Road Trips

Old US 31, the Michigan Road, and the Dixie Highway in Rochester, Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

I was telling Brian the things I’ve learned about sniffing out the old alignments. I got interested in them at a good time, because online aerial maps sure make the job easier. But I’ve also discovered how helpful old maps and road guides can be. I had brought my 1924 midwestern Automobile Blue Book along and showed it to him. He seized upon it and studied the turn-by-turn directions from South Bend to Indianapolis. He asked about State Road 1, which the book mentions and which was US 31’s name before 1927. He observed that some of State Road 1’s path appeared to be different from the old US 31 that we were traveling.

We continued south into Fulton County, sometimes cruising less than 1,000 yards away from current US 31. When we entered Fulton County, I noticed that the road was signed Old US 31. I’m not sure that it was in Marshall County. This shoulderless road’s lanes were wide enough for oncoming semis to pass comfortably, suggesting that it was a fairly modern two-lane highway when it was replaced.

I had heard about a one-lane bridge on US 31 near Rochester. We came upon where it used to be, at the Tippecanoe River, about four miles north of Rochester.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

As we drove over this bridge, I saw an old stone abutment on the left, so we stopped. While I took photos from the current bridge, Brian walked out onto the old roadbed. A woman drove a tractor below, cutting the grass.

Bridge abutment, Rochester, Indiana

The abutment wasn’t in terrible shape, but it was also possible for stones to fall out or be pulled out. In 2011, a young man working toward being an Eagle Scout led a project to stabilize the abutment. Here’s the result.

Old bridge abutment

I was surprised to learn that the one-lane bridge lasted until 1982! Given that the road flows straight over the current bridge, but had to curve a bit to meet the one-lane bridge, I’d say that there was at least one earlier bridge here. It stood where the current bridge now stands. That bridge was built in 1916 and was a single-span Parker through truss. Courtesy Bridgehunter.com, here’s a photo of that bridge as it appeared in a 1980s South Bend Tribune article.

Somewhere along the way I came upon this photo of the bridge that preceded it, a two-span bowstring arch built in the mid-late 1800s. This photo faces west; the road coming in from the left in the photo, and the stone abutment where the bridge begins, is the road and abutment I photographed above.

I walked out onto the old roadbed and abutment to see the other side of the river. The bridge’s northern end wasn’t as plain to see.

Tippecanoe River bridge

On this map of Rochester, old US 31 is Main St. Old US 31, and Main St. with it, curve off to the southeast just north of 18th St. This is where old US 31 strikes out on its own, departing from the Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway. Those roads have to settle for being called State Road 25 the rest of the way to Logansport.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

The 1896 Fulton County courthouse is on Rochester’s square, on Main St. between 8th and 9th Streets. This Bedford limestone courthouse came 60 years after Fulton County was formed and Rochester was named the county seat. Rochester was here for about a year before a county formed around it.

Fulton County Courthouse

The courthouse is a real jewel among the buildings in downtown Rochester. These two photos are from the business district, which is near the courthouse.

Downtown Rochester

It’s sad to see all the boarded-up windows in the building at left below. I left downtown feeling like it was really too bad that Rochester’s downtown weren’t more like Plymouth’s, to go with its excellent courthouse.

Downtown Rochester

About eight blocks south of the courthouse, old US 31 veers left, leaving the Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway. We arrived as some rain clouds rolled in. In the photo, you can barely see the current US 31 overpass over State Road 25 in the distance.

Goodbye, Old US 31

We walked up and down the curve taking photos. A couple times, people stopped Brian to ask what we were doing. I guess Brian seems more approachable than me! Brian said to me, “We should tell them we’re building a traffic circle here!”

Beyond the curve, old US 31 flows straight out of Rochester. But we didn’t drive it.

Old US 31

After I told Brian about old State Road 1 and showed him my 1924 Automobile Blue Book, he started to turn into a crazed old-alignment maniac. He noticed that the ABB gave directions for driving through Rochester that differed from old US 31’s path, calling part of it “State Road 1,” and he was stoked to follow them. So we did. We backtracked to 14th St. and headed east. This map shows the route we took in green and the old US 31 route in blue. Based on my 1924 ABB and other resources I have, I’m only pretty sure that 14th St. was part of State Road 1 between Main St. and College Ave., which is where 14th St. bends south a bit. I’m sure that the rest of the route was State Road 1.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here are the directions the ABB gave.

The very narrow road curved through a residential area. The houses appeared to be quite old, at least from the turn of the last century. The ABB said to jog right and then left at an “irregular four-corner.” We took that to mean the intersection of 14th and College, because we had to jog right there. But we never jogged left anywhere, suggesting that the road had been straightened at some time after the ABB was published. After the road passed College, we were stuck by the beauty of the scene.

State Road 1

We became confused when we reached 18th St., as 14th St. became CR 225 E and headed south. I thought we might be way off course as we drove, until we saw our road merge with what we correctly guessed was old US 31. Here’s a northbound photo of the merger. Old US 31 is on the left. Notice how much wider it is than old State Road 1.

Old US 31 and Original State Road 1

And then old US 31 intersected with current US 31.

Old US 31

Next: A lonely stretch of Old US 31 between Rochester and Peru.

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12 thoughts on “Old US 31, the Michigan Road, and the Dixie Highway in Rochester, Indiana

  1. Dan Cluley says:

    My guess would be that the nice straight diagonal route of Old 31 SE from 18th St was built as a bypass sometime after your 1924 route.

  2. Lone Primate says:

    Stuff like that is heartbreaking to me. A bridge that survived into your lifetime but you missed seeing. Nothing you can do about the stuff that didn’t make it into the 70s, but wow, the early 80s! That would have been something.

    • yeah. I didn’t know about it until it was gone. Before I made this trip, Dad mentioned that he remembered this bridge. There used to be a stoplight at either end, to control traffic.

  3. I’m guessing that pic of the two-span bowstring arch bridge was taken during a flood?

    The one-lane bridge is a vanishing species. I know there were a handful around where I grew up. I haven’t seen much out here in Oregon, but there must be a few somewhere.

  4. Nancy Stewart says:

    As you know by now, Rochester was my hometown. If you went out east from town on your map, about two miles out of town, our farm was between 4th street and ninth street(state road 14). And the old one lane bridge was part of my life growing up. There were no lights there then … you took your turn crossing ( and hoped the person on the other side did the same). Some of the farm equipment now would find it impossible to have crossed it !! There was a restaurant right beside the bridge on the west side. My folks would eat there often. It is sad to go back and see the town now, when I remember how busy it was back in my growing up years. But now they have a “wonderful Wally World” at the edge of town … so why bother buying from the local merchants who were there for generations. So many of them just closed up.

    • My mom’s mom grew up in or near Rochester and told stories of a bustling town of her 1910s-20s childhood.

      Most small Indiana towns have suffered over the last 40 years. I wish it weren’t so.

  5. These articles on your historical Dixie Highway are so interesting. And I am always curious that you had a Dixie Highway up north while here in the South, we had the Dixie Overland Highway, the first all-paved road to cross the continent from Savannah to San Diego. Now known as US 80, it ends at Dallas, but tracing it the rest of the way west on local roads would be an interesting road trip.

    • The DH is interesting in that it wasn’t just one road, but a whole network of roads that connected Michigan/Illinois/Ohio with Miami, Florida. The DH enters Indiana from three different points, thanks to this network!

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