Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Fulton County

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. While this article refers exclusively to the Michigan Road, another historic highway, the Dixie Highway, was routed along this portion of the Michigan Road.

The first white settler in what is now Fulton County was William Polke, who came in 1830 to survey what would become the Michigan Road. He was appointed one of the road’s three commissioners in 1831. Fulton County itself was formed in 1836, named for steamboat inventor Robert Fulton. Upon entering Fulton County, the Michigan Road first comes upon the little town of Fulton. This was once a railroad town, but the tracks that bisected it have long since been removed.

Fulton, Indiana

There are only a few blocks to Fulton.

This is probably not a historic, or even very interesting, building in Fulton, but I notice it every time I pass through town.

Resting place

I began exploring Indiana’s state highways in 1988 when I first had a car and routinely drove it from my South Bend home to Terre Haute, where I went to school. Using a state map, I plotted a course that left US 31 at Rochester, following State Road 25 to Lafayette and then a series of other roads to Terre Haute. I was not yet in touch with my inner road geek and I had never heard of the Michigan Road or the Dixie Highway, both old names for this stretch of highway between Rochester and Logansport. I was only trying to find a more interesting route than boring old US 31.

Fulton is the first town south of US 31 on State Road 25. One of the first times I entered Fulton southbound, a light rain had just started to fall. I had just passed the Speed Limit 35 sign on the edge of town, but had not yet slowed down, when a little old lady stepped into the road in front of me. I jerked the wheel to the left to avoid killing her, but found myself in the path of oncoming traffic. So I jerked the wheel to the right to avoid killing myself – and started to spin. My car spun around and around, Fulton passing nauseatingly by in my windshield, until I came to rest about three blocks later, my car’s nose pointing toward this building. A brand new Thunderbird was parked before that window, my front bumper about six inches from its door.

Feeling very embarrassed, I immediately righted my car in its lane and zipped out of town, hoping nobody had seen me. The gravity of what had just happened didn’t hit me until I reached the Cass County line, where I started to shake. I pulled over in front of a school and sat there for a good twenty minutes until I calmed down and could drive again.

That day Fulton’s speed limit earned my tremendous respect, and since then I am always sure to have slowed down before entering town. But in the hundred times I’ve driven through Fulton since, that little old lady is the only person I’ve ever seen on the street.

The 1941 United Brethren Church building is the nicest building on the road in Fulton. The congregation has been here since 1877.

United Brethren Church

This building’s double doors suggest that it may have once been an automobile repair garage.

Fulton, Indiana

This building’s twin-post awning suggests that it may have at one time been a gas station.

Fulton, Indiana

The white building has seen happier days.

Fulton, Indiana

North of Fulton, the land quickly reverts to fields of corn and soybeans. This combine on a pole is a fixture along this section of the road.

Combine on a pole

Then the Michigan Road passes under US 31 and enters Rochester, which was made the Fulton county seat in 1836 in large part because it was on the Michigan Road and near the Tippecanoe River. Rochester was incorporated as a town in 1853 and as a city in 1909.

This southbound photo shows where US 31’s original alignment merges in with the Michigan Road. If you squint, you can make out the US 31 overpass in the distance on the right.

Goodbye, Old US 31

The Michigan Road in Rochester is lined with lovely older homes. This one’s probably from the 1850s.

Old house, Rochester

It is likely that the rectangular portion of this building, with the pitched roof, was built in the 1860s, and the rest was added later.

Old house lurking

This is the 1930 St. Joseph Catholic Church. I’ve otherwise limited my photos of churches to those built in the 1800s, but photographed this youngster because it was so unusual to see a Spanish revival building along the Michigan Road.

St. Joseph Catholic Church

This home with Queen Anne touches was probably built in the 1880s.

Old house, Rochester

This paving-brick sidewalk appears from time to time along Main St. It has been torn out in most places and replaced with concrete.

Paving brick sidewalk

Limestone houses don’t normally trip my trigger, but this one sure offers a lot to look at.

Old house, Rochester

So does this house, with its large tower and its little spikes on the roof.

Old house, Rochester

The 1895 Fulton County Courthouse is built of limestone in the Romanesque Revival style.

Fulton County Courthouse

This postcard image is from a card postmarked 1911. The courthouse is just out of the photo on the right.

Here’s downtown Rochester from about the same spot today. I am able to find only one building from the postcard photo in this scene, the one on the northwest corner of the intersection ahead.

Downtown Rochester

This building was once a doctor’s office. If you click through this photo and see it larger on Flickr, you can see that the insignia at the top of the building is of a torch and snakes. Notice how the Orthopedics sign continues to the building at right. There’s a fair amount of this kind of thing in Rochester, where modern signage, awnings, and even entire first-floor facades stretch from one building to part of another. It suggests that walls were sometimes knocked out between buildings to create larger spaces. I noticed this in Rochester much more than in any other Michigan Road town that has so many of its older buildings still intact. Rochester thrived longer than many other Michigan Road towns, and instead of tearing down and building new, Rochester adapted.

Originally a doctor's office

The northwest corner of Main and 8th Streets. Notice how the building on the corner has boarded-up windows in about the first half, but not the second, and how the ledge around the top has had some of its detail removed on the portions above the boarded-up windows. It suggests that this one building has two owners.

Downtown Rochester

This is the northeast corner of 8th St.

Downtown Rochester

Bailey’s Hardware and Sporting Goods is an echo from hardware stores of days gone by with its tin ceiling and little bins full of parts. I sure wish I took some photos of the interior!

Bailey's

The Times Theater’s sign has seen better days. I’ll bet this used to be a one-screen theatre, but was “twinned” somewhere along the way. I once worked in a “twinned” theater, and the seats in each half were left in their original positions, angled toward the center of the original screen. If you looked in the direction the seats pointed, you looked at the wall built to split the theater in two. I’ll bet you’ll find the same arrangement in this theater.

Times Theater

The American Legion building was formerly the First Baptist Church. The portion with the pitched roof is the old church, built in about the 1850s. The stone-front portion of the building was added later. The church has been sided; it’s probably brick underneath.

American Legion

These two buildings were built in the 1870s or 1880s and look ripe for restoration. These are in about the least altered condition of all the old buildings along Main St. downtown.

Storefronts

An advertisement for Henry George cigars was painted on the side of this building first, followed by a Mail Pouch advertisement. The Henry George ad has bled through over the years, leading to the first line appearing to say, “I chew men.”

Tobacco Advertisements

Soon enough we met Rochester’s northern limit. On the outskirts of town, this little building was once a gas station.

Former gas station

From in front of the gas station, this is the northbound Michigan Road. For many years, this was also US 31.

Northbound

The unremarkable 1982 bridge over the Tippecanoe River is typical of modern Indiana bridges. It was certainly opened to the great relief of travelers, however, because for many years – including the entire time this road was US 31 – the bridge here had but one lane, and a light at either end controlled traffic.

Tippecanoe River bridge

That bridge stood in about the same place as the current bridge. But this southbound photo shows an abutment and approach to a bridge; Check that stone foundation. A Michigan Road historical marker and a marker remembering a Potawatomi village that used to be here were placed on the old approach. I took the above photo from about where the Michigan Road marker stands.

One-lane bridge approach

That approach and abutment were from an even older bridge, this one, which was built in about 1880. By 1916 it had fallen into poor repair, and was replaced.

William Polke built this, the first frame house north of the Wabash River, in 1832. While Polke and his wife lived here, the house served as an inn along the Michigan Road and as the local land office. The house was moved from the Michigan Road to the Fulton County Museum on modern US 31 and is now part of the “Loyal, Indiana” living history village there.

William Polke house

The house is sometimes open for tours, but I was not so lucky this day. I did get one usable photograph of the interior through the back door window.

William Polke house

Back along the Michigan Road, this old church is now somebody’s home.

Former church

The road makes few curves in northern Fulton County.

Northbound

The tree blocked all decent views of this 1840s farmhouse. Now I know why most old-house photos are taken in the winter.

Old house

This barn is part of this farm. I realized as I took this photo that I had not photographed any other barns along the route. I just don’t see barns as I go; I guess I’m too much of a city boy.

Old barn

Next: The Michigan Road in Marshall County.

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

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7 thoughts on “The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Fulton County

  1. What a great trip- aside from the terrifying near death experience, of course! Wonder if the little old lady knew the chain of events she set in motion?

  2. Nancy+Stewart says:

    The doctor’s office that you show was our family doctor when I was growing up and he delivered my first three children. He still did home visits. His father was a horse and buggy doctor even before him. My mother spent the last decade of her nursing career working in his office. I believe the large brick house that you show above was his home. There were two similar along Main street … .

  3. Nancy+Stewart says:

    Bailey”s Hardware was the place to go for just about anything … had the old wood floors that creaked … the five and dime store just down the street also had the old creaky wooden floors. My aunt & uncle spent a lot of time at the American Legion building. The downtown was so busy back then that it was difficult to find a parking space. But that was before Wally World came to Rochester.

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