Down the Road

Roads and life and how roads are like life

Vintage Dandy Trail photos

19

The Dandy Trail was a 1920s country driving loop around the city of Indianapolis. Monday’s post tells a little of its history and shows a map of its route.

It’s funny how connections get made in life.

I first learned of the Dandy Trail when I moved to Indianapolis almost 18 years ago. I was an avid cyclist then and liked to ride in Eagle Creek Park. The best route there from my Northwestside home involved a short stretch of road signed Dandy Trail. I thought it was a strange name for a road.

Later I joined a little church not far from the park that had “Traders Point” in its name. I wondered about the name, which suggested that the building stood in a place called Traders Point. But the church stood alone on a lonely road, with few homes and businesses nearby. It didn’t seem like much of a place. Old timers said that the church had moved up the road some years before from where Traders Point used to be. Used to be?

Some persistent Googling led me to the Historic Traders Point blog, which explained that Traders Point had been a small town just north of where Eagle Creek intersected with what was then US 52. Frequent flooding led to both the bulldozing of the entire town and, later, the construction of Eagle Creek Reservoir to finally fix the problem.

I also learned from the blog that one of the roads out of town was Dandy Trail, which placed the road considerably north of where it ends today. Then the blog showed a photo of the very map I showed in my last post, and I learned of the trail’s 88-mile route around the city.

Naturally, my inner roadgeek was highly excited and wanted immediately to drive the route. Frustratingly, extremely persistent Googling revealed absolutely nothing more about the Dandy Trail. I even searched eBay in hopes of perhaps finding a copy of the map or even an old postcard of the route, but no dice. I saved my Dandy Trail search and had eBay e-mail me any newly listed items, and renewed the search annually for several years. As quixotic projects go, at least this one required minimal effort! And then, finally, unbelievably, late last year the search returned a hit. A gentleman in Pennsylvania offered seven 4-by-6-inch glass negatives of scenes along the route. I was the only bidder.

I wanted to see positives of these images and share my great find with you. My photo and negative scanner isn’t equipped to handle negatives this large, so I turned to Joan Hostetler of Heritage Photo & Research Services to digitize these images. Here are all seven images in a slideshow.

Joan did a wonderful job bringing these images to life. She scanned them at super high resolution to reveal great detail. If you click the slideshow, you’ll go right to Flickr where you can choose to see any of these images at its full scanned size. The image at left, an enlargement from the photo above, gives you an idea of the detail Joan got out of these glass plates.

I don’t know when these images were made, but my educated guess is the late 1910s. Joan tells me that the photographic processes that produced glass negatives had fallen out of favor by the end of the 1910s. Yet named “auto trails” such as the Dixie Highway and the National Old Trails Road (both of which passed through Indianapolis and appear on the 1921 Dandy Trail map) didn’t come into being until the early 1910s. It would help considerably to know when the Dandy Trail was first signed, but I’ll guess it came after the major auto trails.

The auto trails era was short. States began to take over the building and maintaining of highways in the late 1910s. Indiana’s first state highway network was born in 1918. The modern US route system was born in 1927. Indeed, state and US highways tended to be routed along the old auto trails. Only the old timers clung to the roads’ former names.

But the Dandy Trail was different. Its purpose was not to connect this nation’s towns and cities; it was to provide a pleasurable country drive. Perhaps the Hoosier Motor Club continued to promote it, for a while at least. But at some point the Dandy Trail was quite forgotten.

Edit: A reader contacted me privately to say that he had found on Google Books a mention of the Dandy Trail, in the May 27, 1920 edition of Motor Age magazine. It noted the formal opening of the Dandy Trail with ceremonies on May 9 and 16, 1920. That dates these photos to the 1920s.

The city demolished the bridge that led into Traders Point a few years ago.
I chronicled the demolition here, here, here, and here

19 thoughts on “Vintage Dandy Trail photos

    1. Jim Post author

      Pure blind luck that they found their way to me. Some of these are numbered, with numbers in the teens and 20s, suggesting there were more negatives in this series.

  1. Dani

    When you acquired the negatives, you acquired a treasure. The real Traders Point was located where the reservoir now resides? Next time I cross the 56th bridge, maybe I’ll think of Marion County’s own little Atlantis. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Jim Post author

      Traders Point was actually on Lafayette Road just north of the Eagle Creek bridge. They demolished the town thinking that the eventual reservoir would put the town (and Lafayette Road) underwater, but then it didn’t, and the demolition turned out to be utterly unnecessary.

        1. Jim Post author

          I’ve seen pictures of old Traders Point. It was a typical Indiana small town, with a grocery, a couple of gas stations, a couple churches, and some houses. I’m sad to know it could have survived, too.

  2. MaryB

    That photo of the intersection with Sargent Road…Do you think that’s the same as the current Sargent Road, on the northeast side of town west of Geist? Very cool historic find!

    1. Jim Post author

      One and the same. And the other photo with a street sign in it, the one that says Dandy Trail — the cross-street blade looks like it says 46th St. Because of reconfiguration of the roads at that intersection, that street sign is where the reservoir begins today.

  3. Ted Kappes

    Thanks for saving a part of photographic history. Those glass plate negatives seem to be remarkably durable.

    This post got me to wondering if you had ever heard anyone refer to a road as the “hard road”? There is a section of road near here that people have always called the hard road. As I got older I learned that it was part of a project by Champaign County in the 20’s to connect all the towns with a one-lane concrete slab. So it was the first hard road for most people around here and the name has persisted. In a lot of rural areas in Central Illinois the first hard road is still called the hard road by old-timers.

    1. Jim Post author

      Ted, my dad grew up in a small town in West Virginia, through which WV 61 passed. It was the only paved road in town when he was a boy. More of the town’s roads are paved today, but people there still call 61 the hard road.

      Does any of the single-lane concrete still exist in Champaign County?

      1. Ted Kappes

        There were some long stretches of it until the last ten years or so. Now most of it has been paved over. About all there is now are some short pieces. That pavement held up pretty well. I remember a lot of it was still in good shape when I started driving in the 70’s.

        One funny thing I remember is that people would still drive on the concrete part no matter which way they were going. And that was after a second asphalt lane had been added. When two cars met one would get into the lane that they were supposed to be in.

  4. dennyg

    The pictures themselves were cool. Your plot of the trail was cooler. But the story of how this all came together through some luck and your efforts is the coolest.

  5. Jennifer S

    I love these, too. Thanks for pointing me here. I’m really learning a lot from your blog. As it turns out, my first major project at the museum will involve cataloguing the photo collection. There also are some glass negatives in their archive, and it would be interesting to get a better look at them. Your images turned out so well, now I’m motivated to have them scanned.

    1. Jim Grey Post author

      I’m so glad, Jennifer. I hope the museum will invest in a good scanner for you, or pony up to outsource the work. Museums frequently place their photo collections online and I’ve done a fair bit of research using museum photo collections.

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