The Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Paoli in Indiana

The Dixie Highway was auto-trail network formed in 1915 that connected Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to Miami, Florida, running through Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. Auto trails were early highways that connected the United States before the U.S. highway system came to be in 1926.

Pony trusses

When the Dixie Highway was routed through Indiana, from Indianapolis south to Paoli it followed an old path known as the Paoli State Road, more or less. That road was established in 1822, and was routed over existing roads. From Indianapolis, the Paoli State Road followed was was known locally as the Bluff Road to the small town of Waverly and the bluffs of the White River. I don’t know if any other named local roads were used the rest of the way.

State Road 37 from Indianapolis to Paoli, from the 1926 Indiana state highway map

With the advent of the automobile and the Good Roads movement in the early 20th century, Indiana joined most other states in establishing state highway networks. By 1919, most of that section of the Paoli State Road from Martinsville to Paoli joined that network as State Road 22. In 1926, with the advent of the U.S. Highway System, Indiana renumbered its State Roads. SR 22 became SR 37 from Paoli to Martinsville, and was extended back to Indianapolis along the Dixie Highway.

This segment of SR 37 was realigned several times in several places starting after World War II. By 2000, the road was a four-lane expressway to just south of Bedford. The remaining road to Paoli has remained a two lane, but has been significantly upgraded and, in places, realigned.

Lots of the original alignment was left behind and remained drivable. Construction of I-69 north from Bloomington disrupted that from time to time, and unfortunately destroyed some parts of the original alignment. But as I-69 nears completion (as of the time I publish this article), most of the old alignment has become frontage road, and it is possible to follow those alignments continuously from Indianapolis’s southern border all the way to Bloomington.

I’ve made several trips along this road over the last 16 years and watched the Indianapolis to Bloomington segment change as I-69 progressed. I’ve already documented my first trip, in May of 2007, which took me from Indianapolis to Bloomington:

On a cloudy Saturday in October of 2012 I headed south from Indianapolis to follow the Dixie Highway with a goal of reaching Paoli, in Orange County. I revisited the highlights from Indianapolis to Bloomington, but took my time from there to Paoli.

This was the first road trip I made but did not document on my old Roads site. I documented it here instead. But I did it differently, sharing only the trip’s highlights, sometimes arranging the information into themes. I’m going to finally write this proper chronological (mile-ologicial?), report for this long-ago trip. But here are the articles I wrote in the weeks after that trip:

I followed some of this route again in 2017, by which time construction of I-69 had begun. I visited again in 2020 and 2022. I’ll share photos and information from those trips in this report as well. I will tell the story of this road before and during the construction of I-69 in the articles to come.

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2 responses to “The Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Paoli in Indiana”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    This entry and yesterdays entry, I love to read them, as an old rural driver myself, but always amazed at how often you can find these abandoned “tailings”. Where I live now, all the abandoned stuff seems to have been sold to local farmers and jackhammered up for growing!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve learned several key things about how to find them. I wrote a post about it eons ago but it would probably be good to update it and re run it.

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