Signing the historic Michigan Road

The Michigan Road is one of Indiana’s first highways, stretching from Madison on the Ohio River north to Michigan City on Lake Michigan. It was surveyed in 1829 and built during the 1830s. You can still drive it end to end today.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while you know I love the Michigan Road and worked hard with people in every county through which the road passes to get it named an Indiana Historic Byway. We achieved it in 2011, but that was only the beginning of our work. We believe that the Michigan Road can drive tourism to the many towns and cities along the route and be a real boon to their economies. We also want to honor this important road’s place in Indiana history and encourage preservation of the old buildings along the road. We also want to see the road itself protected against reroutings – for example, about five miles of it are buried under I-74 just southeast of Indianapolis.


An important step – the first step, we think – is to place signs along the route letting drivers find their way along the Michigan Road so they can explore it and take in all it has to offer. This is the sign we will use.

The Indiana silhouette and torch from our state’s flag emphasize that this road connects the entire state. We added M and R to the torch because in the 1910s, when the Michigan Road became an early auto trail, it was marked with signs reading simply MR.

Our sign is predominately blue after our state’s flag, too. Unfortunately, the Indiana Department of Transportation vetoed the flag’s actual shade of blue in favor of the shade you see, saying that this is INDOT’s standard blue.

We sent several sign iterations to INDOT before they finally approved this one. They wanted to be sure that the sign would be easily readable as people whiz by at 60 miles per hour! We needed INDOT’s approval because so much of the Michigan Road is state and U.S. highways that are under their control.

We thank Anita Werling, our graphic designer, for being patient and frequently tweaking the sign as it worked its way through INDOT approval. We also think Kado Downs for his graphic design work on the sign’s initial concept, which contributed the state, the torch, and the MR to the final sign.

Now we’re busy raising funds to pay for these signs. We’re turning primarily to organizations in each county through which the road passes – but if you want to buy a sign for us, send a check for $40 to the Historic Michigan Road Association at 12954 6th Road, Plymouth, IN 46563, and tell us which Michigan Road county you support with your gift!

Our goal is to see the whole route signed during 2013. Wish us luck; this is a very ambitious project!

For more about the Michigan Road and the Historic Michigan Road Association, see our Web site.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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6 responses to “Signing the historic Michigan Road”

  1. ryoko861 Avatar

    Jim, being the car enthusiast that you are, have a car show! You could also have a road rally or a cruise down a part of the highway with participating cars. People with classic cars LOVE to drive them and show them off and they’ll be more than happy to cruise on down the highway for a cause!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Irene, our strategy is to approach tourism and civic organizations for the money, as this project directly benefits them. This approach has already fully funded signs in some counties! But if push comes to shove — and it might in some counties — I’ll keep your idea in my back pocket!

  2. Jennifer S Avatar

    What an amazing project! I’m impressed with the idea, execution, everything. Was it difficult dealing with the DOT? I’m curious, because as a board member of the local museum, I’m always looking for ways to increase awareness about our historic district… through which runs the nation’s first north-south interstate highway, U.S. Route 1. I wonder if we could copy your idea as a way to add some signage in our area? This seems like a particularly great way to attract history-minded travelers! I seriously love it… and the sign is very polished. Great work and good luck with the fundraising.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thank you for the compliments, Jennifer! One reason we have any leverage with INDOT at all is because Indiana has a state byway program. A fellow at INDOT administers the program and acts as a liaison with the rest of INDOT for us. We would not have been able to get any cooperation for signage without first having done the work to get the road named a historic byway. That was a three-year effort in which we first built a grassroots coalition in all the counties through which the road passes, then put together a comprehensive (like 90 page) application, presented our case in person to INDOT, and got the Lieutenant Governor to sign off on it. As you can imagine, this was no simple task. But now that we’re part of the byway program we have the ability to get the road signed. I’m not sure we would have that privilege unless our road was a recognized byway. Even then, we have to do everything to INDOT standards and on INDOT’s timelines. For example, they are willing to place our signs only where the Michigan Road crosses another state or US highway, period, even if it’s miles and miles between such crossings. We wished for more frequent signage to reassure drivers they were still on the road.

      Dealing with INDOT isn’t particularly hard, but you do have to know how best to approach them. I am quite sure given your news career that you have strong skills at figuring out the right players, getting in front of them, and knowing how to handle them so they give you what you need. But as you can probably imagine, this is a time-consuming and resource-intensive process.

      If you are primarily interested in local signage, you may wish to try working with local officials on it. They may have some leverage, even on local roads that are US highways and therefore under state control, to place signs locally. I’m speculating on this but it seems plausible. They may even know how to work with your state’s DOT on such things. The challenge, of course, is finding the right person to help you, but if you have any city contacts at all, especially ones who like you, you might be able to network your way to the right person.

      1. Jennifer S Avatar

        Thanks, Jim. Very helpful advice. I’m not sure if NC has a state byway program… I’ll look into that first. We do have two older men associated with the museum who are retired from NCDOT, and could consult with them about any possibilities.

        Right now, we’re battling a little bit with DOT over large (huge), brown historic district signs for the museum which they took down during a highway improvement project and subsequently misplaced. They keep telling us that if we produce photos of the signs it might help them locate them. But nobody took pictures! They were there for 15-years… and not a single shot.

        If you lived around here… I’m sure you’d have thought to snap some photos of them.

        Thanks again for the the help. I’m going to work on this.

        1. Jim Avatar

          Tip: If any news happened on the street while the signs were up, check with the newspapers and the TV stations to see if they have photos/video — they might have captured one of the signs as part of shooting the story.

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