Road Trips

It’s 1921, and you’re taking a pleasure drive on the Dandy Trail

From the 1921 map

It’s a warm spring Sunday afternoon in 1921 and you decide to take your family for a nice country drive. Because you live in Indianapolis, all you have to do is get on any of the city’s major roads and head out until you cross the Dandy Trail, a series of roads that toured the county’s fringes, and off you go.

If you live in Indianapolis today you know of I-465, which also rings the county but is no Sunday drive. And if you live on the Northwestside you might know of a three-mile-long road called Dandy Trail, most of which runs alongside Eagle Creek Reservoir. It’s the only remaining evidence of what had been an 88-mile loop.

From the 1921 map

The Dandy Trail was ambitious undertaking of the Hoosier Motor Club at a time when good roads were not a given. So many roads were made of dirt then, and were passable only in dry weather. The Hoosier Motor Club was one of many organizations nationwide that advocated for the motorist, pressing for roads paved in harder surfaces for all-weather travel.

The Dandy Trail was named for the dog of a Hoosier Motor Club executive. Signs all along the route featured an image of the pooch, as did a 1921 map of the route that the Indiana State Library has preserved.

Not long ago I visited the library and the map to see if I could trace the route on modern Indianapolis streets. Most of the Dandy Trail still exists, except for a portion that was lost when Eagle Creek Reservoir was built. I’m told that a bridge from that segment becomes visible when the reservoir’s water levels are low enough! Here’s the whole route, all laid out for you on Google Maps.

I was pleasantly surprised to find just how much of the Dandy Trail that I drive routinely today. Those roads may have been way out in the boondocks in 1921, but most of them are major modern thoroughfares now and are anything but rural.

Finding this map isn’t what made me write about the Dandy Trail, though. What got me excited enough to do this research and share with you is some early-20th-century photographs from along the trail that I found. I’ll share them in my next post.

One of the roads on that map is the Michigan Road. It was named a State Historic Byway last year. Read that story

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28 thoughts on “It’s 1921, and you’re taking a pleasure drive on the Dandy Trail

    • Large portions of the Dandy Trail are major modern thoroughfares today — can your T cruise comfortably at 50 miles per hour? I hope to drive it all in my Toyota this summer.

  1. Now you give me this info. AFTER I’ve left Indy. Sigh. It’s something to do when I visit family I guess. :-) I knew about the road Dandy Trail, but had no idea of the history. Very cool stuff.

    I love all the original alignment details on the map. Thanks for putting this together. I think I’ve driven nearly all of the roads previously, but it’ll be cool to do it all in one trip.

    • If I had found all this out before you left, I would have posted it then!

      I’ve driven everything north of Washington St. at one time or another, but the Southside is in general a big mystery to me.

  2. Interesting project. I look forward to seeing the pictures. I wonder if any of the route would be recognizable to someone from 1921? I can remember that taking a Sunday drive was fairly common when I was a kid in the 60’s. It seems like that went out of style with the various fuel crisis during the 70’s.

    • Ted, since you’re a Flickr friend you’ve already seen the photos! But stay tuned for the writeup anyway.

      I’m quite sure everything about the Dandy Trail is different today. I have driven most of it on the north side, just going about my normal business, and almost all of it is major roads.

  3. Man, I might get out on my bike and ride this whole thing some Saturday or Sunday this summer. This sounds awesome.

    And don’t forget, it may have been the motorist clubs in the 20s advocating for roads, but they were still on the coat tails of the cyclists who started advocating for better roads in the 1890s. ;)

    • If you figure out how to ride your bike through Eagle Creek Reservoir, please let me know! :-)

      And you’ll get no argument from me — bicyclists started the Good Roads movement. Automobilists just finished it!

    • PS. Unfortunately, a very short bit of this involves getting onto I-465 at Shadeland Ave. Good luck figuring that one out on your bike.

  4. Lone Primate says:

    “Dandy Trail”… I almost had to laugh. How quaint. :D But then, I suppose calling everything “awesome” and “cool” will one day have people chuckling up their transparent aluminum sleeves. :)

    Nice work on retracing the route, especially on GoogleMaps. I’ve found anything much larger than a square mile or so just an exercise in frustration; trying to keep that presumptuous line where you want it is like trying to channel the Mississippi.

    I find it interesting how the trail takes that long detour around the valley in the northeast practically half way back into Indianapolis. I suppose that’s an indication there was no servicable route, much less a bridge, spanning the valley back then?

    • In the northeast, there probably weren’t many choices. But the one they made — Sargent Rd. to Fall Creek Rd. — is especially lovely, and a rare somewhat hilly break from what is otherwise a flat-as-a-pancake county.

      I said a few naughty words while trying to lay that route onto Google Maps. I broke the trail into many segments to make it work.

  5. Wow. Yeah, I always wondered about Dandy Trail — seemed an odd name for a road. As I drove it, I tried to figure out what was so dandy about it… I mean, lots of greenery and nice rolling hills, but ‘dandy’ still seemed a bit overblown. :) I too was surprised to find parts of the old route that I used to drive daily — near my old house!

  6. Absolutely wonderful stuff!

    The various comments give me the impression that, while the trail is no longer the “nice country drive” it once was, the scenery isn’t entirely concrete and steel. I also have the impression that you haven’t yet driven the entire trail but soon will.

    Given that I sneak across the border now and then, there’s a chance that I might want to drive the trail someday — after you — and my thoughts naturally turned to getting myself a route. I’m not at all knowledgeable about Google Maps but fumbled my way into exporting the KML file. I can convert this and get it to appear on other “maps” but only as a track; not as a route. It’s not terribly difficult to manually produce a route that follows the track but I’m thinking I might be missing some options on how the KML is produced by Google Maps.

    • Denny, I just laid lines (not a real route) out on the map over the route, which probably leads to the challenge you face. I do have turn-by-turn directions written by hand in a notebook that I plan to type up — still won’t convert to KML but will provide a meaningful way to follow the trail.

  7. Pingback: ISHC’s “Dotted Line System,” Roads to be Added in 1932 – Indiana Transportation History

  8. Pingback: Dandy Trail – Indiana Transportation History

  9. basil berchekas jr says:

    The small pet dog that appears on the Dandy Trail publication appears to me (at least) to be a “Dutch Schipperke” (meaning “little see captain” in Dutch), We’ve had two of them and they were raised to live on boats to subdue rats on board. Today they subdue mice like cats do. And like cats, they’ll go after birds too, although usually just growl at them. Just trivia to add!

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