Road Trips

Old US 31 in Indianapolis

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

Because US 31 is a critical artery in the northern half of Indiana, and for a long time US 31 was Meridian Street in Indianapolis all the way north to the county line, I was surprised to learn that Meridian Street hasn’t always gone all the way north out of the county. The digital collections of the IUPUI University Library used to include several Indianapolis and Marion County maps from the 1850s to the 1950s. The maps disagree about where Meridian St. actually ended at various times around the turn of the century, but it’s clear that the road ended well inside the county. A 1905 map from the collection shows Meridian St. ending at Westfield Blvd., or about 57th St. I’ve excerpted it here and highlighted Meridian St. in blue.

1905 Indianapolis map, excerpt, from the digital collection of the IUPUI Library

No wonder my 1916 and 1924 Automobile Blue Books sent drivers down what is now Westfield Blvd. into Indianapolis. Meridian St. had likely not yet been built to Carmel! (When we made this trip, we did not know that Westfield Blvd. was the first alignment of US 31.)

Here’s a map of northern Indianapolis along Meridian St. today (2007). Indianapolis begins at 96th St., which is the east-west street just south of I-465. The map incorrectly labels Meridian St. as US 31 in Indianapolis. Today, US 31 follows I-465 around the east side of town until it reaches the exit for US 31 on the Southside. Westfield Blvd. is still there, of course, and still runs through the Nora neighborhood.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

We stopped for no photos for the first few miles of old US 31 in Indianapolis not only because we were running out of time, but also because the five-lane road lacks shoulders, leaving few good places to park. So we made for the White River, south of which Meridian Street’s character becomes more residential, which made parking possible.

Compare the map below to the 1905 map above. The area is much more built up now, as you’d expect. But Illinois St., which is one block west of Meridian St., no longer crosses the White River. Kessler Blvd. gets that honor now. The road the old bridge connected to was what is now Kessler Blvd. there, but it wasn’t called that then.

A historical note. Kessler Blvd. was named after George Kessler, a leader in the City Beautiful movement. Kessler was supervising construction of this road in Indianapolis when he died, and the road was then named for him. If you’ve read this report through, you may remember that the Leeper Park bridge in South Bend was designed in the City Beautiful style.

Also, in Broad Ripple, Westfield Blvd. runs one block north of Broad Ripple Ave. Since the days of my two ABBs, the block of Westfield Blvd. along the canal just east of College Ave. has become one way east. Broad Ripple Ave. is a much better road today anyway, so everybody coming south on Westfield Blvd. drops down to Broad Ripple Ave. and then rejoins Westfield Blvd. again on the other side of College Ave.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Brian and I should have made the time to explore the Westfield Blvd. route. Another day.

One more map before I get to the road photos. At the White River, there’s evidence of three Meridian St. and/or US 31 alignments. I suspect the oldest is the road labeled N. Meridian St. West Dr. It flows perfectly from Meridian Street’s alignment from the south. My guess is that it is the oldest Meridian St. alignment here, and that it never crossed the river. The big green space north of the river is Holliday Park. This 94-acre park was donated to the city in 1916 by John Holliday, who founded The Indianapolis News, now defunct. So no roads were built on that property. The next oldest alignment is the stub labeled N. Meridian St. just east of the current road. I’m pretty sure that the bridge over the White River here, built in 1933, was the first crossing and allowed Meridian Street to be extended north. I wager that US 31 followed the Westfield Blvd. alignment until then.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

This southbound photo is from the Meridian St. stub, showing how Meridian St. curves away at this point, but easily could have kept coming straight along this road.

Meridian Street stub

This northbound photo shows how the Meridian St. stub ends with the current Meridian St. bridge. It was quiet in this neighborhood despite being next to a well-traveled bridge.

Old US 31 bridge

The Indianapolis Water Company installed the wall under the bridge a few years ago. Kids climb over the wall to paint graffiti under the bridge.

Old US 31 bridge

I wanted our day to end Downtown at Washington St., which was US 40 and the National Road. Unfortunately, the day got away from us and light was fading. I decided we’d finish our trip along the N. Meridian St. Historic District between Westfield Blvd. and 40th St. This area is in the National Register of Historic Places because of the gorgeous homes along the route, most built by the wealthy in the early 1900s.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

These photos are from Meridian St. near 52nd St. Given the lighting and my meager photographic skills, only a few of my photos turned out. When I was a boy, my family made our first trip from South Bend to Indianapolis on US 31. I was bored stiff until we reached here. The homes along this stretch were something to see!

Grand old homes, Old US 31, Indianapolis
Grand old homes, Old US 31, Indianapolis
Grand old homes, Old US 31, Indianapolis
Grand old homes, Old US 31, Indianapolis
Grand old homes, Old US 31, Indianapolis
Grand old homes, Old US 31, Indianapolis

You might expect to see homes like this in a secluded neighborhood, perhaps in a gated community, but all of these homes are right on the main road through the city. This photo is of the old highway at about 53rd St.

Old US 31 SB Indianapolis

We wrapped up our trip here, along this stunning road that once sported US 31 signs.

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Road Trips

Old US 31 in Westfield and Carmel, Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

US 31 followed its original path for the next 26 miles to Westfield, which it then bypassed. When you look at Westfield on a map it looks small, its downtown just a short strip along State Road 32, with some cul-de-sac neighborhoods extending north and south from there. But Westfield is a sparse, sprawling suburb of about eight square miles, a place to have a home while you work elsewhere. Still, it adopted a city-style government the first of 2008 and is now officially considered a city in Indiana. But without nearby Indianapolis, it would only be a little town in the country.

Because of its growth, US 31 bypasses downtown Westfield, but the city swallowed the bypass some time ago. This map shows the northern two-thirds of the route.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here’s where we turned onto old US 31. There is a long stub of old US 31 between the top of this curve and current US 31, too.

US 31 at Old US 31

This photo shows old US 31 southbound as it heads toward Westfield.

Old US 31

The old town of Westfield is a nicely-kept typical Indiana town. This northbound photo is of old US 31 a block or so before Main St.

Westfield, IN, on US 31

This bank building is on the northeast corner of downtown Westfield. It’s an antique shop, and as far as I could tell the most prominent business on this corner.

Westfield, IN, on US 31

Here’s the southbound road leaving downtown.

Westfield, IN, on US 31

This map shows how US 31 curves back to the road’s original path.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here’s where old US 31 curves to end at current US 31, for completism’s sake.

Old US 31 at US 31

Not that long ago, Westfield and Carmel were separated by a couple miles of Hamilton County farmland. Today, Westfield ends, and Carmel begins, at 146th St., where US 31 swings west, State Road 431 begins and swings east, and Rangeline Road goes straight south, perfectly in the direction of US 31 before this intersection. I vaguely remember being able to turn on and off 146th St here years ago, but the last time they rebuilt this intersection they made 146th St. an overpass. You can get to it from US 31 using Greyhound Pass. This map shows how it works. Before current US 31 and Keystone Parkway (labeled 431 on the map) were built, US 31 went straight south on Rangeline Road. (This ramp system was heavily revised in the early 2010s.)

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Unfortunately, Brian and I didn’t know that when we made this trip. Rangeline Road goes through downtown Carmel and enters Indianapolis as Westfield Road. It goes through the Broad Ripple neighborhood as Westfield Boulevard, and connects with Indianapolis’s Meridian Street just south of the Central Canal. US 31 then followed Meridian Street to downtown Indianapolis. Here’s Rangeline Road northbound toward US 31.

Old US 31 (Rangeline Road) NB

Here’s a closer look showing that Rangeline Road is not through. To get to US 31, you curve left and turn right. (You did in 2007, anyway. Today, you can’t get onto US 31 here. There’s a roundabout here, and an overpass that carries US 31 over a connector road about where the Jeep is, to a shopping center on the other side.)

Old US 31 (Rangeline Road) NB

Instead, Brian and I followed the first alignment of US 31 after the Rangeline/Westfield alignment in Carmel, which is Old Meridian Street. It’s the road that runs diagonally south and east of US 31 on this map.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

This northbound photo is of the narrow stub in the upper right corner of the map. This narrow road hasn’t been highway for a very long time.

Old Meridian St. (Old US 31)

Brian and I had tried for months to make this trip happen. If we had done it earlier in the year, we would have missed all of the construction on Old Meridian Street, and would have had a record of this road as two lanes. By the time we could take this trip, the road was being widened to four lanes and roundabouts were being installed at three of its intersections. This photo shows the roundabout under construction near St. Vincent Hospital.

Old Meridian St. (Old US 31)

Upscale shops and restaurants are being built with high-end condos above. The lighter gray pavement is the original Old Meridian St., still striped for two-way traffic.

Old Meridian St. (Old US 31)

Another roundabout was being built at Pennsylvania Ave. All this construction is finished as I write this.

Old Meridian St. (Old US 31)

Shortly Old Meridian Street ended at US 31 and we turned left onto the current highway. (You can’t do this anymore; Old Meridian Street dead ends here southbound. A ramp from US 31 allows northbound drivers to reach Old Meridian Street, however.) Our map labeled a short road at 116th St. as Old Meridian St. We went to look, but it was part of a parking lot. We wondered if an older iteration of this road had not been such a straight shot, and this was where the old road had gone before the parking lot was paved. Brian, who had caught the old-alignment bug in a bad way, searched around the woods south of the parking lot for signs of the old road, but found nothing.

Next: Old US 31 in Indianapolis.

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Road Trips

Old US 31 in Kokomo, Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

Kokomo, a boom town in the late 1800s when natural gas was discovered here, is nine miles south of Grissom Air Reserve Base (which we explored last time). I am told that before US 31 bypassed Kokomo, driving through Kokomo was a pain because of all the traffic downtown. A bypass was built east of town to ease congestion, but businesses just moved to it, and today the bypass is a pain, a highway of a thousand stoplights. Driving through downtown Kokomo isn’t so bad anymore, though – but there’s little to see. Here’s where US 31 veers off to bypass Kokomo. Old US 31 follows the route to downtown.

The famous Kokomo split - US 31 in Indiana

This map shows how US 31 veers east to bypass town, while old US 31 swings west on its way downtown as Washington St. Brian had his nose in the 1924 Automobile Blue Book, which said to turn right on Morgan St. and then right onto Washington St. We guessed that this meant that in 1924 Washington Street didn’t extend this far north, and that drivers entered Kokomo from the north on Apperson Way. That’s the skinny road that extends straight south where Washington St. starts to swing southwest. I imagine that this was State Road 1’s route, and depending upon when the curved section of Washington St. was built, an early alignment of US 31, too. We drove Apperson to Morgan to Washington; it was unremarkable.

Windows Live Maps, 2007
Windows Live Maps, 2007

Just south of North Street, we came upon this grand building of the St. Patrick Catholic Church, completed in 1911.

St. Patrick Catholic Church - Old US 31

The Masonic temple, completed in 1891, stood on the southeast corner of Taylor St.

Masonic temple - Old US 31

The Grace United Methodist Church, completed in 1896, stood on the southeast corner of Mulberry St.

Grace UMC - Old US 31

The most interesting thing we saw in Kokomo was this building on the southeast corner of Walnut St.

Former Fire Dept. building - Old US 31

We couldn’t figure out what it was — I have since learned it was once the City Hall — but one section of it was prominently labeled “Fire Department.”

Former Fire Dept. building - Old US 31

This is the building from the southwest.

Former Fire Dept. building - Old US 31

Three blocks south of this building, Washington St. crossed a river and neighborhoods lined the road. We followed it to where it curved to intersect with US 31.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here’s a photo of the two roads look like coming together, southbound. It’s a little hard to see US 31 merging in, but There wasn’t a safe place to get in close. US 31 curves in from the left, underneath the billboard at left in the photo. Beyond the stoplight, Washington St. becomes a ramp that empties onto US 31, which by that time has curved into the path of Washington St.

Old US 31 at Alto Road

The 1924 ABB had drivers turn east onto Hoffer St. and then south “with the trolley,” which was probably Lafountain St., which led them all the way to Westfield. My 1916 ABB gives even more confusing directions, having the driver meander all over northern Miami County before entering Kokomo on old US 35 (David Rd. on the first map above) and exiting with a series of turns back and forth along that trolley line. Today, the toughest thing about driving to and from Kokomo is being patient with the thick traffic and all the lights on US 31.

The US 31 Kokomo Freeway opened in November of 2013, bypassing the bypass of Kokomo. The earlier bypass became State Road 931.

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Road Trips

US 31 from Peru to Kokomo, Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

Between Peru and Indianapolis, US 31 follows its original route except to bypass Kokomo, Westfield, and Carmel. So we would be seeing a lot of the big slab for the rest of our trip.

We reviewed the 1916 Automobile Blue Book, a road guide with turn-by-turn directions between various cities and towns. and saw that it directed drivers through the towns of Bunker Hill and Miami. Those towns lie a mile or so east of US 31. The ABB directed drivers down what it considered the best route, which did not always coincide with the marked trails or signed highways.

As we drove, from time to time we saw a frontage road on the east side of US 31. This was almost always Old US 31 — the four-lane highway was built alongside the old road. These were always short segments that provided access to properties along the highway. We sometimes drove for miles without seeing one of these fragments. I forget where we photographed this one, but it is typical of them all.

Old US 31 alignment

Along the way, we passed Grissom Air Reserve Base. For at least 40 years now, they’ve kept a collection of historic military aircraft and some of it is visible from US 31 as you drive past. They’re part of the Grissom Air Reserve Base air museum. I’ve driven by here hundreds of times, almost always on the weekends when I assumed the museum was closed. Brian, who has a pilot’s license and enjoys all things airborne, told me that the museum is open weekends. So we stopped. Here’s a view of the museum from the air.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Even though museum admission was inexpensive, our time was short, so we took photos from the fence. I can easily identify cars, but not planes, so I offer these photos from the museum without comment.

At Grissom Air Reserve Base
At Grissom Air Reserve Base
At Grissom Air Reserve Base
At Grissom Air Reserve Base
At Grissom Air Reserve Base

About nine miles south of Grissom is where US 31 and Old US 31 split. I’ll share photos from US 31’s original alignment through Kokomo next time.

The famous Kokomo split - US 31 in Indiana

Note: This is how the road looked in 2007. A new alignment of US 31 was built to the east of here, making this Old US 31 and Old Old US 31. Current US 31 merges with this alignment just a little bit north of where I stood to take this southbound photograph. The overhead sign is gone.

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Road Trips

Old US 31 in Peru, Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

Peru was next, just a couple miles down the road from Mexico. Some pronounce it PEE-rue and old maps sometimes spell it Perue, but I understand most locals agree it’s spelled and pronounced like the South American country. Built on the Wabash River, with a railroad and US 24’s original route running east-west through it, Peru is wider than it is tall, as this map shows.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Just outside this map to the north is US 24, so Peru has been bypassed by two US highways. Business US 31 enters from the north on Broadway St., then turns west onto Main St. (Business US 24), and then crosses the Wabash on the little yellow-highlighted road in the lower left corner of the map.

The first thing we encountered on old US 31 in Peru was the Mr. Weenie restaurant. The sign struck me funny, so I stopped for a photo.

Mr. Weenie

When we reached the edge of downtown at 6th St., we found old US 31 closed. We parked to find out why.

Peru, Indiana

As we neared the Miami County courthouse, we could see that a classic car show was being held in front of it. Wow!

Miami County Courthouse

I love old cars! Brian indulged me as I walked among them and photographed them. I shared the car photos in this post.

Car show

I had been through Peru once before and I remember seeing US 31 and US 24 shields guiding the way through town. I suppose I was too intoxicated by the vintage iron to look for them that day. Because of the car show we couldn’t drive Business US 31 to Business US 24 anyway, so we took a side street. At any rate, Business US 31 turns right onto Business US 24 and stays there for several blocks. The two split again on the west side of town, where Business US 31 heads south. Here’s a northbound photo from Business US 31 of the intersection.

Old US 31

The road led directly to a triple-span steel truss bridge crossing the Wabash River.

Old US 31

This map shows this portion of Old US 31 and this bridge.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

The sun shone brilliantly through the bridge’s beams and trusses.

Old US 31

This unusual Business US 31 shield awaited on the guardrail after we crossed the bridge.

Business 31 shield

Brian, whose curiosity about old alignments was growing, wondered where the previous bridge might have been, and went off to search for clues. Unfortunately, he found very little, but his sleuthing gave me time to take more photos of the bridge, this time northbound.

Old US 31 NB

When I first published this article on my original Roads site, the Miami County Engineer found it and sent me some scans of documents from when this bridge was built, which was in 1939. This excerpt shows the location of the previous bridge. If you scroll up to the previous map excerpt, the old road ran along the line of trees just west of the 1939 bridge. The old road north of the Wabash River is Kelly Street.

He also sent this excerpt from the documentation that shows a drawing of the previous bridge. It, too, had three spans, but they were Pratt trusses rather than the current bridge’s Parker trusses. It looks like it also had a wood floor!

The Miami County Engineer also sent me an excerpt from this 1935 map showing Old US 31’s original alignment south of the bridge. It followed what is now Airport Road as it curves to become Plothow Road. It’s not clear to me when the newer alignment was built.

Here’s where the later alignment ends at current US 31.

Old US 31

From here, US 31 follows its original corridor all the way to Kokomo. Somewhat reluctantly, we returned to the big slab. But we’d see a few snippets of an older US 31 roadway immediately to the east of the four lane highway.

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Road Trips

Old US 31 in Mexico, Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

I had always been curious about this sign along US 31.

Sign to Mexico, Indiana

Today my curiosity would finally be satisfied. After only about two miles on the big slab we came upon Mexico Road, which is old US 31. It seemed odd that we had to make a solid left turn to get onto Mexico Road, as this map shows. I expected the road to flow more naturally out of current US 31. I saw no evidence either on the ground or on this map of the road being realigned. My 1916 and 1924 Automobile Blue Books both describe the road as having no turns between Rochester and here.

In 2016, the Miami County highway engineer found this page as it then existed on my old Roads site and wrote to me to share lots of good resources about old US 31 in Miami County. He first pointed me to a 1936 map of roads in that county. It shows Old US 31 flowing straight here.

Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library

Here’s what the turnoff from current US 31 to old US 31 looks like on the ground today.

Old US 31

Shortly we entered Mexico, established in 1834. Here’s a map. The Mexico sign is on the southeast corner of US 31 and 400 N, by the way.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

There wasn’t much to see in Mexico. Everything centers around Mexico Road and 400 N. Here’s the northwest corner of that intersection. (As I update this trip report in 2021, I have learned that this set of buildings has been razed, and this corner is now vacant.)

Mexico, IN

Down Old US 31 a bit, the Mexico Fire Department was selling an old pumper. The sign said it’s a 1978, but it looks a lot more like a 1973 to me. They only wanted 5 large for it.

Mexico, IN

Brian and I were looking at the 1916 and 1924 Automobile Blue Books I brought along, and both of them told drivers to turn left at a bank (which we couldn’t find, but we guess was at 400 N), over the Eel River bridge, and then right at the first road. This is almost certainly 190 W, the road just east of the river that intersects with Mexico Road in the lower right corner of the map above. The ABBs say this road goes all the way to Peru and did not mention this intersection, so in those days perhaps Mexico Road didn’t come this far south. Brian speculated that State Road 1 may have followed this route, but I don’t have enough information to confirm it.

When the Miami County Highway Engineer contacted me in 2016, he confirmed the suspicions Brian and I shared. He sent me a link to this 1916 mail route map, which shows the area’s roads very well. It looks a lot to me like what became US 31 (and before that Original State Road 1) hugged the Eel River on what is now Water Street, crossed that river on a bridge, and then exited on what is now 190 W. What is currently Old US 31 in Mexico must be the result of a realignment of the highway through town.

Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library

Brian and I drove 190 W rather than Old US 31. Here’s what it looked like.

Original State Road 1

The Miami County Highway Engineer also told me that the alignment through Mexico was changed in the 1920s. He also told me that this project realigned the road around what is now a DNR office southeast of Mexico. He created this image from an aerial map to show the original alignment’s location.

I’ve searched this area on Google Maps Street View, and there’s little evidence on the ground that this alignment ever existed. If I ever go back, I’ll stop here and explore on foot to see if I can find evidence of it.

Next: Peru, Indiana, on Old US 31.

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