I went out on the Michigan Road again over the weekend. Not only did I pick up where I left off in Fulton County, but I also picked up someone else knowledgeable about the road along the way. Blogger Hoosier Reborn lives on the road, loves it as much as I do, and has a keen eye for architecture. He can pretty easily point out every structure along the road that dates back to its earliest years. He spent most of his Saturday giving me a guided tour from the south end of Rochester to the north edge of Plymouth. We made terrible time over those twenty or so miles, averaging about 3½ miles per hour, but that was all right because those miles were a goldmine.
He’d point to a simple frame house, one that looks to me like any other little house you’d find along any other road, and say, “That one’s from about 1840.” I’d try to keep my eyeballs from popping out of my head and say, “How can you tell?” He’d say something about return eaves or roof pitch or short second-story windows. Then he’d point to another house and say, “That one was built in maybe 1850 and then in about the 1890s the roof was raised and the porch was added.” I’d ask, “Do you know this house’s history?” He’d say, “No, I can just tell by looking.” He pointed out so many interesting buildings that I took far more photos per mile than I did anywhere else on the trip. And I learned a little bit from the experience about spotting the oldest buildings. I am now slapping my forehead over some buildings I didn’t photograph along the road in southern Indiana.
We talked a little bit about having the Michigan Road preserved. One of the road’s charms, taken for granted but nevertheless amazing, is that it can be driven from coast (Ohio River) to coast (Lake Michigan) with only minimal disruption. The most notable of those disruptions are that I-74 covers a few miles of it southeast of Indianapolis; and a rerouting of US 20 in the 1940s removed a railroad crossing, causing a short detour just east of Rolling Prairie. Getting the road recognized as a historic route, with little Michigan Road signs posted along it, could help maintain its integrity and maybe spark interest in a little Michigan Road tourism. But when our time ran out, we hadn’t made any solid plans. I’m sure we’ll have to get together again one day to talk about it more – and to do some more exploring on the road.