It was exciting to come upon this abandoned bridge abutment when my old friend Brian and I explored old US 31 in northern Indiana in 2007. (That whole trip is documented here.)

Bridge abutment, Rochester, Indiana

Standing on the old abutment it’s easy to see where the old bridge used to meet the Tippecanoe River’s north bank. It’s just right of where the current bridge, built in 1982, meets it.

Tippecanoe River bridge

My dad remembers driving the old bridge. He said it was just one lane wide, and there was a stoplight at either end. Traffic on US 31 would often back up at either end waiting to cross here. The mother of an old friend, who grew up in Fulton County, remembers a time before they installed the stoplight — and the games of chicken oncoming drivers played with each other.

My research turns up only the photo above, circa 1910, as possibly a bridge at this location. Those stone abutments look right, and the rise of the left approach looks to me to match the abandoned approach and abutment. The river is awfully full, though, fuller than I’ve ever seen it. This photo could have been made during a flood.

Current bridge and old abutment from the air. Imagery © 2019 DigitalGlobe, Indiana Map Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2019 Google.

But this two-span bowstring through truss bridge is not the bridge my friend’s mother remembers. She specifically remembers a single-span bridge with a squarer truss design, probably a Pratt through truss

If that bowstring truss was ever at this location, it had to have been replaced with the one everybody remembers, sometime after the 1910 photograph was made. The Great Flood of 1913 destroyed a lot of bridges; perhaps it did this one in.

By the early 1970s, US 31 was rebuilt as a four-lane expressway about a mile to the west, relieving the traffic burden on the old bridge here.

By the way, this bridge is on the Michigan Road. When US 31 was commissioned in Indiana, it used the Michigan Road from about 3½ miles south of here in Rochester, to about 42 miles north of here in downtown South Bend.

In 2010, an aspiring Eagle Scout stabilized this abutment, mortaring in the stones and laying in concrete pavers where the old road bed had gone missing. I made this photograph of it in late 2011 and wrote about it here.

Old bridge abutment

Here’s the same scene the day after Christmas in 2018. The mortar’s color has neutralized with age, making the abutment look more natural.

Old bridge abutment, north of Rochester

Three historic markers stand on the old abutment. The third, which is the shorter stone, was placed sometime since 2011. I never think to photograph it because I forget it’s newer and that I’ve not already photographed it. I can’t remember what it commemorates. The larger stone commemorates a village of Potawatomi Indians that was once here, and how those Indians were removed to lands out west in a forced migration now known as the Trail of Death. You’ll find a wealth of information about the Trail of Death here. I have a Potawatomi ancestor, I am told, though I can’t confirm it.

Old bridge abutment, north of Rochester

The final marker on this abutment honors the Michigan Road itself. Two other state markers like this one honor the road: one in Ripley County at US 50, and one in Boone County about three miles north of I-465.

Historic marker

Every time I stop here, the Tippecanoe River is tranquil.

Tippecanoe River

Here’s hoping that someday confirmed photographs of the old bridge here emerge.

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

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15 responses to “The mystery of the former one-lane bridge on the Michigan Road in Fulton County, Indiana”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    I don’t even live in Indiana any more and I love these entries Jim!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m happy to hear it! I assume now that most of my audience is photography-related and so I post these old-road missives with some anxiety. Yet I publish them anyway because it’s my blog and I can do what I want!

      1. Nancy Stewart Avatar
        Nancy Stewart

        Yes you can Jim !! And we like it, too !! I don’t know if you have heard of Shirley Willard or not. She used to be in charge of the Fulton County History Museum just north of Rochester. There was a nice article about her in a recent issue of my American Spirit magazine.( Daughters of the American Revolution magazine.) She would probably be the one that would know or could find out.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I do know Shirley. She is on our Michigan Road board. I should ask!

  2. Greg Clawson Avatar
    Greg Clawson

    Keep posting them Jim! I love the historical aspect of the old bridges and small towns on these sometimes forgotten old roads right of the interstates.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think they’re fun too, and I love to tell their stories!

      1. Nancy Stewart Avatar
        Nancy Stewart

        My parents didn’t like taking the busy highways when they went on trips. They liked taking the 2 lane roads. I saw a lot of back roads back then … got lost a few times in some unsavory looking areas .

  3. Heide Avatar

    I’m with Andy: I’m unlikely to ever visit this spot — but thanks to you, I feel as if I’m a local. What a fascinating post, Jim. I do hope you’ll be able to find some more historical photos to reconcile all these layers of memories.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I should make “Honorary Local” badges and hand them out!

      1. Heide Avatar

        That would be fantastic! I would be proud to be one of your “honorary locals” — assuming the taxes aren’t too high.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I’ll work it out jurisdiction by jurisdiction if I have to!

          1. Heide Avatar

            HA! Excellent plan.

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  5. Keith Kroening Avatar
    Keith Kroening

    I’m 70 and am driving US31 with my 41 year old son and mentioned the old 1 lane bridge with the stop lights. Said I couldn’t remember where it was and couldn’t find it. He said to Google it and here I am. Thanks much Jim Grey, very helpful!

    Keith K, South Bend

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I aim to please!!

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