The National Road crosses from Ohio into Indiana and almost immediately enters Richmond, founded in 1806 by Quaker settlers. So Richmond is one of the rare National Road towns in Indiana that predates the road. The National Road isn’t even the oldest road leading out of town – a road to Eaton, Ohio, was built in 1807, about 30 years before the National Road. It seems likely to me that the Eaton road was used as part of the Dayton Cutoff.

The road entered Richmond from the east on Main Street. Glen Miller Park was located along the road; in 1928, a Madonna of the Trail was placed on the southwest corner of the park at 22nd St.

Richmond Madonna

Many lovely older homes line the road near the Madonna.

Old homes in Richmond

US 40 was widened to four lanes across Indiana in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Here’s the eastbound road on its way to downtown.

US 40 heading toward downtown Richmond

Along the way, it passes a McDonald’s that still sports an older sign. Dig those golden arches that touch the ground.

Old McDonald's sign

Richmond is a little smaller, at least in population, than Terre Haute at the other end of the road in Indiana. Yet somehow its downtown seems larger, with many more intact and cared-for buildings from earlier days. That’s especially remarkable given that an explosion leveled half of downtown Richmond in 1968. The blast killed 41, injured 127, and destroyed 20 buildings.

Downtown Richmond

Fortunately, much of downtown remains. It was impossible to drive this section of the National Road starting in 1972 as Richmond closed it to traffic and built a pedestrian mall. Fortunately, the town came to its senses in 1997, tearing it all back out, repaving the road, and reopening it to traffic.

Downtown Richmond

A few buildings have not been very well loved.

Downtown Richmond

This building really stands out, the only one downtown with such a modern skin. I would not be surprised to find that an 1800s building lurks beneath this facade.

Mid-century modern?

Many pleasing touches remain in downtown’s details, such as this neon sign.

Hood Music sign

Just beyond downtown stands the Wayne County Courthouse. It was built in the Romanesque Revival style in 1893.

Wayne County Courthouse
Wayne County Courthouse

I made this trip with a friend and she noticed that every door had this little notice on it. She was chuckling over it and I didn’t understand why. I guess my head was into taking photos, because she had to explain it to me. Do you see what’s funny about it?

The National Road was routed along Main Street west through downtown, passed by the courthouse, crossed the Whitewater River, and then jogged south a block and then headed west along National Rd. I haven’t been able to figure out exactly where the road transitioned from Main to National Rd.;  perhaps a Richmond historian will happen upon this post and share.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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12 responses to “Richmond, Indiana, on the National Road”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    I guess the folks in Richmond are pretty laid back if they want folks to come in wearing nothing but pants. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      I was in an ornery mood — if the joint weren’t closed, I might have tried it!

  2. Dani Avatar

    I ate many a French Fry at that McDonald’s as a child. Back then, however, the sign read “Over 100,000 served” and I remember being in awe of such a big number!
    Someone thought the pedestrian mall was a good idea at the time but a lot of folks were not happy about having to detour off of 40 to swing around the “mall”. I had no idea that section had reopened.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I guess I don’t know my eastern-Indiana geography very well, but I didn’t realize Richmond was so close to home for you! I guess it would have had to be the nearest “big” town.

      I remember when the McD’s signs went from millions to billions.

      1. Dani Avatar

        It is closer to Winchester than Muncie. A few of my Richmond memories: eating at Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips, buying my first car (the 76 Buick Skylark sedan aka “Granny-mobile”) at Studebaker Buick; taking the SAT at Earlham; being pulled over by a cop for the first (and only time) about a block away from the pedestrian mall; passing the Eagles Lodge Post 666…

        1. Jim Avatar

          Hunh, yeah, only 25.3 miles per Google Maps!

  3. Bernie Kasper Avatar

    Great post and images Jim, all of this is so familiar to me probably because it’s my life, I love the old McDonald’s sign had one just like it hear in Madison !!

    Thanks for sharing your travels !!

    1. Jim Avatar

      I remember those McDs signs. I think they’re from the early 70s. I think there was one on North Michigan St. in South Bend, my hometown.

  4. Lone Primate Avatar

    In reading it over again, I’m amazed the knowledge of the tragedy in Richmond isn’t more common. You’d think something that dramatic would have entered the common lexicon. I’ve heard of things like the huge tornado in Xenia, Ohio in 1974, and the collapse of the Silver Bridge on the Ohio River in 1967 (hmm, is there something about Ohio…?). Losing half a downtown to an explosion, even in a relatively small city, is something I would have expected to stay in the public mind!

    1. Jim Avatar

      It’s funny, but I didn’t know about the explosion until I researched the article. I was a baby when it happened, but still, you’d think I would have learned about it at some point. My mother, a lifelong Indiana resident, didn’t remember it when I mentioned it to her.

  5. Jane Holman Avatar

    You mention the bank building on the corner and guessed at it’s underlying structure. You’re right – the building was built in 1911, but covered over in 1964 with that aluminum facade. A lot of local folks would like to see it removed – but it’s my understanding that the cost would be quite prohibitive. You can learn more about the architecture of downtown Richmond, Indiana here:

    1. Jim Avatar

      Jane, thank you for filling in that blank! I found the photo on of the building before the facade — wow! What a shame it’s covered.

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