Tag Archives: Dixie Highway

Experiencing the Original Dixie Highway in Indiana

September 15, 1915, marked the celebration of Dixie Highway Day in Martinsville, IN. Governor Samuel M. Ralston, Carl G. Fisher, and W. S. Gilbreath, field secretary of the Dixie Highway Association, attended. The celebration, as the name implied, marked the completion of the Dixie Highway through Morgan County.

The three Hoosiers were met on the outskirts of town by directors of the Chamber of Commerce, Company K of the Indiana National Guard, the Martinsville Band, and a host of school children. The parade extended through the business district and on to the two-and-one-half-mile stretch of brick highway, where Governor Ralston laid the first brick.

Dixie Highway Day 1915
Governor Ralston, laying first
brick on the Dixie Highway

At the time, Morgan County had an abundance of knobstone shale within its borders, famous all over the country as paving and building brick material. Martinsville and Brooklyn had three brick plants producing a daily capacity of more than 100,000 bricks.

Governor Ralston complemented the Morgan County citizens for their foresight in his luncheon remarks, “Martinsville is noted for the curative properties of the water. Her sanitariums are widely famed and those institutions will be a standing invitation for the traveling public through the means of the Dixie Highway to avail themselves of your local advantages. Those who plan for greater conveniences for the people of their day and join in storing up blessings for future generations are in the highest and best sense of word public servants. I congratulate you upon the fine spirit of this occasion and the willingness I see here on all sides manifested to do your part in the inauguration and consummation of this public work.”

Knobstone Brick
Knobstone Brick
on the Dixie Highway

Scarborough’s 1916 Official Tour Book recommended this alternate trip from Bloomington to Martinsville. “Until this section of the Dixie Highway is improved, tourists should travel from Bloomington through Ellettsville to Gosport and then on through Paragon to Martinsville, thus avoiding the rough roads and bad hills of the more direct route through Morgan County.” That is why the original alignment goes northwest out of Martinsville across the White River.

To travel on this original alignment of the 1915 Dixie Highway from the Morgan County Court House at the corner of Morgan and Main streets, go north one block and turn left (west) on to West Pike Street. Go seven blocks to North Park Avenue and turn right (north) and then take the immediate left turn onto Bob Gay Parkway. Just past the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department building on the left, the original brick section of the Dixie, proceeds for about 0.7 of a mile toward the White River Bridge.

Original Dixie Highway
Original Dixie Highway
in Martinsville, IN

I invite you go to Martinsville to experience this 100-year-old brick section of the Dixie Highway in Indiana.

For more information on Indiana rides & drives follow this link.

Check out the book Dixie Highway in Indiana

Check out the Dixie Highway in Indiana

Have you read the Images of America: Dixie Highway in Indiana. This book provided many memories about my links to the Dixie Highway in Indiana. Authors Russell S. Rein and Jan Shupert-Arick provide a fascinating historical photo tour of this once major highway.

Dixie Highway in Indiana
The Dixinana Cafe and Service Station
south of La Paz on the Dixie Highway

For me, these links begin with being born about a mile from where the Dixie passes by Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. I used to catch the bus home from high school across the street from the cemetery’s main gate at 34th and Boulevard. Also during high school, I caught butterflies and collected leaves in the cemetery. These days in the fall, my wife and I enjoy visiting the auto pioneer graves of James A. Allison, Carl G. Fisher, Howard C. Marmon, Harry C. Stutz, and the Duesenberg brothers.

The route was the brain child of Carl G. Fisher who proposed a highway linking Chicago to Miami Beach. In September 1915, the first brick was laid in Martinsville, Indiana, on the first official section of the Dixie Highway. Although Fisher’s goal was to encourage the growth of Miami Beach as a resort location, he also helped the economies of those Indiana communities along the Dixie Highway.

My first memories of traveling the Dixie are as a youth on trips from Indianapolis to South Bend. I remember going through the narrow stretch of sycamore trees in Carroll County that is now marked by the Sycamore Row marker. What an experience with the semis passing in the opposite direction.

Seeing the Crosley station wagon atop Roger’s Steak House in LaPaz reminded us that we were nearing South Bend. Other South Bend landmarks included Bonnie Doon’s Drive-IN restaurant, the Drake Motel, and the Studebaker factory just south of downtown.

On the way back home to Indianapolis, passing the Toll House at 4702 N. Michigan Road meant we were a few minutes from home.

All of these landmarks from my youth are documented, plus many more. Images of America: Dixie Highway in Indiana provides a compelling look at the route’s history. It’s one that you might enjoy contemplating a drive along the Dixie Highway in Indiana.

Peruse Images of America: Dixie Highway in Indiana at Amazon.com.

To find more about Indiana car culture follow this link.

1915 Dixie Highway in Indiana

In early 1915, boosters for the various routes for the proposed Dixie Highway had a few weeks to gather information regarding their favored route for presentation on May 20th. Carl G. Fisher and Thomas Taggart of Indianapolis, both members of the commission, displayed maps of the proposed Indiana routes. The final route: South Bend to New Albany, by way of Plymouth, Rochester, Logansport, Indianapolis, Martinsville, Bloomington, Bedford, and Paoli was a combination of two of the six proposed routes. The commission also approved a route from Chicago to Indianapolis, by way of Danville, Illinois, through Crawfordsville.

Dixie Highway Day
Governor Ralston laying the first brick in a stretch of the Dixie Highway in Indiana

According to reports from the Indiana delegation session at Chattanooga, Tennessee, there was one fight after another. Politics played its part in the whole affair with senators, congressmen, ex-governors, and party leaders from each state being represented. For a time there was such confusion and bitterness that it was feared the whole proposition would be abandoned. Finally, it appeared that all could be satisfied, and the routes through Cincinnati and Louisville were approved.

By mid-August, Thomas Taggart proposed the Dixie Highway should not be for automobiles only. He said it should be so built that it would be just as good for a farmer to haul a load of hay or corn to town as it will be for the automobilist to make a tour in his car. Good roads, he said mean more to the farmer than anyone else, for they mean that he can get more for his products by getting them to market cheaper and quicker. “This is a practical proposition,” he said. He encouraged the election of good men who are interested in the good roads question and awakening public sentiment.

Later in the month, the Christian Science Monitor noted, “The Dixie and the Lincoln Highways will represent engineering achievements which should endure for centuries. We have passed beyond the age of the chariot, but this is the age of the automobile, over these roads, these free roads which shall bring to the north and the south alike, these modern chariots shall roll in unending streams.”

On September 15, 1915, in Martinsville, Indiana, business cares were cast aside, factory, store and school doors were closed and every son and daughter from Morgan County joined in a mammoth celebration of “Dixie Day.” The celebration marked the completion of the Dixie Highway through the county. Governor Samuel M. Ralston, Carl G. Fisher, and W. S. Gilbreath, field secretary of the Dixie Highway Association, lent dignity to the occasion.

A parade formed on the outskirts of town and then marched through the business district and on to the newly completed brick highway stretch. Governor Ralston laid the crown brick bearing his name on a pillar built in commemoration of the day. Then, he laid the first brick in the two-and-one-half-mile stretch of the new Dixie Highway. After a luncheon, the Governor crowned Miss Marguerite Mars as the Dixie Highway Queen. He also commended the county’s production of 100,000 bricks per day of these famous knobstone shale paving bricks.

South Bend wound up with the distinction of being on the main lines of the Lincoln Highway, the National Parks Highway, and the Dixie Highway.

In 1915, Indiana was getting around to improving its roads with concrete and brick highways to enhance travel and get farm goods to market. Today the Dixie Highway and the Lincoln Highway offer many pleasant stretches for our driving pleasure. I invite you to check them out.

Touring Indiana’s historic two-lane highways

My thoughts are turning to touring some two-lane highways. I’d like to share some of our past tours for your consideration. Indiana is fortunate to be the crossroads of many of the country’s early federal highways that are a relaxing way to get away from the hassle of interstate driving.

Lincoln Highway
Lincoln Highway original section near Ligonier

The National Road is the first highway built with federal funds and the most important route linking the Midwest with the Atlantic seaboard in the early nineteenth century. In 1811, workers commissioned by the federal government began building this ambitious project. It was the road that led wagons and coaches westward.

The National Old Trails Association was formed in 1912 to mark the auto route and convince local and state officials to improve it. In 1926, the Old National Route became the new U.S. 40. Completion of Interstate 70 in the 1960s changed the importance of U.S. 40. Today the National Road is a byway in the country’s transportation history. You can check out my National-Road-Indiana-Style notes if you are interested in following the Indiana section.

Another historical significant route is the Lincoln Highway. In late 1912, Indianapolis industrialist Carl G. Fisher proposed a plan to finance America’s first transcontinental highway from New York to San Francisco. Fisher received a letter from Henry B. Joy, Packard Motor Company president, suggesting that the road be named for Abraham Lincoln. Contributors were motivated by the idea that if decent roads were available, people would travel more and product demand would increase. Within 30 days, he had $1 million in pledges and publicity nationwide.

On July 1, 1913, the Lincoln Highway Association was created with the route running through or touching 12 states. The federal highway numbering system was enacted in 1925. In Indiana, the highway was replaced with highways U.S. 30, U.S. 33, U.S. 20 and S.R. 2 as it meanders through the state from Fort Wayne to Dyer. Historical markers for the Lincoln Highway and “Ideal Section” are found today along U.S. 30 near Dyer. Remnants of the original highway can be found in eastern Allen County. Check out my Rediscovering-the-Lincoln-Highway description of the Lincoln’s Indiana route.

Fisher was involved in another trailblazing project. His conception of the north-south Dixie Highway from Chicago to Miami was shared with Indiana Governor Samuel Ralston in December 1914. In April 1915, The Dixie Highway Association was formed. The Dixie Highway followed a route through South Bend, Indianapolis, Paoli and then to New Albany. In September 1916, Fisher and Ralston attended a celebration in Martinsville opening the Indiana section of the roadway. Sometime after 1925, the southern route was straightened out from Indianapolis to Jeffersonville and marked U.S. 31. See my Dixie-Highway-Indiana route notes as referenced in a 1916 tour book.

I invite you to peruse these highways or others in your area to experience travel from another era. It is a great way to get away from the hassle.

Cruise-IN.com provides features for touring Indiana and beyond

Dennis @ Wheeler Mansion
Dennis @ Wheeler Mansion

Cruise-IN.com provides features for touring Indiana and beyond. New features include rediscovering highways and byways around Indiana, information about auto related events in the state, and a blog about celebrating car culture.

Indiana automotive historian Dennis E. Horvath’s Web site Cruise-IN.com provides new features just in time for the touring season. New features include Backroads: Rediscovering highways and byways around Indiana; Information about Indiana automotive exhibits and current events; and Car Culture: A blog about celebrating our car culture. Some of the new features are intended to share Hoosier automotive heritage and encourage touring around Indiana.

The Backroads section looks at Indiana routes like the National Road, the Lincoln Highway, and the Dixie Highway. Horvath believes that taking a trip on these routes allows drivers to experience travel before the advent of Interstate highways.

The Exhibits-Events share information about Indiana auto exhibits, events, and centennials. These features focus on sparking interest in getting involved and learning about the state’s automotive culture. Some of these events attract a worldwide audience to the Hoosier State.

The Car Culture blog is designed to generate interest across the wide spectrum of the auto hobby. This section presents historic as well as current items of interest for car nuts.

The Heritage section shares the pioneers, cars, companies, and mileposts in Indiana’s automotive heritage.

In our Bookstore you’ll find works by Dennis E. Horvath and Terri Horvath.

These sections compliment the Web site’s offerings, which provide the facts about the pioneers, companies, and communities who made automotive history.

Horvath’s passion for learning and sharing Indiana automotive history arose from his upbringing in Indiana and his involvement with autos in the early 1960’s. He is the co-author of three books Cruise IN: A guide to Indiana’s automotive past and present, Indiana Cars: A History of the Automobile in Indiana, and Hoosier Tour: A 1913 Indiana to Pacific Journey. He also is the Web publisher of the companion site Cruise-IN.com: Celebrating Indiana automotive history, which won an International Automotive Media Award — Silver Medallion for Excellence in 1999.