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.

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Preservation, Road Trips

A bridge over the Chicago River

Margaret and I enjoyed a long weekend in Chicago a couple weeks ago. We stayed in a lovely hotel in The Loop and walked all over to do a little Christmas shopping and enjoy the sights.

If you’ve never been, The Loop is bordered on the north and west by the Chicago River. Eighteen bridges span this river here, allowing traffic to flow into the rest of Chicago along every major avenue. Here’s just one of them, on Monroe Street a couple blocks from Union Station.

Bridge over the Chicago River

Many of these bridges are in the Beaux Arts design and this one is no exception. The bridges in place here now were built mostly during the first half of the 20th century; this one was completed in 1919.

Bridge over the Chicago River

Each of these 18 bridges raises or swings out of the way to let ships pass. The Monroe Street Bridge in particular is a drawbridge, more precisely a bascule bridge. The building on the right is where the operator lifts the bridge.

Bridge over the Chicago River

If found out in the country, each of these bridges would seem massive. But surrounded by Chicago’s high rise buildings they seem strangely small, yet impossibly sturdy.

Bridge over the Chicago River

The Monroe Street Bridge is dotted with these lamps, lighting the pedestrian walkways at night and, I’m sure, providing a lovely view from the neighboring bridges.

Bridge over the Chicago River

As you cross any of the Chicago River bridges in the Loop, you can see many of the others — and take in a great view of the city.

Bridge over the Chicago River

Canon PowerShot S95

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Road Trips

The Logansport City Building

Logansport City Building

Logansport’s City Building doesn’t look like much from the outside. I drove by it many times while exploring the Michigan Road without stopping for a photograph. You only get a clue that something interesting may lurk inside when you see the City Building letterforms over the doors.

Logansport City Building

I made these exterior shots on a Michigan Road day trip my wife and I made recently.

Logansport City Building

But in 2013 I got to go inside, for a meeting of the Historic Michigan Road Association, and I made a few photographs with my phone. I haven’t shared them before because my phone struggled with the low interior light and I wasn’t terribly happy with how they turned out.

Inside the Logansport City Building

But I’m unlikely to get inside again any time soon, and imperfect photographs are better than no photographs!

Inside the Logansport City Building

Logansport built its City Building in 1925, at a time when the city was flush with cash thanks to the railroads that ran through town.

Inside the Logansport City Building

My research revealed nothing more about the City Building. It’s too bad. It’s a lovely building, lovelier than you’d expect in a city the size of Logansport.

Inside the Logansport City Building

What I like best about the building is the stained-glass skylights on the top floor. You can see one through these doors.

Inside the Logansport City Building

There is more than one skylight, but this is the most prominent of them as it is in the center of the roof, visible as you enter the building and ascend the stairs.

Inside the Logansport City Building

I did my best to hold my phone level while standing directly below this skylight.

Stained glass, Logansport City Hall

Returning now to the present day, my wife and I stayed in Logansport long enough for darkness to fall and the decorations to light up.

Logansport City Building

Canon PowerShot S95, iPhone 5

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Preservation, Road Trips

Kirklin, revitalized

When I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008, I felt bad for little Kirklin, a town about 45 minutes north of Indianapolis. Except for its lovely Carnegie library, it was all but dead. Its run-down buildings, mostly vacant, said that Kirklin’s best days were long past.

A page on my old site shows Kirklin as it was in 2008, plus some postcard images of it during its early-20th-century heyday. Click here to see.

A couple antiques dealers operated out of dilapidated storefronts. As I walked up and down Kirklin’s portion of the Michigan Road, my camera in one hand and my two dogs attached via leash to the other, they came out and accosted me. “Why are you photographing our town?”

When I explained about the Michigan Road and my quest to photograph it end to end, their tones softened. “We sure wish we could get more people to make the short drive up here from Indy to visit our shops,” they lamented. “It would make all the difference to our little town.”

Kirklin was in a catch-22: there wasn’t enough to do there to make the drive worth it, but without people willing to make the drive it wasn’t worth adding anything more to do.

And so I’m puzzled, as Kirklin has renovated most of its buildings and added a number of shops. Most of those shops deal in antiques and knick-knacks, but it’s absolutely enough to make it worth the drive from Indy. My wife and I spent a couple pleasant hours browsing here. We met several of the shop owners, who engaged us in very pleasant conversation. We even bought a few things.

Here, have a look at Kirklin today.

Kirklin
Kirklin
Kirklin
Kirklin

It would be lovely if Michigantown and Burlington, two neighboring Michigan Road towns directly north, could find this same level of revitalization. It would make a lovely “antique alley,” a one-tank trip and a very pleasant day. Travelers could start in Logansport and end for dinner in northwest Indianapolis, or start in Indianapolis and take their meal in Logansport. 

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Road Trips

A visit to the sycamores

Margaret and I recently took a mini road trip up the Michigan Road. We made it as far as Logansport, where we had dinner and then headed back. But on the way up we stopped to see Sycamore Row.

Sycamore Row

It’s always grand to see these old trees, even if the story on the historic sign might be more legend than fact. Nobody knows for sure why these trees are here.

Sycamore Row

But we’re glad they are. We’re also glad that new sycamores are occasionally planted. Historic photos of Sycamore Row show many, many more sycamores here than there are now.

Sycamore Row

To me, late autumn is the best time to see these trees as it makes their jagged and knurled branches visible.

Sycamore Row

This old alignment ends at Deer Creek. A steel truss bridge carried this alignment over the creek here until 1987, when a new alignment was built several feet to the east. Locals above a certain age remember how harrowing it was to encounter an oncoming semi in here.

Sycamore Row

Turning around for a look back, you can see how the Michigan Road used to flow directly from this road segment. 

Sycamore Row

Canon PowerShot S95

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Road Trips

On the square in Crown Point

Margaret and I met her sister and her sister’s husband for lunch one Saturday at a place that’s about halfway between our homes: Crown Point, a town in northwest Indiana. None of us had ever been. It surprised us how nice it was and how much there was to do on the town square.

Memo to cities and towns everywhere: You may think planting trees throughout your downtown makes everything look nicer, but it blocks the view of your historic buildings. So cut it out. This the Lake County Courthouse, completed in 1878.

Lake County Courthouse

Lake County Courthouse

These life-size figurines were inexplicably on the lawn.

Figurines on the lawn

The courthouse isn’t used as a courthouse anymore; those functions have moved to a new complex a couple miles north. Today the old courthouse is filled with shops. We toured the basement shops — apparently this used to be the jail.

Lake County Courthouse catacombs

Lake County Courthouse catacombs

Lake County Courthouse catacombs

We had lunch at a pub a couple blocks north of the square and then hit the antique shops around the square. Every storefront had some sort of business in it. That’s not always the case in other Indiana towns with squares like this one. In Indiana, most small towns have struggled for years.

Crown Point square

Crown Point square

I have to think a key to Crown Point’s success is that it’s in a county adjacent to Illinois and is part of the Chicago area. Plenty of people live in the Indiana side of “the Region” and commute to Chicago to work.

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