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Backroads – A trip back in time traveling Indiana’s highways and byways

Indiana enjoys the unique distinction of being at the crossroads of some of the nation's first highways. That distinction continues today as being one the crossroads of the Interstate system.

Early Indiana highways

Graphic Copyright © 1999
Dennis E. Horvath

National Road

This highway thread started with the National Road, the first major U.S. road built with federal funds and the most important route linking the Midwest with the Atlantic seaboard in the early nineteenth century. The highway was proposed by George Washington and Albert Gallatin in 1784 with financing approval by Congress in 1805. Construction of the Indiana route from Richmond to West Terre Haute took place between 1827 and 1839. It was the road that led wagons and coaches westward.

The National Old Trails Association was formed in 1912 to mark the auto route and convince local and state officials to improve it. In 1926, the Old National Route became the new U.S. 40. Completion Of Interstate 70 in the 1960s changed the importance of U.S. 40. Today the National Road is a byway in Indiana's transportation history.

The Lincoln Highway

In 1912, Indianapolis industrialist Carl G. Fisher was the first individual to determine a feasible plan to finance America's first transcontinental highway from New York to San Francisco. The contributors were motivated by the idea that if decent roads were available, people would travel more and product demand would increase. Within 30 days he had $1 million in pledges and publicity nationwide. A few months later, Fisher received and letter from Henry B. Joy, Packard Motor Company president, suggesting that the road be named for Abraham Lincoln.

On July 1, 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was created with the route running through or touching 12 states. The federal highway numbering system was enacted in 1925. In Indiana, the highway was replaced with highways U.S. 30, U.S. 33, U.S. 20 and S.R. 2 as it meanders through the state from Fort Wayne to Dyer. Historical markers for the Lincoln Highway and "Ideal Section" are found today along U.S. 30 near Dyer. Remnants of the original highway can be found in eastern Allen county.

The Dixie Highway

Fisher's conception of the north-south Dixie Highway from Chicago to Miami was shared with Indiana governor Samuel Ralston in December 1914. In April 1915, The Dixie Highway Association was formed. The Dixie Highway followed a route through South Bend, Indianapolis, Paoli and then to New Albany. In September 1916, Fisher and Ralston attended a celebration in Martinsville opening the Indiana section of the roadway. Sometime after 1925, the southern route was straightened out from Indianapolis to Jeffersonville and marked U.S. 31.

I invite you to peruse these sections with markers and an Indiana map in hand to plot your journey across Indiana’s highways and byways.


National Road Indiana Style

Rediscovering the Lincoln Highway

Touring the Dixie Highway in Indiana

Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana feature "Indiana Heritage Travel”

Grave-in-the-Middle-of-the-Road in south central Indiana