Preservation, Road Trips

On the square in Martinsville, a Dixie Highway city in Indiana

On our October road trip I intended to follow the old alignments of State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway from Indianapolis all the way to Bloomington. Modern SR 37, a four-lane expressway, is being upgraded to Interstate standards to be I-69, and that will certainly cut off easy access to many of the old alignments. I underestimated how much progress has been made — shortly south of Martinsville, construction already blocked off all access to the old road.

At least we got to see a little of Martinsville first, specifically its square. The courthouse at its center was completed in 1859, with additions built in 1956 and 1975-1976. It’s unfortunate that trees blocked the view on all sides, as it is a stunning building well preserved.


The rest of Martinsville’s square was a mixed bag of buildings ranging from dilapidated to gorgeous, with several vacancies punctuated by occasional businesses, including this one which had just opened.


This building originally housed the First National Bank of Martinsville. Remember when every town of any size had its own banks? Today, thanks to bank consolidation, few of those remain. I wonder how many mergers happened before this became a BMO Harris Bank branch.


I enjoyed this building’s strong presence. It was built in 1893 for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and looks like it’s either been well maintained over the years or has been recently restored. Its first floor is largely occupied today by a coffee shop that specializes in homemade cheesecake.


This building looks recently restored as well. I appreciate how the facade, especially the store entrances, retain a period-typical look.


I was especially taken with the sign painted on this window. While the metal beams behind that glass mean that this door no longer operates, and that the Martinsville Bowling Center is a thing of Martinsville’s past, it’s great that the sign was retained.


Other buildings on Martinsville’s square are in various stages of restoration. Here’s hoping the next time I come through on a road trip, I get to see a completely revitalized square.


Martinsville was so excited about the Dixie Highway, by the way, that the town immediately paved it in locally made bricks. The Dixie’s route is covered in asphalt today, but another local road remains paved in those bricks. I told the brick Dixie story and showed the remaining brick road here.

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9 thoughts on “On the square in Martinsville, a Dixie Highway city in Indiana

  1. Martinsville has not boomed the way some other county-seat towns that surround Indianapolis have. Perhaps having an interstate highway go past the place will change that.

  2. Andy Umbo says:

    Martinsville might not have boomed based on the fact that it was a hotbed of the KKK movement in Indiana. I refuse to have anything to do with it myself (nice pictures tho). Any minor search of Martinsville on Google eventually comes up with some pretty horrific facts about it. I find the latent strength of those historic convictions I do not agree with to be very, very strong still; and it’s one reason I feel my time in Indiana feels like i have damaged my soul! No offense to anyone, but I know struggling areas of the country I lived in that need my help and deserve it more than these places.

  3. Heide says:

    Lovely images, Jim — and how interesting to juxtapose the impression I got from them with the comment from Andy Umbo, which cast the Martinsville in an entirely new light. There’s always something thought-provoking to ponder here at Down the Road, isn’t there?

    • Indiana has a long and troubled history with the KKK. Growing up in South Bend I was taught in school that in 1924 a horde of Notre Dame students actually physically fought the Klan at the train station after they arrived from Indianapolis! Indiana politics were interwoven with the Klan in those days. Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson was also a prominent politician here. After the Klan age began to pass in Indiana (with Stephenson’s incarceration on a murder and rape conviction, which shocked the state), there were a few strongholds that remained even through the 1960s, and Martinsville is widely known to have been one of them.

      • Heide says:

        I apparently missed an entire chapter of my history book, Jim. Thank you for teaching me a bit more about this facet of Indiana’s past, troubled (and troubling) though it may be.

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