State Road 47 is a winding and lovely drive in western Indiana. It begins in the wild terrain around Turkey Run State Park. As it heads east, those steep hills become the rolling terrain of quiet farmland. The road curves frequently around old farm boundaries and around terrain challenges. But the fun ends at Thorntown as the road straightens out for the rest of its route to Sheridan, thirty minutes north of Indianapolis.
Thorntown, a well-kept small town lined with tidy homes, churches, and shops, is at the center of what was briefly the 64,000 acre Thorntown Indian Reserve, where the Eel River Tribe of the Miami Indians lived. Thorntown gets its name from the Miami name for the place, Kawiakiungi, which means “place of thorns.” Here’s what you see as you swing across the bridge and enter Thorntown from the east. At any moment, you expect it to start snowing, and Jimmy Stewart to come running through town shouting, “Merry Christmas you old broken-down Building and Loan!”
As much as I have always liked State Road 47, I used to dislike Thorntown because its 30 MPH speed limit interrupted my swift progress. When my ex-wife and I were dating many years ago, she and I passed through Thorntown on our way to a camping trip. We needed both of our small cars to haul all the gear; she followed me. As usual, I didn’t see the speed limit signs at the edge of town, but this time the law was ready for me. A police car pulled out of somebody’s driveway with lights flashing and siren blaring. I pulled over and the officer, a big Sheriff Buford type with the buzz cut and the mirrored aviator sunglasses, began to give me a chewin’ out. His face pinched, he was wondering with considerable volume if I had skill enough to read speed-limit signs when my now-ex, who by the way was lovely and slender with blue-grey eyes and a big mess of blonde hair, pulled around in front of me and stopped. Sheriff Buford seemed annoyed and waddled purposefully toward her car. He was gone for quite some time, but when he came back, he was chuckling and smiling. He told me to just take it slow through town and wished me a good weekend!
Since this happened before everybody had cell phones, I had to wait about two hours until we reached our campsite to ask just what the heck happened. She said, “When he came up, I rolled down the window, batted my eyelashes at him, and said, ‘If you give him a ticket, you have to give me one too, because I was following him!’ He laughed and laughed and I guessed when you drove off that he let us off the hook.”
This did not do anything to improve my opinion about Thorntown.
I’ve matured considerably since then. I’ve also become much better at noticing the speed limit signs at the outskirts of small towns, so I’m much less likely to attract police attention. So now I not only bear no ill will against Thorntown, but I find its entrance from the east to be quite lovely. You swing around this little curve and over a small bridge, and then suddenly the town unfolds before you, as if it had been folded snugly into the pages of a pop-up book. Just be sure to be going 30 MPH by the time you cross that bridge.
I’ve told this story twice before, in 2007 and 2010.