Road Trips

Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Bloomington

In mid-April of 2007 I was driving home on State Road 37 after visiting an old friend in Bloomington. It had been years since I’d traveled that road. Just south of Martinsville, I saw what looked like a strip of abandoned concrete road, weeds growing through the cracks, on the edge of some farmer’s field. I found my way to that road segment and followed it; it ended shortly to the south at State Road 37 again. A sure sign of an old alignment!

At home I went online and traced the highway on maps. Not only did I find that little abandoned section, but I saw that the road was rich with segments of not one, but two old alignments of State Road 37. I began planning a road trip.

State Road 37

Bloomington, like all other important Indiana cities, would want direct, good quality routes to the state’s capital to conduct business and government. They had it as early as 1822, when Indiana authorized the Paoli State Road. I don’t know whether this road was cobbled out of existing roads or was a new road. I do know that as the 1800s continued, the old State Roads were privatized or turned over to the counties through which they passed. But interest in good roads surged in the early automobile era of the early 1900s. In about 1915 this road became part of the Dixie Highway, a network of roads connecting Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to Miami, Florida.

The automobile drove Indiana back into the State Road business in 1917. It took this section of the Dixie Highway over in about 1923, calling it State Road 22. Then in 1926, as part of a renumbering of all State Roads, it became State Road 37.

In those days roads had to flow with the terrain, winding, rising, falling. As technology improved, road builders became able to cut through the earth. As Hoosiers increasingly relied on motor transport, the original narrow, winding roads became insufficient. So Indiana improved its important roads, straightening them, making them bypass small towns, and widening them to make them safer and allow speedier passage. As of 2007, State Road 37 is almost Interstate quality — straight, smooth, and speedy.

Notice how State Road 37’s path changed twice between Martinsville and Bloomington, as these three map excerpts show.

First, the road was straightened, smoothed, and moved to bypass Martinsville, Hindustan, and Dolan. Next, it was moved to bypass Bloomington. Somewhere in there it was expanded to four wide lanes with big shoulders. State Road 37 has become a superhighway. In the years to come, it will be upgraded to Interstate standards and given its new name, I-69, which the 2005 map predicts. (That was in 2006. By 2020, SR 37 between Bloomington and Martinsville has been upgraded to full Interstate standards and is signed I-69. The section from Martinsville to Indianapolis is being upgraded too.)

Did you notice that the old road still runs through Martinsville, Hindustan, and Dolan? The 1970 map shows it clearly; the 2005 map not so much. But it’s still there. When you drive down current State Road 37, you have to look carefully for the signs or you’ll miss them. But they’re there, and they say, “Old St Rd 37.”

On Sunday, 13 May 2007, I drove as much of the original alignments of State Road 37 between Indianapolis and Bloomington that I could find. This is an epic road trip with lots of photos and stories. I’ll be sharing it all in several posts to come.

This 2007 road trip is now a time capsule, perhaps even a historic record. The old alignments I will show you are now far harder to access because you can no longer turn off SR 37 onto them. I will also show you some pavement around 100 years old that was removed thanks to Interstate construction.

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6 thoughts on “Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Bloomington

  1. I spent many hours on that road during the 8 years I had kids at IU – 2010 to 2018. I have not been on it since, and have missed seeing the fruits of all the construction delays I put up with.

    • The speed limits are higher and there are no stoplights. Just like an Interstate! Otherwise it’s not that different from the way it was before.

  2. PAUL says:

    Enjoyed your article on Dixie Highway.

    November or 2019 I traveled as much of the original Dixie up the coast of Florida to Tallahassee to Macon, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Nashville, Bowling Green, Louisville,Paloi to Indianapolis. This was an important trip to me ,because my grandparents made this trip starting in 1920 from Indianapolis to Miami often annually until 1972. Those trips would have included all the alignments of the West Dixie system and of course our interstate system.

    • Very nice! I’d like to just finish the Dixie in Indiana. I’ve also driven some of it in KY. Someday, maybe, I’ll drive it all the way to Sault Ste Marie and then to Miami!

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