Preservation, Road trips

Old houses on the Michigan Road, preserved and lost

It’s been almost seven years since I drove the Michigan Road from end to end. Much has happened since then: my buddy Kurt and I built a grassroots organization in all 14 counties along the route that got the road named a historic byway, and then we formed a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a mission of promoting heritage tourism along the route and of preserving the route and the built environment along it.

That built environment needs preserving: time has changed and even erased some of it.

I live just off the Michigan Road in Indianapolis. This 1840s farmhouse is more or less around the corner. In 2008, it had been vacant for a long time. Indiana Landmarks bought it, stabilized it, and listed it for sale. It finally sold to a young couple who has been slowly restoring it. They turned part of their grounds into a you-pick berry patch — blueberries, I think.

1840s farmhouse, 64th and Michigan

The 1832 Boardman House stands a couple miles to the north. Here it’s covered in ivy.

Augusta - Bordman House

Its owner cleared the ivy away a few months later, so I stopped to photograph it again. He listed the house for sale in 2013, but after almost two years it remains on the market. (While it lasts: see the listing, with interior photos, here.) I’m sure owning one of the oldest houses in the city comes with challenges, and it will take the right buyer to sign up for them.

Boardman House de-ivied

This house is a mile or so south of the white farmhouse. Rather, it was until a developer razed it to make way for a gas station in 2010.

A log cabin lurks beneath

The demolition crew discovered that the house’s central portion was a log cabin. The developer agreed to have the cabin dismantled and removed, rather than destroyed. Preservationists reached out to the Historic Michigan Road Association for help, and we put them in contact with someone experienced in dismantling log cabins so that they can be reassembled, but the developer didn’t use the fellow we recommended. The cabin was said to be dismantled and stored at Fort Benjamin Harrison. Meanwhile, a Phillips 66 station stands here now.

Michigan Road log cabin

Another log cabin on the road in 2008 stood just south of Napoleon in Ripley County. It, too, is gone now. I know of two other Michigan Road houses that are probably log cabins under their vinyl or aluminum skin. One stands across from the Boardman House here in Indianapolis, and the other is in Lakeville.

Under restoration?

In Plymouth, the First Assembly of God met in this house until several years ago when it was demolished so that the school behind it could expand its playground.

First Assembly of God

Fortunately, just up the road in Plymouth, the Corbin House still stands. It was built by Plymouth’s first mayor.

Corbin house

North of Greensburg, this home has received excellent care. The couple that owns it runs an orchard and banquet/event center on their property. When the Michigan Road won byway status, they held a celebration dinner for us there.

Old house

Another house that looks much the same today as it did when I photographed it several years ago is the Mathews House, near Middlefork. The Mathews property was named a Hoosier Homestead Farm as it has been in continuous operation and owned by the same family for more than 100 years.

Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm

Many of the Michigan Road’s old houses are like this one near Middlefork: still standing, still serving as residences, but not receiving the best of care. I love the arches over the porch and balcony.

Old house, Middlefork

I used to drive by it several times a year on my way to visit family in South Bend. The last time I saw it, some of the arches had been broken. It’s a shame.

Old house, Middlefork

I’ve thought many times about re-touring the Michigan Road from end to end, taking updated photographs of the same sights I photographed in 2008. Maybe this should be the year.

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15 thoughts on “Old houses on the Michigan Road, preserved and lost

  1. Interesting. We own a heritage listed house. Restored to original outside. Modernized inside. Certainly adds to our local area. Disappointing to see some of yours go or be neglected. Well done for trying.

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    • The white farmhouse is about as close to a “heritage house” as we have. Indiana Landmarks bought it and then sold it with protective covenants on it that limit what the owners can do to the home so it retains its historic character. I believe those covenants are largely related to the exterior. My memory from when this house was listed was that most of the upstairs was unheated — that would be a change you’d want to make!

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  2. Done the length of the road many times. Last summer I did the northern half several times (in part to avoid all the construction mess on 31) and added to my photo documentation. Speaking of 31, I was horrified that the state abandoned part of old 31 north of Plymouth! Of that forces people like me who prefer to avoid the bypass to take the Michigan Road through Plymouth in order to get to Lapaz and Lakeville, both built as railroad towns, as you know.

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    • I’m from South Bend originally and until last summer still had family there, so I drove the MR between Indy and SB countless times. I’m saddened by how the new US 31 has erased a small part of the MR in SB and, now I hear from you, part of the 31 routing near Plymouth. Historic roads are an interesting, tricky thing to preserve, as most of the time they must also serve modern/current transportation needs. Still, I wish I could have tried to prevent that part of the MR from being abandoned near South Bend.

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    • I hear you. I am charmed by houses like the Boardman House, which is for sale — but I can’t imagine the maintenance and upkeep on a place like that. I have enough trouble maintaining my 1969 brick ranch house.

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  3. Walter Czyz says:

    It’s a shame that the old house for sale lacks all the charm and character expected of a house its age.
    It’s also sad that these old homes get torn down simply to make room for something new which will not be around as long as the house was….

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    • The house was sourced on the ground it stand on — clay dug out of that ground, trees growing on that ground. I find that thought to be plenty charming! But I know what you mean; it’s not a grand structure. It’s a functional one.

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  4. Mark says:

    Jim, I found the c.1830 log house really interesting. Its amazing when these structures are covered up with more modern cladding…you have no idea what the house is really made of, or how it was constructed. Its like there’s a secret underneath the façade. I used to live near a small c.1768 house that is also of log construction, though you never would have guessed it because of the exterior shingling. You can see it in this link:

    http://peiheritagebuildings.blogspot.ca/2011/01/doucet-house-of-grand-pere-point.html

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    • There are sometimes some clues that a log house lurks. Here’s the house across from the Boardman house that I think is a log house.

      Log cabin?

      The window-door-window front, how tall the house is before the roof begins, the rectangular shape of the main structure, and even that sloped-roof addition — all clues in my experience.

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      • Mark says:

        its funny…if you take a really close look at the dovetailing done on the ends(corners) of that 1830 log house you see that some of the log-ends are cut at square-ish 90 degree angles, while others are cut at a much more triangular shape (think of the Pennsylvania keystone shape). The latter would be FAR more work….and it makes me wonder if they simply didn’t have the time or patience for it…..

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  5. To whom it may concern,
    The reason I am replying to you is that I am currently in the process of purchasing a home in Pike Township known as the, “Boardman House”. It was built in 1834 and is approximately 90% original material. I am trying to gather any information I can get to make a case of getting this as a protected historical landmark.

    I know there are links with Pres. Harrison with this home.The neighbors told me that they have talked to someone at your organization and it was disclosed that President Harrison would visit the home regularly as his good friend lived there.

    I would be most grateful if you have any information on the house that you could share with me. Also, do you think that this house has a historical/cultural importance due to its style and and connection to First Hoosier architecture?

    Can anyone give me some data? I have been doing a lot of work at the historical society but, would love to see if any of you history buffs can help me out!

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