History, Road Trips

Sycamore Row

Sycamore RowTruth is, nobody knows for sure why the sycamore trees line this short stretch of road.

The historical marker claims that the trees grew from green sycamore logs cut and laid across the road in the mid-1800s to provide sure footing over what was then swampy land. It’s a plausible explanation, but it might just be a popular legend.

What is known is that this narrow passageway was in use as a state highway until 1987, and that 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, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan.

In the early automobile era, almost a century ago, Indiana routed State Road 29 along this portion of the Michigan Road. A one-lane iron bridge carried vehicles across the creek then.

SycamoreRow1910s

Source: Bridgehunter.com

As traffic increased, the one-lane bridge became insufficient, and a more modern two-lane steel bridge was built in the same place. But this passage remained narrow, and vehicle accidents among the sycamores – some of them fatal – led to a reduced speed limit as well as warning signs and flashing lights to alert drivers.

SycamoreRow1940s

Source: Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database

Traveler safety put the sycamores at constant risk of being removed, and 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, and 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.

Sycamore Row

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.

Sycamore Row

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.

At Sycamore Row

It’s peaceful there. I’m glad the folks in Carroll County worked to preserve Sycamore Row.


The Michigan Road is a historic 
byway. Read about it here.

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23 thoughts on “Sycamore Row

  1. texan59 says:

    I grew up near there in Walton and traveled those old trees many times to visit my aunt and uncle over in Flora. After moving to Texas in the early 80’s, I was sad to see the rerouting that took place in ’87. It was beautiful.

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    • Thanks for stopping by! I’m pretty sure that rerouting actually saved the trees that remained. The road there was not up to INDOT standards, and if they kept that routing, it would have meant widening the road and removing the trees.

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  2. Why would you doubt the story as told in the historic marker? I guess we could all disregard other historic recordings and say no one knows for sure why the United States erupted in the Civil War. While I appreciate your interest in writing well, please do not confuse readers by disregarding well established facts.

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    • I did some research that revealed that there really is doubt about the story told on the historic marker — so much so that the Indiana bureau that manages historic markers lists the story as under review.

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  3. Joyce Toler Collins says:

    Joyce Toler Collins Every time I drove through that original bridge… I remembered my Grandpa Toler telling me this story of how this bridge was made with work horses pulling the logs…. His father was “known” for raising great work horses in Carroll Co. for purchase. He said the trees grew up from the ends of the green logs… Never doubt you Grandpa!

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  4. David Gardner says:

    Jim,

    I ran across your blog while searching for rail-trail information, and I just love the history of Indiana’s old highways! Back when I lived in Kokomo in the 80s, I worked for a tire company, and regularly drove delivery routes in a single axle 24ft box van (because I loved to drive). I drove that old section of the Michigan road at least twice a week, and many times had to sweat it out when cars were on the bridge coming from the opposite direction! At the time, there was a very narrow section where one Sycamore tree in particular made the highway effectively one lane wide, where the new-old steel bridge was about a lane and a half wide. That tree had evidence of damage from being struck by vehicles. I do remember when the state bypassed Sycamore Row, then removed the steel bridge. IIRC, there was also a narrow steel bridge just west of Delphi. Thanks for the info you’ve painstakingly gathered on your blog!

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    • Thanks so much for sharing first-hand accounts of Sycamore Row! I’m sad that I never got to experience it. I was a teenager when it was realigned, and when my family went between South Bend (my hometown) and Indy we always took 31.

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  5. Butch Piercy says:

    In 1981 I took drivers Ed. Class at Lewis Cass High School, part of every students final driving test was to drive this section of highway. Even today as I drive on Hwy 29 I think about that little section of highway and how scared we were as 15 year old kids driving for the first time and going through the trees and over the bridge. Thanks for the story, I really enjoyed reading it.

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    • I wish I could have driven through those trees and over the bridge! The new bridge wasn’t built until after I got my license — I just didn’t know about it (I’m from South Bend) or I might have made the trip.

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  6. Nancy Stewart says:

    Once again a very interesting article. I seem to remember a place where the trees were like this when I was young, but don’t know why we would have been there. Do you know if there would have been anything similar between Rochester and Peru or between Rochester and Logansport at one time ?? Just curious.

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  7. Eric says:

    In the Indianapolis public library on line account there exists James Whitcomb Riley reciting the poems he wrote he would ride up this highway and participate in Chautauqua which were the County fairs of his day people would come in play music have dancing ,have readings a weekend of old timey fun. One of the poems is about Deercreek the only way he would know anything about this is if he participated in fished here I urged you to go listen to James Whitcomb Riley speak his poems and drift back on deer creek

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  8. melissa james says:

    Nancy it has been years but I seem to remember one in the pipe creek area.
    But about Deer Creek I was very glad to see they saved the row and pond I lived 1/2 mile away most my childhood But I wish the would have preserved the old Iron bridge and made it part of a nature trail or just put in a picnic spot near it that would have been nice.

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  9. Sid Paul says:

    I drove a tandem dump truck and met an 18 wheeler flying thru there. Mirrors barely touched. After that I would wait if I seen another truck. Still go by and enjoy the creek and trees.

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