The Indiana General Assembly’s vote to make that motto official in 1937 came almost twenty years before the authorization of the Interstate Highway System, which would make Indianapolis a hub for automotive traffic.
By that time, Indiana had already played a pivotal role in the passage of people, goods and services across the country for centuries. The state’s waterways served as a useful conduit for the French traders trafficking in pelts between Louisiana and Canada.
Later, the state’s northern access coupled with strong pockets of abolitionist sentiment served to make it a valuable stretch of the Underground Railroad. But the east-west axis was perhaps even more well-worn.
Nineteenth-century pioneers set off in mule-drawn packet boats down the Wabash and Erie Canal, and those in covered wagons traversed the Old Pike, a clearing through the forest from Maryland to Illinois. Eventually paved, that path came to be known as the Historic National Road, and was ultimately developed into Route 40, extending all the way to San Francisco.
In the 1920’s that premier transcontinental highway met a formidable perpendicular route in Route 41, newly connecting Chicago and Miami. Their meeting place, at the intersection of Seventh and Wabash Streets in downtown Terre Haute, became known as “The Crossroads of America”.
Since that moniker has been applied to the state as a whole, Indiana has maintained its identity as the nation’s thoroughfare.
Indianapolis is connected with the rest of the country by means of five Interstate highways that intersect there. And since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, and Burns Harbor on Lake Michigan in 1970, Indiana’s resources and manufactured goods may be transported anywhere in the world by ocean liner.
Indiana’s state quarter, first minted in 2002, bears the image of an Indy race car and the inscription, “Crossroads of America”.