History, Road trips

The Lafayette Road

You might have driven on it: US 52 between Indianapolis and Lafayette. Or if you’re local to the Indianapolis area, maybe you sometimes travel Lafayette Road in Marion County and Indianapolis Road in neighboring Boone County. You might not have guessed that this is one of Indiana’s oldest roads, dating to the 1830s.

Lafayette Road / Old US 52

Lafayette Road in northwest Indianapolis

The fledgling state of Indiana went on a road-building jag in the 1820s and 1830s to connect its most important cities and towns. To pay for them and other transportation improvements, in 1821 Indiana began setting aside three percent of all federal funds it received. These “three percent fund roads,” or State Roads, were all named for the towns to which they led.

The Lafayette State Road was a latecomer to this party, having been surveyed in 1831 (though some sources claim 1829). It was surveyed by George Kinnard, who also served as Marion County assessor, as a state legislator, and as a U.S. congressman.

Boone County Courthouse

Boone County Courthouse, Lebanon, Indiana

Kinnard placed the road’s southern terminus at the White River near what is now 16th Street in Indianapolis, and ran it to the northwest out of Marion County, through a sliver of Hendricks County, and into Boone County. There it reached the town of Lebanon, which he and James Perry Drake founded in 1830 in hopes it would become the seat of justice in the newly formed county. What better way to aid in that cause than to place a major transportation route through it? From Lebanon, the Lafayette State Road made a beeline directly to Lafayette to the northwest. Its northern end is on Main Street in Lafayette, probably at the Wabash River.

The Lafayette State Road was certainly no more than a dirt trail in its early days. I wouldn’t be surprised if low tree stumps were left in the road, as this was a common practice. As long as wagons could clear the stumps, it was all good! The road was probably privatized and improved to a gravel surface in the 1850s, as was the fate of so many State Roads. But with the advent of the automobile in the 20th century, Indiana founded a new numbered State Road system in 1917. The Lafayette Road became State Road 6, at first as far as Lebanon, and by 1925 all the way to Lafayette. The state immediately began to improve its highways; State Road 6’s turn came in about 1925, when it was paved in concrete in at least Marion County and probably in Boone County as well. Then in 1926, with the advent of the U.S. route system, the road was made part of US 52, which stretched from Bluefield, WV, to Fowler, IN. Improvements continued. In about 1935 it was widened to four lanes in Marion County. And then at some point no later than the 1950s a four-lane divided bypass of Lebanon was built, and two additional travel lanes were built the rest of the way to Lafayette.

Old Lafayette Road

ca 1925 concrete segment in northwest Indianapolis

The Lafayette Road was a heavily traveled artery until I-65 opened near it in the 1960s. Today, almost all of the Indianapolis-Lafayette traffic follows that high-speed route, leaving the Lafayette Road a lightly traveled, pleasant drive through the Indiana countryside.

On an unusually warm Saturday afternoon at the end of January, Margaret and I took a spontaneous road trip along the Lafayette Road. We went primarily in search of old and abandoned alignments, several of which remain. But we also stopped to see some roadside sights along the way. I’ll share photos and stories from that trip here and there over the next few weeks.

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4 thoughts on “The Lafayette Road

  1. Very interesting history. I have been traveling to and from Lafayette pretty frequently over the past year. My default route has become I-65 to just north of Lebanon (which is now almost all six lanes) and then US 52 the rest of the way. Some time I will have to sample the part of the old road from Lebanon on south. I look forward to more on this road.

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    • If you do follow the old road, trace it on Google Maps first because there are a couple tricky spots. The first is at the second Whitestown exit, where the Love’s Travel Center is. The original route has been ripped out next to the travel center and you have to take a short detour. The second tricky spot is getting into Lebanon, as you have to cross over I-65 to do it. Be sure to note the route within Lebanon, too: Indianapolis Rd. to Main St. to Lafayette Rd., and then out to where it merges with US 52.

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  2. Raina Regan says:

    Really enjoy your series of Lafayette Road. I travel this corridor quite a bit and didn’t know this history! I’ll be keeping an eye out the next time I head this way.

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