Road Trips

The Michigan Road in Jefferson County, Indiana

In 2008, I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end, documenting the road and its built environment. Here is an installment of that trip report.

The Michigan Road begins in Jefferson County, Indiana, along the north edge of old Madison, about six blocks north of the Ohio River. It begins at West Street’s north end, at the green arrowhead on the map below. The Michigan Road is the curvy road that runs west from the arrowhead.

And so begins the Michigan Road.

The Michigan Road begins

The Michigan Road is straight and flat over most of its course – but it sure doesn’t start out that way, as this map shows.

This is known locally as Michigan Hill. I made this shaky handheld video of me driving up the hill.

What the video doesn’t show is how spectacular the views are along this segment. Beyond the first set of curves, where the road turns to head north, you can pull over and take in the view of the river. The trees obscure old Madison.

The Ohio River from the Michigan Road

And here’s the road northbound from this spot.

NB Michigan Road

After making that curve, if you look closely, you’ll see a wall of rock behind the trees on the right.

NB Michigan Road

Incredibly, I found a post card from the 1940s with an image made from the same spot.

The state began maintaining some of the Michigan Road as a highway no later than about 1921. This segment was first called State Road 6, but in a 1928 renumbering it became State Road 29. Except for a detour through Versailles and Osgood, State Road 29 followed the Michigan Road all the way to Logansport. When US 421 was extended into Indiana in 1951, it took over State Road 29’s route to 31 miles south of Logansport. Those 31 miles of the Michigan Road are still State Road 29 today. After US 421 was rebuilt as four lanes in eastern Madison, the first four miles of the Michigan Road became just a city and county road.

This excerpt from a Rand McNally map of no later than 1921 shows the Michigan Road marked State Road 6. The dark square with the number 26 in it corresponds to the Michigan Road in a legend of named auto trails that appears on the map. Next to it is a 1937 Rand McNally (Standard Oil) map excerpt that shows the same segment marked State Road 29, and then a 1959 State Highway Department of Indiana map excerpt showing it labeled US 421. On all three maps, as the highway veers east from Bryantsburg, halfway to Rexville the original Michigan Road turns left off the highway.

Back to the rock wall. At several spots along the wall, water sprays from the rock.

Porous rock

In the winter, this water freezes, as this photo shows.

Frozen Waterfalls

Just around the curve from here stands the Fairmount House, built in 1872. I wrote more about the Fairmount House here.

Fairmount House

This photo shows the Michigan Road southbound from in front of the Fairmount House, giving a sense of having crested Michigan Hill. Walking along the Michigan Road here is dangerous. Cars routinely exceed the speed limit along this narrow and winding segment, as I learned walking it to take all these photographs. I could feel a rush of air as each one whizzed by while I took these photos. A fellow on a moped even stopped to tell me he thought I was nuts for being on foot here.

SB Michigan Road from Fairmount House

Beyond the Fairmount House, the Michigan Road straightens and heads straight north for the next few miles.

Many cemeteries lie along the Michigan Road. It’s not surprising; the road brought people who built towns on it or farmed near it; these people lived and died near the road and so it’s appropriate that they’re buried along it. But the first graves encountered today along the road are of people who lived and died as far as 10 miles away from the road. In 1940, the US Army built the Jefferson Proving Ground on 55,000 acres of land that had, until then, held farms and towns. Homes, churches, and schools were simply left behind, but the Army moved every cemetery within the JPG to a spot along the Michigan Road not quite four miles south of JPG’s south border. Each has a short sign, like what you’d see on a street corner, announcing the place from where these graves came.

Displaced cemeteries 3

Can you imagine the job of moving all these graves?

Displaced cemeteries 2

Everyone here has been at rest since the 1940s, but flowers are still being left on many of these graves. Somebody still remembers.

Displaced cemeteries 1

Shortly the road intersects with State Road 62. Until the mid 1990s, this was State Road 107, which turned north and followed the Michigan Road until US 421 merged with it. On the map below, the Michigan Road is the north-south road on the left.

This photo shows the Michigan Road curving to where it meets US 421.

Michigan Road approaching US 421

The Michigan Road, of course, originally went straight through. You can see remnants of the old road on this map.

This is what the abandoned section looks like today. It provides access to the building on the left. Notice how the utility poles follow the old road.

Abandoned Michigan Road segment

Back on US 421, shortly a fence appears on the west side of the road. It is the boundary of a former army installation, the Jefferson Proving Ground, which consumes 55,000 acres in Jefferson, Ripley, and Jennings Counties. Established in 1940 as World War II loomed, the facility tested ammunition, firing its first round in 1941 and its last in 1995. Until the government moved in, this land had been farmed by four generations of Hoosiers. These farmers had little, but built towns and schools and churches and cemeteries. The counties, presumably, built roads and bridges to connect them. And so they lived, but when the Army moved them off their land almost all of this infrastructure was left behind. Some of it still stands.

Jefferson Proving Ground

Looking southbound from this cemetery, US 421 rolls gently. JPG’s rusted fence is hard to make out along the west side of the road.

SB Michigan Road (US 421)

Next: Into Ripley County.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

Essay, History

Walking the fine line between telling the truth and avoiding woke excess on state historic markers

Sycamore Row
2018 photo

In 2020, when the historic marker at Sycamore Row on the Michigan Road was damaged in an accident and replaced, its text was revised. The original marker told a story of the sycamores growing out of sycamore logs used to corduroy that section of road. Unfortunately, that story has never been confirmed and might just be legend. The new marker tells instead of the trees’ uncertain origin.

The marker now also tells in thumbnail the broader story of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana, specifically calling out how Potawatomi Indians ceded land for the road under intense pressure. When the Michigan Road was surveyed starting in 1829, all of northern Indiana was Native American land. The Michigan Road opened northern Indiana to white settlement, which ultimately displaced Native American tribes. In particular, a band of Potawatomi who lived near Plymouth were marched out of Indiana at gunpoint, passing by this very spot on the Michigan Road on their way. 859 tribe members were forced out; 40 died on the way. This is known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death.

Sycamore Row
2021 photo
Sycamore Row
2021 photo

A historic marker has only so much space to tell a story. The Indiana Historical Bureau, which oversees the state marker program, reached out to us at the Historic Michigan Road Association to review the proposed text on the new Sycamore Row marker. I was pleased that they addressed the original marker’s likely error on the sycamores’ origin, and touched on the Potawatomi story.

Pennsylvania’s historic marker program was in the news late last month (story here). The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which oversees that state’s marker program, has reviewed all of the state’s 2,500 markers and is beginning to revise and even remove markers as they work to correct factual errors and address language that might now be considered racist or otherwise objectionable.

At the time that article was published, the state had removed two markers, revised two others, and ordered new text for two more. In particular, they removed a marker at Bryn Mawr College that noted that President Woodrow Wilson had taught there. Bryn Mawr requested the removal over Wilson’s stated beliefs about the intellectual capabilities of women and his segregation of the federal workforce.

The commission has also ordered changes to the text on a marker about Continental Army Major General Anthony Wayne to remove a reference to him as an “Indian fighter.” It also removed a marker that noted a 1758 military victory that the marker said “established Anglo-Saxon supremacy in the United States.”

At least with these three markers, Pennsylvania has edged into tricky territory. Woodrow Wilson was wrong about women and segregation, but he will forever have been a President of the United States and that makes his involvement at Bryn Mawr significant. While we should look back with sorrow and shame over how the United States treated Native Americans, the fact remains that Gen. Wayne fought Native Americans. And the aim of so many early American military victories was to claim territory for white immigrants. More sensitive language can be chosen in these latter two cases, but I’m uncomfortable with simply removing language that is true because of current sensitivities.

I’m pleased that Indiana has so far walked this fine line successfully with its historic marker program.

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11 sets of steps

Courthouse at Paoli
Pentax ME, Pentax-M 28mm f/2.8, Kodak Ektar 100
Up the steps
Minolta XG 1, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD, Agfa Vista 200 at EI 100
Steps to the parking lot
Olympus OM-2n, 40mm f/2 Zuiko Auto-S, Ilford HP5 Plus, L110 Dilution E
Snow-covered steps
Kodak VR35 K40, Kodak Max 400 (expired)
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK, Ultrafine Extreme 100
Wooden steps
Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Kodak Plus-X (expired)
Statehouse steps
Canon PowerShot S95
Nikon F3HP, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
Brick wall with iron stairs
Yashica Lynx 14e, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400
Tall stairs
Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL
Monument steps
Kodak 35, Kodak Plus-X (expired)
Essay, Photography

What’s the point of single-use cameras?

Last month, Kodak introduced a single-use camera loaded with its iconic Tri-X black-and-white film. It got a lot of news coverage in the film-photography community.

I don’t buy the hoopla. Single-use cameras aren’t all that useful, and they’re certainly not economical.

The Tri-X Single-Use Camera costs about $15, and offers 27 exposures. Ilford also offers a single-use camera with HP5 Plus inside; it costs about $12. And both Fujifilm and Kodak offer single-use cameras with ISO 400 color film inside. I’ve seen them available for anywhere between $12 and a whopping $20.

Why buy one when you can buy an old point and shoot camera for under $20 at a thrift shop, load a roll of film of your choice — and reuse the camera? Even the simplest point and shoot probably has a better lens than any single-use camera, and you’d be money ahead after only a few rolls of film.

I can think of only one reason to buy a camera like this: you need a camera but don’t have one on you. It happened to me once. I had flown to Washington, DC, on business. On arrival I learned that an illness had postponed my meetings by a day. I had a whole day to myself, and I’d never been to DC before! I stepped into a drug store and bought a single-use camera, and then took the subway to the National Mall to do some sightseeing. (I stumbled upon a mostly struck set from the movie Forrest Gump that day; read that story here.) Here’s a photo I made of the U.S. Capitol with that camera.

US Capitol, 1993

But this happened in 1993, long before all of us had a camera phone in our pocket. Today I’d just use my iPhone. It’s not my favorite camera, but neither was this single-use camera I bought. Both would have gotten good enough shots for an unexpected day as a tourist.

I think disposable cameras sell primarily to people with too much disposable money.

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Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual II

When I learned how to develop black-and-white film, I needed a way to make digital images of the negatives so I could share them with you on this site. I first tried my existing flatbed scanner. It did passable work with medium-format negatives, but 35mm negatives always turned out muddy with poor shadow detail. A reader not only suggested that I try a dedicated 35mm scanner, but also linked me to a used one at a good price at KEH. It’s this Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual II. I bought it right away.

Minolta introduced this scanner in 1999. The state of the scanner art has improved slightly since then, but the Scan Dual II is still plenty useful. You have to choose patience when scanning with the Scan Dual II, as it connects to the computer using old, slow USB 1.1. It also lacks automatic dust and scratch removal, but do as I did: buy a squeeze-bulb air blaster and an anti-static brush to clean your negatives. And it scans at a maximum of 2,820 DPI, whereas modern dedicated 35mm scanners claim 7,200 DPI. (See this article, which demystifies DPI in scanning.) 2,820 DPI is good for a scan of about 3800×2600 pixels, just under 10 megapixels. That’s enough for an 8×10-inch print.

Buying any old scanner used is risky because they can be used up and worn out. KEH had refurbished mine, and offered a 180-day warranty. Risk mitigated!

The Scan Dual II came with scanning software, but it won’t run on the latest versions of Windows and MacOS. All is not lost: buy VueScan by Hamrick Software. It makes the Scan Dual II, and virtually any other old scanner, plug and play on any modern computer.

The Scan Dual II comes with holders for 35mm negatives and slides. When new, an extra-cost APS holder was available. The holders are sturdy. They come apart so you can lay in your negative or slides, and snap back together for scanning.

It took me considerable trial and error to set up VueScan to yield scans that pleased me. Here are some things I learned:

  • I turned off multi-pass scanning. My negative holders allow for a little slippage of the negative, probably from wear over the years. That slippage leads to blurry multi-pass scans.
  • VueScan offers a few film profiles, but I found that Generic Color Negative looks best — and I scan black-and-white films primarily.
  • To gain a little speed, I preview at 1,410 DPI but scan at the full 2,820 DPI.
  • VueScan never perfectly frames the images; I always have to tweak the framing after previewing but before scanning.
  • I leave VueScan’s sharpening setting off, and use Unsharp Mask as my last step in Photoshop for fine sharpening control.

The Scan Dual II supports batch scanning — it can scan an entire negative, or four mounted slides, in one go. This helps make up for the slow USB 1.1 interface, as you can press the Scan button and go do something else while you wait.

You feed the negative/slide holder in the front of the ScanDual II, and the scanner draws the entire holder in as it scans. My Scan Dual II is noisy as hell, grinding and whirring and whining as it does its job.

But have a look at the good work my Scan Dual II does. These images look as good to me as anything I ever got from the labs I used to use. I get good sharpness and detail every time.

Lucy Walker
Pentax ME SE, 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M, Fomapan 200 at EI 125, Ilford ID-11 Stock
Fat Dan's
Nikon N70, 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6D AF Nikkor, Kodak T-Max 100, HC-110 Dilution B
Konica Auto S2, Foma Fomapan 200 at EI 125, Ilford ID-11 1+1
Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor, Ilford HP5 Plus at EI 1600, HC-110 Dilution B
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK, Ilford FP4 Plus, Ilford ID-11 1+1
Unknown camera, Ultrafine Extreme 400, LegacyPro L110, Dilution B
Rocket Liquors
Minolta XD-11, 50mm f/1.7 MD Rokkor-X, Ilford FP4 Plus, Ilford ID-11 1+1

I shoot the occasional roll of expired film. I’m impressed with how well the Scan Dual and VueScan cut through the film’s base fog. Look at the good detail and tonal range I got on this image, which I shot on film 50 years expired! This scanner can’t save badly degraded film, but it will get as good of an image as is possible off the negative.

Morristown, IN
Nikon N90s, 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor, GAF 125 Versapan (expired 7/72) @ EI 80, HC-110 Dilution B

I seldom scan color film in the Scan Dual II, as I send my color film to a lab for processing and scanning. But here’s a color frame I scanned with the Scan Dual II just to try it. I had to do a fair amount of color correction in Photoshop for it to look right, but I suppose that would be true of any scanner’s output.

Abby and Amherst
Olympus OM-2n, 50mm f/3.5 Olympus Zuiko MC Auto-Macro, Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400

The Minolta DiMAGE Scan Dual II can be a relatively inexpensive way to start getting quality scans of your 35mm negatives. I’ve had great luck with mine, as you can see.

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Weekend update

I don’t have too many photographs of me with Rana. Maybe there are more in the family photos my ex has. At the time of our divorce she wouldn’t let me make scans of them, and I’ve never asked again. Then we divorced and I didn’t see Rana for a couple years. Then we rebuilt our relationship as adults, and frankly I’m terrible at thinking to make portraits or take selfies.

Us in 1994, Terre Haute, Indiana

Here’s one photo that’s a good memory. It’s of Rana’s, then Ross’s, ninth birthday. Ross’s mom had a party in her back yard in Terre Haute and invited all of Ross’s friends. Ross was a big fan of the shows on the Nickelodeon cable channel, and this was the “green slime” era on Nick. Ross’s mom made a green-slime birthday cake.

Rana’s memorial service is today. I’m glad my company gave me two weeks of bereavement leave as this time off has given me the head space to process my thoughts and feelings, rather than just have them and then rush to my next meeting.

The first week after Rana was found dead, I felt shock and sadness. The shock wore off after a few days but the sadness did not. This week I found myself sometimes feeling angry; once in tears I even said aloud to nobody, “How could she do this to us?”

I wish I had known she was suicidal. I’ve been suicidal. I know what it’s like. I know that in the depths of those feelings your mind is lying to you. It tells you that your death won’t matter and nobody will miss you.

That’s a load of horse crap. Your death by your own hand leaves a crater in the lives of those who love and care for you.

I wish I could have told her to just wait. I wrote about this once before: because I stuck it out, sooner or later things got better. Never all better. But things always stopped being screamingly, intolerably bad. Whatever I was feeling, whatever thoughts were looping through my head, they changed all on their own. Mind states are never permanent. And whatever difficulties I was facing, the circumstances changed all on their own. The world keeps going while you are stuck, delivering change into your world. Sometimes circumstances got better and sometimes they got worse, but when they changed I could usually see a path forward when I couldn’t before.

I know that whatever thoughts and feelings come through this are a normal part of grieving a loss like this. I’m not overwhelmed by them and I’m not frightened of them. I am angry that I have to have them.

I’ve given myself these two weeks to rest and just process feelings. On Tuesday (after the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday) I will return to work and regular life again. I know my grief will continue. But my life must go on as well.

I’m not sure when Recommended Reading will return. I haven’t had much appetite to read blogs. It’s why I haven’t been clicking Like or commenting on yours, if you have one. When that appetite returns, so will Recommended Reading. I trust you understand.