In just a few years the officials of Lake County decided to build a new east-west road about two blocks south, making changes in the hopes, dreams and plans. The area chosen for the new road was full of hills and valleys, with a bridge needed over Cedar Creek.
The construction must have appeared to many of the early settlers to be a nearly impossible project, with trees to be cleared and tons of earth and stone to be moved by the best method available, which in those early years involved hard work of men and their horses. The Old Timer has often tried to imagine what a challenge it must have been to surveyors and construction crews. Did the county build a high ridge through what is now downtown Lowell with a country road in mind, or were they adding to Mr. Halsted's plan for a new village? The ridge must have been nearly 10 feet high in some places in that Cedar Valley.
One way or another, one of the first tasks was to clear the trees and vegetation, and the removal of stumps often slowed the road building. But during construction in New York State before 1825, a workman invented a stump puller. With it, seven strong men and one team of horses were all that was needed to remove about 40 stumps in one work day. At least a part of the invention was a huge wooden beam 30 feet in length with holes drilled to insert heavy chains, with the team of horses pulling on one end as the stumps were twisted out of the ground.
When the debris was cleared, the distance, direction, and elevation had to be measured. The distance was measured with a "Gunter's Chain," 66 feet long, 80 'chains' making a mile. (Ten square chains equaled an acre). Direction was measured with a magnetic compass or with a vernier, an instrument to measure horizontal angles. Elevation was measured with the help of a simple level, with care taken with the rise in grade.
Imagine the workmen as they used shovels, rakes, picks and hoes, and loaded dirt into horse drawn wagons. Or perhaps the county men used a slip scraper pulled by a team of horses and guided by a man of muscles. The slip scraper was used before 1825 in the construction of the Erie Canal, and must have been the "bull dozer" of the times. A few readers may remember the slip scraper being used to dig basements here in Lowell, as well as horses and mules used in the construction of US 41.
The first bridge on the new road was built of heavy timbers and thick piling, with barely enough room for two wagons. A circa 1881 photo shows the very narrow bridge, with a narrower bridge to the north for Washington Street.
When the dirt county road was completed a few of the business owners in the mill district saw the value of the new county road and moved their stores south. Because the new street was on a high ridge, there was no need to dig a basement in many areas, and the frame or brick store buildings were built on limestone or brick foundations, many of which can be seen by viewing the photo of the 1898 fire which destroyed businesses in two blocks on the north side of the avenue. In a few years many more business buildings were added to the downtown area.
A few store buildings on the south side of Commercial Avenue had basement doors opening to the valley floor, there was a need for steps to the main floor for some, with no stairs needed for the rear doors for those closer to Fremont Street. Basement windows and doors can still be seen at the rear of several store buildings on the north side of the avenue.
In answer to a question about some of the basement windows in two buildings near the corner of Commercial Ave. and Clark Street were nearly covered with fill. The buildings were built in 1900, the fill was made just a few years later, according to a 1911 photograph which shows them covered as they are today.
According to old photographs, the old 'County Road' remained a dirt street until sometime before World War I. An old 1911 photo shows the downtown area soon after the deep ruts wee smoothed with a horse-drawn scraper.
In a few years the road was graveled, and the tan dust of the soil was traded for the white dust caused by autos on the gravel. Then came the oil wagon, dripping oil on the gravel street to keep the dust down, and in the early 1920's tar was added to the gravel. Like most barefoot boys, the Old Timer got in trouble bringing tar onto a living room carpet!
For many blocks along Commercial Ave., there was a parkway between the sidewalks and the highway, with huge oak trees making an archway over the street. But that was all changed in 1928 when the State of Indiana decided to move Indiana Route 2 (Harding Highway) from Belshaw Road to Commercial Ave., and a 'cement' road was built through the Town of Lowell.
There were many changes made when the right-of-way was widened: Two corners on East Commercial near the cemetery were soon gone. (The old road can still be seen.) Most of the parkways and the big oaks disappeared, sidewalks were torn up and moved, many front yards were made smaller, rear surveys were changed when the center of the road moved, curbs and sidewalks were built, and the dust of the past was gone at last. For decades, the 1928 'cement road' has been coated with blacktop. Many old timers compare the occasional auto of yesteryear to the present 'rush hour' traffic problems of today.
There was also a big change at North Hayden when the new concrete road was built. Before that time traffic went up and over the railroad track instead of under it as it is today. Very steep on both sides, your auto pointed to the sky at the top of the incline, then leveled off to go down the other side.
Through the 150 years after the 'County Road' was constructed, Halsted's Main Street was the site of a grist mill, brush factory, plumbing shop, auto repair, museum, dentist office, optometrist office, several churches, library, town hall, ice cream factory, ice house, telephone office, several small stores, a general store, a large school, excavating firm, implement sales, antique shop and more. There was also a large field where tent shows were held.
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