Road Trips

Madison, Indiana: Anchoring the Michigan Road

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.

Madison is Indiana’s first city. It is said to have been founded in 1809, although the first white settler came in 1808, the city was laid out in 1810, and lots were first sold in 1811. 1809 is also the year surrounding Jefferson County was founded.

Madison rose to prominence between the 1830s and 1850s because of river, road, and rail. Advances in steamboat technology, the building of the Michigan Road, and the building of the state’s first railroad from Madison through Indianapolis to Lafayette made Madison a hub of commerce. Much of old Madison was built during these boom years. But as the railroad overtook river and road as the best way to move goods and people, other rail lines appeared in Indiana and neighboring states. Madison ceased to be a hub, and started to decline in the 1850s. With no significant new industries, and the new construction that goes with it, coming to Madison, the city maintained the buildings it had. This has left the old city nearly intact today, with most of downtown and many other homes and businesses around the city listed on the National Historic Register.

To put the Michigan Road in its proper context, I started at the Ohio River and worked my way north through Madison. At left in this photo the Madison-Milton Bridge carries US 421 over the river. A barge, curiously named Barbara, pushes its way east. I took this photo from a place where spectators gather to watch the annual Madison Regatta, a boat race that has roots back to the 1800s.

Ohio River at Madison, Indiana

Just east of this site lies a boat ramp from the river. On one trip to Madison, I was lucky to happen upon the Delta Queen waiting at the ramp. The Delta Queen has since ceased to cruise the rivers.

The Delta Queen

The ramp leads directly to West St., which ends six blocks north at the Michigan Road. This photo shows the Madison-Milton Bridge a little more clearly, although I know of a Madison photographer who captured it better than i could ever hope to.

Boat ramp, Madison

Looking from the top of the ramp, West Street leads north toward downtown Madison and the Michigan Road.

West Street northbound from the Ohio River

Old Madison is full of old buildings. Some of them appear to need a little TLC, like this one on the northeast corner of 2nd and West Streets. The sign calls it the Cinnamon Tea Room.

The Cinnamon Tea Room

On the northeast corner at this intersection is “The Feed Mill,” a consignment and auction shop.

The Feed Mill

Shepley’s Tavern, in operation since 1867, is at 322 West St. This is just around the corner from Main St., also called State Road 56.

Shepley's Tavern

Before we continue north on West Street, let’s explore downtown Madison. Not too long ago, Madison’s Main St. was lined with businesses that served Madison – an assortment of places to buy shoes and clothes, get your prescription filled, take in a movie, deposit your paycheck, or have a soda. Even 50 years ago, many of these buildings were serving their second, third, or maybe fourth purposes. Today, downtown Madison’s focus has changed to antique stores, galleries, bars, and cafes.

The first building I noticed when I reached Main St. was the Ohio Theatre, which anomalously dates to 1936. It replaced a theater on this site that burned. I understand that it shows the movie Some Came Running, which was shot in Madison, once a year. It stands just east of West St. on the north side of the street.

The Ohio Theatre

A little bit down the street stands the Madison Bank and Trust Co. building, built in 1833. In this era of bank mergers, it became a Mainsource Bank in 2005, but fortunately this building retains its old signs.

Madison Bank and Trust Co.

US 421 meets Main St. along Jefferson St. This photo shows the northwest corner.

NW corner Main and Jefferson

Downtown appears to end at Jefferson St., so I surveyed the south side of Main St. Here’s the southwest corner of this intersection.

SW corner Main and Jefferson

From a different angle, here are the two buildings on the southeast corner today. Inglis Drugs, the brown brick building, is a nightclub now. The building east of it hasn’t seen maintenance in a while, but the building east of that got a new facade along the way.

Main at Mulberry

Here’s what it looks like to stroll along Main St.

Madison street scene

I hear that Hinkle Hamburgers is more than just a great neon sign – it’s also great burgers made from beef ground fresh on the premises. Unfortunately, I had my dogs on a leash with me this day and couldn’t go in.

Hinkle Hamburgers

By this time I had reached the western edge of downtown. Here’s the view eastward from here. Except for the modern cars, Main St. looks like a photo plate from an old book.

Downtown Madison, Indiana

Still looking eastbound, here’s the intersection with West Street. Turn left and you head toward the Michigan Road.

Downtown Madison

In the first block of West Street north of Main, the old City Hall stands. It was damaged after a 2006 fire next door. It was built in 1879 and received a new facade in 1925.

City hall

Next door to the old City Hall stands the Elks building, a burned-out shell since August, 2006. (More on this building here and here.)

Burned BPOE

Just north, on the northeast corner at Third St., stands this building, which houses Historic Madison, Inc. It previously housed churches of two denominations and a mortuary.

Wendell Auditorium

A home and the oldest operating fire station in Indiana, built in 1848, sit on the northwest corner at Third St.

NW corner West and 3rd

Moving north to the southeast corner at Fifth St., painted advertisements continue to fade on the Madison Creamery building.

Advertising 1

The Michigan Road is in sight. A sign warns heavy trucks to stay off the Michigan Road and follow US 421 instead. A bridge carries the road over a canal.

Canal bridge

Here’s a look at the canal, eastbound. This was part of the Indiana Central Canal.

Canal

This house, on the southeast corner where West St. meets the Michigan Road, seems to anchor the road.

House at the start of the Michigan Road

Many who followed the Michigan Road to northern Indiana’s opportunities did so by following West St. north from the river to where it ended and the Michigan Road began.

First Michigan Road sign

Next: The beginning of the Michigan Road along Michigan Hill.

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

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Road Trips

Surveying the Michigan Road from end to end

In 2008, I slowly documented Indiana’s Michigan Road from its beginning in Madison on the Ohio River, over 270 miles to Michigan City on Lake Michigan. Working at it on spare weekends, it took me a solid six months to complete.

I wrote extensively about this survey on my old Roads site, which I’m deprecating. With this post, I begin bringing that content here to my blog. Some of it overlaps or duplicates content I’ve written here in the past, but I’m choosing to allow it for continuity’s sake. I expect to create 20 to 25 posts, sharing them at a rate of one per week. We’ll be at this for a while!

This post sets the stage, telling the Michigan Road’s history in thumbnail and telling why I am interested in this historic road.


I grew up four blocks from Michigan Street in South Bend. I always assumed it was called that because it led to Michigan.

Later, I would live about a mile from Michigan Road in Indianapolis. At first, I thought it curious that a road would be named Michigan so far away from Michigan.

I learned later that these roads are one and the same, connecting not only Indianapolis and South Bend, but the Ohio River and Lake Michigan. For 30 years in two cities, I had lived near an important element of Indiana history. So I determined to drive the entire road, all 270 miles of it, and complete Indiana’s original coast-to-coast trip. Along the way, I learned about the road’s, and some of the state’s, history.

Ohio River at Madison, Indiana

When Indiana became a state in 1816, most Hoosiers lived along the Ohio River. The state’s first and largest city, Madison, was on the river, and the state’s first capital, Corydon, was near the river. Indiana wasn’t ten years old in 1825 when the capital moved to Indianapolis at the state’s swampy center. People needed ways to get to the new capital city, and so the state built its first roads, which were little more than paths cut through the forest. Sources disagree about how many roads were built, but I do know for sure that the Madison State Road connected Madison, and the Mauxferry Road connected the Corydon area, to Indianapolis.

One-lane alignment

But then in 1828 came the Michigan Road, connecting Madison not only to Indianapolis, but to Lake Michigan as well through lands newly acquired by treaty with the Indians who had lived in northern Indiana. The Michigan Road was complete by 1837 and people began migrating into the north’s flat but rich farmland.

Michigan Road, Decatur County, Indiana

The Michigan Road was, for its day, a grand thoroughfare.  Trees were felled across a 100-foot swath; the trees in the middle 30 feet were “grubbed,” meaning the stumps were dug out. In marshy areas, where horses could lose their footing and wagons become stuck, the road was corduroyed; that is, logs were laid across the mucky road and then covered with sand. In some places, the road was covered with wood planks to provide an even surface. When railroads boomed in the mid-1800s, private interests took over the road, covering it in gravel and charging tolls to travel on it. The rise of the automobile led the state to create a network of good roads. By the 1930s, the state had taken over and paved most of the Michigan Road. Many towns had grown to prominence along the Michigan Road, and because the Road was how people traveled between these places, the state maintained much of this road as it built bigger and faster highways along corridors that had become strategically more important to state and interstate commerce.

Michigan Road at I-465

This remarkable sequence of events preserved the Michigan Road. It has been moved in a few places, such as around a horse track near Shelbyville and when a new bridge was built south of Logansport, abandoning an old one-lane alignment. It has been bypassed in a couple places causing some of its route to be lost, such as over a railroad track near Rolling Prairie. And I-74 disrupted the road southeast of Indianapolis, moving brief segments of the road so exits could be built and even burying several miles of the road underneath its lanes. But from Madison, you can drive straight through to Michigan City along most of the road’s original path with only a few brief detours that quickly return you to the road. Along the way, the road takes on many different characters, from almost-forgotten farm road to country US highway to major city thoroughfare to Interstate highway.

Plenty of excellent goodness remains along the Road. Two one-lane 1800s bridges remain, as do two short one-lane alignments. One long segment has never been part of the state highway system and rolls with the terrain. Despite being paved and two lanes wide, driving it is as close as it gets to recalling travel on it in its early days. And along the way there are a whole bunch of houses, churches, and cemeteries placed along it in the 1800s when the road was new.

This trip report takes you along the entire Michigan Road county by county through all 14 counties on the route.

Next: A look at Madison, the city that anchors the Michigan Road on the Ohio River.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Visiting Vigo County, Indiana, on the National Road and US 40

On my bicycle ride across Indiana, I had pedaled through Wayne, Henry, Hancock, Marion, Hendricks, Putnam, and Clay Counties when I reached the last county of the trip, Vigo. This county borders Illinois and was the end of my trip.

It began to rain steadily as I rode off State Road 340 back onto US 40, and thus into Vigo County. My front handbrake was useless, and my handlebars were too slippery to hold. My rear coaster brake still stopped the bike, albeit slowly; it made riding not completely unsafe. I knew I would not make it to the Illinois line this day. My friend Michael lives near downtown Terre Haute, so I made his home my final destination.

Before I reached Terre Haute I passed through tiny Seelyville. There you’ll find Kleptz’s Restaurant, which has been operating since before I went to college just down the road from here at Rose-Hulman in the late 1980s.

Kleptz' Restaurant, Seelyville, IN

As you can see, Kleptz’s is a big old house. Some friends of mine stopped in for a drink back in the late 80s and they described sitting in Kleptz’s as like sitting in someone’s living room.

I’m a big fan of old neon signs. There used to be a good one on this building, but it’s been gone since 2009. When I photographed it that August, I didn’t know it was doomed.

Kleptz Bar

I don’t normally photograph modern gas stations on my trips, but I did this time.

Casey's, Seelyville, IN

It’s because I remember the building that used to stand on this corner. Here it is from that August, 2009, road trip.

Downtown Seelyville

I photographed this building in the unincorporated town of East Glen because in 1989, freshly graduated from college and looking for an apartment, I considered renting one of the upstairs apartments here. The downstairs was a hair salon even then. (I’m happy I found the apartment I did; read that story here.)

Salon, East Glenn, IN

I’ve photographed this Clabber Girl billboard a number of times over the years. Clabber Girl Baking Powder is one of Terre Haute’s claims to fame. This billboard has been greeting people as they approached town for probably 80 years. Every so often, it receives a restoration.

Clabber Girl billboard

Just beyond the billboard lies Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, the number one undergraduate engineering school in the nation (according to U.S. News and World Report). This is my alma mater.

Entrance to Rose-Hulman, US 40 Terre Haute

Here’s where US 40 meets State Road 46 on the west edge of Rose-Hulman’s campus. Several years ago, US 40 was rerouted to follow SR 46 down to I-70, and then to follow I-70 into Illinois. The National Road, however, continues straight ahead.

US 40 at SR 46

In Terre Haute, I stopped in the rain to have a hot-fudge sundae at this Dairy Queen. It’s on the National Road on the east side of town. A handful of Terre Haute DQ’s had neon signs like this one. They were custom made; you’ll find them only in Terre Haute. This and one other location in town still have them.

DQ, Wabash Ave., Terre Haute

From here, I rode straight to my friend’s house. I really wanted to document the National Road in Terre Haute, especially where it originally passed by the Vigo County Courthouse. That will have to wait for a future dry day.

Margaret drove to Terre Haute to pick me up. My friend, his wife, Margaret, and I all went out for dinner and drinks before Margaret and I headed home. Back in my day, my favorite Terre Haute bar was Sonka’s, on the National Road near downtown. It’s still going!

Sonka's

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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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

State Road 340, an original alignment of US 40 and the National Road in Clay County, Indiana

Until the late 1930s and early 1940s, US 40 was a two-lane highway across Indiana. For the most part, when it was widened to four lanes it was done where the highway already existed. But from the west end of Brazil, in Clay County, to the Vigo County line, a brand new US 40 was built just south of the old. The old US 40 remained a state highway, however, and was given the number 340.

Imagery ©2021 IndianaMap Framework Data, Landsat/Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2021 Google.

Here’s where State Road 340 begins on Brazil’s west edge. US 40 is on the left, and SR 340 is on the right.

US 40/SR 340 (old 40) split

There isn’t much on SR 340 — a couple schools, a couple cemeteries, a bunch of residences and farms, and the unincorporated towns of Billtown and Cloverland.

WB SR 340 - old US 40 - W of Brazil IN

What I like about SR 340 is that it gives a very good idea of what US 40 would be like today had it been improved over the years in its original two-lane configuration.

WB SR 340 in Clay Co.

All of these photos are westbound, including this one from the gas station that stands where SR 340 (on the right) merges with US 40 (on the left) at the Vigo County line.

Where US 40 (left) and SR 340/old US 40 (right) converge

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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Preservation, Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Then and now: The McKinley House on the National Road in Clay County, Indiana

I first photographed the McKinley House in 2009 after seeing it as photographed in the 1950s in George Stewart’s book, US 40, Cross Section of the United States of America.

The McKinley House

It was a B&B in those days. It might be yet today for all I know, but what I do know is that its trim has been repainted in black and red.

McKinley House, US 40 Clay Co.

Remarkably, in years gone by a very similar house stood about a mile west of here on the other side of the road. Curiously, it stood in the large lot of the Great Dane factory, which makes trailers that semis pull. It’s been gone for at least a decade now, and all the years I ever observed it, it was a decaying hulk. In its last years it had no windows. Thank heavens for Google Street View, as it keeps a fuzzy record of this house. This image is from October of 2008. Google also has an image from 2009, meaning it still stood when I made my 2009 US 40 road trip. I wish I’d photographed it myself then.

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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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

The houses on the grounds of the Putnamville Correctional Facility

As you pass by the Putnamville Correctional Facility on US 40 in Putnam County, Indiana, you can’t help but notice the brick houses scattered around the property.

There are apparently 25 of them, although when I look at the area on Google Maps I count only 19. I must be missing the rest. They are rented at nominal fee, utilities paid, to key employees of the prison. That way, those people are always close by in case of a crisis.

I’ve long wondered if these houses were built with prison labor.

Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility

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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