History, Road Trips

Mysteries solved, puzzles revealed in the route of the Michigan Road through Indiana

When my Michigan Road partner Kurt and I laid out the Historic Michigan Road Byway, most of the route was obvious. The road is still all there, with but a few minor reroutings. You can drive it from end to end.

We did puzzle, however, over how the road proceeded through a few cities and towns. Where the road entered and exited was always clear, but which streets it followed through town was sometimes not. We made our best guesses.

Thanks to the fabulous Indiana Transportation History group on Facebook, I was introduced to a book called Development and Lands of Michigan Road, prepared in 1914 by the Indiana State Board of Accounts. It looks like they found and documented the original 1832 surveys for the road! You can see this remarkable book here

This book clears up some mysteries, but creates others. The first puzzle it solves is the road’s original route through downtown Indianapolis.

Clarity into the route through Indianapolis

Indiana Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library

Looking at the book’s map, which represents the original Mile Square of Indianapolis, it is clear that the road enters downtown from the east along what is now Southeastern Ave. before turning west onto Washington Street, which is also the National Road. It’s also clear that the road exits to the north on what is now Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St.

But it’s also clear that the road as surveyed turns north on Meridian Street, goes around Monument Circle, and then heads northwest along Indiana Avenue.

When we laid out the byway, we made it follow Washington Street all the way across the Mile Square to its edge at West St., and then north. It’s easy to describe, easy to follow. It also guides travelers past the lovely Indiana Statehouse, a nice bonus.

The original route, in contrast, is hard to follow. Monument Circle is frequently closed for events. One block of Indiana Avenue was removed in favor of a skyscraper. Compensating for that requires driving a series of one-way streets. So I don’t feel that bad that we got it wrong here.

Deepening mystery on the route through Logansport

The book shows a very different route through Logansport than we assumed. We routed it entirely over what is now State Road 25 through town, crossing Biddle Island as it enters downtown. You can see SR 25 on the map snippet at right below.

But the book shows the road entering Logansport and veering north, probably along what is now Lymas Ave. and Cicott St., crossing the Wabash west of Biddle Island, and then running along the Eel River’s north bank and then out of town. I’ve marked in red on the Google map what I think this routing must have been.

Left: Indiana Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library
Right: Map data © 2018 Google

But an 1836 map of Logansport shows the Michigan Road crossing both the Eel and the Wabash via Biddle Island, as we’ve routed the byway. You can see that map here. Given that the road was surveyed in 1832 — four years before this later map — I wonder whether the road ever ran as surveyed.

Mucking things up in Michigan City

Early descriptions of the Michigan Road we’ve found always say that it ends at the mouth of Trail Creek at Lake Michigan. The survey map bears that out!

Indiana Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library

Unfortunately for the byway, the road no longer goes all the way through to the lake. It stops about 1,000 feet before it crosses Trail Creek, at an intersection with US 12.

We routed the byway from there west along US 12, ending it where US 12 meets Willard Ave. I have a dim memory that this is where the early-20th-century Michigan Road auto trail ended. But I have no idea where that memory comes from. If I had it to do over, I’d end the Historic Michigan Road Byway at the intersection of Michigan Blvd. and US 12 in Michigan City.

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11 thoughts on “Mysteries solved, puzzles revealed in the route of the Michigan Road through Indiana

  1. Dan Cluley says:

    I looked at that Willard/US-12 intersection last summer and it seems surprisingly prominent for being just the edge of a neighborhood. There are city welcome signs and a fairly elaborate entrance to the park. Between that and the general layout of the streets, I wonder if Willard used to be the west city limits.

    http://www.michiganhighways.org/ does an amazing job of covering this sort of detail in Michigan. Every time I look something up I’m surprised how much routing changed over the years. In my town there are streets that switched from local to federal to state and back through all 3 jurisdictions in less than 50 years.

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    • I wish we had a site like michiganhighways here in Indiana. We used to have one that was pretty good, highwayexplorer.com, but the fellow who ran it stopped keeping it up and then finally its domain registration lapsed.

      That’s a good theory, that Willard was once the west city limits.

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      • Dan Cluley says:

        Jim, I did some digging, and don’t think I was right about the city limits, but did figure some other stuff out. Send me an email and I’ll get you links to some different old maps.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Long time (20 years?) since I’ve driven through Logansport. If I were still in that area your map suggestion would have me driving around to check it out, since the ancient map shows the pike diverging away from the riverbank, unlike following Wabash on up to Linden. One alternative thought to your proposed route: northbound, after crossing the bridge- right on Wabash, left on Brown, right on Linden, then left SAP onto north 6th….
    Jim, I’ve thought about your roadquests and a previous post about fun cars. My opinion is that you need to look for a nicely cared for 1st generation Miata. Nothing like exploring the old roads in a droptop. And the Miata is small, nimble, reliable, and cheap to run. Plenty of room in the trunk for an overnight bag and the camera gear (assuming you take more than the S95!)

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    • You know, you’re probably right about bridge-Wabash-Brown-Linden-6th-Michigan, it fits the shape of the old map better.

      I’d love to do a Miata. My wife loves tiny cars. I do worry that we would be tight fits though. I’m 6′ and my wife is 5’10”. With the roof closed would our heads graze? I drove a friend’s Miata and my eyes were almost level with the frame around the windshield.

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  3. I drove one when they first came out (I was driving an old MGB at the time and so was looking for an updated lateral move). I’m 5’11”. I found it to be comfortable and had no sight-line or headroom problems. A somewhat tighter cockpit than the MGB (more “stuff”) could mean that unlike the MGB, it might get claustrophobic for a long trip, but I don’t know. Never did that in a Miata. The newer versions look a little larger, I’ve never driven one.

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  4. analogphotobug says:

    I love the whole idea of tracing Historic Roads. I’m really enjoying the series. There are lots of Historic Roads around Cincinnati. Never thought about trying to figure them out. Maybe a project for my retirement.

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  5. Tom in Phoenix says:

    I have never been to Indiana, but I really enjoy these old-road posts. Please continue them, even if only occasionally.
    Best to you in the new year!

    Like

    • Tom, thank you for saying so! I don’t have as much time for the old roads today as I did in the past but they remain a strong interest and something I do research occasionally. Best wishes to you in 2019 as well!

      Like

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