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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Last updated on 26 March 2020 by Jim Grey