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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Road Trips

It’s 1921, and you’re taking a pleasure drive on the Dandy Trail

From the 1921 map

It’s a warm spring Sunday afternoon in 1921 and you decide to take your family for a nice country drive. Because you live in Indianapolis, all you have to do is get on any of the city’s major roads and head out until you cross the Dandy Trail, a series of roads that toured the county’s fringes, and off you go.

If you live in Indianapolis today you know of I-465, which also rings the county but is no Sunday drive. And if you live on the Northwestside you might know of a three-mile-long road called Dandy Trail, most of which runs alongside Eagle Creek Reservoir. It’s the only remaining evidence of what had been an 88-mile loop.

DandyTrailMap

From the 1921 map

The Dandy Trail was ambitious undertaking of the Hoosier Motor Club at a time when good roads were not a given. So many roads were made of dirt then, and were passable only in dry weather. The Hoosier Motor Club was one of many organizations nationwide that advocated for the motorist, pressing for roads paved in harder surfaces for all-weather travel.

The Dandy Trail was named for the dog of a Hoosier Motor Club executive. Signs all along the route featured an image of the pooch, as did a 1921 map of the route that the Indiana State Library has preserved.

Not long ago I visited the library and the map to see if I could trace the route on modern Indianapolis streets. Most of the Dandy Trail still exists, except for a portion that was lost when Eagle Creek Reservoir was built. I’m told that a bridge from that segment becomes visible when the reservoir’s water levels are low enough! Here’s the whole route, all laid out for you on Google Maps.

I was pleasantly surprised to find just how much of the Dandy Trail that I drive routinely today. Those roads may have been way out in the boondocks in 1921, but most of them are major modern thoroughfares now and are anything but rural.

Finding this map isn’t what made me write about the Dandy Trail, though. What got me excited enough to do this research and share with you is some early-20th-century photographs from along the trail that I found. I’ll share them in my next post.

One of the roads on that map is the Michigan Road.
It was named a State Historic Byway last year. Read that story

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