I wonder if schoolchildren in Madison, Indiana, are taught about the Michigan Road when they study Indiana history. It would be a shame if they weren’t, for this historic road begins in their town.

Michigan at West

Every road begins somewhere, after all, and this one begins north of Madison’s historic downtown, at the top of West Street.

Imagery and map data © 2018 Google

If you’ve driven the Michigan Road anywhere else along its 270-mile length you know it is, by and large, flat and straight. But its first 8/10 of a mile winds its way up a steep hill. The stars on the map mark the beginning of the road and the top of the hill. It’s an exhilarating start to this historic road!

The Michigan Road was built in the early 1830s to connect Madison, then the state’s largest city, to the new capital at Indianapolis, and then to Lake Michigan. It passed through Greensburg, Shelbyville, Logansport, Rochester, Plymouth, and South Bend on its way to its end at Lake Michigan in Michigan City.

Most of Indiana is flat, but this state’s southern counties feature rugged terrain. That’s in part because of the valley created by the Ohio River, and in part because Ice Age glaciers and their land-flattening effect extended only so far south in what would become Indiana.

Thus, as you begin driving the Michigan Road, you’ll find your car in low gear for the climb.

From the beginning of the Michigan Road

This is the first house on the Michigan Road. It looks like it’s getting some work.

First house on the Michigan Road

It’s challenging to photograph this part of the Michigan Road. There are no shoulders and only a couple pulloffs, and plenty of traffic enters and exits old Madison via this hill. You can’t stand very far back from traffic, and drivers don’t expect to find pedestrians as they round one of the many curves. When I walked this hill in 2008 one motorcycle rider stopped, looked at me incredulously, and asked if I had a death wish! He was right, and I vowed not to do it again. So this time we photographed only the bottom, and then the top, of Michigan Hill. Fortunately, I photographed the hill extensively in 2008. The next three photos are from that walk.

NB Michigan Road

The Ohio River is visible from one of the pulloffs. The hill in the distance is Kentucky.

The Ohio River from the Michigan Road

Modern cars have little trouble climbing Michigan Hill, but most early automobiles would have struggled.

NB Michigan Road

Back to 2018 now and at the top of the hill, where you’ll find the Fairmount House. I photographed it extensively in 2008, and shared those photos and what I know about the house here. It was for sale at the time.

Fairmount House

The house hasn’t changed in 10 years, but the landscaping sure has. It blocked every clear angle to bring the whole house into the photo.

Fairmount House

But it’s a lovely property, made even lovelier by landscaping.

Fairmount House

Here’s a view down Michigan Hill from the Fairmount House.

Michigan Road SB at Fairmount House

Just beyond where the road levels out stands this monument to the road, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution the same year the U.S. highway system was born. This portion of the Michigan Road would eventually become US 421, but in 1926 it was assigned number 29 in Indiana’s State Road system.

Honored by the DAR

If you ever drive the Michigan Road from end to end, you’ll find that from here on out the hills and valleys are slight and the curves are gentle.

I shot some shaky handheld video of the ascent in 2008. It’ll give you a good flavor of what the drive is like.

Canon PowerShot S95 (and Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom for the 2008 photos)

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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10 responses to “Climbing Michigan Hill in Madison, Indiana”

  1. Reinhold Graf Avatar

    What an effort … risking your health … death wish … dear Jim, be careful ;)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’d blame youth, but I was in my 40s when I walked that hill.

  2. Kurt Ingham Avatar
    Kurt Ingham

    Wow! Fascinating – glad you survived- with super results

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s such an interesting stretch of road I just had to walk it that first time. But now that I’m ten years older I just didn’t feel the same compulsion.

  3. Heide Avatar

    I echo your other readers’ concerns for your well-being, Jim — so glad you survived unscathed! The footage really does capture the twisty road in a way still photos can’t, though. Very cool.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Too bad I didn’t have a way to mount the camera so the video wasn’t so jerky!

      1. Heide Avatar

        I thought the mild bumpiness added charm, Jim — almost like experiencing the gravel and potholes in real time. :-)

  4. Yoshimiparis Photographie Avatar

    pleased to have made the journey with you

  5. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    Well, I learned something new today. :)

    I am interested in roads & maps & geography and such, so I enjoy your Michigan road posts, but not being all that familiar with central/southern Indiana I don’t totally connect with them.

    Reading this post was the first time I realized that the route continued on from South Bend to the Lake. Looking at your turn by turn directions, I have accidentally covered much of the road west of South Bend and am very familiar with the Michigan City part.

    The end of this video of mine shows a South Shore train crossing Michigan Blvd in Mich City. I thought I had some daylight shots, but they must be in my slides.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve ridden the South Shore many times. I grew up in South Bend and that train was a great way to spend a day in Chicago. Somewhere around here I think I still have my book of all the old Indiana interurban routes, of which the SS was one.

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