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.

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.

Flooded Indiana

Weather in Indiana. Anyone that has been in the state at this time of year knows that we are entering what best can be described as the rainy season. With it comes the almost annual flooding that will inevitably occur. Flooding is something, though, that can happen at any time of the year. January is notorious for it. Though, it is not as though the flooding is a new thing. It has happened in Indiana for as long as there has been a state of Indiana. And possibly long before. Some of the floods make massive changes to the landscape of the state. Some just get a shrug of shoulders and a shake of the head.

One of the most changing floods in the modern history of Indiana has to be that of 1913. One of the most famous (road) victims of that flood had to be the Washington Street bridge in downtown Indianapolis. But the entire state was punished that January 1913. New Albany, at the Falls of The Ohio (a natural low water point in the entire river channel) almost everything south of the Southern Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad tracks was under water. The Pennsylvania Railroad ordered that its freight house in New Albany be abandoned. Said freight house had been under five feet of water in floods of 1907. In Evansville, the Ohio Street bridge (I would assume over Pigeon Creek) is “paritally submerged by water,” according to the Evansville Press of 15 January 1913. Especially hard hit were towns along the Ohio River. Several of these would be partly wiped out. Some would be moved to higher ground.

The flood that changed Indiana the most was that of 1937. The area had been devastated by floods in 1936…but the winter of 1937 was more damaging. January 1937 saw the massive closing of state roads due to ice and flooding. The list that was published in newspapers on 23 January 1937 included large numbers of roads. Just the US Highways listed included: US 31 north and south of Seymour, south of Memphis, at Speeds and north of New Albany; US 31E north of junction with SR 231 and junction SR 62; US 41 at Hazelton and Patoka; US 50 west of Brownstown, from Lawrenceburg to Aurora, west of Washington; US 52 from Brookville to West Harrison; US 150 west of Palmyra, at Fredricksburg, at Prospect, and east of Shoals. The list of closed highway is roughly 12 column inches long in the Richmond Item of 23 January 1937. The same newspaper mentions that the only road open from Richmond to Cincinnati is US 127 through Eaton, Ohio.

The aftermath of the 1937 floods would change the landscape across the state quite a bit. In addition to plans for 13 new reservoirs (many of which would not be built), levee and bridge construction would be commenced throughout the state. It was noted that many of the city street bridges at Indianapolis were too short to be safe in case of a flood rivaling or beating that of 1913. Improvements would be planned, and budgeted, for the Warfleigh section of Indianapolis, the Fall Creek area of Indianapolis, sections of the Wabash River in Peru and Logansport, and the White River at Anderson and Muncie.

There are additional reports of flooded state roads and such from many years between 1927 and 1950. January 1932 reported that three sections of SR 37 between Bloomington and Bedford have been damaged by rock slides caused by the same rain that had that part of SR 67 between Romona and Gosport, and at Edwardsport, under water. More flooding reports appear in March 1925, March 1927, November 1927, January 1930, March 1933, May 1935, August 1938, February 1942 and April 1948. This is just a quick look at the available newspaper data.

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.