By Justin Schneider, Herald Bulletin Staff Writer

It runs 17.7 miles through Madison County.

Two 24-foot strips of pavement, two lanes each, with a 60-foot median dividing them. But the impact Interstate 69 has made on Anderson and all of Indiana is immeasurable.

It helped speed profits and growth during the most prosperous years of the automotive industry and it represents Anderson's best chance for resurgence in the future.

On Sept. 4, 1964, Gov. Matthew Welsh cut a section of ribbon, formally opening 12.6 miles of Interstate 69 through Madison County. Dignitaries who attended the ceremony rode in a caravan that included antique cars provided by the Anderson Model T Club and a state police escort.

"We have the greatest concentration of industry in the United States," Welsh would say in an address to the Anderson and Anderson Township Exchange Clubs soon after. "I am astonished when I visit other parts of the country to learn that Indiana is little known. People seem to know about the Indianapolis Speedway and Notre Dame University, but they aren't aware that we are the leading industrial state."

A route from Indianapolis northeast via Fort Wayne to Angola was added to the proposed "Interregional Highway System" by the early 1940s. The I-69 designation was added to the Indianapolis-to-Angola route in 1957. A series of public hearings was set, including one at Madison Heights High School on March 13, 1959, for which Clarence V. Windsor of Anderson and Ross McCally of Kendallville served as state road hearing examiners.

"We should like to be on record as favoring the proposed interstate highway No. 69," said Fred Yelton, representing Guide Lamp and Delco Remy Division of General Motors Corp., according to a report in the Anderson Daily Bulletin.

"We feel the best interests of the public and our community will be well served ... and this is particularly true of planned improvement for Ind. 9 and 32, with the new Ind. 32 serving the new airport and the Chesterfield community... this will contribute greatly to a metropolitan network of highways which will further enhance the cultural and industrial development of our community."

In February 1959, the exact path the interstate would take through Madison County was revealed by the Indiana Highway Commission.

"The proposed new superhighway which will lie between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne will sweep through this county to about 3 miles south of Chesterfield and then begin north along the Madison-Delaware county line in Delaware County from Daleville," read a report in the Anderson Daily Bulletin.

The article went on to describe four proposed interchanges, each around five miles east or south of Anderson. Construction was set to begin in spring 1961. Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968 authorized a 156-mile extension to Port Huron, approved in 1984 and completed in 1992.

The July 11, 1960, edition of The Anderson Herald reported the predication that Anderson's population would grow to 98,000 by 1980. The article had declared the decade to come "The Super Sixties" and reported that improvements to city water and electricity were under way, along with the creation of a plan commission and redevelopment commission.

The presence of the interstate accelerated Anderson's progress as a major center of automotive manufacturing. But as that growth tapered off, business and industry fled downtown for more convenient interstate access.

In 1999, the Anderson-Madison County Visitors & Convention Bureau moved from the Union Building in downtown Anderson to a new location just south of Exit 26. This year, the Chamber of Commerce for Anderson & Madison County followed suit, moving its headquarters from 205 W. 11th St. to the Flagship Enterprise Center at Exit 22.

"The Flagship Enterprise Center, if you've not seen it, is a wonderful facility," said Keith Pitcher of the Chamber of Commerce. "Anderson University and Purdue University have offices there. Its business incubator is fostering the businesses that will be creating jobs in our community."

But the presence of the interstate still encourages companies to establish themselves in Madison County. Affiliated Computer Services came to Exit 22 in September 2007, Madison Park Church of God created a megachurch near Exit 26 in May 2007, and IBM moved in near the Madison-Delaware county at Exit 34 in April 2007.

"The space was available, it was extremely affordable and that's a hard combination to beat," former Anderson Economic Development Consultant Greg Winkler said. "They've got phones already in place, they're just off the interstate. If you're checking off all the boxes, this scores very high."

But the interstate boom has left some behind.

The small town of Lapel is working to craft its first comprehensive plan as its neighbors, including Pendleton and Ingalls, have made grabs for land near the interstate.

"Our town is in a unique situation because we need to grow badly," said Tom Tudor, Lapel clerk-treasurer. "Communities around us are trying to manage growth but we're not growing. Our school numbers show it."

Jerry Harkness owns and operates Sports Arsenal in Edgewood Plaza on Anderson's west side. He came to Anderson from the Indianapolis area two years ago and has grown tired of seeing development along Interstate 69 and Scatterfield Road.

"When good things happen in Anderson, they seem to happen on the other side of town," he said. "Not in this community."

© 2022 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.