When you stand on the Michigan Road in downtown Wanamaker, you’d never guess you’re really in Indianapolis. When Indianapolis merged with Marion County in 1970, most of the little towns that dotted the county merged along with it. Officially, they ceased to exist. Poof! But while Wanamaker may have lost its legal identity, it never lost its soul.
Wanamaker feels like typical small-town Indiana. It is a microcosm of everything that is wonderful about traveling the Michigan Road.
Wanamaker is in Franklin Township, which is in the southeastern corner of the city. The Franklin Township Chamber of Commerce Economic Development District (say that three times fast!) meets at Wheatley’s once a month for breakfast. This organization has been one of the Historic Michigan Road Association’s best friends. They reached out to us when we were a fledgling, grass-roots group, to encourage and advise us. After we won byway status for the road and began the project to sign the route, not only did they put us in contact with the right players in the city to help us move our initiative along, they also donated funds for almost all of the signs in Marion County. So I visit this group’s morning meeting about once a year to give an update, and share breakfast with them. I recommend the biscuits and gravy.
The FTCoCEDD bought a handful of signs to share with businesses in the Wanamaker area. One of them went up on the side of the New Bethel Ordinary, a restaurant just up the street from Wheatley’s. I hear that their pizza is out of this world. I wouldn’t know; I went gluten free a few years ago. Pizza and biscuits and gravy are but a distant memory for me now.
I’m impressed with how determined and resourceful the people of Wanamaker are. They pressed hard for some infrastructure improvements to the Michigan Road through their town, and got them. I was told that drainage was poor on the road here, and that heavy rains would run right off into some of the town’s storefronts. The curbing and parallel parking you see in these photos was completed last year. Here’s what the road through Wanamaker looked like in 2008: no curbs with angle parking.
The changes give Wanamaker a much more “finished” feel. And I’m sure the shopkeepers are thrilled not to have to deal with minor flooding after it rains.
Wanamaker is proud of its history, and many of its buildings have been reasonably well preserved. This porcelain-coated steel building was once a service station with gas pumps out front. Cars are still repaired here today. Buildings like this used to be enormously common, but few are left, at least in condition this good.
Cemeteries on both sides of the road on the south end of town. This is Founder’s Cemetery.
The New Bethel Baptist Church is across the street. You see occasional references to New Bethel throughout Wanamaker, as that was the town’s original name.
Heading south from here, the Michigan Road takes on a rural feel. It keeps it up for but a few miles, as shortly the road merges with I-74 for several miles. I consider that one of the most unfortunate things to happen to this historic road.
Fortunately, the Michigan Road emerges again just inside Shelby County and can be driven all the way to its end on the Ohio River.
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.