In 2008, I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end, documenting the road and its built environment. Here is the final installment of that trip report.
The original portion of La Porte County was founded in 1832, was expanded tin 1842, and grew to its current boundaries in 1850 when some of St. Joseph County was annexed.
2.5 miles inside La Porte County, the Michigan Road leaves US 20. In the map below, the Michigan Road follows Bootjack Road. At one time, a small town called Boot Jack stood at this fork.
US 20 followed Bootjack Road until just after World War II, when US 20 was rerouted to bypass Rolling Prairie, a town just west of here. We’ll meet up with US 20 again on the other side of Rolling Prairie.
The road in the upper-right corner of the map, Chicago Rd., is also a historic road. A contemporary of the Michigan Road, it was completed in 1835 to link Chicago and Detroit and roughly follows the old Sauk Trail, an Indian trail that is at least 400 years old. The Chicago Road follows US 20’s modern path. It sure looks like a section of the road was removed between Emery Rd. and Bootjack Rd., doesn’t it?
Here’s that fork in the road from ground level. We say goodbye to the Lincoln Highway here; it follows US 20 on the left and then State Road 2 to La Porte.
Quite a bit of road work has happened along the Michigan Road and Lincoln Highway around Rolling Prairie. In this map, the blue line is the Michigan Road’s original route. The road crossed the railroad tracks at an awkward, and thus dangerous, angle. One source says that in 1940 the crossing was deleted, the road rerouted, and a bridge built to carry the railroad over the road The red line shows how the road was rerouted, down Bootjack Rd. and then right onto Wiley Rd. and under the bridge.
This video shows the Bootjack Road route, including where it curves to avoid the railroad tracks and later turns onto Wiley Rd. and goes under the viaduct.
The video pointed out an old Texaco station. Courtesy Rob Heinek, here’s a photo of Elkins Texaco Garage, which was built in about 1929 on the corner of Bootjack Rd. and Wiley Rd.
This eastbound photo shows the Michigan Road’s original path on the west side of the railroad tracks. It’s somebody’s driveway today.
Westbound from the same spot. Wiley Rd. is just ahead, where the pavement is temporarily darker.
The first cabin in what is now Rolling Prairie was built in 1831, and as more settlers arrived the place was named Nauvoo. In 1853, the village was platted and named Portland. In 1857, when it was discovered that another Portland existed in Indiana, a postal employee changed the town’s name to Rolling Prairie.
Inside Rolling Prairie, this former church is now a branch of the La Porte County Public Library. Kind of a shame how its original windows were reduced to those tiny little things.
Rolling Prairie’s is the only Michigan Road town whose downtown is not on the Michigan Road. Downtown is actually along Depot St., which intersects the Michigan Road.
I walked along Depot St. for its few blocks. This restaurant is a block south of the Michigan Road.
On the opposite corner is Rolling Prairie’s Odd Fellows building.
This westbound shot from Depot St. shows the Michigan Road westbound as it heads out of town.
The First Christian Church.
The Rolling Prairie Cemetery stands on the edge of town, just before the Michigan Road meets US 20 again.
Just past the cemetery, US 20 rejoins the route. Notice how the row of trees ahead is in line with what used to be the road’s pre-bypass north edge. And there’s my little red car, making one of its cameo appearances.
Just shy of five miles after the Michigan Road rejoins US 20 west of Rolling Prairie, an old alignment of the road appears. It’s very easy to miss.
This excerpt from an 1892 plat map shows the road before it was bypassed. It runs through the tiny town of Springville.
The 1853 Rossburg Cemetery stands on the northeast corner of N. Willhelm Rd., where the old alignment begins. The cemetery is way up on a hill, and there’s no sign of Rossburg. The 1892 plat map shows a church on the northwest corner; there’s no sign of it today.
Here’s where the Michigan Road turns away from US 20. This is signed Willhelm Rd., but it is the Michigan Road’s original path.
Almost immediately, the road forks. The Michigan Road follows the right fork, which the photo shows. It’s signed Springville Rd.
Much of Springville Road is lined with rough-looking trailer parks. I decided that this might not be a place friendly to strangers snapping photos, so I kept driving. Where State Road 39 intersects, just east of where Springville appears on the 1892 plat map, stands the Springville Free Methodist Church.
The plat map shows that a railroad intersected the Michigan Road. At some point, a bridge was built so that Michigan Road traffic could pass underneath unimpeded. Later, the railroad tracks were removed – but the bridge’s abutments were left behind.
Springville Road ends just beyond the abutment ruins, and US 20 curves back into the Michigan Road’s path.
The stoplight marks where US 35 joins the Michigan Road. You can follow US 35 to Logansport. Originally, the desire for the Michigan Road was to go directly between Logansport and Michigan City, but the Kankakee Marsh made that difficult. So the road was routed around it through South Bend, New Carlisle, and Rolling Prairie instead. The Kankakee Marsh was eventually drained, which allowed roads like US 35 to be built. That’s I-94 ahead. Just beyond I-94, US 20 heads south and leaves the Michigan Road behind.
Just beyond I-94, the road enters Michigan City.
There’s not much to see on the road in Michigan City, and when there is something to see, there is often no place to park the car to get a photo. This interesting building is home to a little grocery.
Just west of the grocery, what was once a pretty big hill was leveled out and a retaining wall built.
The Michigan Road is Michigan Blvd. through Michigan City. When the road was surveyed and laid out, it continued on its westbound path all the way to Lake Michigan. At some point, however, it was turned to follow what is now US 12 through downtown. Sources I’ve found place the later end of the Michigan Road either at Wabash St. or at 4th St.
When the road was new, this stood near 4th Street:
The Hoosier Slide was a 175-foot-tall sand dune that dominated Michigan City’s skyline. Sadly, it was carted away bit by bit to be used as land fill and in glassmaking, and by 1920 nothing was left of it. Michigan City was said to be a spunky and enterprising town in its early days, founded in 1832 deliberately to stand where the Michigan Road would end when it was built. In its early days, Michigan City vied with Chicago for size and importance.
Today, this cooling tower for a coal-fired power plant stands where the Hoosier Slide did.
The Michigan Road ends here, inauspiciously and anticlimactically. US 12 continues as 4th St.
At the road’s other end, at Madison, the Ohio River is visible. But in Michigan City it’s hard to tell that Lake Michigan lies just beyond the road’s end. Here’s the lake and the cooling tower.
Although the Hoosier Slide is no longer with us, Mount Baldy, a neighboring sand dune, remains. This photo of the lake is from atop Mount Baldy.
In case you’re wondering why there are no leaves on the trees when all the other photos in this series are fully green, it’s because I took these photos on a trip in early spring 2007. It was about 35 degrees outside and the wind off the lake was brutal! Notice that the top of the dune is almost level with the tops of the utility poles.
And so the Michigan Road completes its mission, connecting the Ohio River to Lake Michigan to provide access to the state capital at Indianapolis and to northern Indiana.