along the historic street.

The new US 40 bridge that was completed in 2000 was advertised as the fourth bridge to serve as the National Road crossing of the Whitewater. I suppose, in a way, this is true. However, the historic crossing was closer to Main Street, which still has a bridge facility across the wide gorge. Not that I have heard arguments over the issue, it is one that road geeks and historians (or, in my case, both) will probably be discussing for years to come.

SR 67 in Northeast Marion County

When the Great Renumbering occurred on 1 October 1926, the number 67 was assigned to the Pendleton Pike connecting Indianapolis to Pendleton, through Lawrence and Oaklandon. This would be part of the greater State Road 67 stretching from Vincennes to Muncie…and later to the Ohio State Line. But the route in Indianapolis, and northeast Marion County, would carry the road along Massachusetts Avenue to the city limits, where the name would change to Pendleton Pike.

One of the first changes would involve the adding of US 36 to the same path. Although US 36 is higher in priority, most of the businesses along the old route kept the “67” as part of their names if it included it. As a matter of fact, I find it hard to believe that even today, there are no businesses along that road that include the number “36,” at least as I can recall. But there is a Motel 6t7…with a US route shield shaped sign…as shown to the left.

Changes were being planned for the road in 1933, when it was decided that SR 67 (and as a result, US 36) would be three laned from Indianapolis to Anderson. This would result in a change in the historic path of the Pendleton Pike from northeast of the then town of Lawrence to just south of Pendleton. In Oaklandon, for instance, the old SR 67 followed the current path of Pendleton Pike to what is now Oaklandon Road (formerly Germantown Road, named after the village that is now currently under water in Geist Reservoir at the Marion-Hamilton County line). The road then went north on Germantown (Oaklandon) to Broadway, turning northeast on that street. The old connection between Broadway (old SR 67) and the current Pendleton Pike (US 36/SR 67) still can be seen northeast of Oaklandon.

In 1935, the State Highway Commission decided that the number of miles inside the City of Indianapolis that it had to maintain would best be served if the number was lower. At the time, most of the northern city limit was at 38th Street, the dividing line between the middle tier and northern tier of townships. Where the Pendleton Pike now ends, at 38th Street west of Shadeland, was where the city ended at that point in history.

A bridge contract was let to Edward F. Smith to build a five span, 217 foot long bridge over the Big Four Railroad along 38th Street west of the intersection with SR 67, which was Massachusetts Avenue/Pendleton Pike. The bridge, in 1935, cost $143,825.01. The Indianapolis News of 25 May 1935 states that “Thirty-eighth street, with this and other contemplated improvements, is to become State Road 67. Construction will start in a few days and is scheduled to be completed by November 15.” Plans to move SR 67 to the 38th Street corridor were mentioned in newspapers as far back as June 1933, when plans for a new Fall Creek bridge on 38th Street, near the State Fair Grounds, were in the works.

While construction was going on between Indianapolis and Anderson in 1935, the official detour route had changed in late June. The original detour involved taking US 40 to Greenfield, then north on SR 9 to Pendleton. The new official detour recommended using SR 13 (became SR 37, now Allisonville Road) to SR 32 in Noblesville, then SR 32 to Anderson. This was recommended over the SR 38 route to Pendleton since SR 32 was a hard surface road, and large section of the newly added SR 38 were still gravel.

By 1937, SR 67 would find itself skirting Indianapolis, at least on the north side, along 38th Street. The old SR 67, Massachusetts Avenue, would find itself labelled SR 367. The three lane project between Indianapolis and Anderson would be completed, and Oaklandon would find itself bypassed by one of the two transportation facilities that made it possible. Now, most of what is left of SR 67 on the northeast side of Marion County (Pendleton Pike from I-465 east) is at least five lanes wide…but quite a bit of it is seven.

Indianapolis’ West Washington Street

It goes without saying that Washington Street in Indianapolis has always been an important facility. Since 1821, when the town of Indianapolis was platted, Washington Street has had a prominent role in the expansion of the city. When the National Road came to Indiana, it followed that same town path through the fledging Hoosier Capital. But today, I am going to fast forward into the 20th century to discuss how it became a major concrete ribbon through town, at least on the westside of Indianapolis.

No matter how important Washington Street was to the city, it had, at least outside of downtown, been not much more than what we would call two lanes wide for the first half of its life. With the coming of the automobile, these old narrow cow paths were going to have to be put on a path to make them usable by more people at a time. Way back in the middle 19th century there were discussions, heated at times, about the width of sidewalks on the street, since only the center was covered with gravel for traveling.

The Indiana State Highway Commission decided that the National Road would be part of the state highway system. This, one would think, would automatically include West Washington Street. It didn’t. It just so happened that Washington Street made a direct connection between SR 3 (US 40) both east and west of the city. But Washington Street was still a city street.

In 1937, there was some talk about the Board of Works and Sanitation of the City of Indianapolis widening West Washington Street from White River west to the city limits…at that time near Tibbs Avenue. That plan was in the works, but there was one project approved for the area: widening of Washington Street between Traub and Tremont Avenues, in front of George Washington High School.

The Indianapolis News of 16 January 1937 ran a full page story about the history and pending expansion of West Washington Street. That article mentioned that the widening of the street in front of Washington High School would allow for the creation of safety islands for students trying to cross the busy thoroughfare. West of the city limits, the old National Road, by that time US 40, was already four lanes wide. Through the city itself was a bottle neck.

But the plan never got off the ground. That same year, the General Assembly passed legislation that would remove Washington Street from city control and give it to the State Highway Commission. This would make any widening of the road a state project, no longer a city problem. While the city could ask for something to be done, the state would be the ones to do it. And the wheels of progress sometime work very slowly at the state level.

Fast forward a decade, or so. “The State Highway Commission will receive a recommendation for the rebuilding of 2.1 miles of West Washington Street between White River and Eagle Creek.” So states the Indianapolis News of 20 May 1948. Three months, at that time, had been spent on surveys to figure out exactly how to widening the old National Road.

The end point to the west is important to note here. Around 1937, a new bridge was built by the State Highway Commission to carry US 40 and US 36 across Eagle Creek. This new bridge would be built north of the old structure, and would also entail moving the intersection of Washington Street and Rockville Road (US 40 and US 36 respectively).

MapIndy aerial photograph of the intersection of Washington Street and Rockville Road, 1937.

The 1948 project would include widening West Washington Street to 60 feet wide. That included four 11 foot wide travel lanes, two in each direction, and two eight foot parking strips (one on each side). The then current road surface, consisting of brick and blacktop, would be completely removed and replaced with concrete. New sidewalks were also part of the project.

There was to be a one block gap in the project, however, due to a planning and construction question. The plans included an underpass, allowing Washington Street to go under the Indianapolis Belt Railway at Neal Street. State Engineer of Road Design, William H. Behrens, recommended that such an underpass be postponed until construction costs could come down. “He said he favors a gap of 1 block in the new construction at this point.”

A spokesman for the Indianapolis Railways stated that when the construction was underway, the company would remove its unused streetcar tracks from Washington Street from the car barns near White River (where the Indianapolis Zoo is now) to a point 100 feet west of Tibbs Avenue.

The News pointed out that “the State Highway Commission has charge of the project because Washington Street is part of Roads 40 and 36. It is also part of the old National Road.”

Indianapolis Star, 19 August 1951.

The next reference I have found to the expansion of West Washington Street, I will let speak for itself. It is the news story from the Indianapolis Star of 19 August 1951 shown above. Apparently, this was the second annual party to celebrate the completion of the 1948 project.

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.

The Building of I-465

The building of the Indianapolis bypass, Interstate 465, involved a lot of pieces to fall together. Property acquisition was a big part of that. Then came the money involved in building the interstate in the first place.

The Indianapolis News, on 14 December 1959, published the above photograph showing the first section of Interstate 465 to be built. It was already under construction when the article was published. Two contracts, on for the 46th Street overpass ($149,968.03) and the 56th Street overpass ($168,178.51) had already been signed. It is mentioned in the caption that “design work hasn’t been completed on the Interstate 64-465 cloverleaf interchange, although a $582,836.95 bid has been received for part of the work.” One wonders where that cloverleaf might have been.

Even before that, it was announced in the Indianapolis News of 30 April 1959 that the contract had been let for the grade separation (bridge) for 34th Street over the new interstate. What is of particular note is the line “over west leg of new Ind. 100, to be renumbered Interstate 465.”

Late 1962 would be the planned bidding date for a contract to build a new interchange in the already completed northwest leg of I-465. At the time, 38th Street was being extended and improved across northwestern Marion County. It was decided by the Highway Commission to create a diamond interchange where 38th Street crossed over I-465. At the time, there were no interchanges on the northwest side between I-74/US 136 and I-65.

Indianapolis News, 08 August 1962, showing progress on I-465 construction through Beech Grove.

The end of November, 1962, saw the announcement of a $3,197,216.11 contract to build the interstate from Meridian Street to Carson Avenue on the south side of Marion County. This contract was let on the same day they were opened. This was to allow for quicker construction of the bypass. Also, this was to give the contractor as much time as possible to complete construction before the deadline on December 1963. The 2.3 miles of new road and five bridges involved in this section of interstate would bring the highway to almost the pending interchange at I-65.

Another contract had to be let in this section when it was realized that the banks of Lick Creek, with the interstate built on both sides near Carson Avenue, had to be reinforced. To the tune of $298,014.40. The creek, as of 21 April 1964, had eroded its bank the previous winter requiring the building of additional slope walls and revetments to keep the creek where it belonged between the two directions of I-465.

In 1963, a contract bid to build the large interchange on the south side of Marion County between I-65 and I-465 was one of the bigger contracts. The project involved eight bridges and two miles of pavement to connect two of the sections that were already under construction or completed. The low bid on that particular contract was $3,507,672.18 by McMahan Construction Company of Rochester and R. L. Schutt Construction Company of Indianapolis. This bid was announced publicly on 20 April 1963.

Indianapolis News, 24 July 1967, showing the construction progress of the 56th Street bridge over (future) I-465.

The first contract to be opened up after the Fall 1964 completion of I-465 between I-74 and SR 100 (Shadeland Avenue) was the bidding, starting 25 May 1965, of a single bridge over US 52 (Brookville Road) and the Baltimore & Ohio railroad tracks on the southeast side of the county. This contract, and the rest of them connecting I-74 to US 40 on the east side had been on hold due to right-of-way difficulties. Norman F. Schafer, executive director of the State Highway Commission, commented that the summer of 1965 would be the first time in more than four years that no major construction was underway on the beltway.

Indianapolis News, 24 August 1967. Construction underway on the north leg…and a proposed SR 100 connecting the west leg at I-65 to the north leg west of Zionsville Road. This section would be built as SR 100, but like the rest of the route, would become part of I-465, causing confusion for over two decades with the “dog leg.”

The north and northeast legs of I-465 would be the hardest to complete. So much so that in July 1968, the Noblesville Ledger ran photos of the construction of the interstate through the small section of Hamilton County through which it passes. It is mentioned that the “State Highway Department schedules call for ‘phasing out’ I-465 construction from it western link with I-65 east to White River by the first winter freeze. However, I-164 from just north of Fall Creek northwest to White River will not start this year.” I would share the photos from that newspaper, but they are very dark and hard to see.

Indianapolis News, 17 March 1960. Proposed new route for the north leg of I-465 through Boone and Hamilton Counties.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one “might have been” on this entry. I found this map of another proposal for the north leg of the bypass. On 30 Janaury 2020, I wrote “Alternate Routes for I-465 on North Side of Indianapolis,” but didn’t find this map. I thought it appropriate to share it here.

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.

Interstate 70 Tidbits

Indiana is the home to four major interstates. Two of those share a route across northern Indiana mainly due to geography. (Let’s face it, Lake Michigan is one of those things that is kind of hard to miss.) The other two connect Indianapolis to St. Louis, Chicago, Louisville, and Columbus, Ohio. Today, I want to focus on little newspaper items that I found concerning the main east-west route labelled as Interstate 70.

The plan in Indiana, as approved by the Federal Bureau of Public Roads, had I-70 being a parallel route to US 40. This would be the case through most of the eastern United States.

According to Indiana state law at the time, the Indiana State Highway Commission was required to publish annually its construction plans for the following two years. While most of the projects would be built, some were placeholders and pipe dreams that still, even to this day, never seemed to appear on any official maps. It should be noted that the plans run from 1 July to 1 July, and are subject to change along the way. And, any project after the ending 1 July (in this case 1965) would be on the following two year plan (in this case, 1965-1967).

In the post “State Highway Department Construction Plans for 1963-1965,” I mentioned I-69 and I-74. One interstate highway left off the original two year plan was I-70. The Jasper Herald of 14 November 1961 mentioned that “there was no Interstate 70 construction in the program.” State Highway Commission Chairman David Cohen mentioned that “the problem is, the route is not approved.” However, engineering work on the route would be conducted during that two year plan. 108 miles of I-70 in all the counties that it would be built would be part of the preliminary engineering projects for the 1963-1965 plan.

One of the projects that came to be with the building of I-70 was a replacement for SR 1. The Highway Commission decided to move SR 1 two miles to the east. At the time, SR 1 entered Cambridge City using Boyd Road and Center Street. It left Cambridge City on Dale Avenue at the west end of the town. The state’s new plan was to move SR 1 due north from Milton, removing the road from Boyd Road and Center Street.

The National Road Traveler (Cambridge City) of 10 June 1965 reported that the ISHC would open bids for paving of the newly constructed Interstate 70 from New Lisbon to its end, at the time, east of Cambridge City. The newspaper reported lamented that an oft used county road would be dead ended at the new interstate highway. Cambridge Road, which leaves Cambridge City as Lincoln Drive, would not have a bridge over the highway. This decision was made by the federal Bureau of Public Roads. What would become Old SR 1 and the New SR 1 would cross I-70. But Cambridge Road, being a mile between each, would not. “A bridge for East Cambridge Road would be the third span in the two-mile stretch between new and old Indiana 1 and would be a waste of funds.”

The Muncie Star Press reported on 28 April 1965 that a contract had been let to Rieth-Riley Construction Company for $2,920,987.69 to build the interstate from south of Mohawk east to 1/2 mile west of SR 209. This included three bridges: SR 13 northwest of Greenfield, SR 9 north of Greenfield, and Brandywine Creek northeast of Greenfield. The traffic disaster that would occur near the Hancock County seat was covered 20 April 2019 in an article “I-70 in Greenfield.”

The 1965-1967 two year plan, according to the Muncie Star Press of 18 October 1962, included a grand total of 21.4 miles of Interstate 70 construction. This only included sections in Henry County, and entering Wayne County. But it involved not only building the road, but also constructing 25 bridges in that section.

The 1971-1973 plan, as reported on 26 June 1971 in the Richmond Palladium-Item, included 5.8 miles of Interstate 70 in Marion County: Belmont Avenue to River Avenue (0.9 mile); south leg of the inner belt (1.5 miles); and from what is now called the North Split to Emerson Avenue (3.4 miles).

Indianapolis News, 15 July 1975.
Indianapolis News, 9 January 1975

Indianapolis and the Original ISHC State Road System

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

National Road Tidbits

Over the long history of what was the National Road, there are tons of stories told. Tales of lives, tolls, decisions, and other things that have been basically lost to history.

A brief history of the road screams to be told. President Thomas Jefferson signed the law creating the Cumberland, or National, Road on 29 March 1806. The commission that charted the road decided that Braddock’s Road would be followed from Cumberland, MD, to Brownsville, PA. Pennsylvania only approved the road if it would pass through Uniontown and Washington, PA. So, the road followed a native american trail from Brownsville to Washington. From there, the road was was to go to either Wheeling, VA (now WV) or Steubenville, OH. Wheeling won after some influence of Henry Clay.

It would not be until 3 March 1825 that the Congress gave the green light to extension of this road. Appropriations were outlaid to build the road to Zanesville, OH, and survey the route through the capital cities of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. By 1832, the National Road reached the Indiana-Ohio State Line. (An astute reader now asks the question why the National Road doesn’t connect to Springfield, IL. Well, the capital of Illinois at the time was Vandalia, which is one the National Road. Springfield became the capital in 1839.) Hence, the history of the building of the National Road…in shortcut fashion.

But local stories abound when it comes to the road. For instance, in Richmond, according to the Richmond Paladium-Item of 2 October 1910, “Main street turns near Ninth and makes a slight curve towards the northwest. One hundred years ago there was a large mud puddle north of Main street and when the National road was constructed the contractors built it around the puddle. Main street retained the curve.”

The National Road would also be the site of a County Seat War in Wayne County. Wayne County’s government had been located in Centerville since it was legally moved from Salisbury with an act of 21 December 1916. (The last meeting of county commissioners was held at Salisbury in August, 1817. [Indiana Boundaries: Territory, State and County, available on ancestry.com]) Later, a Wayne County courthouse was built in Richmond. Richmond officials went to Centerville to move the government. Centerville refused. The Richmond interests actually used cannon fire in the effort to move the county seat from Centerville to Richmond. According to the Plymouth Weekly Republican of 24 December 1874, the United States Supreme Court, with a unanimous decision, ended the county seat war in favor of Richmond. “The struggle between Richmond and Centerville has been protracted nearly two years.”

On 3 May 1919, the Indianapolis News published a story about the conditions and construction of the National Road through Indiana from the perspective of “caravans of motor lorries during war.” Very little of the old road was improved at the time of World War I. While most of the wartime traffic occurred by railroad, quite a bit went by truck. Very few roads at the time were improved, making travel no better than it had been for years. And, with the increase in truck traffic, the “Famous Old Highway Has Gone to Wreck – Miles of Hard Going Are to Be Found Along the Indiana Link of the Road Between Richmond and Terre Haute.”

The story of a couple of farmers in Wayne County is also worth mentioning. On the old road, west of Richmond, lived a man and woman “around which is woven one of the first romances of the National road in Indiana.” The story of their romance isn’t covered, being that it “does not concern us here.” Anyway, they bought a farm and became successful. However, a toll gate was built not far from their farm, requiring a toll to be paid to reach Richmond. They objected to this toll, to the point of building a road, on their property, around the toll gate.

With the National Road came the tavern. There were numerous taverns built along the way. Keep in mind that a tavern, at the time, included anything that a traveler needed to rest: food, drink, beds, and stables. One of the things reasons that US 40 is such a slow route across Indiana is the tavern. Towns sprung up around the tavern. Towns were placed at convenient intervals depending on the distance one could travel in a day. In the motoring era, these “convenient intervals” led to the motor hotel, or motel. In the four miles that I travel the National Road daily, from Cumberland to I-465, there are still three motel buildings in existence. I remember many more that have been demolished over the 50+ years that I have been alive.

In Indianapolis, the last vestiges of the National Road in downtown survived into the 20th century. Early in the century, the old National Road bridge, a covered bridge that originally carried the National Road over the White River, was finally removed. That bridge had been in place for over 70 years, although most traffic, at that point, had been using the Washington Street bridge. It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that the original road, called Washington Avenue, was removed. Today, a walking path has been built along the path of the old road.

Over the 180+ years of the National Road in Indiana, there have been many lives affected. Their stories are out there. I hope to find more of them in the future.

Indianapolis: Crossroads City

Originally published 24 March 2015.

When the Good Roads Movement started in the late 19th century, the primary focus was on, more or less, two things: bicycle transportation and mail delivery. Cars came later into the discussion.

Indianapolis was already a crossroads city. Unfortunately, most of that was eclipsed by being a major crossroads in the world of railroads. While you could get to the city using the trails at the time, Indianapolis really took off when the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad came to town. And to be honest, Indianapolis WAS a town until the railroad was built. 1847 not only marked the coming of the M&I, but the incorporation of the City of Indianapolis.

When the named highways started appearing on the scene, they naturally followed the paths that were already there. The major roads into Indianapolis became a hodge-podge of named routes linking the city to far away destinations.

But what WERE those roads before they became the Dixie, or the Jackson, or any other of the names. That is the purpose of this post.

The National Old Trails Road for 80 years had a shorter name here: the National Road. For those that don’t know, the National Road was built along its route to connect the (then) capital cities of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. (The irony is that there STILL is a road to connect Indianapolis to the now capital of Illinois, it’s just not US 40, it’s US 36).

Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean: The original route from the west connects Indianapolis to Springfield, IL. (See above.) It came into town as the Rockville Road, leaving as the National Road to the east.

Dixie Highway: One route entered from the west along the Crawfordsville Road. The other route entered from the north along Indiana’s first state road, the Michigan Road. One route left the city along the Bluff Road (named for going to the bluffs of the White River at Waverly), the other, again, followed the National Road towards Richmond.

Jackson Highway: Entered from the northwest along the Lafayette Road, left southeast along the Madison Road.

Hoosier Highway: Entered from the northeast along the Oaklandon Turnpike (changed and shortened to Pendleton Pike), left southwest via the Mooresville Road.

Hill & Lake Trail: Entered from the north along the Fort Wayne (Allisonville) Road, left via the Three Notch Road.

Range Line: Entered from the north along the Range Line (Westfield) road, left south via the Madison road.

Some of you may notice that road names are still the same in some cases.

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.