Valley Mills (and the Naming of Southport)

I have to start to tell the story of a Decatur Township village by telling the story of another village in Perry Township. Many people looking at a map of Marion County would recognize, almost immediately, a different colored area in the south central part of the county. That area is Southport, an excluded city in Marion County. An excluded city (or town) is one in which is not included in the city of Indianapolis after the creation of UniGov. Southport has its own city government, but they also vote for the chief executive of Marion County…which happens to be the Mayor of Indianapolis, as well.

Southport was platted in 1849. Many people from the area know the story about how the city got its name. Being a Southport High School graduate, I have heard it many times. But one fact that seems to fall through the cracks when it comes to Southport is the name. Yes, it does have to do with being south. But not only its southern location in the county. It also had to do with the subject of this article. Southport is actually south of another town, in Decatur Township, called Northport.

Northport was a small village that was platted in 1839. There was very little in the area of the county that would become Northport. The Mooresville State Road, connecting Indianapolis to the Morgan County town, passed very close by to the village. A branch of that road, running along the survey line located five miles south of Indianapolis (now mostly known as Thompson Road) went directly to the little village.

The road that led to Northport would become a toll road, as would the Mooresville State Road. The road would acquire the name of “Northport and Mars Hill Road.” Today, it would be Thompson Road from Kentucky Avenue to High School Road, then Mooresville Road to Mann Road. This was the only access the town would have to the city of Indianapolis, and anywhere else, for many years to come.

In 1859, the town was replatted as the town of Fremont. This name wouldn’t last long, as there was already a Fremont post office in Indiana, located in Steuben County. That Fremont acquired its current name in 1848, and the post office of that name the same year. When the post office was to be named, the chosen title was Valley Mills.

Valley Mills would acquire a second access to the city of Indianapolis when the Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad was chartered in 1865, and completed between 1867 and 1869. This history of the Indianapolis & Vincennes was covered on 16 August 2019. This railroad connected the tiny village in rural Decatur Township to the rest of the nation.

The road that was called the Northport and Mars Hill became a free gravel road when the county purchased it back from the toll road company. The Indianapolis & Vincennes Railroad, which helped the town grow, didn’t actually find itself as profitable as it was led to believe. But it did help people in the rural part of the county reach county government offices, and shopping, in the city. It would connect Canby, Valley Mills, Mars Hill and Maywood to the capital. Mars Hill, the town, was founded in 1911…but the area where the town was built had been already called that. The high point in the area was called Marr’s Hill, after a settler in the area.

When the Army was looking for a place to put a post in the Indianapolis area, the front runner in that race was an area near Valley Mills. The Indianapolis Journal of 17 January 1903 stated that “the proposition to establish a military post at Indianapolis has resolved itself into the simple question of how to get enough money to buy the Valley Mills site.” The installation was, as announced in the Indianapolis Journal of 7 May 1902, already named: “The decision of President Roosevelt to call the new military post to be established near the city Fort Benjamin Harrison is a thoughtful, graceful and appropriate act. Incidentally it may be remarked that it practically assures the location of the post.” It was decided later that the Valley Mills site would not be used. Instead, a site in Lawrence Township would be used.

1905 Map of the Valley Mills area of Decatur Township, Marion County.

When the interurban system was created, Valley Mills would find itself in the path of the Indianapolis and Martinsville Rapid Transit Company traction line. This was mainly due to the fact that the traction line ran parallel to the Indianapolis and Vincennes/Vandalia Railroad, just to the south of the steam railway. At least in Marion County. The traction line would soon be owned by the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern, the owner of most traction lines in and out of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Street Railway, and the Indianapolis Traction Terminal. Stop 7 along that line was at what is now High School Road and Kentucky Avenue. Valley Mills, the village, had a stop as well. And, like Southport on the Greenwood line, it did not have a number. Stop 8 was at a point halfway between High School Road and Mendenhall Road.

Valley Mills still found itself slightly off the beaten path when it came to the road system. When the state highway system was created in 1919, the new state road 22 would use the old Mooresville State Road, which was part of the Vincennes State Road. This put Valley Mills about one half mile from the state highway system.

Around 1936, the Indiana State Highway Commission decided to widen and straighten what was by then called SR 67. The new route of the state road would, as was typical of the time, run alongside the Pennsylvania Railroad, the owners of the original Indianapolis & Vincennes. The location of the new State Road 67 was along the Indianapolis & Martinsville Traction line, which had been closed for several years at that point. The official abandonment of the traction line occurred in February 1932. Valley Mills would find itself attached to the state highway system.

Today, the area called Valley Mills is part of the unified city of Indianapolis, included in the annexation of most of Marion County into the UniGov plan. It is still served by SR 67. But, it has also been basically obliterated by the growth of the Indianapolis International Airport. Due to its nearly central location in Decatur Township, the high school serving the entire township is located near the old village. The area has become very commercialized, and to a certain extent, industrialized. Many businesses serving the airport are located in or near the town that ended up being the reason that Southport has south in its name.

Ben Davis and Mickleyville, Wayne Township, Marion County

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

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

1895 map of Ben Davis Post Office

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

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

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

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

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

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.