Road Trips

Vintage map of the Dandy Trail, a 1920s pleasure drive around Indianapolis

Ten years ago I explored the Dandy Trail, an 88-mile automobile pleasure loop that encircled Indianapolis in the 1920s. I’ve been interested in it since I moved to Indianapolis in 1994; I lived near a short road signed Dandy Trail and was curious how it got such an unusual name. Long story short, I discovered the onetime auto trail, organized by the Hoosier Motor Club to encourage motoring for pleasure.

When I investigated the road, I discovered that the Indiana State Library had a map in its collection. I went to the ISL and photographed the map, which I shared here.

For more than a decade now I’ve had a saved search on eBay for “Dandy Trail.” It emails me every time someone lists something for sale with those two words in the title. It has emailed me exactly twice in all these years. The first time was in 2012, when someone listed a set of seven 4×6 inch glass plate negatives from the road. I had the negatives scanned, and I shared them all in this article.

It turns out the negatives were from a 1936 story in The Indianapolis Star looking at what happened to the by-then-defunct trail. I’ll share more about that in an upcoming article.

The second time that search emailed me was just recently. Someone had a Dandy Trail map for sale! I bought it immediately.

The map at the Indiana State Library is from 1921; the date is printed on the map. My map lacks a date imprint. Someone penciled in “1925” on the map, so I’ll date the map to then unless I find stronger evidence to the contrary. It features a few detail changes from the map at the ISL. I shared the map’s cover above. Here’s the map fully open.

Here’s the inside cover:

Here’s the back cover. Notice the ultra-low Indianapolis speed limits! The 1921 map featured a sign-up form to join the Hoosier Motor Club here instead.

You can still drive the entire Dandy Trail today, except for a portion that is submerged within Eagle Creek Reservoir, a flood-control project. I laid out all the roads on Google Maps here:

I made some videos of driving the Dandy Trail in 2012; view some of them in this article.

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Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana

In the 1910s and 1920s, before the creation of the US highway system, an unofficial network of roads called Auto Trails crisscrossed the nation. The Lincoln Highway is perhaps the best known of them. Other well-known trails include the Dixie Highway, the Yellowstone Trail, the National Old Trails Road, the Jefferson Highway, and the Old Spanish Trail. These were major trails that spanned coasts or connected the far north to the deep south. Many smaller trails, some entirely within certain states, also existed.

Auto trails were mostly cobbled together out of existing roads, except out West, where roads sometimes had to be built for these trails. Each trail was managed by an Association, such as the Lincoln Highway Association, which determined it route and promoted it. Each Auto Trail had its mission, such as the Lincoln Highway’s to provide a well-marked transcontinental route. But how any city or town made it onto an auto trail was often a matter of politics and favors. Cities and towns very much wanted to be on these auto trails for the traffic, and therefore commerce, they would bring.

One lesser known — I’d argue little known — transcontinental auto trail was the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway (PP-OO). It was formed in 1914 to connect New York City to San Francisco through Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Maryland, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, and California.

For reasons lost to time, the road frequently avoided major cities, which hurt its commercial viability and may be why it’s not better known today. Also, I know of no other Auto Trail that changed its route as often as the PP-OO. For a time, it even had two western ends: San Francisco and Los Angeles!

Courtesy the Federal Highway Administration

In Indiana, it appears that at first the PP-OO followed the National Road to Indianapolis and then the Rockville State Road to Rockville in western Indiana, and thence to Illinois. This road would become US 36 in 1926.

But in the years that followed, this Auto Trail was heavily realigned. In the end, the PP-OO entered Indiana at Union City and then followed roughly what is now State Road 32 through Winchester, Muncie, and Anderson. Then it connected to what is now US 136 and ran through Crawfordsville and Covington on its way to Danville, Illinois. This new leg in western Indiana was also the Dixie Highway. I explored this section of US 136 in 2012; see those posts here.

Anyone trying to follow the PP-OO at any time really needed an up-to-date trail map!

In 2007 I grew curious about US 36 in western Indiana. It was one of the original US highways in 1926, and in those days its eastern end was in Indianapolis. Tracing US 36 on the map I found a number of possible old alignments, and I wanted to explore them all. This is also when I learned about the PP-OO and its original western-Indiana alignment along the US 36 corridor. I explored US 36 and the PP-OO on two separate trips, May 28 and August 17, 2007. I wrote about it then on my old Roads site, which I’m deprecating. In the weeks to come, I’ll share those stories and photographs here.

Old US 36

Further reading about the PP-OO:

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Road Trips

Old-road archaeology: finding the old infrastructure on Indiana’s Dixie Highway

For most of history, roads had to wind, rise, and fall with the terrain. Straight, flat roads meant cutting into the earth, and that was either too costly or simply impossible. Through the 20th century, constantly improving technology changed that. Good thing, too, because as people increasingly relied on motor transport, narrow, winding roads became insufficient.

Indiana began improving its important roads in the early 20th century. At first, it simply improved the road surface, converting dirt to gravel, crushed stone, brick, or concrete. Later, it straightened many highways, made them bypass small towns, and widened them to make them safer and allow speedier passage. For example, Indiana repeatedly improved the Dixie Highway between Martinsville and Bloomington (along the way changing its name to State Road 37.) It’s now a divided four-lane expressway – straight, smooth, and speedy. Indiana isn’t done improving this road; it is slated to be upgraded to Interstate standards and become part of I-69. These three map segments, from 1937, 1970, and 2005, tell the story.

1937 Rand McNally1970 Rand McNally2005 Indiana DOT

These improvements left several segments of the original winding road behind. As is sometimes the case, some infrastructure from days gone by was left behind, as well.

This three-span pony truss bridge was built in 1925. It’s narrow by modern standards, with a 19-foot-wide deck. Oncoming cars can pass, but it feels a little tight. (Click here to see it on Google Maps.)

Pony trusses

A bit south of the bridge, on another left-behind segment of the old road, we found this slab of concrete. (Click here to see this location on Google Maps.) When you drive over a truss bridge, you know it’s old because nobody builds them anymore. But concrete is still sometimes used to pave highways. Besides, who really pays any attention to the road surface?

Concrete road

I do, of course! And I’ve been exploring Indiana’s old roads long enough to know that this is mighty old concrete. Notice all the cracks? Early Indiana concrete highways had no expansion joints. As temperature changes expanded and contracted the concrete, it had little choice but to crack. I’ve found other similar concrete highways in Indana that I’ve dated to as early as 1923.

But there’s a chance that this concrete is even older than that. A buddy on my favorite roadgeek forum dug into his extensive collection of historic maps and road guides and found evidence that this road could have been paved in 1917! But I think 1925 is more likely. That’s when the bridge shown above was built, and it’s less than two miles from here. Also, 1925 is consistent with the other seamless concrete roads I’ve found.

This was the only concrete segment we found all day. Over time, Indiana covered its concrete highways in asphalt; along the rest of the Dixie, this concrete is buried under one or more layers of the stuff. This segment was left in its original state because it is not through; it provides access to one house, where it dead ends. There was once a small bridge here.

End of the line

A short segment of abandoned concrete road lies beyond the creek. That’s modern State Road 37 at its end.

Abandoned concrete

When I next write about the old Dixie Highway, I’ll show you a 15-mile old alignment that leads through beautiful country, ending in Bloomington.

The oldest concrete highway I’ve found was on Ohio’s National Road – from 1914! See it now!

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Road Trips

Driving the Dixie Highway in southern Indiana

My dad always called it Dixieway, the main road that headed south out of my hometown. Yet all the street signs called it Michigan Street or US 31. As a boy, I asked Dad why. “Well, Dixieway is an old name for the road, son. It’s called that because it goes all the way to Dixie.”

The Dixie Highway was actually a whole network of roads that connected the Midwest to the South, running from Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan to Miami, Florida. One branch passed through South Bend, where I grew up. But as the 1923 map at right shows, the Dixie crisscrossed Indiana, converging in Indianapolis.

I’ve driven (and written about) much of Indiana’s Dixie in about the northern two-thirds of the state. I’ve been itching for a long time to follow it the rest of the way, and I finally scratched most of that itch on a recent Saturday. I picked up my favorite road-trip companion, Dawn, found the Dixie in Martinsville, and followed it all the way to Paoli. It was a perfect autumn road trip.

When Indiana numbered its highways, it assigned the number 37 to the Dixie from Indianapolis to Paoli. But over time, State Road 37 was improved and heavily rerouted over much of this distance. Many old alignments, some of them quite long, remain as lightly traveled country roads.  I’ll write more about it in posts to come, but for now, here’s a taste of what Dawn and I saw.

On the Dixie

In western Indiana, the Dixie is mostly US 136. I drove it this spring – pick up the trail here!

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Road Trips

Abandoned Fall Creek Road

My recent Dandy Trail tour took me down a part of Fall Creek Road, which rolls and curves through a long portion of northeast Indianapolis. I drive this road often, as it is on one of the routes I follow to pick up and drop off my sons at their mother’s. It’s a lovely drive that makes the long trip between our homes a lot more pleasant. I shot a little video along Fall Creek Road to share with you.

In the video, the place where I come upon an intersection and bear right is near the upper right corner of the aerial image below. I then head west, and as the video ends I reach Shadeland Avenue and Fall Creek Road appears to end. You can see cars zooming along I-465 just beyond Shadeland.

In the Dandy Trail’s day, neither Shadeland Avenue nor I-465 existed, and Fall Creek Road used to go through. This aerial image from 1956 (by which time Shadeland had been built) shows how it used to be. The northern east-west road is Fall Creek Road and the southern road is Fall Creek Parkway.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why these roads had to be butchered so badly because of I-465. It’s not like they didn’t have to build a bridge over Fall Creek anyway; would it have been so hard to extend it over Fall Creek Parkway and build the other bridge over the original Fall Creek Road alignment?

A short segment of old Fall Creek Road lies abandoned in what is now Skiles Test Nature Park, along and just west of I-465 on the north side of current Fall Creek Road. I was amused to find a picnic table on this abandoned bridge.

Abandoned Fall Creek Road

I stood on the bridge and faced east to take this photo. I-465 is just beyond the brush.

Abandoned Fall Creek Road

I turned around to face west for this photo. Maybe 150 feet of pavement remain. This abandoned segment extended all the way to the current Fall Creek Road alignment until the mid 1990s, when most of it was removed so a hiking trail could be built. That trail leads back to the site of a large home, demolished in the 1970s, once owned by Mr. Skiles Test.

Abandoned Fall Creek Road

I-465 was built here during the 1960s, so this was last maintained more than 40 years ago.

Nature always slowly reclaims abandoned roads. Check out nature’s work on this abandoned US 40 bridge.

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Road Trips

Driving the Dandy Trail, part 1

When I found the 1921 map of the Dandy Trail, a 1920s country driving loop around Indianapolis, I knew I’d want to drive it myself. So I traced the route on a modern city map and found that most of the route still exists, and where it doesn’t, easy detours return you to the trail in no time.

Being a loop, there was no fixed beginning or end to the Dandy Trail. The old map advised that the trail could be “reached by going out any main highway.” One main highway the 1921 map called out was Michigan Road, near which I live today. So I went out to Michigan Road and north about a mile and a half until I reached what was the Dandy Trail at Westlane Road. My camera was suction-cupped to my windshield so I could record some of the experience. Here’s where I turned off Michigan Road onto Westlane Road and began my clockwise journey around the Dandy Trail.

This section of Westlane Road is lined with apartment complexes today, and it’s common to see people who live in them but who can’t afford cars walking the shoulder on their way to and from Michigan Road, where there’s shopping and a bus stop.

Westlane Road turns into 73rd Street, and the Dandy Trail follows along for another mile or so until it reaches Spring Mill Road. This road shows up on county maps going back to the 1840s! At its southern end it straddles the White River and follows a winding downhill path. Mrs. M. E. Noblett of the Hoosier Motor Club, who laid out the route, did a splendid job of finding other winding and rolling roads in what otherwise is a mighty flat city and making them all part of the Dandy Trail. It was Mrs. Noblett’s little Pomeranian dog, by the way, for whom the trail was named and whose likeness appeared on all the signs.

This video ends where Spring Mill Road reaches Kessler Boulevard. In the Dandy Trail’s earliest days, Kessler didn’t exist. Spring Mill curved, crossed the river, and became Illinois Street. Kessler Boulevard was on the drawing board, however, and was completed within the next few years. Ever since you’ve had to turn left onto Kessler, cross the river, and then turn right onto Illinois to follow the trail.

When the Dandy Trail reaches the far north side of town it crosses the White River again. That bridge, too, is lost to history, but the bridge that replaced it is a 1941 beauty that was restored a few years ago. It is the last truss bridge in the county.

This part of town is known for its upscale shopping today, but in the Dandy Trail’s day this was merely a two-lane gravel road way out in the sticks. Mrs. Noblett may have been the first to recognize the area’s potential. The old Indiana Highway Department saw it too and made it part of old State Road 100, an early attempt at a beltway around Indianapolis that I-465 later supplanted.

Finally, on the east side of town the Dandy Trail followed 56th Street and then turned right onto Shadeland Avenue. Today, a huge I-465 interchange has consumed that intersection. To follow the Dandy Trail today, you have to take the I-465 exit! Fortunately, if you keep right you will flow directly onto Shadeland.

I followed the Dandy Trail around the east side to the south side, where then as now it passes by cornfields. Yes, there are cornfields in the city of Indianapolis! But when I reached the Michigan Road on the south side (where it’s known as Southeastern Avenue), it was late. So I turned northward on the Michigan Road and followed it home, having covered a little less than half of the Dandy Trail. I’ll follow the rest another day.

I shot five other video segments on this trip for a total of nine, and created a playlist on YouTube that stitches them together in order. Click here to see them.

I totaled a car on a road trip once (read that story). Attaching the camera to the windshield lets me focus on driving

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