Road Trips

The Michigan Road in southeastern Indianapolis

In 2008, I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end, documenting the road and its built environment. Here is an installment of that trip report.

I-74 bypassed the tiny town of Pleasant View in northwestern Shelby County, leaving a mile or so of the Michigan Road behind. The last few hundred feet of the remnant are actually in Marion County, which is Indianapolis.

This southbound shot shows a highway that hasn’t been maintained in 50 years.

North of Pleasant View

Here is where the Michigan Road ends, superseded by I-74, which was built here across the Michigan Road’s path rather than along it.

North of Pleasant View

The green line on this map shows what I believe was the Michigan Road’s route in Marion County’s southeast corner before I-74. The road is supplanted by I-74 for less than a mile; it appears again after the next exit. If you ever follow the Michigan Road out here, you can avoid returning to I-74 by going north on County Line Rd. to Indian Creek Rd., following Southeastern Ave. to Acton Rd., and then going south on Acton Rd. to pick up Southeastern Ave. again. For a short distance, the road on both sides of I-74 is confusingly signed Southeastern Ave., but only the one south of I-74 is genuine.

I-74 pulls away from the Michigan Road just as it reaches the former town of Wanamaker. On January 1, 1970, many small towns in Marion County officially ceased to exist when the city and county governments merged in a consolidation plan called Unigov. This map shows what was Wanamaker.

Just because a town officially ceases to exist does not mean it’s not still there, of course. One of the first things you encounter in Wanamaker is the New Bethel Baptist Church. It is so called because the town’s original name was New Bethel.

New Bethel Baptist Church

Here’s downtown New Bethel, northbound on Southeastern Ave. (Michigan Road).

Wanamaker

The town was busy — Wheatley’s had a band. This restaurant stands on the southeast corner of the town’s main intersection and was once R. Purvis Groceries, Dry Goods, and Hardware, and it sold Indian gasoline.

Wanamaker

On the southwest corner stands the former Allied Appliances Co. While the business in this building today sells gas grills and lawn tractors, it has not removed the old sign.

Wanamaker

New Bethel Ordinary is a pizza place, and I’m told the pizza is fabulous.

New Bethel Ordinary

This old house on Wanamaker’s north side is gargantuan.

Old house

North of Wanamaker proper stands this old building which houses a flower shop today. It looks like an old school to me.

Wanamaker Flower Shoppe

Southeastern Ave. makes its way out of Wanamaker and toward Downtown Indianapolis.

Leaving Wanamaker

Shortly the road meets I-465. Long before the Interstate was built, however, this intersection was called Five Points.

There are six corners here today, casting accuracy concerns on the name Five Points, but this was not always so. This 1962 aerial image shows Southeastern Ave. torn up for construction of I-465, and Five Points Road not extending north of Southeastern Ave.

The building of the Michigan Road presented a business opportunity to Major John Belles, whose home was just east of this intersection. He built a large log house here and operated it as an inn in the 1820s and 1830s. The H. A. Waterman Co. came to this intersection in 1881 and is in business today, making it one of Indianapolis’s oldest businesses. First a blacksmith shop, Waterman added a hardware department, a garage, and a truck and machinery repair in 1914. Later, the business sold farm tractors and lawn equipment.

Waterman Hardware in Five Points

Just across Troy Ave. from Waterman’s stands this tidy little house. It is one of a few houses standing here, lonely little petunias in the onion patch of I-465 and the Marion County road maintenance site. This has got to be a plenty noisy place to live. Yet this homeowner obviously continues to take pride in his property. You can see Southeastern Ave. on the left in this photo, going uphill on its way over I-465.

House at MR and I-465

Just north of I-465 stands the sprawling St. John Lutheran Church complex.

St. John Lutheran Church

Shortly Southeastern Ave. encounters I-74 again. This time, however, it’s just a stub of the highway, a glorified entrance and exit. I-74 actually follows I-465 around the city’s Southside. Building this stub did, however, manage to eradicate the Michigan Road’s northbound lane for a couple hundred feet.

Here’s what it looks like on the ground. You have to curve right and then turn left to stay on the Michigan Road.

Michigan Road at Old US 421

A southbound trip down the Michigan Road is not interrupted, however.

Michigan Road at Old US 421

This old house stands at Arlington Ave., a dentist’s office today.

Old house

Beyond Arlington Ave., the quality of the neighborhood begins to go downhill. This abandoned service station seems almost to be the gatekeeper to the decay.

Old service station

The whole area has a deserted, unkept feel, which this liquor store exemplifies.

Liquor store

My photograph doesn’t capture this old house’s poor condition very well. It looks to be quite old. I’d like to know what’s behind that addition on the front. The sign out front reads, “Smitley Apartments. Adults Only.” The discarded couch and mattress add style to the neighborhood.

Old house - rooms for rent

This southbound photo shows some of the light industry typical of this part of Southeastern Ave.

Southbound

Southeastern Ave. is numbered like an east-west street in this part of town even though the road is north-south in its broader context.

Here, Southeastern Ave. intersects with Sherman Dr.

MR at Sherman

There just isn’t very much attractive about this part of the road.

Mid-West Machinery Mart

I couldn’t find any identifying information on this bridge, which is just south of Pleasant Run Parkway, but based on the guardrail design I’d say it dates to the 1920s. Southbound photo.

Bridge and railroad overpass

After driving under the railroad overpass in the photo above, the Indianapolis skyline first becomes visible and retail and restaurant businesses begin to appear.

Downtown rising

Southeastern Ave. intersects at a slight angle with English Ave. where they both meet Rural St. If you’re new to the area and heading southbound, it’s easy to end up on English by mistake. When US 52 still passed through town, it followed English Ave. from the east and then turned onto the Michigan Road here.

This building is the Florence Fay School, also known as School 21 in Indianapolis Public Schools. It is currently closed, but I have found state testing data for the school as recently as 2005. The trees do a pretty good job of obscuring the building, but I found two old photos of the school that show it well. One is from 1923 and the other is from 1929. The building was on the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana’s “10 Most Endangered” list in, I believe, 2005, but did not make the 2008 list and is presumably safe from the wrecking ball.

Florence Fay School

This photo shows the last mile or so of Southeastern Ave. before it reaches Downtown.

Downtown looms

Until about October 31, 2008, Southeastern Ave. intersected with Washington St. (the old National Road and former US 40) at a shallow angle.

A project to remove the I-65/I-70 ramp at Market St. and build a new ramp onto Washington St. made it necessary to reconfigure the intersection a little bit. This rendering from the project Web site shows how Southeastern will be curved to meet Washington St. more squarely. While I’m not thrilled to lose the road’s original routing, the new intersection should be safer for drivers to navigate.

A neglected obelisk stands where the Michigan and National Roads intersect, commemorating these two important roads. The obelisk stood where Southeastern Ave. now meets Washington St., and was moved was moved as part of the ramp project to a spot at this intersection formerly occupied by Southeastern Ave.

National Road/Michigan Road marker

This shot of the obelisk shows Southeastern Ave. in the background.

National Road/Michigan Road marker

The Michigan Road turns onto the National Road for most of its trip through Downtown.

Next: The Michigan Road in Downtown Indianapolis.

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

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11 thoughts on “The Michigan Road in southeastern Indianapolis

  1. I am intrigued by the Indian gasoline. Refined by native Americans? Imported from India? Specially formulated for a particular brand of prewar motorcycle?

  2. Steve Bryan says:

    Have you documented the routes federal highways followed through Indianapolis before being routed on 465? US 40 is easy as it followed Washington Street all the way through the city. The others did not follow a single path through the city.

    • I haven’t. Don’t think I haven’t thought about it. Trouble with documenting roads in Indy is that very often there’s nowhere to put the car to make a photo, or the neighborhood is terrible and I don’t really want to be out in it.

      • Understood. I enjoyed following your ride across Indiana on U.S.40 last year. That was brave of you. Avid bicyclist here but I don’t do street riding. Fortunately, I live in an area with many off-road paved trails.

  3. Much of today’s post covers my neighborhood, from Pleasant View to Five Points. Waterman’s closed last year, but another business, undefined, has taken over. Wheatley’s is famous for its Friday fish fry, but their biscuits and gravy and breaded tenderloin are truly the stars of that establishment. I haven’t had their Sunday fried chicken but I’ve heard it’s terrific. The New Bethel Ordinary’s pizza is huge and heavy, but I don’t care for it. Randy’s “Since 1959” is our preferred Franklin Township pizza. There’s a former Chevy dealership on the north side of the street too. We’ve lived in that area for forty years and there’s not been much change on Southeastern Avenue, but the rest of the township has exploded.

    • I’ve had the biscuits and gravy at Wheatley’s! The Franklin Twp. Chamber of Commerce used to invite me down about every six months to speak about our progress on getting the Michigan Road named a state byway. They even donated the money for all of the MR signs on the road in Marion County. Anyway, their meetings were at 7:30 am at Wheatley’s.

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