A few years ago while on a very early morning bike ride, I spotted a plaque stuck on the side of a large boulder on the southwest corner of 16th and Dr. Martin Luther King Dr.
I didn't think much of it at the time, but several weeks ago while downtown early on a Sunday morning I stopped to investigate. Unfortunately, the plaque itself wasn't very self explanatory:
Apologies for the poor photo. Even from different angles, it was difficult to clearly capture all the wording due to the plaque's weathered condition and the lighting that day. The plaque stated as follows:
N.R.M. Project No. 40
Franklin D. Roosevelt
The remaining names on the plaque are various city officials and engineers who worked on the project. Tracking down the meaning of N.R.M was a little tricky, as there are several more modern uses of the abbreviation, including Natural Resource Management. However, as the date and president suggest, the N.R.M was actually a depression era government public works program under the much larger National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) passed by Congress in June 1933 as part of Franklin Roosevelt's first salvo of depression era legislation.
Under the wide ranging NIRA, the president apportioned $400 million for use in the construction and repair of roads and bridges across the country. Indiana's allotment under NIRA was approximately $10 million, which would be divided between three types of programs and projects over a period of time: National Recovery Highway (NRH), National Recovery Secondary (NRS), and National Recovery Municipal (NRM).
For the NRM program, 114 projects were initially identified in 60 cities across the state, which included seven bridge and 101 street paving projects. The caveat for NRM projects was that, as suggested by its name, projects under the program had to be within city limits. Conversely, NRH projects could not be done within the municipal limits of a city, and were instead focused on stretches of highway outside of municipal limits. The total for the Indiana NRM projects were estimated at around $4.5 million .
The majority of these funds were directed towards the four largest cities in the state: South Bend, Fort Wayne, Evansville, and Indianapolis. Interestingly enough, a large chunk of the funds, almost equal to what was given to the four cities, was also allocated to Lake County, and its several smaller cities. The political machine being built at that time by Indiana's newly minted governor, Paul McNutt, might explain the emphasis on projects in the Lake County area considering the support he received from that area in the 1932 election.
In 1933, M.R. Keefe, the chief engineer of the state's highway commission (whose name appears on the plaque above), wrote an article for the annual Purdue University Road School titled "A Review of our Street Paving and Resurfacing Program." The article provides an excellent summary of the NRM programs, and the process behind its passing and the selection of projects.
In regard to the NRM projects in Indianapolis, Mr. Keefe, identified several locations where the funds would be used, including the "paving of 16th Street from the canal west to the Emerichsville Bridge and of Cold Springs Road from Speedway Avenue to the north city limits." The Emerichsville Bridge was the precursor to the present day structure over the White River.
This description encompassed project No. 40 as detailed in the plaque at MLK and 16th, and also included a new bridge over Fall Creek. Bid notices in the Indianapolis Star in early 1934 (below) detailed these plans.
Other N.R.M projects were completed in Indianapolis, and there could very well be additional plaques around the city. There is another boulder with a plaque at the intersection of Illinois and 16th, which I suspect could be related to the depression era work programs. I just haven't had a chance to stop to investigate.
Indianapolis Star and News, as cited above.
A Review of Our Street Paving and Resurfacing Program, M.R. Keefe, 1933, accessible here.