“Over the River & Through the Woods….”

The holiday season is upon us and most of us will travel near and far to spend a joyous time with loved ones feasting and gift giving. Once the traveling refrain was “the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,” while today the massive herd under the automobile hood rely on GPS and the mechanical words of Siri.
While the roads one travels may be familiar for the most part, now and then one might find that a new name — in many cases a memorialization — has been given to a road or street. Such was the case in downtown Indianapolis when the City-County Council in 1985 re-named Northwestern Avenue, extending from North Street to 38th Street, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Much earlier, on the east edge of the central commercial district Noble Street became College Avenue. In 2011 the Indiana General Assembly designated the interstate loop around Indianapolis — I-465 — the USS Indianapolis Memorial Highway.
A traveler today exiting the USS Indianapolis Memorial Highway at East Washington Street and proceeding west to Irvington drives along America’s first interstate — the National Road. Through Warren Township this historic thoroughfare in earlier days was called by the material making up the road’s surface — the Indianapolis & Cumberland Free Gravel Road — and later U. S. 40. The first major cross-road a motorist encounters is State Road 100, but before Siri chokes, she will recognize this is Shadeland Avenue. A little beyond one passes Edmondson Avenue, once known as Rice Road for the family who farmed the area, while still farther on, is Line Street — today’s Arlington Avenue.
At the turn of the last century it probably was good that the “horse knew the way” because the many changes of street names in Irvington would have made Siri hoarse keeping up. American authors were the choice by the town board in the re-naming. National Avenue became Emerson Avenue in honor of essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and a little street west of Pleasant Run off of Washington Street originally platted as Summit Street was re-named Riley Avenue in honor of the Hoosier Poet. Curving through the Irvington neighborhood north of Washington Street was the street with two names — Elm and Walnut Avenues. This roadway became Lowell Avenue in recognition of romantic poet and critic James Russell Lowell. A similar curving avenue south of Washington Street with two names — Spratt and Grand Avenues – was given the appellation University Avenue since its western terminus at the time was the Butler University campus. The board selected to honor novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne and poet John Greenleaf Whittier by re-naming Dillon Avenue as Hawthorne Lane and Hunter Avenue as Whittier Place.
Audubon Road was Central Avenue before Irvington was annexed by Indianapolis and the name was changed to avoid confusion with an existing city street. According to newspaper accounts at the time, recognizing American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Aububon in this manner was “regarded with much satisfaction by the residents, as the birds abound in [the avenue’s] trees.” In particular, “a blackbirds’ roost, where millions of birds make their homes in season” was on the lot where the Saxony Court Apartments are today. The people of Irvington also suggested the name of Indiana poet Sarah T. Bolton to the city board of public works for the re-naming of Maple Avenue. Among a number of other changes was East Street to Sheridan Avenue; Warren Street to Catherwood Avenue; Orchard Street to Webster Avenue; and Green Avenue to Lesley Avenue.
The least attractive roadway in Irvington probably was Railroad Avenue. Extending along the side of the Pennsylvania Railroad, it was re-named Bonna Avenue for Bona Thompson, the young Butler University grad who died of typhoid fever. Many were dismayed that such a beautiful name should be given to such an industrialized street, and misspelled to boot. (The misspelling reflected how the name was pronounced.) Today, however, Bonna Avenue is being transformed into a well landscaped byway beside the Pennsy Trail.
Traveling outside of Irvington, a motorist might take one of the east-west roads running through the northern part of Warren Township. Clifford Avenue, that today Siri would recognize as 10th Street, was known a little over a hundred years ago by township residents as the Indianapolis & Pogues Creek Gravel Road. However, a traveler might have to rely on good old-fashioned horse-sense to find Shearer Road — the Center & Warren Township Free Gravel Road. Modern GPS and Google Maps label it 21st Street. Like Shearer and Rice Roads, many country lanes were named for families with land holdings along the waysides. Such was the case with Askren Road; extending north from Anderson Cemetery between 10th and 16th Streets this roadway is today’s Ridgeview Drive.
Whatever ribbon of concrete or asphalt you may follow this holiday season, may your travels be safe.