Indiana adopted the state motto “Crossroads of America” in 1937, about ten years after the Good Roads Movement ended and the state highways crisscrossing the country made auto travel practical. Technically, the location of the first “crossroads” is the intersection of US Highways 40 and 41 in Terre Haute. Once you enter the town proper, the streets are called Seventh and Wabash. A historical marker reminds each passerby of the corner’s significance, although the sign does denote the current locations of US 40 and 41.
In relation to automobile traffic by sheer volume, the “Crossroads of America” is Indianapolis, or technically the I-465 beltway that encircles the city. Official named the USS Indianapolis Memorial Highway in 2011, this 53-mile monster took 11 years to build and eventually swallowed up a confused cluster of interstate and state highways since construction began in 1959*
Portions of it have now widened to an eight-lane behemoth of a road, and it has become a national nexus of commercial, industrial, and recreational travel. In Indiana, if you wanted the true “Crossroads of America” then look no further than Indy’s I-465 (Hoosiers just call it “465” or sometimes “%$&#!”).
*Officially, construction ended in 1970, but anyone familiar with I-465 knows the construction never EVER ends.
An argument could be made for the railroads that once passed through Indiana, especially those running through Western and Northwest Indiana.
These railroads, bringing industrial products to and from the lakeshore steel mills and livestock to the famous/infamous stockyards of Chicago, were the backbone of not just the Midwest’s economy, but of the expanding West’s economy as well. As much as cattle ranchers might love the open plains of the Dakotas or Texas, when it came time to convert cattle to cash, those trains headed to Chicago.
If you’re looking for the “crossroads” that turned a too-big-for-its-britches agrarian democracy into an international economic and military superpower, then the railroads of western Indiana have earned the nickname “Crossroads of America.”
There’s a significant intersection in the medium-sized city of Schererville, one of Indiana’s early suburbs for blue-collar workers of the lakeshore and Chicago. This intersection contains a BP station, the regionally-famous Tiebel’s restaurant, a generic office building, and a White Castle. It also contains two of America’s earliest and most important highways: US 41 and US 30.
When designing our early state highways, US 30, portions of which used to be the “Lincoln Highway,” provided the prototype for ideal highways. It was also one of the earliest highways built for recreational motoring. In the 1920s, any American that needed to drive east or west went on the Lincoln Highway (later denoted US 30). US 41, which runs from the US-Canadian border all the way to the southern tip of Florida, was the main artery for Midwest traffic going north or south and built just after the Lincoln Highway.
So, if you’re looking for the “crossroads” that cultivated our national love of the open road, then you want the intersection of US Highways 30 and 41 in Schererville, Indiana.
Vandalia, Ohio, has claim on the motto “The Crossroads of America” for the historic intersection of US 40 and the former Dixie Highway. The Dixie Highway* served the same function as the Lincoln Highway, only from north to south. In 1927, the official title the “Dixie Highway” ended, and the roads were portioned out by federal and state authorities, but that didn’t stop any drivers. *Notice these two opposing highways were named Lincoln and Dixie?
Besides being the hometown of Chuck Berry, the city of Wentzville, Missouri, also calls itself the “Crossroads of the Nation,” pointing out its intersection of I-70 and US 40. In fact, that motto is the first thing that pops up on the municipal website. Calling it an intersection seems a bit of a misnomer. Instead it’s one of those looping bowties that delight civil engineers and confuse drivers.
Definitive Answer: It’s Indiana.
As a motto, “Crossroads of America” fits the Hoosier State in more ways than transportation. Our economy is a mix of agriculture, industrial, and manufacturing business. We have hundreds of miles of open road with cornfields to match, yet our capital is considered a center of America’s growing tech industry. Even our accents, depending on where you live in Indiana, are a mix of the flat Midwestern Michigan accent and the drawl of Kentucky.
Indiana isn’t homogenized, it’s just its own thing. For good or bad, Hoosiers can all agree that we have character. And all six million of us can also say one thing with uniform pride: At least we’re not from Illinois.