History, Preservation, Road Trips

Pulled back from the brink: 1880 Paoli bridge

This was the scene in Paoli, the seat of justice in Orange County, Indiana, on Christmas Day in 2015.

Photo credit: French Lick Fire Dept.

I thought this beautiful bridge, built in 1880, was a goner. But the people of Paoli wouldn’t have it — they saw to it that the bridge was rescued. The trucking company (or probably its insurance company) paid the entire $700,000 bill. Margaret and I drove through Paoli in July and stopped to photograph it. This photo was taken from about the same place as the photo above.

Gospel Street Bridge, Paoli, IN

Height-limit bars were installed several feet before the bridge on both ends. Now a too-large vehicle will hit these bars rather than the bridge. It’s a nice touch that they are in a similar style as the bridge.

Gospel Street Bridge, Paoli, IN

Nikon Df, 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 AF-G Nikkor

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History, Road Trips

Building US 41 near Terre Haute in the 1920s

The curator of the Vigo County Historical Museum in Terre Haute, Suzy Quick, contacted me recently. The museum had been given three photographs showing construction of US 41 near Terre Haute, and Suzy wondered if I could help her date the photos. I said I’d give it a try! Here are the photos, used with permission:

Photo property of the Vigo County Historical Museum
Photo property of the Vigo County Historical Museum
Photo property of the Vigo County Historical Museum

I’m making a couple assumptions: first, that the person who donated the photos is correct, that these depict construction of US 41; and second, that they depict scenes in roughly the same area.

I hoped there would be identifiable elements in these photos — signs, cars, landmarks. The first and second photos definitely have cars from the 1920s in them. In the third photo, the road looks to me to be paved in concrete. I’ve encountered a lot of old concrete on former and abandoned alignments of Indiana highways, and when I’ve been able to find when one of those roads was built, it was always during the 1920s. So I’m confident that these photos are from the 1920s.

Unfortunately, there are no signs or clearly recognizable landmarks in these photos to help me narrow it down any more than that. The railroad tracks in the second photo are a landmark, but this road crosses several sets of tracks on its way through Terre Haute, and another set a few miles south of Terre Haute. Only one of those crossings currently involves two tracks, one on Terre Haute’s near north side. But it’s possible that tracks could have been removed at one or more of the other crossings since these photos were made.

I turned to my small collection of maps and road guides for further clues. They gave me some solid evidence that leads me to the hypothesis that these photos are from 1924 or 1925, and that the location they represent might be somewhere south of Terre Haute. The rest of this post explains.

Typical ABB cover

I own a number of old Automobile Blue Books, which are road guides updated and published annually from 1900 to 1929. They give comprehensive turn-by-turn directions from place to place. Finding one’s way as a motorist was a significant challenge in the early automobile days, as outside of cities many roads weren’t marked. The ABB was a terrific resource then.

In Indiana, the first five marked, numbered state highways were routed in 1917. The state added more and more numbered highways in subsequent years. Those highways were routed over existing roads and frequently involved lots of left and right turns. In the 1920s and 1930s, Indiana improved most of those highways to be much more direct and to eliminate most turns.

I own 1924 and 1925 ABBs that cover Midwestern states. In both ABBs, Route 300 is Terre Haute south to Vincennes, and eventually Nashville, TN. Both guides route the driver south from Terre Haute over State Road 10. This road would become US 41 in 1926, when the US highway system was established.

Here the relevant section of Route 300 from the 1924 ABB. Notice how it says to follow State Road 10 south from 7th St. and Wabash Ave, which was then the main intersection of downtown Terre Haute. Then 5.7 miles later at a fork in the road, the ABB directs drivers to bear left with the trolley. That means that trolley tracks were running in or alongside the road. Notice that in the third photo above, railroad tracks hug the road. They are likely trolley tracks and might be the tracks the ABB describes. Notice also how directions tell drivers to do an awful lot of left and right turns, and bearing left or right at forks.

In the 1925 ABB, just one year later, notice how the directions are far simpler. If it were necessary to tell drivers “end of road, turn left” and such, this ABB would certainly do that, as it does so on other routes. What this says to me is that State Road 10 (US 41) was significantly improved in 1924-25 and had become a very direct route. This article lays the 1926 route of US 41 onto modern maps, and shows that from Terre Haute to Vincennes, there was only one hard turn, in Shelburn.

So: I think, but am not certain, that these photos are from south of Terre Haute. Because my ABBs suggest that SR 10 was rebuilt south from Terre Haute sometime after the 1924 ABB was published, but before the 1925 ABB was published, I think these photos are from 1924 or 1925.

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Essay, History

Walking the fine line between telling the truth and avoiding woke excess on state historic markers

Sycamore Row
2018 photo

In 2020, when the historic marker at Sycamore Row on the Michigan Road was damaged in an accident and replaced, its text was revised. The original marker told a story of the sycamores growing out of sycamore logs used to corduroy that section of road. Unfortunately, that story has never been confirmed and might just be legend. The new marker tells instead of the trees’ uncertain origin.

The marker now also tells in thumbnail the broader story of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana, specifically calling out how Potawatomi Indians ceded land for the road under intense pressure. When the Michigan Road was surveyed starting in 1829, all of northern Indiana was Native American land. The Michigan Road opened northern Indiana to white settlement, which ultimately displaced Native American tribes. In particular, a band of Potawatomi who lived near Plymouth were marched out of Indiana at gunpoint, passing by this very spot on the Michigan Road on their way. 859 tribe members were forced out; 40 died on the way. This is known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death.

Sycamore Row
2021 photo
Sycamore Row
2021 photo

A historic marker has only so much space to tell a story. The Indiana Historical Bureau, which oversees the state marker program, reached out to us at the Historic Michigan Road Association to review the proposed text on the new Sycamore Row marker. I was pleased that they addressed the original marker’s likely error on the sycamores’ origin, and touched on the Potawatomi story.

Pennsylvania’s historic marker program was in the news late last month (story here). The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which oversees that state’s marker program, has reviewed all of the state’s 2,500 markers and is beginning to revise and even remove markers as they work to correct factual errors and address language that might now be considered racist or otherwise objectionable.

At the time that article was published, the state had removed two markers, revised two others, and ordered new text for two more. In particular, they removed a marker at Bryn Mawr College that noted that President Woodrow Wilson had taught there. Bryn Mawr requested the removal over Wilson’s stated beliefs about the intellectual capabilities of women and his segregation of the federal workforce.

The commission has also ordered changes to the text on a marker about Continental Army Major General Anthony Wayne to remove a reference to him as an “Indian fighter.” It also removed a marker that noted a 1758 military victory that the marker said “established Anglo-Saxon supremacy in the United States.”

At least with these three markers, Pennsylvania has edged into tricky territory. Woodrow Wilson was wrong about women and segregation, but he will forever have been a President of the United States and that makes his involvement at Bryn Mawr significant. While we should look back with sorrow and shame over how the United States treated Native Americans, the fact remains that Gen. Wayne fought Native Americans. And the aim of so many early American military victories was to claim territory for white immigrants. More sensitive language can be chosen in these latter two cases, but I’m uncomfortable with simply removing language that is true because of current sensitivities.

I’m pleased that Indiana has so far walked this fine line successfully with its historic marker program.

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History, Road Trips

Whispering Winds on the Brookville Road

Some years ago I photographed this old house on Brookville Road, US 52, in southeast Indianapolis.

House overlooking abandoned Brookville Road

I was with my buddy Sherrel, and we were on our way back from The Kopper Kettle restaurant on our Indiana Fried Chicken Tour. What we didn’t know is that for many years, this house was also a family restaurant that served fried-chicken dinners.

We stopped here because I saw an abandoned segment of the old highway, and because I’m a roadgeek I wanted to photograph it. This photograph is westbound. The photo of the house above is from about the same place, but I was facing the other way.

Abandoned Brookville Road

This house used to be the Whispering Winds restaurant. I didn’t know that until someone found information on my site about Brookville Road, and emailed me to ask if I knew anything about the Whispering Winds restaurant. She ate there many times while it was open, and wondered if the house still stood. I did a little research and found this photograph on a Facebook group. The poster said that the people in the photo were her grandparents and aunt, and they owned and operated the restaurant.

The house was built by Andrew Morehouse, although I’m unable to find exactly when. Morehouse’s family was said to live here for many years, and his wife died in 1864, which leads me to think the house predates that. Indiana University Library posted online a newspaper article telling some of this house’s story here.

Brookville Road is a historic road from Indiana’s early days. It connects Indianapolis to the town of Brookville, which is near Cincinnati. A historic marker is posted at this abandoned alignment that tells the road’s story in thumbnail.

Abandoned Brookville Road
Abandoned Brookville Road

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History

Interviewed on the radio about the Michigan Road

Yesterday I got to talk about the Michigan Road on radio station WKVI in Knox, Indiana. This town of about 3,500 residents is about 40 miles southwest of South Bend. Have a listen! (If you’re seeing this in your email or in your reader, click the title to see this on my site, where a video will appear below.)

The short of the story: when the Michigan Road was surveyed in the 1830s, the desire was to route it directly from Logansport to Michigan City. But the marshes of the Kankakee River blocked the way and it was impossible to build a road through them. So the road was routed through Rochester, Plymouth, and South Bend instead before heading to Michigan City.

The marshes were drained starting in the mid-late 1800s, and by 1920 the work was complete. While it opened up a huge amount of incredibly fertile farmland, it also destroyed the habitat for a number of wildlife species.

With the advent of the automobile, Indiana was again interested in building the direct road between Logansport and Michigan City. They built it in the 1930s as highway US 35, which runs right through Knox. Were it not for the marshlands, Knox could have been a Michigan Road town!

Small world department: WKVI morning host Charlie Adams was the sports anchor on WSBT-TV in my hometown starting in the late 1980s, and I used to watch him when I’d go home to visit my family. Near the end of the clip above Charlie talks about a motivational talk he gave at my high school with the South Bend Police Chief Information Officer, who arrived in the gym on his motorcycle.

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History, Vintage Television

U.S. school desegregation, bullying, unrest, and violence, in the 1970s

I was in the second grade in 1974 when my hometown of South Bend, Indiana, chose to desegregate its schools. Not that South Bend was deliberately sending black students to black-only schools and white students to white-only schools. Rather, decades of redlining and economic inequity created black neighborhoods and white neighborhoods, and kids went to school in their neighborhoods. Same effect, obviously.

South Bend chose to desegregate its schools to avoid a judge ordering it, as was happening in larger cities. That let South Bend figure out its own desegregation plan. But like every other city that desegregated, South Bend bused black children to white schools.

James Monroe School
My elementary school. Argus A-Four, Kodak Plus-X, 1984.

I watched the first bus pull up in front of my elementary school — until that day, everybody walked to my school. Several black children walked off and into the building. Two of them came to my classroom, Eunice and Dawn Denise.

Sending two black children into a classroom with 20 white children is hardly racial integration. It made Eunice and Dawn Denise a spectacle. They were quiet and gentle, but they were mercilessly teased and put down all year. I have clear memories of feeling uncomfortable with the treatment they received, but I don’t remember whether I participated. I hope I didn’t, but I probably did. I especially hope they didn’t receive worse treatment when I wasn’t around to see.

Parents were edgy the first weeks of school that year. I didn’t know why, exactly. I learned decades later that as other school systems desegregated across the nation, it sometimes came with violence.

In Louisville, armed guards escorted children on school buses. Some parents organized a school boycott. Rumors of school violence flew furiously, some of them untrue. Here’s a complete television newscast from Louisville’s WHAS-TV from September 10, 1975, that tells the story. The station devoted most of the newscast to this story.

You might think that tensions were high in Louisville because Kentucky had been a slave state before the Civil War, and because the Ohio River is where the Midwest becomes the South. But our nation’s racism knows no geographic bounds. In Ohio, a Midwestern non-slave state, the man overseeing Dayton’s school desegregation was murdered in his office. This complete newscast from WLWD (now WDTN) on September 19, 1975, tells the story.

I was just eight when all this happened. I didn’t watch the news. All I knew was that two reserved black girls joined my class and were left to fend for themselves. It’s hard enough to be different in any way in public school. In 1975, in South Bend, in my all-white neighborhood and all-white school the racial divide made Eunice and Dawn Denise seem extra different.

Eunice came to our 25th high-school reunion. We caught up briefly, exchanging the details of our lives. When I asked her if she’d kept in touch with Dawn Denise, she brightened and said they’d been best friends all their lives. When I said that I remembered the rough treatment the two of them had received, and how badly I felt about it, she thanked me politely and said she’d rather not revisit those memories. I can’t say I blame her.


I’d also like to call your attention to the quality of news-gathering and -reporting that happened in those two 1975 newscasts. If you watch them through, you will be well informed on those critical events. This was typical of local TV news then. TV news is such crap now.

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