Road Trips

Climbing Michigan Hill in Madison, Indiana

I wonder if schoolchildren in Madison, Indiana, are taught about the Michigan Road when they study Indiana history. It would be a shame if they weren’t, for this historic road begins in their town.

Michigan at West

Every road begins somewhere, after all, and this one begins north of Madison’s historic downtown, at the top of West Street.

MRMadison

Imagery and map data © 2018 Google

If you’ve driven the Michigan Road anywhere else along its 270-mile length you know it is, by and large, flat and straight. But its first 8/10 of a mile winds its way up a steep hill. The stars on the map mark the beginning of the road and the top of the hill. It’s an exhilarating start to this historic road!

The Michigan Road was built in the early 1830s to connect Madison, then the state’s largest city, to the new capital at Indianapolis, and then to Lake Michigan. It passed through Greensburg, Shelbyville, Logansport, Rochester, Plymouth, and South Bend on its way to its end at Lake Michigan in Michigan City.

Most of Indiana is flat, but this state’s southern counties feature rugged terrain. That’s in part because of the valley created by the Ohio River, and in part because Ice Age glaciers and their land-flattening effect extended only so far south in what would become Indiana.

Thus, as you begin driving the Michigan Road, you’ll find your car in low gear for the climb.

From the beginning of the Michigan Road

This is the first house on the Michigan Road. It looks like it’s getting some work.

First house on the Michigan Road

It’s challenging to photograph this part of the Michigan Road. There are no shoulders and only a couple pulloffs, and plenty of traffic enters and exits old Madison via this hill. You can’t stand very far back from traffic, and drivers don’t expect to find pedestrians as they round one of the many curves. When I walked this hill in 2008 one motorcycle rider stopped, looked at me incredulously, and asked if I had a death wish! He was right, and I vowed not to do it again. So this time we photographed only the bottom, and then the top, of Michigan Hill. Fortunately, I photographed the hill extensively in 2008. The next three photos are from that walk.

NB Michigan Road

The Ohio River is visible from one of the pulloffs. The hill in the distance is Kentucky.

The Ohio River from the Michigan Road

Modern cars have little trouble climbing Michigan Hill, but most early automobiles would have struggled.

NB Michigan Road

Back to 2018 now and at the top of the hill, where you’ll find the Fairmount House. I photographed it extensively in 2008, and shared those photos and what I know about the house here. It was for sale at the time.

Fairmount House

The house hasn’t changed in 10 years, but the landscaping sure has. It blocked every clear angle to bring the whole house into the photo.

Fairmount House

But it’s a lovely property, made even lovelier by landscaping.

Fairmount House

Here’s a view down Michigan Hill from the Fairmount House.

Michigan Road SB at Fairmount House

Just beyond where the road levels out stands this monument to the road, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution the same year the U.S. highway system was born. This portion of the Michigan Road would eventually become US 421, but in 1926 it was assigned number 29 in Indiana’s State Road system.

Honored by the DAR

If you ever drive the Michigan Road from end to end, you’ll find that from here on out the hills and valleys are slight and the curves are gentle.

I shot some shaky handheld video of the ascent in 2008. It’ll give you a good flavor of what the drive is like.

Canon PowerShot S95 (and Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom for the 2008 photos)

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Some of the blogs I follow post photos of interesting doors on Thursday. This apparently started with a blog called Norm 2.0, which has featured interesting door photos for years. I’ve always wanted to play, but I seldom get out around interesting doors.

But recently I visited Madison, Indiana, which is rich in great entryways. Herewith, a series of Madison doors on this Thursday.

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Madison door

Canon PowerShot S95

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

Thursday doors: Madison, Indiana

A bunch of doors from Madison, Indiana, on this Thursday.

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The beginning of the Michigan Road

The beginning of the Michigan Road
Canon PowerShot S95
2018

When I surveyed the Michigan Road end to end in 2008, I failed to photograph this marker at the road’s beginning. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed it in 1916, on the occasion of Indiana’s centennial.

Margaret and I have made our first trip on our re-survey of the road. We did not fail to photograph the marker this time!

Sadly, no Michigan Road Historic Byway wayfinding signs were present. One should stand near this rock with a “Begin” sign under it, and another should stand across the street with an “End” sign under it. They have gone missing.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: The beginning of the Michigan Road

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1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

You don’t expect to come upon a suspension bridge over a river in middle America. But nevertheless, here this one is.

It’s in Carlyle, Illinois, about 50 miles east of St. Louis. It’s a block north of US 50 on Carlyle’s east side. It carried vehicular traffic through sometime during the 1930s. I wouldn’t be surprised if this bridge was on US 50’s original alignment here.

Today, it’s a pedestrian bridge.

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: 1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

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Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

Abandoned, never used bridge
Kodak Z730 Zoom
2009

Here’s my friend Michael standing on the railing of a bridge built to carry US 50 that was never used.

Three such bridges were built, actually. A new section of US 50 was built from Carlyle, Illinois, west for about 22 miles. It was intended to carry four lanes of traffic, divided, but only two lanes were built along most of this span. However, twin bridges were built everywhere US 50 crossed a stream. In each case, only the northern bridge of each pair has ever carried traffic. The southern bridge was simply left to molder.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Abandoned, never used bridge

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The S Bridge at Blaine

The S bridge at Blaine
Canon PowerShot S95
2011

This is one of my favorite road-trip photos. I just love the juxtaposition of the 1828 stone-arch S bridge against the 1933 open-spandrel concrete-arch bridge. Both are engineering and visual marvels in their own ways.

But what I love most about this photo is that my friend Jeff, in his orange shirt, cuts across the scene. He provides such visual interest, injecting orange and blue into an otherwise beige and green scene. He also shows the massive scale of these two bridges.

The newer bridge runs so much higher than the older one because it means to level out what had been a steep hill. The ascent from the end of the older bridge was quite challenging for cars of the day.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: The S bridge at Blaine

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