News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 30, 2011

Plaza honors National Road’s influence on TH’s development

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — More than 100 students from Lost Creek Elementary School lined Seventh Street on a chilly Tuesday afternoon to participate in a formal dedication of the National Road Plaza, which serves as a south gateway for Indiana State University.

“The National Road was literally an economic engine that helped Terre Haute become a bustling center of commerce,” said ISU President Daniel Bradley. “Today, our community serves as a hub for higher education, medical services, business and industry, retail sales and cultural activities” for west-central Indiana and east-central Illinois, Bradley said.

Construction on the plaza/gateway, near Seventh and Cherry Streets, started in 2008 and was completed in 2009. Final signage was added in 2010.

Tuesday marked the 205th anniversary of Congress’ approving $30,000 for the preliminary survey of the National Road, during Thomas Jefferson’s administration.

Flanking a podium, set up on a temporarily closed section of Seventh Street, was a 1930 Model A, owned by Harold Medsker, former superintendent of Southwest School Corp. in Sullivan, and a horse-pulled carriage built in the 1890s, driven by owner Larry Sample of Terre Haute, with his horse, Pete.

The two were representative of modes of transportation used on the National Road, the nation’s first federally funded interstate highway.

Construction of the road began in 1811 in Cumberland, Md., and reached Vandalia, Ill., the former capital of Illinois in 1839, where the road ended.

The road’s section across Indiana, which stretches for 156 miles, was finished in 1834. The road reached Terre Haute’s eastern edge in 1827, said Cliff Lambert, executive director of the Terre Haute Department of Redevelopment.

“In 1834, [the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under] Major Cornelius Ogden, the superintendent of the 240-mile National Road extension from the Indiana/Ohio state line to Vandalia, Ill., located [the National Road] headquarters here in Terre Haute,” Lambert said. “This was one of many contributions that National Road made to the Terre Haute economy, and illustrates the strong connection of our community and this important development.

“With the opening of the road, taverns, hotels, wagon houses were built to accommodate the influx of travelers,” Lambert said.

With the invention of the automobile, the National Road was renamed in 1926 as U.S. 40.

“The plaza was envisioned ... as a gateway to [ISU’s] campus,” said John Jackson, associate principal of Ratio Architects, which designed the plaza. “It is a gathering space for students, staff and the community. It also supports the city’s arts corridor along Seventh Street and communicates the story of the National Road, which in many ways is receding from the nation’s consciousness,” Jackson said.

Fourth-grade students were at the dedication as part of their studies on Indiana’s history. Students wrote a journal as if they were traveling along the route after its opening. Lost Creek Elementary is located along the original National Road route in eastern Vigo County.

Four students — Kate Gauer, Saige Harper, Ben Johnson and Jillian Ruark — won $25 gift certificates to a new Barnes & Noble bookstore, located between Fourth and Fifth Streets on the south side of Cherry Street, slated to open April 11.

Hannah Shoopman was the grand prize winner of a $100 gift certificate to the bookstore.

Howard Greninger can be reached at (812) 231-4204 or