History, Road Trips

The Michigan Road

When Indiana was new, most Hoosiers lived along the Ohio River. The state’s first and largest city, Madison, was on the river, and the state’s first capital, Corydon, was near the river. Indiana wasn’t ten years old in 1825 when the capital moved to Indianapolis at the state’s swampy center. People needed ways to get to the new capital city, and so the state built its first major roads. The Madison State Road connected Madison, and the Mauxferry Road connected the Corydon area, to Indianapolis.

But then came the Michigan Road, connecting Madison not only to Indianapolis, but to Lake Michigan as well through lands newly acquired by treaty with the Indians who had lived in northern Indiana. The Michigan Road was complete by the mid 1830s, and people began migrating into the north’s rich, flat farmland.

The original road, which was made of dirt or timbers, fell into disuse during the 1800s railroad boom. But then private interests took over the road, covering it in gravel and charging tolls to travel on it. The rise of the automobile led the state to create a network of good roads, for which it used segments of the Michigan Road. As towns and cities were built and grew to prominence along the Michigan Road, the road became important as a means of traveling between these places, keeping the state from destroying or abandoning much of this road as it built bigger and faster highways. Because this remarkable sequence of events preserved the Michigan Road, you can drive almost all of its original route today.

I am interested in the Michigan Road because I have lived near it for more than 30 of my 40 years, first in South Bend and now in Indianapolis. I learned only a few years ago that Michigan Street in South Bend and Michigan Road in Indianapolis are the same road, and that this road has a rich story and important place in Indiana’s history.

As the warm weather months unfold I will drive the Michigan Road from end to end, about 270 miles. I will write about my experience, tell a little bit about the history of the road and the towns on it, and share photographs from the road today and some I have found from the road’s past.

I started my trip on Saturday, driving north from Madison. This northbound photo is from a twisty uphill segment near where the road begins. Facing south from here, you can see over Madison to the Ohio River.

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I’ll write more about the first leg of my Michigan Road journey soon. Meanwhile, if you live on or near the Michigan Road and have stories or images to share, I’d love to hear from you.

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17 thoughts on “The Michigan Road

  1. We need to collaberate on this Michigan Road thing! I have preached and preached it to DHPA/the state and to our elected officials for some kind of Hoosier Heritage Corridor/historic byway status.

    I have collected bits of info here and there on it-there was a woman, name escapes me right now, who did a fair amount of research on the road and her papers are filed with the state historical society.

    Thanks for posting this!

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  2. kado says:

    I live in Logansport…North central Indiana, along the Michigan Road. I think what you are doing is a great idea. Best of luck, and I can’t wait to read more about your adventure.

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  3. Kado, I have been writing about the road all summer… click the “Michigan Road” tag in this post. I drive through Logansport all the time on my way to visit family in South Bend, and enjoy stopping at the Char-Bett on my way.

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  4. Patrick says:

    Been reading more. You have quite a write-up done here. You should post it on “Wiki-pedia”, they have NOTHING on the Michigan Road.

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  5. Have been enjoying your Michigan Road Odyssey. Back in the early sixties, I taught school a couple miles east of Liberty Church in Boone County and had kids from Waugh. They pronounced it “Waaa.”
    But for the most part, they called it “Slabtown.” If you can find a roadmap old enough, you will see that moniker, I think parenthetically as I recall.

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  6. I am currently doing research for a book for the local community to capture the history of the local populace as well as the landscape over 200 years. The Michigan Road is a very important part of that history by providing a place for rest and relaxation for those travelling by different means of transportation in the late 1800’s to present day. Once the railroads took over the Eerie Canal as well as roadways were seemed doomed.
    The road was a spin-off idea of the National Road proposed by President Jefferson in 1805. The Hoosiers wanted a comerce conncetion between Lake Michigan and the Ohio River. The road was built northward centering itself on the newly place capital and then towards Logansport when Delphi founding fathers were blinded on the commerce that the canal was to bring. They had the surveyers go and seek the newly developing community of Logansport for their acceptance,which they did open heartedly.
    The area that I am interested is in what most consider to be named Deer Creek which the true name is West Sonora (platted twice). It was almost called Henpeck. The town grew from a small settlement to a small town offering merchantiles, bars, hotels, inns, stables, and clubs.
    In the mid-1950’s the town started to die to the size it is now. Loosing most of the family run businesses that was offered to the local cities of Logansport, Delphi, Flora, Gavelston, Kokomo.
    The Sycamore row was safeguarded when the road was rebuilt in the late 1900’s. They say they grew from the planks that had been laid over and over to fill in the wash-out from constant spring and fall floodings. A petition was drawn tos ave the trees for future generations to admire when the INDOT wanted to cut them down.
    Most do not know but across the road is where the first soy beans were planted to what we know today as cash-crop that most farmer plant beyond corn. They were brought here by a the Fout family in the early 1900’s and replanted to success of todays crops. One keen note is those who remember Captain Stubby a radio icon who passed on a decade ago. He was the grandson of that farmer who planted the first 4 varieties of the sow-bean.
    For a small town there is a lot of history here and I hope to capture it for the future to read.

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  7. I just wanted to post a saddened day in our little nestled burg. A couple of weeks ago our beloved Betty who owned and ran the only store within 10 miles had passed after a battle with cancer. As one drives down Michigan Road one passed Betty’s Stop-n-Shop where farmers and locals stopped by daily to catch up on news of local concerns as well leaving tall tales to be refuted by future sittings. She will be missed, but the legacy continues with the new owner who kept the name in her honor.

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  8. I wanted to post also a piece of history where Deer Creek music park had mislead many to end up here in Deer Creek where we have a large park west of town. After the Dead Heads (followers of the Grateful Dead) were convirged upon our twon seeeking the concert that was planned.Betty’s-Stop-n-Shop became central headquaters for directions to the Indianapolis music center. A letter was written and sent to the music park explaining the confusion of how there name was already taken. Two buses were dispatched to load any townfolk that wanted to attend a concert put on a the music center for free. Both buses were off to the excitement of those who loaded. Betty was the instrument to have this happen. She also helped getting our community center built that sits at the site where the only high school of the area once set. The arch of the school still stand guard to what is now the playground. All this is on the Michigan Road.

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  9. Congratulations on your initiative, Jim! Accolades to you and the other Hoosiers who work to keep the people aware of the finer gems of their public history. Wouldn’t it be something if the National Road eventually had something of the cache of Route 66? Not undeservedly so, either, it seems to me.

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  10. mary stubbeman says:

    In the 1940’s when I was a young child we visited my dad’s friends West of Osgood, IN. Their farm faced Michigan Rd. Each year when I go to Osgood to place flowers on my grandparents graves, I drive out to see the farm and Michigan Rd. Recently spoke with a gentleman who has lots of info on Mauxferry Rd. and Michigan Rd. history. That is how I found you.

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    • Hi Mary, and thanks for writing. I’m interested in the Mauxferry Road too, but haven’t begun to research it. I haven’t been able to trace it south of Camp Atterbury. At any rate, the old Michigan Road west of Osgood is about as close to the original Michigan Road experience as remains in Indiana. It’s a lovely country road.

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