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.
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.
The Dandy Trail was a 1920s country driving loop around the city of Indianapolis. Monday’s post tells a little of its history and shows a map of its route.
It’s funny how connections get made in life.
I first learned of the Dandy Trail when I moved to Indianapolis almost 18 years ago. I was an avid cyclist then and liked to ride in Eagle Creek Park. The best route there from my Northwestside home involved a short stretch of road signed Dandy Trail. I thought it was a strange name for a road.
Later I joined a little church not far from the park that had “Traders Point” in its name. I wondered about the name, which suggested that the building stood in a place called Traders Point. But the church stood alone on a lonely road, with few homes and businesses nearby. It didn’t seem like much of a place. Old timers said that the church had moved up the road some years before from where Traders Point used to be. Used to be?
Some persistent Googling led me to the Historic Traders Point blog, which explained that Traders Point had been a small town just north of where Eagle Creek intersected with what was then US 52. Frequent flooding led to both the bulldozing of the entire town and, later, the construction of Eagle Creek Reservoir to finally fix the problem.
I also learned from the blog that one of the roads out of town was Dandy Trail, which placed the road considerably north of where it ends today. Then the blog showed a photo of the very map I showed in my last post, and I learned of the trail’s 88-mile route around the city.
Naturally, my inner roadgeek was highly excited and wanted immediately to drive the route. Frustratingly, extremely persistent Googling revealed absolutely nothing more about the Dandy Trail. I even searched eBay in hopes of perhaps finding a copy of the map or even an old postcard of the route, but no dice. I saved my Dandy Trail search and had eBay e-mail me any newly listed items, and renewed the search annually for several years. As quixotic projects go, at least this one required minimal effort! And then, finally, unbelievably, late last year the search returned a hit. A gentleman in Pennsylvania offered seven 4-by-6-inch glass negatives of scenes along the route. I was the only bidder.
I wanted to see positives of these images and share my great find with you. My photo and negative scanner isn’t equipped to handle negatives this large, so I turned to Joan Hostetler of Heritage Photo & Research Services to digitize these images. Here are all seven images.
Joan did a wonderful job bringing these images to life. She scanned them at super high resolution to reveal great detail. If you click any image, you’ll go right to Flickr where you can choose to see it at its full scanned size. The image at left, an enlargement from the photo above, gives you an idea of the detail Joan got out of these glass plates.
I don’t know when these images were made, but my educated guess is the late 1910s. Joan tells me that the photographic processes that produced glass negatives had fallen out of favor by the end of the 1910s. Yet named “auto trails” such as the Dixie Highway and the National Old Trails Road (both of which passed through Indianapolis and appear on the 1921 Dandy Trail map) didn’t come into being until the early 1910s. It would help considerably to know when the Dandy Trail was first signed, but I’ll guess it came after the major auto trails.
The auto trails era was short. States began to take over the building and maintaining of highways in the late 1910s. Indiana’s first state highway network was born in 1918. The modern US route system was born in 1927. Indeed, state and US highways tended to be routed along the old auto trails. Only the old timers clung to the roads’ former names.
But the Dandy Trail was different. Its purpose was not to connect this nation’s towns and cities; it was to provide a pleasurable country drive. Perhaps the Hoosier Motor Club continued to promote it, for a while at least. But at some point the Dandy Trail was quite forgotten.
Edit, 8 January 2018: Reporter Dawn Mitchell from The Indianapolis Star contacted me about these photographs to say that they were taken in 1936 by Star photographer Joseph Craven. The woman in the one image is Star reporter Mary Bostwick; the man is M. E. Noblet, secretary of the Hoosier Motor Club. Bostwick was doing a story for the paper revisiting the Dandy Trail. Mitchell explained that photographer Craven was “a renaissance man; if he could use glass plates to make his photos dramatic – he would. From what I’ve heard about him, he used glass plates for features at the Indy 500 into the 40s.”
The city demolished the bridge that led into Traders Point a few years ago.
I chronicled the demolition here, here, here, and here.
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.
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.
I stood on the bridge and faced east to take this photo. I-465 is just beyond the brush.
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.
I-465 was built here during the 1960s, so this was last maintained more than 40 years ago.
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.
Along what was the Dandy Trail in what is now Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, you will find an abandoned bridge. It’s hard to reach on foot. Jayson Rigsby recently contacted me to say he made photographs of it on a recent kayaking trip along Eagle Creek.
The Dandy Trail was a 1920s pleasure-drive loop in what was then the country surrounding Indianapolis. I’ve written many times about the Dandy Trail and have driven about half of it; read all about it here. Since the Dandy Trail’s heyday, Indianapolis expanded greatly, and now most of the land around the old Dandy Trail has been heavily developed.
Eagle Creek cuts across northwest Indianapolis and intersects the Dandy Trail near where the town of Traders Point used to be. Read Traders Point’s story here. In short, frequent flooding of Eagle Creek in this area led to a flood-control project in 1967 that created Eagle Creek Reservoir, which led to the creation of an enormous city park surrounding it. It also led to the demolition of almost every building in Traders Point, as it was thought the flood-control work would permanently flood the town. That didn’t happen and Traders Point was destroyed in vain.
Here’s an aerial image of Eagle Creek Park. I’ve pointed out the bridge’s location, and have roughly drawn in the now lost portion of the Dandy Trail. The lost road’s north end empties out into what was Traders Point.
Zooming in for a closer look, you can clearly see the bridge. It’s at about the vertical center, and a little left of horizontal center.
It’s interesting to me that no trace remains of the Dandy Trail as it led to and away from this bridge. Here’s an aerial image from 1956 that shows the bridge and the road.
Jayson first made this image of the bridge from the air, from just west of the bridge.
Then he got into his kayak and rowed in for a closer look. This is the north end and west side of the bridge. This bridge appears to have a pony girder truss design. The Central States Bridge Company of Indianapolis specialized in those, so this bridge might be one of theirs.
Here’s a closer look at the north end of the bridge.
This is the west side of the bridge.
I have heard that at some times of the year this bridge is submerged. I’m happy Jayson kayaked out to this bridge and gave me permission to share his photos.