Welcome to Thorntown

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!”

Welcome to Thorntown

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.


16 responses to “Welcome to Thorntown”

  1. nobbyknipst Avatar

    Nice little story :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar


  2. davidvanilla Avatar

    Thorntown is a nice little place, but watch those speed signs! I particularly enjoy driving the stretch from Thorntown to Darlington.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, the Thorntown-Darlington stretch is nice. I believe 47 used to go through Darlington, but now it bypasses that little town.

      1. Charlie Hart Avatar
        Charlie Hart

        Have you done a turn-by-turn of 47? If not, I remember a lot, and some observations of old alignments there. I would like to communicate on this, but can’t seem to find a direct communication. I love your work, and observations of our travelling past.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’ve traced 47 on Google Maps and believe I’ve seen evidence of some very old alignments. I believe that 47’s modern path has been such for probably 50+ years. I do know that there’s a bridge inside Turkey Run State Park that used to be part of SR 47.

          Go to the About page; there’s a contact form there where you can reach me directly.

  3. pesoto74 Avatar

    That sounds like a very enjoyable drive. We have our speed trap towns around here. From what I have heard some of the small towns will hire a part-time cop and then try to pay for him by writing tickets. I guess they have to be careful not to catch too many locals or else people complain.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      In a town the size of Thorntown, just by living there a little while it’s probably easy to know which cars aren’t from there.

  4. Christopher Smith Avatar
    Christopher Smith

    Nice Story I think I read it the second time around, its funny how when we get older we have a different perspective on things.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Wow, you’ve been coming around here for 5 years then. Thanks!!

  5. Katie Avatar

    Such an apt description, a pop-up book indeed!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! Sounds like you’ve been there, or somewhere like it.

  6. Tom Klockau Avatar
    Tom Klockau

    I work in an office in Coal Valley, which is a small town right next to Quad City Airport. Kind of the same deal. Small little town, no crime. So watch out for those Smokeys with radar! :)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The cops need something to do I suppose!

  7. jim linton Avatar
    jim linton

    I notice you have a lot of photos of Ivan’s Marathon in Thorntown. Back in the 50s and 60s, we all used to hang out there and watch Ivan work on cars.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I was just in Thorntown last weekend photographing the place again! Do you know when Ivan’s closed?

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