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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Fishin' on the Dixie Highway

Fishing on the Dixie Highway
Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL
2020

The Dixie Highway, old State Road 37, winds its way out of Bloomington, Indiana, and into the Morgan-Monroe State Forest.

This little lake lies just south of the forest’s entrance. I like to walk to the shore and photograph the trees. But on this day, I decided not to disturb this person fishing. I captured her (I think it was a woman) in mid-cast.

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Photography

single frame: Fishing on the Dixie Highway

A woman fishing on the old Dixie Highway north of Bloomington, Indiana.

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Road Trips

North on the Dixie Highway from Bloomington

A couple weeks ago I drove to Bloomington to see my son, who lives there. When I headed home, I followed the Dixie Highway, old State Road 37, as far as it would take me. Since SR 37 had been upgraded to become I-69, which removed all of the turnoffs to the old alignments, I wasn’t sure what I would find. I was pleased that the old road took me almost to Martinsville. Here’s its route, which now includes some new-terrain road.

Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway to where it ended on my September, 2020, trip. Map data ©2020 Google.

For about 14 miles, Old 37 and the Dixie follow a winding path nowhere near the new Interstate. But for the next four miles or so, until it ends, the old road parallels I-69 and acts as its frontage road.

Within those first 14 miles, the old road is just as it always was: lightly traveled and lush. I’ve written about this segment before, here and here.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

I had this road entirely to myself this Friday afternoon. On past trips I’ve encountered bicyclists out here; not this time.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

This long segment used to exit onto State Road 37, but Interstates are limited access by their nature. Here’s how it exited onto SR 37 northbound when I first visited it in 2007.

Old SR 37

Today, the old road curves the other way into a brand new frontage road.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

Shortly the frontage road meets the next old alignment of Old SR 37 and the Dixie Highway. When I last wrote about it, here, I said that an old bridge had been left in place after a new bridge was built alongside it. I got to see the old bridge. It was saved because its qualities put it on the state’s Select list of bridges, which prevents it from being demolished without the state jumping through a whole bunch of hoops. It looks to me like some repairs have been done to it to stabilize it. But it is open now only to pedestrians.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

This southbound photograph from the new bridge shows that the old road has been significantly upgraded. Notice how wide it is, compared to the old road on the right.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

The new road ends about 2½ miles later, where the older, narrower pavement resumes. Shortly the road dead ends at this old bridge.

Abandoned bridge on 37/DH

I was happy to find this bridge still here, as I’d heard a rumor that it had been removed. But I’m still saddened that it’s closed to traffic after failing an inspection in 2015. Here it is the last time I got to drive on it, which was in 2012. Read more about this bridge here.

Pony trusses

The old highway north of the bridge has been removed, however. What a strange sight.

Abandoned bridge on 37/DH

I’ve heard that this bridge will be repurposed as a pedestrian bridge. I’ve studied the I-69 plan map for this area and it looks like there’s no plan to continue the frontage road from here.

Here’s one final look at this old bridge from the north.

Abandoned bridge on 37/DH

Until I-69 is built around Martinsville, it’s easy enough to return to SR 37: back up from here to the first side road, follow it east until it Ts, turn left, then follow that road until it reaches SR 37.

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Brick New Ross Road

New Ross Road
Canon PowerShot S95
2012

You’ll find brick streets still in daily use in some cities. But you won’t find any brick highways still in daily use.

I’ve not surveyed every highway in the nation. But I feel good about going out on that limb.

When you find a brick highway, it will be bypassed or abandoned.

This brick road near New Ross, Indiana, used to be part of the Dixie Highway. That was a network of roads that connected Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, with Miami. Later, Indiana routed State Road 34 over this road. At some point, probably after a new alignment of this road was built south of those railroad tracks in the upper left corner of the photo, the road became US 136.

In the photo’s foreground, notice the seam where the bricks’ pattern changes. That’s to facilitate a hard turn the road makes here so it can cross those railroad tracks at a right angle.

Eliminating this crossing is why the new highway was built. Providing access to one farm — see the fence on the right? — is why this road wasn’t abandoned.

A bridge was removed from this alignment, however. That’s why a guardrail blocks the road ahead.

See more photos of this brick road here. Map this brick road here.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: New Ross Road

A brick alignment of the Dixie Highway near New Ross, Indiana.

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Photography

The winding road to Bloomington: Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway

Let’s finish my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Bloomington.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

The last segment of Old State Road 37 I encountered on this trip begins 500 yards south of the Hacker Creek segment but lasts for 15 miles, going all the way to Bloomington. If you blink, you’ll miss the entrance.

This is such a lovely, winding drive. I recommend it highly. SR 37 has been upgraded to Interstate standards and is now I-69, which means you can no longer turn off the highway directly onto this road. As I write this, I hear that the northern part of this segment is closed. But the plans I’ve seen for I-69 say that when construction is done, this will flow into a frontage road. To reach it, you should be able to get off I-69 a little north of here at Liberty Church Road, drive east to Hacker Creek Road, and turn south onto the frontage road.

In 2007, I couldn’t find a safe way to photograph the beginning of this alignment so I drove in and photographed it facing northbound.

Old SR 37

This stretch was recently paved, with highway striping down the middle but no striping on the edges. This segment quickly became wooded and shaded. The road curved, rose, and fell gently through the woods. The steepest hill I encountered made my car strain a little bit in fifth gear, but otherwise the drive was easy and pleasant. I felt like I was way out in the country, and since there was very little traffic I felt alone with the road. My windows were all down, the sun was warm, and the air was cool. I slowed down and enjoyed a perfect Sunday drive. I imagined people driving this stretch when it was still the state highway. I wondered if the trees were as thick then, and if a drive down this road was just as much a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

When I stopped to take this northbound photo, a fellow in a truck stopped to ask if I needed any help. I just said “Thank you, no;” how could I explain what I was doing?

Old SR 37

1.8 miles into this segment, a sign announced, “End County Maintenance.” The fresh pavement and the gravel edge ended, but the older surface was in pretty good shape overall, with occasional rumbly patches. Striping even ended for a while, and then stopped and started the rest of the way to Bloomington. Down the road, a short segment was freshly paved again. At about 9.5 miles, I entered a clearing gorgeous with a ridge of trees, and widely spaced houses began to appear.

Current SR 37 is famous for the limestone and siltstone visible along the roadside, souvenirs of where road builders cut through the terrain. I remember being impressed by it the first time I traveled SR 37 in 1983. Old SR 37, of course, lacks these dramatic displays because it follows the terrain.  At just past 10 miles down this segment, I did find one short stretch where rock was visible in the hill on the west side of the road. This photo shows that stretch northbound. It also shows the condition of the pavement beyond the “End County Maintenance” sign.

Old SR 37
Windows Live Local map, 2007

Shortly south of here, two old alignments of SR 37 intersect, as the map shows. I guess this makes the road I was on “Old Old State Road 37.”

I drove through the intersection heading southbound to take this northbound photo. The lady driving the car signaling left stopped to ask me if I needed help. Maybe the folks around Bloomington are just especially helpful.

Sadly, this is where my camera’s battery died. I had hoped to photograph the road all the way into downtown Bloomington, ending on the town square. Here, the original alignment of SR 37 intersects with a later alignment of SR 37, one that was bypassed again some years later.

Old SR 37 at Old Old SR 37
Windows Live Local map, 2007

As the last bit of this segment of the original SR 37 alignment entered Bloomington, the road surface switched from asphalt to concrete. The speed limit dropped to 20 miles per hour as it passed a park loaded with people. The road is signed College Ave., but it turned to the left and intersected with College Ave. where it merges with Walnut St. on Bloomington’s north side.

If you turn left onto Walnut St. you are on the newer old alignment of SR 37. It’s more modern than the older segment, with smooth pavement and passing lanes where the hill is steep. A few miles north of here, it goes over a little iron truss bridge and merges into current SR 37 northbound.

I drove current State Road 37 home. It’s a pretty drive, especially through Monroe and Morgan Counties, with the limestone and siltstone, and the grand ridges of trees, calling for your attention as you go. But it lacks the intimacy and the peace of the old road.

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Photography

Historic road infrastructure on Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway in Morgan County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

This is the segment of old road I spied from current State Road 37 that led me to make this road trip. It turned out to contain two historic pieces of road infrastructure.

The road is signed as Hacker Creek Road at its north end. Its abandoned north tip was visible from current State Road 37. This is the abandoned segment of road I saw while driving home from Bloomington a few weeks before I made this trip, and which sparked my interest in this road. The bridge over Hacker Creek was removed, orphaning this segment. This northbound photo is taken from south of the creek.

Abandoned SR 37

Stepping back a bit, still facing northbound, Hacker Creek Road ends before this abandoned alignment with a guardrail and a faded Stop sign. One house is on this stretch of road north of Liberty Church Road, and its driveway is at the end of the road at the right.

Old SR 37

Facing southbound from that spot, the narrow road is concrete as far as the eye can see, and it lacks the 2-foot extensions on either side that were common north of Martinsville. What this road also lacks is expansion joints. That’s what makes this road segment distinctive. My research and experience says that Indiana laid its first concrete highways in the early 1920s but didn’t start adding expansion joints until after about 1925. When this road was built, it was a continuous concrete ribbon. With Indiana’s freeze/thaw cycles, the concrete cracked into this pattern.

Old SR 37
Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies USDA Farm Service. Map data ©2020 Google.

Sadly, this stretch of concrete is no more. When I-69 was completed here, an exit was built at Liberty Church Road. This map segment shows what happened to that strip of continuous concrete — it was replaced by an offramp. And sadly, south of Liberty Church Road this road was paved over with asphalt long ago.

I wish they could have saved this strip of concrete, as very little continuous concrete highway remains in Indiana. I know of only one other segment, on US 40 in Putnam County, Indiana. I show a photo of it deep in this post.

There is consolation, however. A 1935 concrete-arch bridge on this alignment was bypassed, and the old bridge left in place. The bridge was closed in 2013 because it failed inspection.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies USDA Farm Service. Map data ©2020 Google.

But because the bridge was judged as Select on the state bridge inventory, it’s eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and as such can’t be destroyed without a lot of pesky paperwork and approvals. So a new bridge was built, the road realigned to it, and the old bridge and road left in place. In 2007, however, I drove right over it.

Bridge on Old SR 37

After crossing Liberty Church Road, the road is covered with asphalt (and seemed marginally wider) as it gently curves back toward current SR 37.

Old SR 37

Next: a beautiful, long old alignment that winds all the way to Bloomington.

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