Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Carroll County

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. While this article refers exclusively to the Michigan Road, another historic highway, the Dixie Highway, was routed along this portion of the Michigan Road.

Carroll County was formed in 1828 and was named for Charles Carroll, the only signer of the Declaration of Independence still alive at the time. Almost as soon as the Michigan Road enters Carroll County, the Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm appears. Hoosier Homesteads are farms that have been in the same family for over 100 years. The house was built in 1862 by George Harness; it and the farm passed through the family to Mary Mathews, granddaughter of the last Harness to own the farm. It served as a stagecoach stop for a while and is said to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm

I wonder what happened to that missing shutter (second floor, front, second window from the left).

Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm

This old house appears just south of Burlington.

Old house

The road bends slightly east as it enters Burlington, and back west as it leaves.

The Burlington United Methodist Church built this, its second building, on the Michigan Road at 10th St.

This is the church’s third and current building, still on this site.

Burlington United Methodist Church

Shortly after Carroll County was created in 1828, David Stipp, said to be a cold and stingy man, laid out Burlington. It was hoped to become the seat of a new county made partly from the Great Miami Reserve, which was 2 miles east. The Lafayette and Muncie Road crossed the Michigan Road here, but I’ve had no luck finding any information about that road. Burlington was an important stage stop, mill village, and trading center for both whites and Indians from the reservation. The town, named after a chief of the Wyandot native Americans, was incorporated in 1967. 

This hardware store stands on the south end of Burlington’s downtown.

Former fire station

The older part of the building was once the Burlington State Bank, as this 1946 photo shows. I wonder if this was once a fire station. The current fire station is a block west down the side street in the photo below. The big arch certainly could have passed a fire truck.

An old house left near downtown, across the street from the hardware store.

Old house, Burlington

These buildings stand in the heart of downtown.

Business District

This photo shows the middle building sometime in the first half of the 20th century when it was Oyler and Huddleston’s, a dry-goods store.

This photo is from inside Oyler and Huddleston’s, which people in Burlington called the Park Store for some reason.

Some other shots of downtown. I’m guessing that this one is from the 1910s.

This one’s probably also from the 1910s.

This photo from the 1970s shows the northbound road from State Road 22.

This is from the same spot, except southbound, in the 1970s. It shows the Oyler and Huddleston building on the right and the former bank in the next block south.

This is a former general store, north of downtown. On the vacant lot to the north once stood a house built by David Stipp that, after he sold it, was a relay house for stage horses. A tavern was kept in the basement; the entrance was a trap door on the porch!

Old storefront, Burlington

Here’s the store during its days as the Farm Boy store, probably in the 1970s.

Burlington Church of Christ, formerly the Burlington Christian Church. This is the third building the church used, built in 1908, and the second on this site.

Burlington Church of Christ

This 1929 photo was taken after a snowstorm that shut down the town. The Church of Christ is near the center.

This photo is of a well used until 1935 to supply the north side of town (and passing travelers) with water. It was on Burlington’s north edge, just south of the bridge over Wildcat Creek.

There have been quite a succession of bridges over Wildcat Creek. The earliest recorded was a wooden covered bridge. I’m not sure which end is north and which is south!

Here’s the bridge in 1913 during a flood.

This photo from the bridge’s north end was taken in May of 1919, shortly before the bridge was torn down, suggests that the bridge had lived out its life.

A concrete bridge was planned. This formwork was constructed, but a flood destroyed it in 1920. Builders had to start over.

The bridge was finished in 1923. Imagine – the bridge was closed for four years! This bridge, which was described as narrow, may have been a Luten bridge. Even if it wasn’t, it looks typical of the kinds of bridges Indiana was building in this timeframe.

This northbound photo shows the road leaving town and crossing the current bridge, a typical boring slab supported by piers.

Northbound, Burlington

This photo shows the Michigan Road southbound as it heads toward Burlington. This is probably from the 1910s, as the covered bridge is there. Notice that the road is made of dirt.

The Michigan Road wasn’t paved in Burlington until 1929. This early-1900s northbound photo shows how the road became a rutted bog when it was wet.

This photo from about the same time shows not only how the road got rutted when wet, but also how it once rolled. This section has since been leveled; the road through Burlington is entirely level. There were certainly many such dips along the road until the modern era, roughly since 1950, when technology and road funding allowed rolling highways to be flattened.

Sharon is the first spot on the map north of Burlington.

I stopped mostly to take photos of the Sharon Baptist Church.

Sharon Baptist Church

Some old buildings on the road have steps down to the road. Clearly, they are a holdover from a day before the Michigan Road was capable of handling 55 mile per hour traffic. Nobody parks along the road on Sunday morning and walks up these steps anymore.

Sharon Baptist Church

The road had been freshly paved when I drove through. Compare this to the muddy photos from 100 years before! Northbound.

Northbound, Sharon

A cemetery stands north of the Sharon Baptist Church, just across County Road 50N.

Beech Grove Cemetery

Just south of the town of Deer Creek stands Sycamore Row, a historic old alignment. The origin of the sycamore trees is uncertain. But they boxed in this short segment of road, making it a tight squeeze. Unbelievably, this remained the in-service road until 1987! Read more about Sycamore Row here.

Sycamore Row

This is what the road inside Sycamore Row looks like today.

Sycamore Row

The little town of Deer Creek lies just north of Sycamore Row and the creek the town is named after.

This is the Deer Creek Presbyterian Church, which was established in 1842. This building is certainly newer than that.

Deer Creek Presbyterian Church

This Deer Creek building was a feed store during at least the late 1950s. It began its life as the West Sonora Christian Church. I failed to photograph it, but just north of this building is an arch with the words WEST SONORA, which I’m told used to stretch over the Michigan Road. I’m guessing that Deer Creek was once known as West Sonora.

What is this?

Next: The Michigan Road in Cass County, Indiana.

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

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Essay, History

Walking the fine line between telling the truth and avoiding woke excess on state historic markers

Sycamore Row
2018 photo

In 2020, when the historic marker at Sycamore Row on the Michigan Road was damaged in an accident and replaced, its text was revised. The original marker told a story of the sycamores growing out of sycamore logs used to corduroy that section of road. Unfortunately, that story has never been confirmed and might just be legend. The new marker tells instead of the trees’ uncertain origin.

The marker now also tells in thumbnail the broader story of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana, specifically calling out how Potawatomi Indians ceded land for the road under intense pressure. When the Michigan Road was surveyed starting in 1829, all of northern Indiana was Native American land. The Michigan Road opened northern Indiana to white settlement, which ultimately displaced Native American tribes. In particular, a band of Potawatomi who lived near Plymouth were marched out of Indiana at gunpoint, passing by this very spot on the Michigan Road on their way. 859 tribe members were forced out; 40 died on the way. This is known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death.

Sycamore Row
2021 photo
Sycamore Row
2021 photo

A historic marker has only so much space to tell a story. The Indiana Historical Bureau, which oversees the state marker program, reached out to us at the Historic Michigan Road Association to review the proposed text on the new Sycamore Row marker. I was pleased that they addressed the original marker’s likely error on the sycamores’ origin, and touched on the Potawatomi story.

Pennsylvania’s historic marker program was in the news late last month (story here). The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, which oversees that state’s marker program, has reviewed all of the state’s 2,500 markers and is beginning to revise and even remove markers as they work to correct factual errors and address language that might now be considered racist or otherwise objectionable.

At the time that article was published, the state had removed two markers, revised two others, and ordered new text for two more. In particular, they removed a marker at Bryn Mawr College that noted that President Woodrow Wilson had taught there. Bryn Mawr requested the removal over Wilson’s stated beliefs about the intellectual capabilities of women and his segregation of the federal workforce.

The commission has also ordered changes to the text on a marker about Continental Army Major General Anthony Wayne to remove a reference to him as an “Indian fighter.” It also removed a marker that noted a 1758 military victory that the marker said “established Anglo-Saxon supremacy in the United States.”

At least with these three markers, Pennsylvania has edged into tricky territory. Woodrow Wilson was wrong about women and segregation, but he will forever have been a President of the United States and that makes his involvement at Bryn Mawr significant. While we should look back with sorrow and shame over how the United States treated Native Americans, the fact remains that Gen. Wayne fought Native Americans. And the aim of so many early American military victories was to claim territory for white immigrants. More sensitive language can be chosen in these latter two cases, but I’m uncomfortable with simply removing language that is true because of current sensitivities.

I’m pleased that Indiana has so far walked this fine line successfully with its historic marker program.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

Kodak Vericolor III on the Michigan Road

When I made my recent Friday-day-off trip up the Michigan Road to see the Sycamores, I also brought my Yashica-12 along, loaded with Kodak Vericolor III expired since July of 1986. I shot this ISO 160 film at at EI 80 to tame the ravages of time. Here’s the Carnegie library in Kirklin.

Kirklin Carnegie Library

This is the Mathews house, in southern Carroll County. It’s part of a farm that’s been in the same family for more than 100 years, which makes it a Hoosier Homestead.

Mathews house, Michigan Road

I should have moved in closer to this barn, as it’s the star of this show and who needs to see all of that flat blue sky? This is in Clinton County, I think.

Michigan Road farm

Here’s the abandoned school I wrote about a couple weeks ago. It’s in Middlefork in Clinton County.

Abandoned schoolhouse, Middlefork

Naturally, I made several photos of Sycamore Row with the Y-12.

Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row

Finally, not many people know that this grassy lane that heads west from the south end of Sycamore Row was once State Road 218. It hasn’t been that highway in a very long time. SR 218 still exists. It was moved decades ago about a quarter mile to the north, just past the north end of Sycamore Row, so it didn’t have to cross Deer Creek.

Old SR 218

The Vericolor III performed pretty well at EI 80 — much better than it did at EI 100 and 125, as I shot it last time. Still, some photos suffered from a little haze and grain that I couldn’t Photoshop away.

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Road Trips

Stopping to see the Sycamores

Sycamore Row

When I took that Friday off not long ago and spent some of it driving up the Michigan Road, my destination was Sycamore Row. The site got a new historic marker in April, and I wanted to see it.

Sycamore Row

Sycamore Row has become for me much like the covered bridge at Bridgeton was when I was in my 20s: a peaceful place to visit when I need to restore my spirit. I enjoy the drive along a road that has become so familiar to me. When I arrive, I walk the length of this old alignment and enjoy these old trees, the quiet broken only by the zoom of the occasional passing car.

Sycamore Row

A small band of dedicated Carroll County preservationists and historians cares for the Sycamores. Every now and then they plant new trees, as many of the old ones have died and have been removed. You can see some of the trees they just planted along the left side of this photo.

Sycamore Row

The old trees that remain have great character: craggy, twisted. With any luck, I’ll live long enough to see the saplings grow to take on similar character.

Sycamore Row

One last look down this lane before we go.

Sycamore Row

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Road Trips

A new historic marker for Sycamore Row, on Indiana’s Michigan Road

Word reached me late last year that this historic marker at Sycamore Row had been destroyed by a car that went off the road.

Sycamore Row

Sycamore Row is an old alignment of the Michigan Road, about an hour north of Indianapolis in Carroll County. Bypassed in the 1980s by the new alignment you see at right in the photo below, the trees that line the road here make it unusually narrow. It was a hair-raising spot to encounter oncoming traffic, especially something large like a school bus or a semi. I wrote more about it, and shared some historic photos from when this alignment was still in use, here.

Sycamore Row

The text on the sign reflects a legend that some have long questioned. It was a common practice two centuries ago to use logs to create a firm road surface where the land was usually wet, as the land here is said to have been in the mid-1800s. Also, it’s not impossible that new trees could have sprouted from sycamore logs laid here. But the truth is, nobody knows for certain how the trees came to be here.

On behalf of the Historic Michigan Road Association, I reported the destroyed sign to the Indiana Historical Bureau, which manages Indiana’s historic markers. They took the opportunity to make a new sign with more information about how the Michigan Road came to exist here, and acknowledging that the sycamores’ origin is uncertain. While the old sign had the same text on both sides, the new marker tells half the story on one side, and the other half on the other side. I was pleased that the IHB chose to tell more of the story of the road itself, including touching on how the Indian people who lived on this land were pressured to give it up for the road. I was especially pleased that the IHB let the HMRA review the proposed text and offer feedback. We suggested a couple small changes, which they accepted. Here’s the new marker.

Bonnie Maxwell photo
Bonnie Maxwell photo

What’s really cool is that the IHB lists their sources for this text on their Web page for this marker (here).

Bonnie Maxwell photo

It struck me at first that this sign was posted backward, as the back side faces you as you stand at the entrance to Sycamore Row. But I’m sure that the IHB’s standards require them to post signs so that they face traffic on the adjacent road. People traveling south on the Michigan Road will see the front of this sign as they pass.

Nearly every time I drive up this way I stop to visit the sycamores. I usually have a camera with me. Here are a couple photos I made of the old marker over the years. I made this one in September, 2019, with my Yashica-12 camera on Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros film.

Sycamore Row

I made this photo in May, 2013, with a Canon A35F camera on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200 film. As part of the IHB’s program to keep markers in good condition (details here), a volunteer repainted this marker sometime between my 2013 and 2019 photos.

Sycamore Row

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