When I found the 1921 map of the Dandy Trail, a 1920s country driving loop around Indianapolis, I knew I’d want to drive it myself. So I traced the route on a modern city map and found that most of the route still exists, and where it doesn’t, easy detours return you to the trail in no time.
Being a loop, there was no fixed beginning or end to the Dandy Trail. The old map advised that the trail could be “reached by going out any main highway.” One main highway the 1921 map called out was Michigan Road, near which I live today. So I went out to Michigan Road and north about a mile and a half until I reached what was the Dandy Trail at Westlane Road. My camera was suction-cupped to my windshield so I could record some of the experience. Here’s where I turned off Michigan Road onto Westlane Road and began my clockwise journey around the Dandy Trail.
This section of Westlane Road is lined with apartment complexes today, and it’s common to see people who live in them but who can’t afford cars walking the shoulder on their way to and from Michigan Road, where there’s shopping and a bus stop.
Westlane Road turns into 73rd Street, and the Dandy Trail follows along for another mile or so until it reaches Spring Mill Road. This road shows up on county maps going back to the 1840s! At its southern end it straddles the White River and follows a winding downhill path. Mrs. M. E. Noblett of the Hoosier Motor Club, who laid out the route, did a splendid job of finding other winding and rolling roads in what otherwise is a mighty flat city and making them all part of the Dandy Trail. It was Mrs. Noblett’s little Pomeranian dog, by the way, for whom the trail was named and whose likeness appeared on all the signs.
This video ends where Spring Mill Road reaches Kessler Boulevard. In the Dandy Trail’s earliest days, Kessler didn’t exist. Spring Mill curved, crossed the river, and became Illinois Street. Kessler Boulevard was on the drawing board, however, and was completed within the next few years. Ever since you’ve had to turn left onto Kessler, cross the river, and then turn right onto Illinois to follow the trail.
When the Dandy Trail reaches the far north side of town it crosses the White River again. That bridge, too, is lost to history, but the bridge that replaced it is a 1941 beauty that was restored a few years ago. It is the last truss bridge in the county.
This part of town is known for its upscale shopping today, but in the Dandy Trail’s day this was merely a two-lane gravel road way out in the sticks. Mrs. Noblett may have been the first to recognize the area’s potential. The old Indiana Highway Department saw it too and made it part of old State Road 100, an early attempt at a beltway around Indianapolis that I-465 later supplanted.
Finally, on the east side of town the Dandy Trail followed 56th Street and then turned right onto Shadeland Avenue. Today, a huge I-465 interchange has consumed that intersection. To follow the Dandy Trail today, you have to take the I-465 exit! Fortunately, if you keep right you will flow directly onto Shadeland.
I followed the Dandy Trail around the east side to the south side, where then as now it passes by cornfields. Yes, there are cornfields in the city of Indianapolis! But when I reached the Michigan Road on the south side (where it’s known as Southeastern Avenue), it was late. So I turned northward on the Michigan Road and followed it home, having covered a little less than half of the Dandy Trail. I’ll follow the rest another day.
I shot five other video segments on this trip for a total of nine, and created a playlist on YouTube that stitches them together in order. Click here to see them.
I totaled a car on a road trip once (read that story). Attaching the camera to the windshield lets me focus on driving.
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