In October, 2012, I followed the Dixie Highway (a.k.a. State Road 37) from Indianapolis to Paoli. I’m finally sharing my full report from that trip here.
Does anybody know how the Dixie Highway entered Paoli?
The sources I find all say that the Dixie entered Paoli along current State Road 37. But maps from before about 1930 that show SR 37’s route show a different path between Orleans and Paoli.
Some history. In 1822, Indiana established a set of State Roads that connected various places around the state to Indianapolis, which would become the state capital in 1924. This included the Paoli State Road, which stretched from Indianapolis to Bloomington to Paoli.
In 1919, Indiana formed its State Highway Commission and routed several numbered State Roads. Original State Road 22 was routed from Indianapolis through Bloomington to Paoli. In 1926, with the advent of the U.S. Highway System, Indiana renumbered its State Roads, and the Indianapolis-Bloomington-Paoli road became State Road 37.
The Dixie Highway was laid out in 1914. From Indianapolis to Paoli, I have to infer that it was routed more or less along the Paoli State Road. OSR 22 was probably then routed along the Dixie Highway.
I found maps of the Indiana highway system from 1920, 1923, 1926, 1929, and 1930. They confuse the matter further. Below are snippets from the 1920, 1926, and 1930 maps. Notice the shape of the road between Orleans and Paoli in all three. The road in 1926 follows a very different path from the 1920 and 1930 roads. The 1923 and 1929 maps show this road on the same path as the 1926 map. The 1920 and 1930 roads are very much the same shape as current State Road 37.
On this map I used Google’s driving directions to force the route I see in the 1926 map above. You can see SR 37 to the west of it.
If the Dixie Highway followed the 1926 path of SR 37, it would never have entered the center of Paoli. The Dixie exited Paoli along what is now US 150. Those two roads met each other on the east side of Paoli, three blocks from the town square.
But on this trip I entered Paoli along State Road 37 and got to see the town square. When you reach it, you see the back of the Orange County Courthouse first.
It’s a lovely courthouse when you see it from the front. It reminds me of a southern plantation, except for the clock tower at the top.
It’s hardly an Indiana courthouse without some sort of military equipment on display. In Orange County, it’s this cannon.
Around the square is the usual assortment of local businesses in buildings that mostly date to the late 1800s.
Of note is the former Mineral Springs Hotel. This part of Indiana is known for its mineral springs — nearby French Lick traded hard on their mineral spring and became quite a tourist attraction. Built in 1896, this hotel isn’t in use today. But in its time, guests could bathe in mineral water piped in from a nearby well. They also enjoyed electric lights, thanks to a generator in the basement. Paoli was not otherwise electrified then.
You’ll also find a Carnegie library on Paoli’s square. Steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie contributed to the construction of hundreds of US libraries from 1883 to 1929. This building is no longer used as a library. When I photographed it, a day care occupied it.
Finally, this building marked GARAGE is from the early automobile era. Travelers needed places for their cars to receive the frequent routine maintenance they needed in those days.
Paoli’s square is unusual in that traffic flows only one way around it. When I was in college in the late 1980s, one of my roommates was from far southern Indiana. He took me to his home for a weekend once. The trip led us through Paoli, and it was the first time I had ever encountered a one-way town square. It operated like a roundabout: you turned right into the square only when nobody was coming your way from the left.
I ended this Dixie Highway trip here and returned home. From here, the Dixie Highway followed what is now US 150 southeast to the city of New Albany, and then across the river to Louisville. I’ll drive that leg of Indiana’s Dixie Highway one day.