Before the arrival of the pioneers in the 1830's, Lake County was criss-crossed by many trails. Some were made by animals, including the bison, and others by Indians who either lived in the area or were only passing through. Travel for the early settler was difficult, whether on foot or by horseback. It was worse for those with wagons, for the trails had to be wider and the going was slow in wet weather.
When Indiana became a state in 1816, it contained about 65,000 people, living chiefly in the Whitewater Valley, on the lower Wabash River, and along the Ohio River hills. The land north of the Wabash River was owned by the Indians until sold under the terms of a treaty at Tippecanoe on Oct. 26 and 27, 1832. Two years later, the land that was to become Lake County was surveyed by A. Burnside, who completed his work Apr. 21, 1834, the same year that marked the arrival of squatters.
Many trails and roads south of the Wabash River are shown on an old map by S. Augustus Mitchell, printed in 1834. Not one trail is shown in this area of Lake County, however.
Another old map, by Rev. T.H. Ball, printed in 1891, shows many of the old Indian trails, including one crossing from Illinois into West Creek Twp., passing through what is now North Hayden, then turning northeasterly toward Cedar Lake. Passing the north end of the lake and Crown Point on the west, it heads for what is now the busy town of Merrillville. Many other trails came into that area from all points of the compass, making lines on the map like the spokes of a wheel. Now, super highways cross the area that was once called "McGwinn's Village," a popular gathering place of the Indians.
Lake County roads follow in part the old trails of the Indians, including the well-known Sauk (Soc or Sac) Trail that crossed the county at an angle.
Another trail, this one in the north end of the county, began when old Ft. Dearborn was at the mouth of the Chicago River. This route, used in part by the French explorers in the 1600's, made its way from Illinois along the beach of Lake Michigan, ferried or forded the mouth of the Calumet River, and went on to Baille's Trading Post (settled 1822). Then proceeding to Michigan City, it went near an old Miami Indian Village north of South Bend, passed a halfway house at White Pigeon, Mich., and then on to Detroit. U.S. Highway No. 12 now follows along the route of that old trail, called the "Chicago Road," a very interesting and picturesque highway.
The Potawatomi Indians made their trails along rivers and swamps where the hunting and fishing was good. One of those is now followed closely by Belshaw Rd., south of Lowell, which was the last road south of Lowell before the shoreline of the old Kankakee Marsh. The old map (see above) reveals part of Buckley Homestead County Park under water. West of U.S. 41, Belshaw Rd., also known as State Rd. 2 in that area, runs along the high ground into Illinois east of U.S. 41, Belshaw Rd. is a county road now, but once was called the "State Road." The old Indian trail it follows went to Hebron and stretched to Valparaiso in Porter County.
To the south, the conditions for travel were almost unbearable, for the area was more hilly, the forests were larger, and the streams were limited for travel because of fallen trees, rapids and sand bars. By 1825, only two main roads led to the capital.
One of the early so-called highways of Indiana was called the "Michigan Road," which went from Indianapolis through South Bend on its way to Michigan. It was built about 1826, shortly after Indianapolis became the state capital in 1825 (moved from Corydon). This route went through Logansport, Rochester and Plymouth and was later replaced by busy U.S. 31. In a treaty with the Potawatomi Indians, many miles were ceded for the 100-foot right of way. It was planned to turn toward Lake Michigan in a more direct route, but the area of the Kankakee River in Porter County was too rough for the engineers.
Most of the early roads were nothing more than bridle paths, but that was not true of the "National Road," which had its beginning in Cumberland, Md., and went as far as Vandalia, Ill. It crossed Indiana through Indianapolis, Greencastle, and Terre Haute. The road work reached the capital by 1827 and that same year was completed to the Illinois border. Pioneers working on the road were paid $1.50 per day, with most of them using the money to pay the taxes levied for the building of the roads.
They grubbed the timber, graded the ground, and built culverts and bridges of cut stone. Then, a track 30-40 feet wide in the center of the 80-foot right-of-way was laid with layers of stone 10 inches deep, topped by stone mixed with tar, or macadamized. In some very rough areas, they were forced to use heavy oak planks covered with sand, but this idea was soon dropped when the planks quickly wore out. The National Road went through Indiana almost straight east to west, with a variation of only two miles from the line. U.S. 40 now travels along this route.
The practice of using planks for a road was not unique to southern Indiana, for the idea was also used here in Lake County when a "corduroy" road was built between the village of Creston and the railroad station at Paisley in southwestern Cedar Lake. The Old Timer remembers seeing a portion of this old roadway, pointed out by his father, who told him about the very rough ride over the plank road. It was made by placing piling along the sides, connecting them with heavy beams, and then laying big planks across, making more of a bridge than a road. The old road started near the present railroad crossing at Creston, went north through the swamp and came out near a present boat harbor at the south end of Cedar Lake.
Road building became easier in south Lake County when the bridges were built. The first bridge over West Creek was built by 1837 pioneer Nehemiah Hayden in 1838 at a cost of $400. Before the bridges, the streams had to be forded or travelers had to be ferried across.
Road building progressed, and with the coming of the railroads in the 1850's, many more were built to connect with the new form of transportation. The map shown here is marked with the main roads existing in this area in 1876. Many more roads and highways were to come.
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