Indiana has been considered the “Crossroads of America” for a very long time. This moniker was cemented for all time when, in 1926, the United States Highway system was established.
In the original US highway scheme of things, all major cross-country east-west routes end in “0.” This can be seen when looking at a map of the United States. Starting in the north with US 10, migrating to the south with US 90. Indiana, given its place in the country, ended up with more than its share of “0” highways. Look at it: Indiana has US 20, US 30, US 40 and US 50. A quick glance at northern Kentucky will show that US 60 is just outside the state.
The major north-south routes all ended in “1.” Indiana has both US 31 and US 41. The difference in the north-south major routes is that they were numbered from US 1 on the east coast to US 101 on the west coast. The next majors are further away in this plan, with US 21 being, originally, in eastern Ohio going south, and US 51 being through central Illinois.
Let’s focus on the major US routes as originally planned. The following snippets are from the Indianapolis News of 27 September 1926. The road descriptions would become active on 1 October 1926.
US 20 was originally designated from Newport, Oregon, to Boston, Massachusetts. The road through Indiana included the Dunes Highway, part of the Lincoln Highway, and part of the Michigan Road. Originally, it would not follow the older roads into South Bend. It would be designated along a straight east-west road from Rolling Prairie into South Bend. At South Bend, it would stay north of the St. Joseph River.
US 30 was designated from Astoria, Oregon, to Atlantic City, New Jersey. Through Indiana, it followed the what became the “new” Lincoln Highway, which was original SR 2. The original Lincoln Highway was SR 2, but was redesignated when the state decided to “straighten” the road between the two state lines.
US 31 was, once, a route that connected Mobile, Alabama, to north of St. Ignace, Michigan, in the Upper Peninsula. In Indiana, it was original SR 1 its entire routing through the state.
US 40 started, originally, in San Francisco, California. The eastern end was in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Through Indiana, it followed the route of the old National Road (roughly), and the National Old Trails Road from Terre Haute to Richmond. At Richmond, the two old roads separated, with the National Road going to Springfield, Ohio, and the NOTR going to Eaton and Dayton before reconnecting at Springfield.
Connecting Miami, Florida, to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, through Chicago, US 41 took the place, in Indiana, of original SR 10 along the western tier of counties. Some of the original US 41 was moved over time and replaced with SR 63.
Originally, US 50 connected San Francisco, California, to Ocean City, Maryland. Through Indiana, it traverses the southern part of the state from Vincennes to Lawrenceburg. There have been many route changes throughout the years, some straightening and some bypasses.
The moniker “Crossroad of America” was further cemented with the creation of the “National System of Interstate and Defense Highways,” commonly known as the Interstate Highway system. It is also known by the name of its major champion as the “Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways.” As originally planned, major east-west routes ended, just like the US highways, with a “0.” North-south major routes ended with a “5.”
Indiana ended up with interstate routes 70, 80 and 90. When the system was created, there was no I-50 or I-60. The closest thing to a “major” I-60 route would be I-64, which also traverses Indiana. When it came to north-south routes, Indiana only ended up with I-65. Part of this stems from the lack of suitable major routes through the state, and part stems from the usage of major numbers for shorter sections of highways (I-45 and I-85).
However, plans are in the works to make two more major interstates, without major numbers. The first is I-69, which will eventually connect the Mexican border in southern Texas to the Canadian Border at its current northern terminus at Port Huron, Michigan. (Technically, the section of I-69 from Lansing to Port Huron is labelled “East I-69.”) The other is I-74, which will eventually connect the Quad Cities area of Illinois/Iowa to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Currently, I-74 ends in Cincinnati. But there are sections in North Carolina, sections in progress in South Carolina, and signage pending in West Virginia. With all of the interstate highways in Indiana becoming, eventually, connected to the almost the entire country, the name “Crossroads of America” is not likely to be removed from the state for a long time to come.