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.

Bicycling the National Road West from Indianapolis

Route map from the Indianapolis News, 11 April 1896, showing bicycling routes.

Today’s Bicycling Thursday I want to go back to the Indianapolis News of 11 April 1896, which covered routes west of Indianapolis, starting with the National Road. While the article mentions shorter routes that use other roads back to the city, I want to stick to what is now Washington Street.

The first part of the journey was pretty much straight forward: “starting from Meridian and Washington streets, the run is out Washington street, which is paved some distance west of White River.” Before this point, the crossing of the White River could be done using one of two bridges, with more information available at “Indianapolis: Washington Street & National Road Bridges.” “Beyond the pavement, to the point where the National Road proper begins, the street is badly cut up.” This would be the section from roughly the Belt Railway to Mount Jackson, mentioned later. It was also mentioned that, while the road was in bad shape, the “going is good in the center of the car track.” Keep in mind that the “car track” mentioned here is that of the street cars.

1889 map of Mount Jackson and Haughville along Washington St.

“The National road starts from Mount Jackson, three miles out, and runs off a little southwest.” The town of Mount Jackson stretched from what is now Belmont to Tibbs Avenues, south of Washington Street. (Haughville proper was along the same stretch, north of Washington Street.) At what is now Warman, the “Indiana Insane Hospital” property was located. This property would be later named Central State Hospital.

At the edge of the hospital property, “a dirt road running northwest, skirting Haughville and crossing the Osterman (10 Street from White River to the Danville State Road), Crawfordsville and Lafayette roads.” This is now Tibbs Avenue.

1889 map of the National Road from the Eagle Creek crossing west, also showing the original connection of the National and Rockville Roads.

After passing the hospital, the old road passes over Eagle Creek “on a good iron bridge, the approaches to which are easy.” It then crosses the Big Four railway, which at the time was an at-grade crossing. The road then turns more to the southwest. Here “there has been a liberal supply of fresh gravel distributed over the road for about one mile, but there is a hard path at the side.” Also, there are two dirt roads branching from the main road in this section. One goes to Maywood, which is now Tibbs Avenue south of Washington Street. The other is between Tibbs and the place where the original Rockville Road turned northwest from the National Road (that intersection is now where Holt Road meets Washington Street).

About a mile from Rockville Road, the old road crosses a toll road that is a continuation of Morris Street from Indianapolis (and has that name today), the Emma Hanck turnpike. “Six miles from the city is a grocery and blacksmith shop, which may be used to good advantage by unfortunates.” This is between Morris Street and High School Road, which was called the Forsha Turnpike, which connected the National Road to Ben Davis Post Office. At seven miles from the city, a “pleasant resting place for the first riders” at a big saw mill. A dirt road near this point, running north and south, could allow a rider wanting a short ride to connect back to the city via “half a dozen turnpikes running east and west.”

At a point 9.5 miles from the city, where the road passes through a small, well shaded village called Bridgeport. The road then continues over White Lick Creek and rumbles toward Plainfield over what was a recent installment of fresh gravel. Finally, before leaving Marion County, the rider will come across a “large nursery, with green and white buildings and storehouses, situated on the side of a hill” just at the edge of the county line.