US 50 West from Aurora

Today, I want to focus on US 50 on the other side of the state. Yesterday, I covered the original US 50 from Vincennes to Wheatland. Today, the last eight miles heading into Aurora. When the Indiana State Highway Commission was created in 1917, the future US 50 was included…but not as a single road. From Mitchell north to Bedford, then east, it was original state road 4. From Mitchell west, it was original state road 5.

The other thing I want to look at it the location of the original road. Unless you have driven in that section of Indiana, it is hard to fathom the difficulty in building a road through southern Indiana. Most of the state is (relatively) flat. Along the Ohio River, not so much. As someone whose family came from Pennsylvania, I realize the sheer insanity of building a road where the land has to be followed…not plowed through.

In northern and central Indiana, most roads can be built in a straightish line. Obviously, there are hills one has to skirt, and rivers to cross. But most of the land is relatively flat. That ends about 40 miles south of Indianapolis. And abruptly. I am only going to use snippets from one map (and a quick Google map) for this post…that of the 1943 USGS Topographic Map of the Aurora, Indiana, quadrangle. I have made five snippets…one a complete overview, and the other four are basically two miles at a time. I will be going from east to west in this case.

I know this is hard to see. That is why I have broken it down into smaller chunks. But this gives the overview of the whole area. Consider that each of the brown lines on this map are 10 feet changes in elevation. This gives a whole new meaning to up and down, eh?

The original US 50 entered Aurora from the north on what is now Main Street. North of Hogan Creek, Google Maps lists it as George Street. Where George Street meets US 50 north of Aurora, US 50 pretty much follows the old path, for a while, on its way to Lawrenceburg. A turn west on Third Street, and following the old road is still possible. Another turn south on Bridgeway Street, then west on Fourth Street, then original US 50 leaves the small burgh of Aurora. Google Maps shows the old road as Conwell Street. Before it connects into the current US 50, it turns south on Indiana Avenue, still staying south and east of the current US highway.

The problem with following the old road from here is that it has been cut off from the rest of the highway system. Indiana Avenue, before it would connect to current US 50 again, it curves east away from its old path. The Google map snippet to the left shows a blue line where the old road crossed the area that is now US 50, changing from what is now Indiana Avenue into Trester Hill Road.

As you can see from the topo maps of before the new road was built, the frontier path, later state road, that became US 50 originally skirted the edges of the topographical lay of the land. Without looking closer, I can not tell if it is a valley or the top of the ridge that the old road follows. A look on Google Earth shows it may be a valley that the road is keeping to.

The last four miles that I will be covering in this entry are pretty much using the old road as it was created in the early to mid 1800’s. Yes, the road is that old. The area that the road follows is called the Mount Tabor Ridge on this map. And the old road tries to keep climbs and descends as small as possible. This made sense, since getting horses, or even worse, oxen, to climb a hill was a chore in itself. Now, add a wagon, or saddlebags, and it got worse. There are stories abound that tell of someone hurt, or worse, killed trying to traverse steep hills.

This map shows the end of today’s coverage area. Not that I don’t want to keep going west from here. The next topo map available is the Dillsboro quadrangle, but it is dated 1958.

Following the original US 50 through the area gives an idea of what was required when a road was commissioned to go from point A to point B. Just looking at this route shows why the first team that went into “the wild” when it came to building a road would be the surveyors. Of course, this has always been true, for any road built in history. It wouldn’t have been good to draw a straight line on a map and just told someone to build that straight line. Especially through the landscape of southern Indiana.

Vincennes: The Lincoln Memorial Bridge

Few people in American history hold a place as high as Abraham Lincoln. The Kentucky native that became the 16th President of the United States, also spent time living in Indiana before moving on to Illinois, where he would become famous throughout the nation. It was decided that a bridge, supposedly marking the spot where Lincoln crossed into Illinois, would be built to connect Indiana and Illinois. It became the Lincoln Memorial Bridge.

The George Rogers Clark Memorial was soon to be constructed in Vincennes. As part of that memorial, a celebration on 3 September 1933 to dedicate a new bridge at Vincennes connecting Indiana and Illinois were scheduled. The date chosen for the dedication of the bridge was the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Paris, bringing an end to the War for Independence and the creation of the United States of America as a separate country.

The Abraham Lincoln (George Rogers Clark) Memorial Bridge as shown in the Indianapolis News of 28 April 1934.

The bridge, when it was built, would carry US 50 across the Wabash from Vincennes, Indiana, to Lawrence County, Illinois. It would become a major link in that road for several decades. It would be a replacement of a bridge that spanned the Wabash from Main Street in Vincennes for many years.

The high approaches on the Indiana side were due to requirements by the War Department. The Munster, Indiana, Times of 17 July 1931 states that “rigid war department requirements forced the engineers to give the 1,850-foot bridge a clearance of 50 feet above the normal water level on the theory that some time navigation might be resumed in the Wabash.”

At one point, the plan of the city of Vincennes, and Knox County, was to build a boulevard between the George Rogers Clark Memorial and the Wabash River for the rerouting of US 41 along the new route. I am not sure if it was part of the plan, but Culbertson Boulevard runs from Main Street north to Hart Street between the railroad and the river. The US 41 idea never materialized.

In 1936, the bridge, as well as US 50, would be closed for one day. Sunday, 14 June 1936, would see the closing of US 50 in both Indiana and Illinois as the George Rogers Clark Memorial was dedicated at Vincennes. For four and half hours, detours of over 40 miles were in place as festivities were held to celebrate the GRC Historic Park dedication. Chief among those that would be on site would be President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Abraham Lincoln Memorial Bridge still stands today, almost 90 years after the concrete structure was built. Yes, US 50 has been rerouted around Vincennes. The bridge now serves as Indiana State Road 441. And, according to Google Maps, the same road number in Illinois, although on the ground, there are no such markers in place that I have ever seen.

Planning and Building I-65 in Southeast Jackson County

When the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 was made the law of the land, states throughout the United States started looking at how to cash in on the new superhighway plan. Rough routes had already been laid out. It was up to the states, more or less, to nail it down even more. While there were already sections of road that were going to be added to the new interstate system, I want to focus on one of the built from scratch sections that was planned. This section was so quick to be added to the highway system that it was announced in the Seymour Tribune on 14 February 1958. It would connect US 50 east of Seymour to Uniontown.

“Early Construction May Put New Road Near Here In Use Before Rest Of New Highway.” That was what the sub-headline read in the Tribune that day. Engineer for the Seymour District of the Indiana State Highway Commission, E. C. Willis, announced on that Valentines Day 1958 that the new superhighway, not mentioned by number in the article, was on the 1958 State construction plans.

According to the information put out by the ISHC, interchanges were to be built at US 50, just west of the then current US 31, and at SR 250, east of Uniontown. “This will permit the new stretch of the superhighway to be used between those two points before the remainder of the new limited access highway is completed.” The new highway would run roughly parallel to US 31, the major highway through the area.

“Survey parties of the state highway department still are working on staking the right of way for the proposed new road and one of them is now engaged between U. S. 50 and Kriete’s curve southeast of Seymour. Due to the deeply frozen condition of the ground from the recent continued near-zero temperatures, the survey party is encountering difficulties but is continuing its work with interruption for the extreme cold in order that the project can be rushed under this year’s schedule.”

The article goes on to state that right of way purchase at the Jeffersonville end of the new road had already begun.

Google Maps image of the area known as the Kriete Curve.

“The programming of the Uniontown-U.S. 50 stretch in the 1958 highway plans will permit the early construction of that section of the new road, which will include the utilization of the three sets of new dual-lane bridges south of the present Kriete curve, which have been under construction for some time and are about ready for use when a road is built to them.” I would assume from that statement that the state had already planned to move US 31 southeast of Seymour, and that bridges were already built pending completion of the road. With the creation of the interstate system, those bridges could be easily moved to the replacement highway, to be called Interstate 65. It is also safe to assume that the bridges in question crossed the Muscatatuck River, as shown in the Google Maps image.

The section of Interstate 65 in question was shown as under construction on the 1959 Indiana Official State Highway Map. It was shown as complete to a point north of SR 256 near Austin on the 1960 version of the same map. The same 1960 map shows completion of I-65 north from Jeffersonville to Underwood, with the section between Underwood and Austin under construction.

The Status of Indiana Road Building, 1928

Within the first decade of the second creation of the Indiana State Highway Commission, the state found itself building, maintaining and upgrading roads at a furious pace. Up to that point, the ISHC was taking over roads slowly. This also meant that paving of those roads was slowly creeping forward. But 1928 saw the biggest improvement in state highways to that time. The Indianapolis Star of 16 January 1929 had an entire section called the “Good Roads Review” that covered the feat.

After the passing of the second ISHC act in 1919, the state started adding to the highway system as it could. A limiting factor, at the time, was money. The ISHC finances were slow in coming together. But it was also important to hold to the mandate of connecting the seats of government for each of the 92 Indiana counties to each other via state highways. A program of road and bridge building was pushed by Governor Harry Leslie in 1928. To that end, the ISHC was hoping for a large infusion of money to further the program, and to put Indiana on par with its neighbors when it came to good quality roads. Governor Leslie addressed the General Assembly to pass a bill to give the ISHC an additional 5 to 6 million dollars for the goal.

At the time, the state highway system consisted of 5,000 miles of roads, 2,800 of which were still in need of improvement. Most state highways at the time were gravel. But maintenance costs were skyrocketing due to major increases in traffic. This led the ISHC to believe that paving, instead of maintaining, these roads was both more cost effective and beneficial to the motorist of the Hoosier State.

At the close of the 1928 fiscal year, Indiana had improved 1,060.1 miles of its Federal aid highway system. Most of that was spent towards paving the roads, not just maintaining them. To put it into perspective, Indiana had 4,701.5 miles of Federal aid roads at the end of the same fiscal year. That meant that only 22.5 percent of those road had been improved. This put Indiana 31st in the Union when it came to the mileage of those roads. Most other states were gravelling roads as Indiana was pushing concrete road surfaces. Texas, for example, had completed as much as 50% of their Federal aid roads, much of that in gravel.

The government of the state had placed a higher priority on the “more bang for the buck” idea of infrastructure improvements. This stemmed from when the state would just throw money at projects, and almost had to file for bankruptcy. That in turn led to the Indiana Constitution of 1851, which forced financial responsibility on the government.

But that didn’t help Indiana in the sheer numbers of paved mileage. Illinois and Michigan both had 6,000 miles of paved road. Ohio had 11,000. Kentucky, at the end of 1928, had 4,000.

The plan for 1929 called for 220 miles of paved roads to be added to the state highway system. The Star listed those projects in the collection of articles. US 24 (called State Road 24 in the newspaper – there is no difference, really) would have 75 miles of paving done in 1929: 35 miles between Monticello and Huntington; and 40 miles at the eastern end of the road. US 50 between Vincennes and Aurora would add 50 miles of pavement. SR 29 between Greensburg and Shelbyville, 27 miles, would also get the same treatment. Another planned project was 27 miles of SR 37 between Bloomington and Bedford.

Two gaps in US 27 between Fort Wayne and Richmond would be completed during the summer of 1929. One, a 12 mile stretch north of Winchester. The other, 10 miles south of Berne. SR 16 was planned for 15 miles of paving between Rensselaer and Remington. The last project listed included US 150, with about two miles near West Baden on the list.

Dec 1917: Main Market Roads Officially Announced

When the law creating the Indiana State Highway Commission was passed in early 1917, the announcement was also made that there were would five main market highways, later known as state roads, designated by that commission. There was a general idea of which roads would be involved, bot nothing set in stone. That is, until December 1917.

The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette of 12 December 1917 announced the selection of the new main market highways. ISHC officials traveled throughout the state deciding which roads would be part of the new, and yet controversial, system. “A former election of four of the five routes was tentative, and although the general directions of the four roads announced formerly have been adhered to in the official selection, many changes have been made.”

The plan was to create a system which was typical of Indiana’s general demeanor: serve as many people as possible with as little cost and intrusion as possible. Due to the shape of the state of Indiana, it was decided that there would be three roads crossing the state, west to east, from the Illinois state line to the Ohio state line. One north-south road would be designated through the middle of the state. This was the basis of the first four main market roads. A fifth road would connect the fourth road to the Illinois state line in the southern part of the state. The December 1917 system included roughly 800 miles of roads.

The main market highways were officially described as follows: “No. 1. The highway beginning at the Indiana and Michigan state line, thence southerly through South Bend, Plymouth, Rochester, Peru, Kokomo, Westfield, Carmel, Indianapolis, Franklin, Columbus, Seymour, Scottsburg, Sellersburg, New Albany and Jeffersonville.” In the Auto Trail era, there was no one highway this route followed. It seems that it was planned very early to have a split in the highway at the south end, with one branch going to New Albany, and one going to Jeffersonville. And although the route numbers have changed, that split has existed in one form or another since that time.

Main Market Road #2: “The highway passing through the northern part of the state, beginning, at the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Dyer, Valparaiso, Laporte, South Bend, Goshen and Fort Wayne via the Lincoln Highway to the Ohio and Indiana state line.” Depending on how one reads that, it could be that the Lincoln Highway was only used from Fort Wayne to the Ohio state line. This is far from true. It was decided that the entire original route of the Lincoln Highway through the state would be used for Road #2.

Main Market Road #3: “The highway crossing the central part of the state, commonly called the old national road trail, beginning at the corner of the Illinois and Indiana state line, thence easterly through Terre Haute, Brazil, Putnamville, Plainfield, Indianapolis, Greenfield, Knightstown, Cambridge City and Richmond to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #4: “The road crossing the southern part of the state, beginning at Evansville, thence easterly through Boonville, Huntingburg, Jasper, West Baden, Paoli, Mitchell, Bedford, Seymour, North Vernon, Versailles, Dillsboro, Aurora and Lawrenceburg to the Ohio and Indiana state line.”

Main Market Road #5: “The road connecting Vincennes and Mitchell, via Wheatland, Washington, Loogootee and Shoals.” Basically, this road was designated to connect main market road 4 to Vincennes. Again, this is due to the shape of the state. A (more or less) straight line across Indiana from Cincinnati west would, as is shown by the route of the current US 50, connect to Vincennes, leaving people south of there without a main market road. Evansville was, and still is, one of the top five largest cities in the state, population wise. So ignoring that city would not have been possible.

The article ends with the following: “The total mileage of the roads represents less than one-half of the total 2,000 miles of ‘main market highways’ which the commission may designate under the new state highway commission law prior to 1921.” The law that passed in 1917 created a state highway system so that Indiana could benefit from federal money for good roads. It wasn’t until the law was redone in 1919, with all of the 1917 law’s Constitutional questions answered, that the Indiana State Highway System was officially made part of the landscape.

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.