History, Road Trips

Adding the Michigan Road to the modern Indiana highway system

It was very late to the party: the last segment of the old Michigan Road to be added to Indiana’s modern state highway system.

The Michigan Road, highlighted in blue. Map © 2008 Google.

The state of Indiana built the Michigan Road during the 1830s to connect Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capital in Indianapolis.

Indiana built other roads at about the same time, but none like the Michigan Road. Its right-of-way was enormous at 100 feet wide; the road itself used the central third. Even though the road was barely a dirt path at first, it was arguably the grandest road in Indiana. It was a major commerce route that opened deeply wooded northern Indiana to settlers.

The railroad’s rise in the late 1800s led the Michigan Road and all other major roads into disuse and disrepair. But around the turn of the 20th century, the bicycle and the automobile made good roads a priority. Indiana responded in 1917 with its State Highway Commission, which laid a fledgling network of highways over existing major routes and began to improve them, in turn from dirt to gravel to brick or concrete, and eventually to asphalt.

The State Highway Commission numbered just five State Roads in its first year. You might be surprised to learn that the Michigan Road was not among them.

Not in its entirety, at least. State Roads were laid out along portions of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana: from about Rolling Prairie east to South Bend, and then from South Bend south to Rochester.

The east-west segment was part of State Road 2, which followed the 1913 Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast auto trail established through the work of entrepreneur Carl Fisher. The north-south section was part of State Road 1, which continued south from Rochester along a new road that passed through Peru and Kokomo on its way to Indianpolis and, ultimately, the Ohio River across from Louisville.

Plymouth Pilot-News, March 27, 1919

Naturally, all major Indiana cities wanted a good, direct road leading to the state capital, and towns in between wanted to be on those roads. A road would lead from South Bend to Indianapolis. Logansport wanted to be on that route. You have to wonder why the state chose State Road 1 through Peru and Kokomo over the Michigan Road through Logansport. The Michigan Road’s generous right-of-way would certainly ease future improvements. Perhaps the state wanted to provide good-road access to two towns rather than just one. Perhaps Peru and Kokomo had a more effective lobby.

Officials in Logansport went down fighting, agitating for the state to hard-surface the Michigan Road rather than State Road 1 south from Plymouth, as the inset 1919 newspaper article reports. They even claimed — incorrectly — that the Michigan Road was a little shorter.

Alas, State Road 1 was paved.

Indiana expanded its State Road system to more than 50 roads by 1926, adding most of the Michigan Road in the process. The portion from Madison to Indianapolis became State Road 6. The portion from Indianapolis to Logansport became State Road 15.

(By the way, State Road 15 continued northwest from Logansport through Winamac and La Porte to Michigan City, fulfilling the Michigan Road’s mission in much more direct fashion. The indirect route through South Bend had been a compromise — one South Bend certainly enjoyed — to avoid the Kankakee Marsh in northwest Indiana. In the 1830s, no road could be built there. A series of ditches built in the late 1800s through about 1917 drained the marsh, and then by 1922 the river itself was dredged. The direct route finally could be, and was, built. It is US 35 today.)

But the portion of the Michigan Road from Logansport to Rochester remained off the grid.

Maps courtesy Indiana University Libraries

The U.S. route system we know today was established in 1927. Several State Roads became U.S. highways. Indiana renumbered its State Roads to eliminate numbers the same as the new U.S. routes and to tame what had become a messy numbering scheme. The Michigan Road from Madison to Logansport became State Road 29 (except for a rural segment south of Napoleon in Ripley County, which the highway bypassed to loop in nearby Osgood and Versailles). Old State Road 1, including the Michigan Road from South Bend to Rochester, became US 31. The Michigan Road from South Bend to Michigan City became part of US 20.

Also in 1927, the State Highway Commission decided to build a State Road from Lafayette to Warsaw. To be named State Road 25, it would pass through Logansport and Rochester. At last, this segment of the Michigan Road would join the state highway system! It was added first, in 1928; the rest of State Road 25 was added in stages over the next few years. The state highway map segments above tell the story. In 1923, the Michigan Road didn’t appear between Rochester and Logansport. In 1927 a dotted line appeared to show that the road was approved to be added to the system. In 1928, the thick black line shows that the road was not only added, but hard surfaced, except for a small portion near Fulton. The broken line there and elsewhere on the map indicates a gravel road.

State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) heading northeast from Logansport
State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) in northeastern Logansport, heading toward Rochester

Logansport got its wish nine years too late, as by that time US 31 had become the dominant route to Indianapolis. Not that it mattered much in the long run — US 31 might have boosted Kokomo’s and Peru’s prosperity for a time, but US 31 was rerouted around both towns in the 1970s and traffic through these towns slowed to a trickle. All three towns experienced serious decline toward the end of the 20th century, for reasons bigger than rerouted highways. None is noticeably better off than the others today.

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

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History, Road Trips

Mysteries solved, puzzles revealed in the route of the Michigan Road through Indiana

When my Michigan Road partner Kurt and I laid out the Historic Michigan Road Byway, most of the route was obvious. The road is still all there, with but a few minor reroutings. You can drive it from end to end.

We did puzzle, however, over how the road proceeded through a few cities and towns. Where the road entered and exited was always clear, but which streets it followed through town was sometimes not. We made our best guesses.

Thanks to the fabulous Indiana Transportation History group on Facebook, I was introduced to a book called Development and Lands of Michigan Road, prepared in 1914 by the Indiana State Board of Accounts. It looks like they found and documented the original 1832 surveys for the road! You can see this remarkable book here

This book clears up some mysteries, but creates others. The first puzzle it solves is the road’s original route through downtown Indianapolis.

Clarity into the route through Indianapolis

Indiana Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library

Looking at the book’s map, which represents the original Mile Square of Indianapolis, it is clear that the road enters downtown from the east along what is now Southeastern Ave. before turning west onto Washington Street, which is also the National Road. It’s also clear that the road exits to the north on what is now Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St.

But it’s also clear that the road as surveyed turns north on Meridian Street, goes around Monument Circle, and then heads northwest along Indiana Avenue.

When we laid out the byway, we made it follow Washington Street all the way across the Mile Square to its edge at West St., and then north. It’s easy to describe, easy to follow. It also guides travelers past the lovely Indiana Statehouse, a nice bonus.

The original route, in contrast, is hard to follow. Monument Circle is frequently closed for events. One block of Indiana Avenue was removed in favor of a skyscraper. Compensating for that requires driving a series of one-way streets. So I don’t feel that bad that we got it wrong here.

Deepening mystery on the route through Logansport

The book shows a very different route through Logansport than we assumed. We routed it entirely over what is now State Road 25 through town, crossing Biddle Island as it enters downtown. You can see SR 25 on the map snippet at right below.

But the book shows the road entering Logansport and veering north, probably along what is now Lymas Ave. and Cicott St., crossing the Wabash west of Biddle Island, and then running along the Eel River’s north bank and then out of town. I’ve marked in red on the Google map what I think this routing must have been.

Left: Indiana Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library
Right: Map data © 2018 Google

But an 1836 map of Logansport shows the Michigan Road crossing both the Eel and the Wabash via Biddle Island, as we’ve routed the byway. You can see that map here. Given that the road was surveyed in 1832 — four years before this later map — I wonder whether the road ever ran as surveyed.

Mucking things up in Michigan City

Early descriptions of the Michigan Road we’ve found always say that it ends at the mouth of Trail Creek at Lake Michigan. The survey map bears that out!

Indiana Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library

Unfortunately for the byway, the road no longer goes all the way through to the lake. It stops about 1,000 feet before it crosses Trail Creek, at an intersection with US 12.

We routed the byway from there west along US 12, ending it where US 12 meets Willard Ave. I have a dim memory that this is where the early-20th-century Michigan Road auto trail ended. But I have no idea where that memory comes from. If I had it to do over, I’d end the Historic Michigan Road Byway at the intersection of Michigan Blvd. and US 12 in Michigan City.

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

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Indiana has an unfortunate history with the Ku Klux Klan. A hundred years ago it was a real force in this state. While its dominance ended many decades ago, I’m sure Klan or Klan-like groups can still be found in my state’s dark corners.

Actor Adam Driver, who grew up in Mishawaka and stars in the new movie, “BlaKkKlansman,” claims to have been aware of Klan rallies during his childhood here. That would have been during the 1990s. His claim is a surprise to Hoosiers everywhere.

As a lifelong Hoosier, I’m not aware of any overt Klan activity like rallies and cross-burnings. That kind of thing tends to make news.

The Indianapolis Star published a story about Driver’s claim this week and included a brief history of the Klan in Indiana. It’s a good, short read — see it here.


If you’d like to read more, see especially the sordid story of D.C. Stephenson, one-time Grand Dragon who went to prison on rape and murder charges. The Wikipedia article (here) is a good start, but the best account I’ve read of him is in Indiana: An Interpretation, a book by John Bartlow Martin, which you can pick up used on Amazon for pennies (here).

I recommend the Bartlow book also for a compelling telling of the life of Terre Haute socialist Eugene V. Debs, who ran for President and was jailed for his politics. During my Terre Haute days I lived several blocks up the street from his onetime home there. I drove past it every day on my way to work.

The Klan in Indiana

History, Road Trips

The Shepard Bridge on the Michigan Road

As you follow the old Michigan Road just as it passes into Ripley County from the south, you’ll encounter this one-lane stone-arch bridge. Built in 1913, it’s known by many names: Shepard Bridge, or Nobles Ford Bridge, or County Bridge #38.

Shepard Bridge

The view was unobstructed on a visit I made here ten years ago:

Stone bridge, Michigan Road
Image and map data © 2018 Google

This bridge is in a fascinating place, marked on the map with the orange star.

To its west is the vast Jefferson Proving Ground. The U.S. Army took the land, displacing many farms and towns, in 1941 to build this munitions-testing ground. The Army blew up ammunition and bombs here! The majority of it no longer serves that purpose and is today a wildlife refuge.

To its east is US 421. The Michigan Road’s oldest alignment follows the road labeled Old Michigan Road. But with the rise of the automobile in the early 20th century, the Michigan Road became an early auto trail. So that it could pass through bustling Versailles and Osgood, the auto trail was routed along what is now US 421 from here about 22 miles north to the little town of Napoleon. The two alignments come back together there.

This rerouting happened after the Shepard Bridge was built. It had the effect of saving it from eventual demolition. If this alignment had become US 421, this bridge would have been replaced with a bridge designed to handle modern highway traffic.

Shepard Bridge

It was unusual for a stone-arch bridge to be built in 1913. The stone-arch era is heavily consigned to the 19th century. By the early 20th century, bridges of iron, steel, and reinforced concrete had become much more common.

Shepard Bridge

Ripley County is unusually rich in stone-arch bridges, with at least 12 still open to vehicular traffic. A few of them are inside Jefferson Proving Ground and thus carry limited traffic. The ones for which I’m able to find data were built after 1880. The Shepard Bridge is the newest of them.

Shepard Bridge

The Michigan Road borders Jefferson Proving Ground here. You can see a bit of the chain-link fence that surrounds JPG just over the rise in the bridge deck.

Shepard Bridge

This bridge has had some work done on it that appears intended to stabilize it. On an autumn day in 2008, after a long drought, I drove by and noticed the creek was dry. So I walked under the bridge to have a look. The stones appear to be in no more than fair condition. I imagine the brown stuff is some sort of cement intended to keep stones in place.

Stone bridge

Concrete was poured where the arches meet the creek bed — on Oct. 1, 1997, as you can see. I’m sure this stabilizes the bridge a little.

Stone bridge

The concrete is poured such that the upstream end forms a point, so that debris is more likely to flow around and not get hung up. This 2008 photo shows it:

Stone bridge, Michigan Road

With the destruction of the Middletown Bridge in Shelby County, this is the last stone-arch bridge on the Michigan Road. I know of a large stone culvert on this alignment just south of Napoleon, as well.

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

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History, Road Trips

The bridges that carried the National Road and US 40 over the White River in Indianapolis

Today it carries only pedestrians in White River State Park in Indianapolis. But this seven-span concrete-arch bridge was built in 1916 to carry the National Road across the White River. It was the latest of several bridges that carried the National Road and US 40 here.

Former US 40 bridge

It opened a year before Indiana formed the State Highway Commission, which would become the Indiana Department of Transportation. In 1917 that body formed a small network of highways out of existing major roads. The National Road was one, bearing the name “Main Market Highway No. 3,” or, later, State Road 3. In 1926, with the creation of the national highway system, it became US 40.

And so it remained until the mid-1980s, when a new bridge was built to the south and US 40 was routed onto it. The old bridge and the land on either side of it would become White River State Park. The first park attraction was the Indianapolis Zoo, which opened west of the bridge in 1988. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art opened next, in 1989. An IMAX theater followed in 1996, and the Indiana State Museum in 2002. The NCAA relocated its headquarters to the park in 1999. These two map excerpts, courtesy MapIndy, show the area before (in 1979) and after (in 2017).


Here’s a view of the park from the JW Marriott hotel, which abuts it. The 1916 bridge is at far left, and the NCAA complex at right. But notice the tree-lined walking path that borders the NCAA buildings? Remarkably, it is the original alignment of the National Road.

White River State Park

Here’s a ground-level view that shows it.


This 1852 map of Indianapolis, part of a larger Indiana map I found at the Library of Congress, shows this alignment clearly. It’s always less expensive to build and maintain a bridge built perpendicular to a river’s banks, and that’s almost certainly why the road angles slightly north here.

1852 Indianapolis map - Library of Congress

The bridge here was a wooden covered bridge. The only images I can find of it are drawings; this is the best of them, from History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana, by B. R. Sulgrove, published 1884 (available here).


Remarkably, I find later maps showing two bridges here, one on the original alignment and one on the later. Below are two snippets of maps of this site, the first from an 1889 atlas and the second from 1903 by Rand McNally. I wonder whether the upper bridge carried westbound traffic and the lower bridge eastbound.


But I was puzzled. It is well known that the Great Flood of 1913 destroyed the bridge here — and some resources say it was the wooden covered bridge. But photographs from the day of the flood show a deck-truss bridge (a bridge with metal trusses below the bridge floor) — and only a deck-truss bridge. A second bridge, if it existed, would have been so close to this one it certainly would have made it into some of the photos! Here’s one photo of that bridge, taken an hour before it collapsed in that flood. Image courtesy The Indiana Album, Barbara Stevens Collection (viewable here).


So I asked the fabulous Indiana Transportation History group on Facebook. The founder, Richard McLelland Simpson, found this article from the June 29, 1901, issue of The Indianapolis News, which shines some light.


This doesn’t look like the bridge that was eventually built, which the group thinks opened in 1904. But the article does confirm the existence of two bridges, and a plan for this new bridge to replace them both.

The 1916 bridge has clearly been the hardy one, standing firmly for more than 100 years.

Former US 40 bridge

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Film Photography, History

It’s about 1948, and you’re looking over the National Mall in Washington, DC

Among the Kodachrome slides that belong to my mother in law are several from a trip to Washington, DC. Guessing from a number of clues among the entire set of slides I scanned, I think they’re from about 1948. Certainly no earlier than 1947, and no later than about 1953.

Three photos probably taken from the observation deck of the Washington Monument show a very different National Mall than we experience today. The Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool, and the US Capitol and the grassy areas before it, were there. But so were a number of buildings not present today. Check it out:


The buildings on the left are a grassy area today. The buildings on the right have given way to Constitution Gardens and its pond. These buildings remind me of other buildings I’ve seen only in photographs that were built hastily as office space in support of World War II.

The Vietnam War obviously hadn’t happened yet, but it would happen, and eventually the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would be built beyond the buildings on the right. Finally, the National World War II Memorial would be built some 55 years hence, replacing the small pool before the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.


Looking east toward the Capitol, you can see that most of the Smithsonian museums haven’t been built yet. More of those anonymous-looking buildings stand beyond the Smithsonian Castle at center right. That’s where the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian would eventually go.


One last Kodachrome from atop the Washington Monument shows Virginia Avenue and the Potomac River. The set of buildings in the bottom right corner is the Department of the Interior.

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