Twelve more miles of the old Hub Highway from Bethel to Orestes

Early automobile clubs in Indiana began to promote national auto trails that predated official state highways around the turn of the twentieth century. By 1922, the Hoosier State Automobile Association had laid out thirty-four of them1! One was the Hub Highway, which connected Lafayette and Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1917. In Delaware and Madison Counties, the road followed Bethel Pike from Muncie to Alexandria. There, it took Washington Street towards Orestes.

The Hub Highway, as it appeared from Elwood to Greenville, Ohio on the 1918 Rand McNally Auto Trails map. The segment between Bethel and Orestes is highlighted in blue.

Yesterday, we followed the Hub Highway’s path on Bethel Pike from Wheeling Avenue in Muncie to the village of Bethel; read that account here. Today we’ll travel the rest of the way, starting at Bethel and ending at where the old highway connected with the Elwood and Alexandria Pike, now known as State Road 28.

I-69 looking southbound from the Bethel Pike overpass. Photo taken January 14, 2023.

Bethel Pike crosses over I-69 a mile and a half after leaving the hamlet it took its name from. In the early 1960s, officials contemplated locating one of the interstate’s three Muncie exits here until they realized that it wouldn’t provide motorists with adequate access to downtown Muncie2. Ultimately, Jackson Street Pike, three miles south, was selected for one interchange, while State Road 28, about a mile to the north, was chosen to become another.

Here’s Stringtown as it appeared in a 1961 aerial image. The District 5 schoolhouse, long closed, is at the bottom right of the image.

The point where Bethel Pike crosses over I-69 was once home to Harrison Township’s District 5 schoolhouse, known as the Stringtown school. It sat on the south side of the pike. After the schoolhouse closed in 1925, Obediah Sanders operated a grocery store and gas station there3. Stringtown was never officially laid out, but it sprung up as an informal residential community where Bethel Pike jogs again on County Road 925-West just west of the interstate. The Hub Highway’s black-and-white reassurance markers undoubtedly stood at both junctures to keep motorists headed in the right direction.

The former King’s Chapel Church, now a home. Photo taken January 14, 2023.

Also known as College Corner4 and King’s Chapel5, Stringtown consists of about ten houses. The community’s alternative names came from the College Corner Christian Church, which was established in the late 1800s. In 1902, the congregation built a new sanctuary on Cornelius King’s land and rechristened itself after its benefactor. Although the extant church looks much older, it was built in 19386. Today, it’s used as a dwelling.

Bethel Pike, indicated near the top of this 1901 plat map, as it entered Monroe Township from Delaware County.

Bethel Pike -the old Hub Highway- crosses into Madison County three-quarters of a mile west of Stringtown. A mile after the county line, Monroe Township’s District 2 schoolhouse, known as Spiceland, sat at the southwest corner of the turnpike and Chesterfield Road. Monroe Township’s District 5 school, Manring, stood two miles west.

The former Cunningham Elementary School on the old Hub Highway. Photo taken January 14, 2022.

Both schoolhouses and nine more in eastern Monroe Township closed in 1938 when the consolidated Cunningham Elementary School opened on the site of District 57. Cunningham served students from grades 1-8 who went on to attend high school at Alexandria. In 1955, the school received a one-story addition that contained four classrooms and a cafeteria. The school closed for good fifty-one years later. The Alexandria Community School Corporation sold the vacant building in 2009, and today it appears that a modular classroom on the building’s property is being used as a home.

Bethel Pike and the Old Hub Highway enter Alexandria through a neighborhood called Scott’s Addition. The road becomes East Washington Street at Alexandria’s State Road 9 bypass, taking an s-curve south before it heads downtown. According to census figures, Muncie’s population was about 36,000 when the Hub Highway was first laid out. Alec, as the locals call it, is much smaller and was home to more than 4,100 people in 1920. Nevertheless, it’s the first real city that the Hub Highway encounters after Muncie. Today, about 5,100 people live there.

As Washington Street, the Hub Highway intersects with Canal Street shortly after it enters downtown. From 1912 to 1925, George Edwards and Glen Kildow operated a cigar factory on the second floor of this building. Specializing in cheap stogies, the company ran into problems in 1923 when it received an order for 35,000 Jim Squire cigars from a distributor in Tampa, Florida8! The factory was mostly staffed by women, who were each required to wrap a thousand cigars per day to meet the demand. At the time, City Steam and John O’Bryant’s meat market took up the first floor of the building9. Today, an insurance agency and a flea market reside in those spaces. The old cigar factory upstairs has been subdivided into apartments.

This row of storefronts stands opposite the old cigar factory and is typical of downtown Alexandria. From right to left, the buildings housed a barber shop, pool hall and restaurant, and a bazaar in 1909. The building with the peaked facade appears to have been a glove factory, while the white building with the Coca-Cola sign was a bakery10.

The main entrance to the former Mantle Lamp Company factory in Alexandria. Photo taken January 14, 2023.

Exiting downtown, the Hub Highway continued along Washington Street for half a mile before entering what was once the community of Aladdin. In 1926, the Mantle Lamp Company purchased the buildings and land of the Lippincott Glass Company on what was then Alexandria’s outskirts. The company built an enormous new factory to manufacture its Aladdin kerosene lamps and incorporated the area as its own village. In 1928, Aladdin was the smallest official community in Indiana, with just twenty-two residents11.

Part of the former Mantle Lamp Company factory in Alexandria. Photo taken January 14, 2023.

The village was later annexed by Alexandria, but at one point, nearly 900 people worked at the Aladdin factory! Mantle merged with its Aladdin subsidiary in 1949, but the Alexandria operation was relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, in 195212. Today, much of the complex has been demolished.

The old Hub Highway, Washington Street, looking eastbound between Alexandria and Orestes.

West of Alexandria, the Hub Highway continued on Washington Street for two miles before it turned right onto North County Road 300-West. That road turns into Superior Street once it enters the small community of Orestes, where 327 people live as of the most recent census.

Orestes Elementary School, as it appeared in 2014 before its demolition. Satellite imagery courtesy Google, copyright IndianaMap Framework Data. Landsat /Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA/FPAC/GEO. 

The old highway passes where the 1923 Orestes Elementary School once stood a third of a mile after the turn. Built to replace an older structure that was destroyed by a tornado the previous year, the building was designed to be a consolidated elementary school that served students from grades 1-8 on the west side of Monroe Township. It finally closed after the 2002-03 school year, and Red Gold -the largest privately-held tomato processor in the country- purchased it to convert it into their new headquarters. That didn’t happen, and the building was demolished soon after. Today, it’s a tomato field.

Orestes’ Knights of Pythias Hall. Photo taken January 14, 2023.

In fact, most of Orestes is a tomato field or a factory to process them in: in 1942, Grover Hutcherson and his daughter, Fran, bought an abandoned cannery in town. In 1948, Fran and her husband, Ernest Reichart, took control of the business, which changed its name from Orestes Canning to Red Gold in 1970. The company has a sprawling presence in the area, but there’s not much to Orestes proper. The town’s Knights of Pythias Hall, which absorbed Alexandria’s lodge in 197314, is Orestes’ most prominent old building.

The town’s tiny post office sits alongside the Dr. Joel Cook Building across the old Hub Highway from the lodge hall. Erected in 1895 as a doctor’s office, the Dr. Joel Cook Building served as an ice cream parlor, a post office, an apartment building, and a storage unit in the years after Cook’s death in 193115. It was most recently home to the Orestes Historical Society.

A re-creation of the old Hub Highway marker I made in Adobe Illustrator.

From its intersection with 1st Street where Orestes’ old buildings are located, the old Hub Highway traveled another half a mile north before it turned west to follow the Elwood and Alexandria Pike, now State Road 28. So ends the Hub Highway’s twenty-mile segment between Muncie and Orestes, the only stretch across sixty miles from Ohio to Elwood to never serve as an official state highway.

Sources Cited
1 Motorists, Here are Markings of State’s Highways (1922, November 1). The Lafayette Journal and Courier. p. 9.
2 Cross-Town Routes Called Inadequate (1961, July 11). The Muncie Evening Press. p. 10.
3 Greene, D. (1978, January 28). Seen and Heard in Our Neighborhood. The Muncie Star. p. 12.
4 Harrison (1880, March 3). The Muncie Weekly Times. p. 2.
5 Haimbaugh, F.D. (1924). History of Delaware County, Indiana. Volume I. Historical Publishing Company [Indianapolis]. book.
6 King’s Chapel Congregation To Dedicate New Church With Special Services Sunday (1938, January 15). The Muncie Star. p. 14.
7 Holtsclaw, S. (2006, May 17). After 68 years, Cunningham Elementary School says goodbye to Alexandria.” The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 1. 
8 Schroth, C. (1990, November 7). Biography of Our Town. The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 2.
9 (See footnote 8).
10 (1909) Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Alexandria, Madison County, Indiana. Sanborn Map Company, Nov. [Map] WEb. Retrieved January 15, 2023.
11Aladdin Mantle Lamp Company (2014). The Alexandria Monroe Historic Museum. Web. Retrieved January 15, 2023.
12 Barrett, T. (1977, August 24). Aladdin Knights prepare for show. The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 8.
13 Orestes School reunion (2012, August 22). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 7.
14 K Of P Lodges Merge (1973, September 19). The Alexandria Times-Tribune. p. 8.
15 Orestes Museum Open House unveils school exhibit (2011, September 21). The Alexandria Times Tribune. p. 5.

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