Tag Archives: National Road

Early auto history

1894 Haynes Pioneer
Elwood Haynes in the 1894 Pioneer

Copyright Elwood Haynes Museum

In 1896 there were but five gasoline automobiles in the United States; the Duryea, Ford, Haynes, Lambert, and an imported Benz. All five were purely experimental machines, although considerable effort was made to sell duplicates of the Duryea and Haynes. There was absolutely no market and it was not until March 24, 1898, that the first bonafide sale was consummated. Alexander Winton, who ranked with the pioneers, Duryea, Ford and Haynes, from the view point of experimentation, sold a one-cylinder Winton automobile to Robert Allison, of Port Carbon, PA; received payment for it and shipped the car to Allison April 1, 1898.

The Waverley Company, of Indianapolis, built its first electric carriage in 1897.
note: the first Studebaker automobiles were electric 1902.

The National Road, built early in the nineteenth century, from Cumberland, MD, through PA, OH, IN and IL, was the first and only attempt of the Federal Government to stand sponsor for a highway project. The road was approximately 1,000 miles long and was used extensively until the day when railroads paralleled it. It fell into disuse and disrepair, and about 1840 was abandoned as one entire road. From the time it was built until the present, parts of it have been in constant use. In 1910, when interest in long permanent roads for automobiles use was kindled, the route of the old National Road was rediscovered, and since then it has been repaired and still is in use today.

The first super speedway to be built in the United States was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, over which annually a 500 mile contest was staged. The moving spirits of the track were Carl G. Fisher, James A. Allison, Arthur C. Newby, and Frank H. Wheeler. The Indianapolis course was built of brick and was constructed for a theoretical speed of 61 miles per hour. The theoretical speed limit is point where the car begins to skid. On the brick turns at Indianapolis, the slewing and slipping of the driving wheels begin after a speed of 61 miles an hour was attained. That, however, is not the practical and actual limit of speed that could be attained on the track. The 2.5 mile oval is capable of accommodating a much higher rate as has been shown in the races since 1911 and in numerous public and private trials.

Indiana’s Historic National Road Part 4

This installment continues our tour along Indiana’s Historic National Road ten miles west of Indianapolis where in the middle of Plainfield, the Van Buren Elm marker is on the south side of the street in the Western Yearly Meeting Park just west of where S.R. 267 turns north. Local legend says that in 1842, President Martin Van Buren’s stagecoach was overturned because of tree roots in the road. Ironically, Van Buren had recently vetoed a bill for federal funds to pay for improvements to the National Road.

A couple of blocks west, turn left (south) on Vine Street and go three blocks to the Terre Haute, Indianapolis, & Eastern Interurban Station built in 1907, at 410 S. Vine Street. Interurban trains were a popular form of transportation in the early 20th century until the automobile became popular. Then go west one block on Buchanan to Center Street and turn right (north) to return to the National Road.

You’ll find the Plainfield’s Oasis Diner on West Main Street. It serves ‘50s fare, including a pork tenderloin and pie of the day. What a great restoration effort.

Oasis Diner
Oasis Diner

Located on the border of Hendricks and Putnam counties on the south side of the road is Rising Hall Estate. Melville F. McHaffie built the Italianate home in 1872. The farm has served as a race horse breeding and training facility.

Putnam County 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. The bricks were placed between concrete curbing to keep them in place. Livestock sometimes graze in front of the motel.

At County Road 35 E, 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. Just south of the bridge, there is evidence of earlier structures that pioneers used to cross the 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.

Clay County Courthouse
Clay County Courthouse

Follow U.S. 40 into Brazil, which grew from a stage-line relay station to the county seat. The town’s historic district showcases examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture. On the north side of the road, the Clay County Historical Society Museum occupies the former post office.

On Brazil’s west side, 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

About a ¼ mile west of the traffic signal in East Glenn, on the south side of the road is the Twigg Rest Park. The park was one of the first “rest stops” along the road during the early days of auto travel. A little further west at the southwest corner of N. Hunt Street and the National Road is the Clabber Girl billboard.

Across the road 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, which now serves as a snack bar. In the early 20th century, filling stations resembled cottages and homes.

Clabber Girl Museum
Clabber Girl Museum

At 9th and Wabash 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. The Saratoga Restaurant on the corner of 5th and Wabash has served travelers since 1942. 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 probably a forerunner of the American road novel.

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. This ends our journey across Indiana’s Historic National Road. Enjoy the drive.

Links to other parts of Indiana’s Historic National Road

For more information on our automotive heritage follow this link.

Indiana’s Historic National Road Part 3

This installment continues our tour along Indiana’s Historic National Road on Indianapolis’ near eastside. Ford Motor Company operated its Indianapolis Branch Assembly Plant at 1307-1323 E. Washington Street from 1914 to 1932. In its heyday, the plant’s capacity of 300 assembled cars per day was the highest output of any Indiana manufacturing plant.

1915 Ford Motor Company Indianapolis Branch Assembly Plant
1915 Ford Motor Company Indianapolis Branch Assembly Plant

Where Southeastern Avenue merges with East Washington Street, on the southwest corner, there is a monument erected in 1916 for Indiana’s Centennial with the following inscription: “The milestone marks the crossing of the National and Michigan Roads. Over these roads came many of the pioneers, who, by their courage and industry, founded the great commonwealth of Indiana.

The second near eastside auto plant was The Cole Motor Company at 730 E. Washington Street, which produced its line of prestige automobiles at 730 E. Washington Street from 1913 to 1925. For a brief period, Cole was second only to Cadillac in volume of sales in its price range.

At Meridian Street, turn right or (north) one block to visit Monument Circle. The Circle has always been the center of Indianapolis’ business and commercial life since the late 1820s. On October 9, 1908, Joseph J. Cole president of the Cole Carriage Company (predecessor of the Cole Motor Car Co.) completed his first “Solid Tire Auto.” He was so excited about the prospect of his “first drive” that he forgot that one important accessory was missing — the brakes — believe it or not. The 14 horsepower car was hitting on both cylinders as it was driven through the streets of Indianapolis. He spent most of his afternoon on this initial test run driving around and around Monument Circle until the car ran out of gas, providing the necessary means to stop the car.

In 1891, Charles H. Black garnered the dubious distinction of having Indiana’s first auto accidents while driving a German-made Benz on its maiden voyage in the commercial district just south of the Circle. During this six-block drive, Black crashed into a surrey when the horses became frightened-the first automobile accident. Damage to the surrey was approximately $85 which Mr. Black assumed, having it rebuilt at his carriage factory. At the next turn, the corner of Illinois and Washington Streets, Black lost control of the Benz and they crashed into a shop window in the Occidental Hotel-creating the second accident. Damage-$25. The third happened when they changed their course east on Washington Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. At this corner, control of the machine was lost again and another shop window was destroyed. Damage was another $25. Acting in accordance with the suggestions from the police, Black and his passengers drove back to his carriage factory, ending one of the first automobile journeys in America.

Go around the Circle and go South on Meridian Street one block and turn right or (west) back onto Washington Street.

Go west two blocks to the State Capitol. The State Capitol Lawn has two historical markers concerning the National Road. The first one, at the south entrance to the Indiana State Capitol along West Washington Street, celebrates the construction of the road from 1806 to 1839. The American Society of Civil Engineers National Road Monument dedicated in 1976, is located at the southwest corner of the State Capitol grounds.

Go one block west on the south side of Washington Street. The National Old Trails Association was formed in 1912 to mark the auto route and convince local and state officials to improve it. The National Old Trails Road originated on the East Coast and terminated on the West Coast at San Diego. In 1926, the Old National Route became the new U.S. 40. Completion of Interstate 70 in the 1960’s changed the importance of U.S. 40. Today, the National Road is a byway in Indiana’s transportation history.

The Old Trails Office Building at 309 W. Washington Street was designed by Pierre & Wright, was built in 1929. The building is an excellent sample of a terra cotta façade. Take a special note of the terra cotta features around the doors, near the top of the building, and in the vestibule. This romantic iconography is of Indiana heads and wagon trains that inspired early auto touring along the National Road.

Proceed west on Washington Street to White River State Park. One of the landmarks in the park is the Washington Street bridge. Built in 1916, the 844 foot concrete arched span replaced the original covered bridge that was built in the 1840s.

Restored Duesenberg Sign
Duesenberg Motors Inc.
Copyright ©2012 Dennis E. Horvath

Go west on Washington Street to Harding Street and turn left or (south) to the Duesenberg complex at 1511 W. Washington Street. Prior to moving to Indianapolis, the Duesenberg brothers – Fred and August – built extremely high-quality and advanced engines and automobiles. Part of their reason for moving here was to return to their racing roots and be near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where they had already enjoyed some success. They built the Duesenberg Automobile & Motors Company complex at 1511 W. Washington St in 1920. The only building remaining today from what is probably one of the most famous American built automobiles is this red brick Final Assembly building. The 1920 Model A Duesenberg was a luxurious car, which pioneered the use of straight eight-cylinder engines and four-wheel hydraulic brakes. E.L. Cord of Auburn, IN, acquired control of the company in1926. His mission, as he explained to Fred Duesenberg, was to develop the ultimate motorcar that would outclass all American makes.

The Model J, introduced at the New York Automobile Salon for the 1929 model year, was the most remarkable automobile in America: bigger, faster, more elaborate, and more expensive than any other car of its time. The make survived most of the Depression, but died in the collapse of the Cord Corporation in 1937. Model J production totaled 480 before the end. Over 75 percent of the original Model Js built are still roadworthy some 70 years later. No other American marque has been so fortunate. The complex was later used by Marmon-Herrington and American LaFrance companies for bus and truck manufacturing. Note the fading painted sign spelling out Duesenberg on the north side of the building.

This installment ends on Indianapolis’ near westside. Check back again to continue experiencing Indiana’s Historic National Road in the west central part of the state.

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

Indiana’s Historic National Road Part 2

This installment continues our journey along Indiana’s Historic National Road in central Wayne County. We start at the historic stone mile marker on the north side of the road showing four and one-half miles to the courthouse in Richmond and one mile to Centerville. This mile marker serves as a GPS marker from the early days of travel along the National Road.

Next up is Centerville, known as the hub of Indiana’s Antique Alley. Centerville has a number of row houses, enchanting inns, and interesting antique and specialty shops. The Lantz House Inn at 212-214 W. Main Street, c. 1830, is a bed and breakfast with one of the five existing early 19th century brick archways.

Lantz House Inn
Lantz House Inn
Copyright ©2012 Dennis E. Horvath

In 1870, when Richmond’s population and business surpassed Centerville’s, a dispute arose to move the county seat east to the new courthouse. Centerville residents twice rebuffed efforts to move the records. Their first try was with locked gates and guards, and the second by firing on their own courthouse with a three-pound cannon loaded with iron scraps. Later, soldiers were brought in to move the records to Richmond. Holes from the cannon shot are still visible over the door of the old courthouse that is now the Center Township Library.

At the west end of Centerville are two places (one on each side of the road) with old cars for sale. 1960s and later cars are for sale on the north side of the road, and 1940s & 1950s era cars on the south side of the road. Stop by and see what is available.

Another stone marker on the north side of the road, about three miles west of Centerville, shows 13 miles to the state line, six miles to Cambridge City, and three miles to Centerville.

Huddleston Farm House
Huddleston Farm House
Copyright ©2012 Dennis E. Horvath

Travel a little further past Cambridge City to Mt. Auburn to see The Huddleston Farm House Inn Museum, which showcases early commerce along the road. Travelers in the mid-19th century stopped at the farmstead for meals, provisions, and shelter and feed and rest for their horses. New exhibits allow visitors to hear from a covered wagon traveler about the conditions on the road, the food they ate, and where they found lodging. Visitors can experience the road surfaces over time, from a bumpy mud track dotted with tree stumps to brick, concrete, and the current asphalt. Tours are available April-December, Fridays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and by appointment. June-October on Saturdays, visit the on-site Farmers Market.

To travel an original road section, follow the Historic National Road marker in Dunreth. Just past the intersection of S.R. 3 where it goes north, turn left (south) onto Old National Road. You’ll notice that it’s not as straight as 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.

In Knightstown turn right (north) onto Washington Street for one block to see the original town center. Knightstown was the first Indiana town platted on the road after it was surveyed through the state.

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. An adjacent museum to the house displays items from the 1850s to 1870s, the period when the Riley family lived there. In western Hancock County, the roadside landscape makes the transition from rural to urban environment as you head into Indianapolis.

This installment ends on Indianapolis’ east side. Check back next time for a tour of the Hoosier Capitol and more experiences along Indiana’s Historic National Road.

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

Indiana’s Historic National Road Part 1

This post marks the beginning of my series on Indiana’s Historic National Road.

Construction of Indiana’s section of the National Road from Richmond to West Terre Haute took place between 1827 and 1835. The road survives earlier competition from railroads, interurbans, and the interstate system. More than 185 years later, Indiana’s Historic National Road serves as a National Scenic Byway where you can kick-back and reminisce about travel in earlier times.

In this installment, we’ll discuss National Road attractions in Richmond Indiana. Begin your trip where the National Road (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. The center has a plethora of information on the East, Central, and West Indiana Regions of the Road as well as other points of interest. Be sure to check out all of the National Road items in the gift shop.

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 then judge Harry S. Truman was commissioned and erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution as a tribute to the early pioneers who trekked westward. There are also four similar statues along the National Road.

At the NW corner of 17th and Main is the Miller Milkhouse, a drive-through market. (Another Miller’s location is a side trip just west of downtown: North off U.S. 40 at the corner of NW 3rd Street and Main.)

Where U.S. 40 jogs right (north), continue on North A Street. On route is the Wayne County Historical Museum at 1150 North A Street, which has a collection of seven of the 14 automotive makes built in Richmond. One of the most interesting is the original condition 1907 Richmond Model J1 Merry Widow Runabout. Another is the 1939 Crosley Convertible and other Crosley Corporation items.

1939 Crosley Convertible
1939 Crosley Convertible
and other Crosley Corporation items
Copyright ©2012 Dennis E. Horvath

After leaving the museum, go left (south) on 11th Street to Main Street and turn right (west) for the original National Road. This two-lane strip of retail shops has many original buildings. For an automotive side trip at 9th Street, turn right (north) and go two blocks to Elm Place and turn left (west), go one block to 8th Street and turn left (south). Go one block (south) to visit the Model T Ford Museum at 309 North 8th Street.

The Model T Ford Museum showcases the car that “put the world on wheels.” One car currently on display is a 1908 touring car believed to be the earliest Model T in existence. One of the museum’s most popular vehicles is a 1924 Army ambulance. This car is in high demand for local parade duty. The museum’s gift shop contains many unique Model T items. Before leaving the area, check out Historic Depot District for many interesting shops and restaurants. I recommend eating at Fire House BBQ and Blues at 300 North 8th Street.

1924 Model T Ambulance
1924 Model T Ambulance
Copyright ©2012 Dennis E. Horvath

Continue your trip one block south to Main Street and then turn right (west). West of the Wayne County Courthouse turn left (south) onto 3rd Street to pick up U.S. 40 again. Approximately 4.5 miles from the Wayne County Courthouse on the north side of the road is a historic stone mile marker, showing nine miles to the state line, four and one-half miles to Richmond, and one mile to Centerville.

This ends this installment of Indiana’s Historic National Road. Check back for further installments detailing experiences along Indiana’s section of the Nation’s first federally funded highway.

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

Check out the book Driving the National Road in Indiana