Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in Danville, Indiana

Let’s return to my May, 2007, trip along US 36 and the Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana.

After it leaves Marion County for Hendricks County, and after passing through the traffic nuthouse that is Avon, US 36 reaches Danville. It’s a four-lane divided road. But just east of Danville, where US 36 curves gently to the south, Old US 36 continues straight, as the map shows. Before the modern expressway was built, US 36 used to go straight through where storage facility lies today.

Imagery ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

But on this trip I missed something important: an older alignment of this road, the path the Rockville Road followed before anybody had heard of US 36 or the PP-OO. Check it out on the map below.

Imagery ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

You can drive some of this older road, but not all of it. The section east of County Road 625 E, which is the rightmost north-south road on this map snippet, no longer exists. The section west of there to Whipple Lane is a pedestrian path. You’ll find an 1875 Whipple through truss bridge on the pedestrian path. You can drive the road west from Whipple Lane. It’s signed as Broyles Road, although it has been slightly diverted to meet County Road 550 E rather than meet and cross US 36. You can’t turn onto the westmost section of Broyles Road from current US 36. To reach it you must go to Old US 36 and reach it from where Broyles Road ends.

I don’t know when the original US 36 alignment was built. Richard Simpson researched US 36’s 1926 alignment and found it to be this road (see it on his excellent blog here). I’ve found this 1924 map that shows the original US 36 alignment not built yet, and this 1929 map that shows it built.

Let’s go back to the original alignment of US 36. The storage facility was built right on the old roadbed. This eastbound photo shows the southerly curve of US 36 — and a mound that picks up in a straight line from where the road begins to curve. Notice how the utility poles at left run along this straight line, too, converging with the road in the distance. That’s always a tell.

Old US 36

I turned around from this point and saw that the mound continued, utility poles planted right alongside. The yellow sign on the left announces the intersection of Old US 36, also known as Main St. in Danville.

Old US 36

The storage facility’s fence kept me from walking this old roadbed, so instead I drove to the west side of the storage facility. The utility poles in this eastbound photo tell the tale: The road once went here.

Old US 36

And here’s this segment of Old US 36 as it heads west towards Danville. It feels like a typical old highway: two lane, scant shoulders.

Old US 36

Right turn lanes appear at entrances to subdivisions and churches. The road is smooth even though it hasn’t been repaved in a while. About 2 miles along this alignment, at the Danville city limits sign, the pavement is even older, and the striping becomes more faded, as the eastbound photo below shows. A few old rectangular Do Not Pass signs still stand here. About 3.5 miles in, the road curves gently to the south and ends at the current alignment of US 36.

Old US 36

Old US 36 meets current US 36 at a T intersection as the map below shows. I’ve marked in green how the road originally flowed here.

Imagery ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

Here’s westbound Old US 36 as it approaches current US 36.

Old US 36

This road, signed Phi Delta Kappa Drive, is all that’s left of US 36’s original path here. Notice how the utility poles follow this little segment. This is an eastbound photo.

Old US 36

I followed US 36 west into downtown Danville. The road’s four lanes soon narrowed to two lanes with a center turn lane. Like so many small Indiana towns, a courthouse square is at Danville’s heart. The trees made it challenging to get a good photograph of the courthouse.

Danville, IN

Danville’s downtown business district lies around the courthouse. Here’s a photo of the shops and restaurants along the US 36 side. The Mayberry Cafe is on this block, well-known for its theme of The Andy Griffith Show. They usually have a black and white 1962 Ford Galaxie police cruiser parked out front, but it was missing this day.

Danville, IN

Past downtown, US 36 narrowed to two lanes on its way out of town. Outside Danville, US 36 becomes a standard two-lane highway with thin shoulders. It remains a two-lane highway way all the way to Illinois.

US 36

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Road Trips

The original beginning of US 36, except it’s not

I was in error when I began my US 36/Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway trip that May morning in 2007. I put US 36’s eastern end in the wrong place.

It’s true that US 36 originally began its westward journey along Rockville Road in Indianapolis. That road begins at a fork from Washington Street (US 40, the National Road) on Indianapolis’s Westside.

The trouble is, the road currently signed as Rockville Road there didn’t exist in 1926, when the US highway system was created and US 36 was commissioned. It was built later, in about 1933, in a Works Progress Administration project. It eliminated a dangerous railroad crossing.

The original Rockville Road began about a quarter mile farther west on Washington Street. It still exists, though you can’t turn onto it from Washington Street anymore, and it’s called Rockville Avenue now. On this map snippet, the green circle shows where Rockville Avenue begins, and the magenta circle shows where current Rockville Road begins.

Imagery ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

But I didn’t know that when I made this trip. I photographed where current Rockville Road forks from Washington Street as if it were the real thing. It still sort of counts: when this road was finally built, US 36 was rerouted onto it. Here’s the fork, with Washington Street going under the railroad bridge on the left.

US 36, Indianapolis

Here’s a closer look at what US 36 travelers faced as they began their westward journey.

US 36, Indianapolis

I walked along Rockville Road a little to make this eastbound shot of where the road meets Washington Street. This neighborhood looked pretty sketchy, so I didn’t intend to linger. But a nice, proper older gentleman out trimming his hedge remarked to me about the weather and wondered whether it would rain today.

US 36, Indianapolis

As I drove west along Rockville Road, the tiny houses with their tiny front yards were pretty tidy for this depressed part of town.

Quickly I reached Rockville Avenue. Rockville Road curved to the right and resumed its original alignment.

From there, Rockville Road widened a bit. Homes were set farther back from the road, and businesses started to appear. At Lynhurst Drive, the road widened to four lanes lined with businesses and stores.

The road had curbs, which isn’t too unusual in the city, but is pretty unusual for a highway. In August, 1978, when I was still a kid, three teenage girls died when a van struck the rear of their Ford Pinto while it was stopped along US 33 in Elkhart County so the driver could retrieve a lost gas cap. The resulting fireball burned the/ girls to death. The infamous placement of the car’s gas tank did make it vulnerable to fire in a rear-end collision. But a little-touted fact of that case was that the driver could not pull fully off the road because US 33 had curbs. I remember in the years following, curbs were slowly and quietly replaced with shoulders on highways near my South Bend home. I don’t know if these events are related, but it sure seems like more than coincidence to me. US 36 was rerouted along I-465 in 1974, and so perhaps that’s why these curbs remain on this old highway.

Shortly, I-465 appeared. The curbs disappeared just east of the interchange. Just west of the interchange, the first reassurance marker appeared.

US 36, Indianapolis

Across the street, facing the eastbound lanes, a button-copy sign directs drivers to follow I-465 South to reach US 36 East again. No US highways run through Indianapolis anymore; they all follow I-465 around the city in what is called the “mega multiplex.” But only I-74 is co-signed with I-465 along its route. You have to watch the exit signs to follow your US highway.

US 36, Indianapolis

Beyond I-465 along US 36 I saw some nice older homes of brick and stone set far back from the road, surely built when this part of Marion County was way out in the country. The road widened to five lanes, including a permanent center turn lane, and stayed that way into Hendricks County.

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Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana

In the 1910s and 1920s, before the creation of the US highway system, an unofficial network of roads called Auto Trails crisscrossed the nation. The Lincoln Highway is perhaps the best known of them. Other well-known trails include the Dixie Highway, the Yellowstone Trail, the National Old Trails Road, the Jefferson Highway, and the Old Spanish Trail. These were major trails that spanned coasts or connected the far north to the deep south. Many smaller trails, some entirely within certain states, also existed.

Auto trails were mostly cobbled together out of existing roads, except out West, where roads sometimes had to be built for these trails. Each trail was managed by an Association, such as the Lincoln Highway Association, which determined it route and promoted it. Each Auto Trail had its mission, such as the Lincoln Highway’s to provide a well-marked transcontinental route. But how any city or town made it onto an auto trail was often a matter of politics and favors. Cities and towns very much wanted to be on these auto trails for the traffic, and therefore commerce, they would bring.

One lesser known — I’d argue little known — transcontinental auto trail was the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway (PP-OO). It was formed in 1914 to connect New York City to San Francisco through Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California.

For reasons lost to time, the road frequently avoided major cities, which hurt its commercial viability and may be why it’s not better known today. Also, I know of no other Auto Trail that changed its route as often as the PP-OO. For a time, it even had two western ends: San Francisco and Los Angeles!

Courtesy the Federal Highway Administration

In Indiana, it appears that at first the PP-OO followed the National Road to Indianapolis and then the Rockville State Road to Rockville in western Indiana, and thence to Illinois. This road would become US 36 in 1926.

But in the years that followed, this Auto Trail was heavily realigned. In the end, the PP-OO entered Indiana at Union City and then followed roughly what is now State Road 32 through Winchester, Muncie, and Anderson. Then it connected to what is now US 136 and ran through Crawfordsville and Covington on its way to Danville, Illinois. This new leg in western Indiana was also the Dixie Highway. I explored this section of US 136 in 2012; see those posts here.

Anyone trying to follow the PP-OO at any time really needed an up-to-date trail map!

In 2007 I grew curious about US 36 in western Indiana. It was one of the original US highways in 1926, and in those days its eastern end was in Indianapolis. Tracing US 36 on the map I found a number of possible old alignments, and I wanted to explore them all. This is also when I learned about the PP-OO and its original western-Indiana alignment along the US 36 corridor. I explored US 36 and the PP-OO on two separate trips, May 28 and August 17, 2007. I wrote about it then on my old Roads site, which I’m deprecating. In the weeks to come, I’ll share those stories and photographs here.

Old US 36

Further reading about the PP-OO:

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Down the Road is on hiatus, returning Monday, 26 September. I’m rerunning old posts in the meantime.

Perfect gravel road

This country road may seem like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it is about 100 feet away from busy US 36, two miles west of Rockville, Indiana. As I took this photograph, the rumble of cars and trucks on the nearby highway blotted out nature’s sounds. Yet when I look at this photograph now, the scene seems so remote that I can imagine hearing the rustling wind and the chirping birds.

At one time, though, this road was the busy highway. This was an early alignment of the Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway, one of the “auto trails” that crisscrossed the nation in the early 20th century. Then in 1918, when Indiana created its first system of numbered state highways, this road became State Road 31. Next, in 1927 when the US numbered route system was formed, this road became US 36. It wasn’t uncommon for US routes to be gravel roads in the early days. It wasn’t until about the early 1930s that US 36’s current alignment was built nearby as a modern, paved highway. This has been a county road ever since.

Photography, Road Trips

Captured: Perfect gravel road

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