Imagery ©2012 DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, IndianaMap Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2012 Google.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited Paoli. Calling it a visit is a bit of a stretch, of course; I was just passing through, with a friend on the way to his southern Indiana home for a long weekend away from school. But I’d never encountered a town with a square before, and I’d never encountered a roundabout before. And that’s essentially how the streets on Paoli’s square function. There are four entry/exit points, but you must always turn right to enter and right to exit.

I didn’t know on that trip more than a quarter century ago that I was on the old Dixie Highway. A short refresher: a long stretch of the Dixie Highway south of Indianapolis became State Road 37, much of which was rerouted when it was upgraded to a divided four-lane highway in the 1960s. But about seven miles south of Bedford, at a town called Mitchell, the highway skinnies down to two lanes and resumes the Dixie’s original route all the way to Paoli and its square. Just think counterclockwise when you get there and you’ll do fine.

The point of having a square is usually so the county courthouse can be at its center, and Orange County makes no exception. This courthouse is striking, to the point of making you involuntarily say, “Whoa,” when you come upon it.

Courthouse at Paoli

This courthouse has been in continuous service since its completion in 1850. These iron stairs reminded me of something you might see on a southern plantation.

Courthouse at Paoli

This hotel is the next most arresting building on the square. It’s a generation younger than the courthouse, having been completed in 1896. The first floor is a restaurant, but the upper floors are said to have been unused for decades. The hotel gets its name because of famous mineral springs in this part of Indiana, the best known of which was just ten or so miles west at French Lick.

Mineral Springs Hotel

Some 20th-century architecture appears on this square, too, such as this former automobile garage currently used to house various shops. Auto garages like this were a common highway sight in the first few decades of the 20th century, as cars needed a great deal more attention and maintenance in those days.

Garage in Paoli

This Carnegie library is the garage’s neighbor. It opened in 1913, but its contents moved to a larger building a few blocks away some years ago.


This corner of the square isn’t as picturesque as the others I’ve shown, but at least it still stands; the one corner I haven’t shown you was devastated in a fire in 2010. Several buildings had to be razed. New buildings are almost completed, and while they are sympathetic to the styles around this square, they are clearly new construction.

Paoli square

For me, though, this 1880 iron bridge was the star of the show. You know I love old bridges! It’s an eight-panel Pratt through truss. Next to it stands a little bowstring arch span for pedestrians.

1880 bridge

Whenever you cross an old truss bridge, look up to see if the builder’s plate is still there. This old bridge was restored several years ago, bringing ornate plates back to life at both portals.

1880 bridge

At Paoli, the Dixie Highway takes leave of State Road 37 and instead follows US 150 to Louisville. Likewise, Paoli is where Dawn and I took leave of our Dixie Highway excursion. I’ll catch those last 40 or so miles of Indiana’s Dixie Highway another day, one to which I very much look forward.

Check out these circa 1920 photos from the Dixie Highway in northern Indiana.

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35 responses to “Following the Dixie Highway to Paoli’s charming square”

  1. Tori Nelson Avatar

    Love the bridge. So charming! We live in a smaller town outside of Nashville and one of my favorite parts (besides the glorious lack of traffic) is the square. It is simple and quirky and so refreshing that after all this time no one tried to turn it in to a box of strip malls!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Let Nashville keep the strip malls! I live in stripmallville and could do with fewer of them myself.

  2. traveller858 Avatar

    Great post. It just goes to show that we need to get off the “great highways” once in a while.

    1. Jim Avatar

      There’s so much to see when you shunpike!

  3. ryoko861 Avatar

    Yeah, aren’t round abouts fun? They just put a new one in on Rt. 209 in Martins Creek by me. And what a cluster f**k it has become. Oh the bitching and moaning that’s going on. PA isn’t used to these. NJ used to be nothing but “circles” (they’re trying to get rid of them), I grew up with them, but the locals just can’t handle it. England is nothing BUT round abouts! I encounted three of them on my way to Westchester, NY this year. You have to be sharp, that’s for sure! I missed my turn once or twice on one of them!
    I’m surprised they don’t utilize the upper floors of that hotel. It’s gorgeous! Make a bed and breakfast at least out of it! It’s a quaint little town! Love the architecture! And that bridge!!! Nice that they’re maintaining it and keeping it’s historical integrity!

    1. Jim Avatar

      I work in Carmel, IN, which has gone roundabout crazy — and I love them. They let the traffic flow here so much more easily than before they went in. I remember one former 4-way stop that used to be backed up for a mile at 5 pm. The roundabout went in and the backups went out. I hear people complain about them all the time but I think they’re nuts. They take a little initial getting used to but after that they’re the stuff.

  4. Mark O'Brien Avatar

    Nice post. It’s great seeing someplace for the first time, and there are so many small towns worth visiting. Have you been to Angola, IN? Roundabout at the center of town.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I have not visited Angola! I’m from South Bend, so you’d think I’d’ve made my way over there at some point, but it hasn’t happened.

  5. melly Avatar

    Found your blog this weekend linked from historic traders point dot org. Spent hours reading and perusing your gorgeous photos. Shared your worn out post with my husband. I’m not sure he will read it, but those words could have been written by him. I hope he survives as well as you have. ;)
    Thank you for sharing your travels. I too am a lover of old towns and off the beaten path places, Rottweilers, kids and this road called life. Your blog has been the perfect place for me to spend a few hours.

    1. Jim Avatar

      So glad you visited! And I’m glad you visited the archives, as they get so lonely. I hope you’ll stick around and keep reading.

  6. Denny Gibson Avatar

    I thought I’d been to Paoli but couldn’t remember that wonderful hotel at all. On further review, it looks like I may have only seen the name on a “Paoli 10” (or similar) sign around West Baden Springs since that is my closest documented approach. So, with the hotel, the bridge, and the courthouse, you’ve given me even more totally unnecessary incentive to get on that stretch of Dixie Highway.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’d think you could have a charming day trip by going to Louisville, crossing over the river, picking up the old Dixie, following it to Bloomington, and then going home from there.

  7. Ted Kappes Avatar

    Thanks for getting the word out about this town. Looks like it would be worth a visit if I get over that way.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Ted, yes, if you’re ever in this part of Indiana, you should definitely at least make a drive through Paoli to experience its square. It’s a delightful little square.

  8. davidvanilla Avatar

    Orange County Courthouse is very impressive. Excellent pictorial study of a very pretty, if somewhat quaint, town.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thank you! Its quaintness is its charm.

    2. Nancy Avatar

      Yes, we have a beautiful and quaint old courthouse and we take pride in it.

  9. Nina Avatar

    I was born and raised in Paoli and love our little town! Thanks for this post.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      My pleasure!

  10. Joanne Hudson Avatar

    I was born in the old Paoli hospital. It was torn down several years ago. My dad Lowell Magner was an Orange County Councilman for over 20 years. He died in 1984. My maternal grandparents were from the Paoli area having a small farm just 2 oe 3 miles south over that Iron Bridge. I had two uncles and an aunt and several cousins from Paoli also. My maternal great grandparents were from Paoli. So I have a lot of ties to Paoli, Indiana.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      You’re about as tied to Paoli as a person can be!

  11. Bobbie Avatar

    I recently retired and returned from a city in Ohio to my southern Indiana roots, having grown up in Paoli – near to the very familiar iron bridge. I now live next to Paoli in the quaint little town of Orleans, which by the way is celebrating its 200 year birthday this year and is home to the upcoming Dogwood Festival. I am very proud of my picturesque “southern” home area in Indiana. Thanks for noticing the beauty in our surroundings.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s delightful to hear your pride in the place you call home.

  12. Eva Russell Avatar

    I was born and raised in Paoli and love your pictures and commentary, so many memories in those pictures, store where my Dad was a butcher and later owns, footbridge by the iron bridge walked so many times as I lived 1 mile so of square and we did a lot of walking back then/ born1930

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Eva, I’m so glad my photographs and words reached you in this way!

  13. Brian Wright Avatar
    Brian Wright

    Loved your pictures and posts, I was born and raised in Paoli. As a youngster I explored every inch of my home town, taking for granted all my trips up and down the iron stairs on the Courthouse, across the iron bridge, the thousands of trips around the square ( round about ). Wouldnt trade growing up here for anything. I dont take it for granted anymore. Its my home, thank you for sharing.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  14. Amanda S. Avatar
    Amanda S.

    A semi truck destroyed that bridge today. I came across your blog trying to find a news article for it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ugggggggh. What terrible news. :-(

      1. Amanda S. Avatar
        Amanda S.

        Yeah, I know. I hope they try to restore it. Not many bridges like that left.

  15. Kenny Watterson Avatar
    Kenny Watterson

    I grew up in Mitchell and several friends from Paoli and Orleans. Love the rolling hills of southern Indiana.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s lovely country, to be sure.

  16. patricia elliott Avatar

    We moved to Paoli when my father was drafted during WW2. I was in 3rd grade. My wonderful grandma lived there tho and that made things a lot easier. Loved going to Sat, afternoon movies where you got in for 12 cents if you were one of the first 25 in line. Married my high school sweetheart and moved away when I was 18, but Paoli will always be home.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What wonderful memories to keep!

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