Truth is, nobody knows for sure why the sycamore trees line this short stretch of road, known as Sycamore Row, on Indiana’s Michigan Road.
The historical marker claims that the trees grew from green sycamore logs cut and laid across the road in the mid-1800s. They provided sure footing over what was then swampy land. It’s a plausible explanation, but it might just be a popular legend.
This narrow passageway was a state highway until 1987, and it was a tight squeeze for oncoming cars. You didn’t want to encounter an oncoming truck when you entered Sycamore Row!
You’ll find this abandoned road about 50 miles north of Indianapolis on State Road 29 in Carroll County. It’s just south of Deer Creek. It is part of the Michigan Road, one of Indiana’s earliest highways. Since the 1830s it has connected the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan.
In the early automobile era, Indiana routed State Road 29 along this portion of the Michigan Road. A one-lane iron bridge carried vehicles across the creek then.
As traffic increased, the one-lane bridge became insufficient. A more modern two-lane steel bridge was built in the same place. But this passage remained narrow. Vehicle accidents among the sycamores – some of them fatal – brought a reduced speed limit, warning signs, and flashing lights.
Traveler safety put the sycamores at constant risk of removal. Indeed, some trees were removed on several occasions during road-improvement projects. The people of Carroll County love and celebrate their history, and so they always protested hard. Still, more than 60 trees have been lost here, leaving the 30 or so that remain. It seems certain that none of these sycamores are original, as trees from the mid-1800s would have trunks six or eight feet wide by now. Some sycamore saplings were planted here to replace removed trees. The rest of these trees probably grew from seeds dropped by the original trees. Today, the sycamores form only a single line on each side of the road, and there are wide gaps between some trees.
Standing on the old roadway, it’s hard to imagine such a narrow passage being part of any modern state highway system. It was insufficient long before the road was finally rerouted in 1987. It simply took many, many years to negotiate saving not only these sycamores, but also a spring-fed pond used by the earliest settlers here, and adjoining land that grew the first soybeans cultivated in the United States. The resulting compromise involved rerouting Deer Creek itself and building a new road alignment and bridge.
I drive this portion of the Michigan Road frequently, and whenever I’m not in a hurry I like to pull over for a minute and enjoy the sycamores.
It’s peaceful there. I’m glad the folks in Carroll County worked to preserve Sycamore Row here on the Michigan Road.
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.