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.

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.

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.