News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

November 30, 2012

Final National Road historic panel in place in Terre Haute

TERRE HAUTE — Visitors to the Indiana Mile that surrounds Memorial Stadium will find an interpretive panel that tells the history and significance of the Historic National Road.

It’s part of a bigger project by the Indiana National Road Association (INRA) to install 15 panels across the state, from Terre Haute to Richmond.

Late Thursday morning, workers with The Hoosier Co. of Indianapolis installed the 15th, and final panel, at the Indiana Mile just off Wabash Avenue.

Earlier in the day, they completed two others in western Indiana, one on the Rose-Hulman campus near the historic “Cottage,” and another in Brazil next to the old post office, now the Clay County Historical Society and Museum.  

“It’s a great way for visitors and Hoosiers alike to learn about the significance and history of the National Road, which is the history of Indiana, in a certain sense,” said Joe Frost, executive director of the Indiana National Road Association.

On Thursday, Tommy Kleckner was on hand as workers finished the panel near Memorial Stadium. He is the director of the Western Regional Office of Indiana Landmarks.

Until now, “There really has not been a cohesive interpretive project for the Indiana National Road,” he said. While people can look up information online, “There is still something very valuable about having something like this that’s more permanent.”

 Kleckner hopes people “will make a point to come see it, but also just happen upon it and learn a little more about why this road is here, the importance of it in terms of the settlement of the country and even the growth of Terre Haute locally.”

One side of each panel is the same at all 15 locations, while the other side varies.

The panel near Rose-Hulman includes a photo of the “Cottage,” formerly a filling station along the Historic National Road; the Cottage was built in 1931.

In 1999, the Indiana National Road Association and Rose-Hulman saved the building from demolition by moving it from its original location to the Rose-Hulman campus near Art Nehf Field.

In Brazil, the panel states that the community, “just like her sister U.S. 40 communities, prospered due to its location on the National Road.” It talks about how Brazil’s brick and coal industries fueled much of its growth in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and how bricks made there were used to pave the National Road across Indiana.

The panel near Memorial Stadium is more general and provides information about the Auto Age; it describes how U.S. 40 was one of the country’s primary east/west routes until the completion of Interstate 70.

Matt Gritter, one of The Hoosier Co. employees who installed the interpretive panels, said, “It’s been neat to learn about it [Historic National Road].” He didn’t realize it was the nation’s first federally funded interstate highway.

Also on hand with completion of the final panel was Pat Martin, Terre Haute chief planner and an INRA member since 1996.

The Historic National Road “literally blazed the path for settlement from the eastern seaboard into the Midwestern area,” he said.

Eighty percent of funding for the interpretive panel project came from federal transportation enhancement money, with 20 percent coming from INRA and in-kind services from Indiana Landmarks, Martin said.

In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson approved funding for the Historic National Road, and in 1811 construction started in Cumberland, Md., westward to Vandalia, Ill. By 1834, Indiana’s section of the road was completed.

Thousands of settlers used the road to move west. By the 1850s, traffic along the National Road included families in covered wagons, stagecoaches and farmers moving their livestock to market.

In 1994, the Indiana National Road Association was created to assist in designating the National Road as a National Scenic Byway, which was obtained in 1998.

In 2002, the National Road was designated an All-American Road. “This designation is reserved for Byways that are of great national significance,” according to an INRA news release.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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