National Road Indiana

Driving the National Road in Indiana
Forget I-70. I invite you to tour the “National Road Indiana Style.” Begin your trip where (U.S. 40) enters Indiana on Richmond’s east side (I-70 Exit 156). The Old National Road Welcome Center is left (south) on Industrial Parkway just after the railroad overpass. At the center, you’ll meet volunteers willing to share their knowledge of the road. Plus, the shop offers many Indiana-made souvenirs for sale.

Continue west to the Madonna of the Trail monument at the west entrance of Glenn Miller Park at 22nd and Main. The 18-foot statue dedicated in 1928 by the Daughters of the American Revolution is a tribute to the early pioneers who trekked westward.

Caution: where U.S. 40 jogs right (north), National Road travelers continue straight (west) on Main Street. West of the Wayne County Courthouse turn left (south) onto 3rd Street to pick up U.S. 40 again and continue into Centerville.

Known as the hub of Indiana’s Antique Alley, Centerville has a number of row houses reminiscent of New England, enchanting inns, and interesting antique and specialty shops. Nearby is a large antique mall. Plus, a site of interest for auto buffs, is the Model T Ford Museum located about two miles north of U.S. 40 at 2131 N. Centerville Road (I-70, exit 145). The museum showcases the car that “put the world on wheels.”

Back on U.S. 40, travel a little further to see The Huddleston Farm House Inn Museum in Mt. Auburn, which showcases early commerce along the road. Travelers in the mid 19th century stopped at the farmstead for meals, provisions, shelter, and feed and rest for their horses.

Huddleston Farm House Inn

Huddleston Farm House Inn Mt. Auburn
To drive on an original road section, follow the Historic National Road marker in Dunreth. Just past the intersection of S.R. 3 going north, turn left (south) onto Old National Road. You’ll notice that it’s not as straight as the current U.S. 40. The original road conforms to the natural terrain by curving and winding around features. Turn left (west) back onto U.S. 40, east of Knightstown.

U.S. 40 continues into Greenfield. Here, the Hancock County Courthouse is the focus of a traditional town square. The birthplace and home of James Whitcomb Riley, known as the “Hoosier Poet,” is located at 250 W. Main Street. In western Hancock County, the roadside landscape makes the transition from rural to urban environment as you head into Indianapolis.

Washington Street is the National Road through Indianapolis. Three former auto plants are along the route. Ford Motor Company operated its assembly branch at 1307-1323 E. Washington Street from 1914 to 1931. The Cole Motor Company produced its line of prestige automobiles at 730 E. Washington Street from 1913 to 1925. From 1920 to 1937, the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Complex at 1511 W. Washington Street, produced America’s “ultimate motorcar.” Note the fading painted sign spelling out Duesenberg on the north side of the Final Assembly building facing the National Road.

Duesenberg Motors Co.

Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Co.
Eleven miles west of Indianapolis, you’ll find the Plainfield Diner on W. Main Street. The authentic 1954 stainless steel diner serves ‘50s fare, including a pork tenderloin and pie of the day.

Once you drive through Plainfield, you have several miles of rural scenery before reaching Putnam County, which has three original road sections. One section is at the southwest corner of where County Road 400 E meets the National Road. A brick road can be seen in front of the dilapidated Cedar Crest Motel.

At County Road 35E, follow the Historic National Road marker to the north where the old road veers off behind the Walker Motel. This one-mile section becomes County Road 550 S and goes over a reinforced concrete arch bridge over Deer Creek.

In western Putnam County, follow the Historic National Road marker at County Road 700 W and turn right (north) for another section of original road and a concrete bridge over Big Walnut Creek.

For another original road segment in Clay county, drive through Brazil to the west side and go straight on S.R. 340 (W. National Road) where U.S. 40 veers left. This is an approximately six-mile section of concrete road that represents the highway before the four-lane improvement in the late 1930s

In Vigo County, about a ¼ mile west of the traffic signal in East Glenn, on the south side is the Twigg Rest Park. The park was one of the first “rest stops” along the road during the early days of auto travel.

Nearby, at the west end of the Rose-Hulman Institute’s baseball and soccer complex, is a 1930s cottage style gas station that was relocated to this site. The building now serves as a snack bar.

1930s Gas Station

1930s Gas Station
At 9th and Wabash in Terre Haute is the Clabber Girl Museum & General Store, which depicts the varied business interests of Hulman & Company. In addition to his Terre Haute company, Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr., grandson of the company founder, purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November 1945 and made numerous changes to build the event known as the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Visitors to the museum will see an actual Indy racecar on display, as well as other memorabilia from the famous speedway.

Stay on Wabash to experience the National Road through downtown. At 3rd Street in front of the Vigo County courthouse, turn right (north) on U.S. 41 and then immediately left (west) on U.S. 40.

On Terre Haute’s west end, The Paul Dresser and Theodore Dreiser Memorial Bridges span the Wabash River. Paul Dresser was a Broadway star and song writer who composed “On the Banks of the Wabash,” which became Indiana’s state song in 1913. Theodore Dreiser was a well-known writer in the early 20th century. In 1916, Dreiser’s “A Hoosier Holiday,” chronicled a two-week automobile trip from New York City to Warsaw, Indiana. The book is one of the earliest American road novels.

The National Road continues through West Terre Haute and finally merges with I-70 west before exiting the state.

After traveling the National Road, I believe you’ll have a better idea of what it was like trekking cross country in the first half of the 20th century.

I recommend five National Road books. America’s Road: A Photographic Journey Across the National Road from Baltimore to East St. Louis, by Russell C. Poole, ISBN 0977099407; The National Road a Photographic Journey, by Clarence Carvell, ISBN 1561679526; A Guide to the National Road (The Road and American Culture, by Karl B. Raitz, ISBN 0801851556; Traveling the National Road: Across the Centuries on America’s First Highway, by Merritt Ierley, ISBN 0879514957; and Driving the National Road in Indiana, by Mary Beth Temple, ISBN 1601450982.

Back to: Backroads – A trip back in time traveling Indiana’s highways and byways.

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