New Carlisle is a cheerful Indiana small town about 15 miles west of South Bend on a triply historic road: US 20, the longest US highway; the Lincoln Highway, our nation’s first coast-to-coast road; and the Michigan Road, which has linked the Ohio River to Lake Michigan since the 1830s. The town has been there since 1835, not long after the road was built.

As you enter New Carlisle from the east, you take a tight S curve under a railroad bridge and along a retaining wall that greets you cheerfully.

Welcome to New Carlisle

Until 1926 the road ran straight, crossing the tracks at a dangerous angle that was the scene of many accidents. Four rail lines passed through: two owned by the New York Central Railroad; one by the Chicago, South Bend, and Northern Indiana Railway; and one by the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad. The South Shore tracks were a few feet lower than the New York Central tracks, making for an uneven crossing and increasing motorists’ challenge.

New Carlisle, Indiana. Imagery © 2019 DigitalGlobe, IndianaMap Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2019 Google.

Negotiations with the railroads to build a viaduct and reroute the road for safer passage dragged on for several years but kicked into high gear when New Carlisle passed an ordinance limiting trains to eight miles per hour. That got the railroads’ attention. Terms were worked out, the bridge was built, and the road was curved.

After you negotiate that curve, New Carlisle unfolds before you, tidy and cheerful. Little has changed, at least cosmetically, in this town since before World War II. Check out this mural of the town as it was in about 1941, painted on the side of one of downtown’s buildings.

New Carlisle mural

Downtown New Carlisle has changed little since those days! You’ll have to take my word for it to some extent, as I made these photographs in 2008. Margaret and I drove through on our late-December Michigan Road trip, but heavy rain made it a poor day for photography. But we could see it: New Carlisle still looks very much like this.

Live or Memorex?

I’m always curious why some small Indiana towns remain well-maintained and others don’t. Money obviously makes the difference. But where does New Carlisle’s come from? There’s no real industry here, to speak of. It’s too far away from Chicago to be a commuter town. I suppose many residents commute to South Bend to work; is that enough?

Downtown New Carlisle

Regardless, everywhere you look in New Carlisle’ downtown, the buildings are in good condition. Something must be going right here — unlike so many Indiana towns of similar size, New Carlisle is growing. Its population remained flat at about 1,400 for several decades, but between 2000 and 2010 it swelled to over 1,800.

Houston Pro Hardware
Still a bank

As you keep heading west you soon leave the downtown area and pass many lovely older homes.

Old house, New Carlisle
Old house, New Carlisle
Old house, New Carlisle

This church is right on Michigan Street. The sign says, “God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.”

Community Church

Memorial Park is on Michigan Street, too. It’s a lovely spot to rest on a lovely street in a lovely town.


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

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20 responses to “Welcome to New Carlisle, a Michigan Road town”

  1. J P Avatar

    I have seen signs, but have never been there. It seems that every trip that gets me to South Bend is a north-south journey with West not being on the menu.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      A normal outcome. It’s fun to drive the Michigan Road from SB to Michigan City; you should try it sometime.

  2. Egf Avatar

    How can you write an article about New Carlisle and not mention Hudson Lake??

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Easy: I’ve never been to Hudson Lake.

  3. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    That is a great looking town. I know I’ve been through there several times, but don’t specifically remember anything.

    I know I’ve taken train pictures in Hudson Lake and Rolling Prairie a couple of times, and Lydick at least once, so maybe New Carlilse as well, but nothing jumps out.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve been to Rolling but never Lydick or Hudson Lake. I should go see them one day.

  4. Rick Avatar

    As a young boy, New Carlisle / Hudson Lake was joke. Enjoyed seeing these pics. I do get back from time to time as still have family there. I look at it as “ Small Town USA “

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a classic Midwestern small town to be sure!

  5. Susan Avatar

    I was born in Doctor Engels office. In 1960. This is a very friendly town, Prancer the reindeer movie was filmed here. Always known in our family as a Great place to get Country Home Cooked meals. I still live in another small town South of New Carlisle. Shop at least once a week!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Nice! You’ve lived your whole life in the area then.

  6. Nancy Livesay Stewart Avatar
    Nancy Livesay Stewart

    Lots of great places to eat in New Carlisle. The Village Shoppes … very interesting to shop there, especially around the holidays. I have worked one of the church food booths during the annual New Carlisle Days, which have a great turnout. Our one granddaughter had her graduation party at the house that was used for the movie “Prancer” with Sam Elliott. ( Our grandchildren go to New Prairie Schools.) Our family doctor’s office is in New Carlisle. Unfortunately, lots of the good farm land around there is being gobbled up by big industry.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, the Old Republic, which is for sale right now!

      Good to know there’s still a lot going on in New Carlisle.

  7. retrocrank Avatar

    Jim, I always particularly enjoy your exposition of these small towns. The Ohio town where I lived for my first 4 1/2 decades was about 2/3 this size, and like New Carlisle was the business center and place of interaction with the “outside world” for the area’s primary economy, agriculture. In the 60s my town was much more like the postcard, in the 00’s much more like your 2008 photograph. Still looks nice. What’s different? Look at the people, the cars parked, the kid on the bicycle, the woman walking her dog, the need for the trash cans along the walkway. These places were happenin’. Look at 2008 – or any downtown midwestern town – anymore. Not the bustle. Even the town’s swimming pool – which I remember being built in the early 60s and being PACKED every day of my young summers – may be torn out due to disuse. Regardless of one’s political leanings, I don’t think it’s hard to understand the dysfunction in our country – the people on the coasts who would like to define our culture and society just have completely failed to understand the impact of the loss of the small Midwestern ag-based community. As long as energy is cheap and plentiful, these small towns can’t be returned to the former status. Best we can do is get our images while we can and enjoy the memories.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yes, the shift to Big Agriculture has radically altered all of these small towns’ futures. I think the towns close enough to a city will do all right as bedroom communities, but the rest… the future isn’t bright.

  8. Jack Shaw Avatar
    Jack Shaw

    Thank you so much for your endeavor concerning New Carlisle. It inspired a flood of emotion and memories. According to the Town’s official sign on the west side of town, the population in 1940 was 740. I “left home” for good upon joining the Navy in 1956, but the friends and memories I carried with me will always be an important part of me. You should get in touch with the good folks at Historic New Carlisle. Thanks again.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Jack, I’m very happy that I stoked good memories today!

  9. Dave Jenkins Avatar

    Really love this kind of thing. Also your philosophical and introspective pieces.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      :-) Thanks for saying so! I publish stuff and hope people like it, so it’s always welcome to hear affirmatively (or even negatively).

  10. mostlymonochrome Avatar

    A while ago, I visited ‘old’ Carlise because I was bored. New Carlisle looks a lot better.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Old Carlisle sounds mighty exotic to this landlocked Yank.

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