Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in St. Joseph 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.

Since I made this survey, a new-terrain US 31 was built between South Bend and Plymouth. In St. Joseph County, the Michigan Road remains intact except for a slight detour on the south side of South Bend. What I call US 31 in this article is now Old US 31, and is signed as State Road 931.

Lakeville is on the Michigan Road in southern St. Joseph County. It and La Paz (just to the south in Marshall County) have always struck me as twin sisters, towns of similar size one right after the other along the road. Where La Paz is bounded by US 6 on the south, Lakeville is bounded by State Road 4 on the north. As La Paz is a railroad town, so once was Lakeville, but several years ago Lakeville’s tracks were removed. You can’t tell from the road that tracks were ever there. This map shows how the Michigan Road swings around Pleasant Lake and into Lakeville from the south.

It’s hard to make out on the map above, but the Michigan Road’s original path diverges briefly from US 31 as it passes Pleasant Lake. The northernmost tip of this original alignment probably passed behind what is now a shopping strip north of US 31 (see the upper right corner of this map) and curved into current US 31.

Here’s the south end of Quinn Trail.

Quinn Trail

Just north of where Quinn Trail begins, this house appears on a bluff overlooking the road.

Old house, Lakeville

This northbound shot shows the road from in front of this house.

Quinn Trail

Quinn Trail carried US 31 until that highway was expanded to four lanes in northern Indiana. It’s not clear to me why Quinn Trail was left behind; it seems like it would have been possible to expand this road to four lanes. A small bridge built on what is now Quinn Trail seems to have anticipated a wider US 31 – as the map excerpt below shows, it could carry four lanes of traffic, albeit with no shoulder.

Here’s Quinn Trail’s northern end.

Quinn Trail

Lakeville was named after the two small lakes that stand near it. It was deliberately founded along the Michigan Road to take advantage of all its benefits, but I haven’t been able to learn exactly when. The town did all right because of the road, but really took off when railroads intersected it. Lakeville is lined with homes; this one is typical.

Old house, Lakeville

This was once Lakeville’s Mobil station.

Former service station

This is probably the nicest old house on the road in Lakeville. It’s an apparel and gift store today.

Old house, Lakeville

This southbound shot of the east side of the road is north of Lakeville’s business district.

Little homes, Lakeville

I think that this postcard, postmarked 1911, was taken in about the same spot. I figured I’d have no trouble finding this scene in modern Lakeville, but it turned out to be quite challenging. I think that the third house from the left in the postcard is the same one as the third house from the left in the photo above. Notice how wide this dirt road is. The Michigan Road was built with a 100-foot right-of-way.

I marvel at how there is no sign that there were ever tracks on Lakeville’s north side. This photo is taken from where the road once passed over the tracks.

No more tracks

From about the same spot, here’s the southbound road as it leads into Lakeville.

Lakeville

And here’s the northbound road as it leads out of Lakeville. The Lakeville United Methodist Church is behind the trees on the right.

Northbound from Lakeville

The Lakeville Cemetery, established 1849, is actually north of Lakeville.

Lakeville Cemetery

This building was once a school. It most recently housed an outlet of the Country Bake Shop, but even that has been closed for probably 20 years.

Country Bake Shop (former school)

In case you can’t read it: “Pleasant View School, Dist No 2, 1902.”

Country Bake Shop detail

This is the Michigan Road as it enters South Bend. I’ll bet that the original Michigan Road builders’ minds would be blown if they could see what the road has become here.

Approaching South Bend

Here’s the road as it approaches the St. Joseph Valley Parkway, which carries US 31 around the west side of South Bend. (Since I made this trip in 2008, a new-terrain US 31 was built between South Bend and Plymouth. The northern end of the new US 31 meets the old US 31 at about where the 31 shield is at the center of the map below. It is no longer possible to drive old US 31, the Michigan Road, through into South Bend, as it dead ends where the new US 31 merges in. To enter South Bend on the Michigan Road, you must turn left onto Kern and take the exit onto northbound US 31.)

An interesting old house just south of the city limits.

Ullery/Farneman House

Southlawn Cemetery, which has been here since 1836, appears at the very bottom of the map above.

Southlawn Cemetery

People from South Bend can joke that they live in extreme southern Michigan. Originally, Indiana’s northern boundary was even with the southern tip of Lake Michigan. What is now Johnson Road in South Bend was originally along that boundary line.

Welcome to Michigan!

This southbound shot from north of the St. Joseph Valley Parkway shows the onramps to that road. South Benders have called this road “the bypass” for as long as I can remember. When I lived here, the bypass didn’t go any farther east than this. Even though US 31 has not gone through South Bend in decades, people still call the road through town “31.”

Southbound

The first white man to set foot in St. Joseph County and what would become South Bend was French explorer Robert de La Salle in 1679. The first white man to settle St. Joseph County was Pierre Navarre, who came in 1820 and built a home north of the St. Joseph River near what is now downtown South Bend. In 1823, Alexis Coquillard (co-QUILL-erd) began trading furs near where La Salle landed. The area was first known as St. Joseph’s, and in 1829 a town named Southold was founded here. Navarre and Coquillard were the driving forces behind the town’s early development. The town’s name became South Bend in 1830. In 1831, South Bend was named the seat of the newly formed St. Joseph County, and in 1835 was incorporated as a town. South Bend is said to have lobbied hard to have the Michigan Road routed through town. With the river, the Michigan Road, and the railroad’s 1851 arrival, the stage was set for South Bend to boom, and it did. Manufacturing companies blossomed in the fledgling town, which became a city in 1865.

This map shows the Michigan Road’s route through town. It heads north on Michigan St., and then makes its big left turn and heads out of town on Lincoln Way West.

I took this in-car photo just south of Chippewa Ave., where Michigan St. becomes one way north all the way to downtown. There’s no way to drive the Michigan Road south from downtown to Chippewa Ave.; you have to drive Main St. instead, one block west. (This is no longer true. Since 2017, both Michigan and Main Streets carry two-way traffic from here to downtown.)

Northbound on the south side

North of where Michigan St. becomes one way north stands the South Bend Motel.

South Bend Motel

The South Bend Motel’s great neon sign.

South Bend Motel sign

This northbound shot shows the one-way Michigan Road on South Bend’s south side. I grew up four blocks east of here; these are my old stomping grounds.

Northbound in the old stomping grounds

This used to be Cira’s Supermarket, which had all of five aisles but a well-regarded meat department. I rode my bike down here for a gallon of milk more times than I could ever count.

South Bend Market

I never got my hair cut here, but I rode my bike past this barber shop and its little pole all the time. It’s about a half block north of Cira’s.

Barber pole

South Bend is full of non-standard highway shields. I’ve counted three shields with this funky shield shape and blocky typeface. Sign fans will also notice the single “Business North” sign, when the standard is to have separate signs. I’m pretty sure the Business North sign was hand painted. A lot of road signs were hand painted in South Bend during my 1970s-80s childhood there.

Funky US 31 shield

This building about a mile north on Michigan St. just south of Indiana Ave. used to be a Bonnie Doon drive-in. Imagine a day when the locked gate was gone, the sign’s first two parts still read “Bonnie” and “Doon,” and you could get a great tenderloin and wonderful made-in-South-Bend ice cream here. At one time, Bonnie Doon locations dotted Michiana. I think only one Bonnie Doon, on the Lincoln Highway in neighboring Mishawaka, remains.

Bonnie Doon

Two restaurants, the Kitchenette and the Kitchenette II, stand on the northeast corner of Ewing Ave. The neon Eat sign still lights up every night.

Kitchenette

North of Ewing, it becomes clear that South Bend’s south side has seen happier days.

Storefront

This little market seems to be doing all right.

South Side Grocery

This appears to be a 1930s service station with a 1960s overhang tacked on.

Former service station

Michigan St. was once rich with homes and neighborhoods on the south side, but over time most of the homes have been razed. Here are some survivors.

Michigan Road residences

More decay on the south side.

Peaches and decay

This northbound photo was taken just south of Sample St.

Northbound

Here’s a closer look at some of the signs in the previous photo. Notice how some of the signs are fading badly. The “Stadium A&C Center” sign is easily 40 years old. The Indiana 933 sign was ungracefully tacked over a US 33 sign. US 33 once ran through South Bend on its way to St. Joseph, Michigan, but since 1998 has ended on the western outskirts of Elkhart. Old US 33 in St. Joseph County is now State Road 933.

Faded signs

I made a road trip along this corridor once before when I explored US 31’s original path in northern Indiana. (See my report on South Bend from that trip here). A fellow e-mailed me to say that he used to live in a neighborhood that used to stand here. It made way for The Frederick Juvenile Justice Center.

Juvenile Justice Center

This imposing structure, the Christ Temple Church of God in Christ, was originally the First Brethren Church. The house is attached. 

Christ Temple

Nearer to downtown, entire blocks have been razed. The near south side could be turning into an urban prairie!

Growing urban prairie?

I have heard that this block was in danger of being razed. (As of 2022, it’s still there, and stil boarded up.)

Boarded up

The South Bend State Bank has been gone for longer than I’ve been alive, but its building remains.

South Bend State Bank

Signs of life begin to appear again immediately south of downtown. The Victory Bar has some great signage. (Sadly, the Victory Bar has since closed, and its great signage was removed.)

Victory Bar

The UAW meets here.

UAW Local No. 9

The St. Andrews Greek Orthodox Church.

St. Andrews Greek Orthodox Church

At Bronson St., the railroad is overhead. An Amtrak train happened by when I was here.

Amtrak whizzing by

This imposing building with its prominent fire escape stands right by the tracks.

Big old building

Here’s a view under the tracks. Bronson St. actually meets Michigan St. here.

Under the bridge

Last time I drove by here, this great neon sign was gone.

Hope Rescue Mission

This corner has never been in great shape in my lifetime, but when I moved away from here in 1985 it still contained viable businesses. Today, except for an auto repair shop on the southeast corner, all of the buildings at this intersection are vacant. This is the southwest corner. Even though Fat Daddy’s was by no means the original tenant of this building, this is known as the Fat Daddy’s Block. (This block has since been razed.)

Fat Daddy's

This is the northwest corner, which used to house Whitmer-McNease Music and a news stand.

Whitmer-McNease Music

I’m relying entirely on memory of my 12th-grade social studies class for the story I’m about to tell, because my research has found no facts. The teacher was also a county-city councilman, so I think his his story was sound.

The Associates was a national investment company founded and headquartered in South Bend. In the wake of Studebaker’s failure, the company wanted to build a new headquarters and revitalize downtown at the same time. To build the new downtown Superblock, as it was called, several downtown buildings were demolished. Until that time, US 31 followed Michigan St. through downtown. The Superblock project rerouted US 31. Main St. was made one way south, and southbound US 31 was routed onto it. Michigan St. was made one way north, and northbound US 31 was routed onto it, except for several blocks downtown, where it was routed one block east to St. Joseph St. Michigan St. between Western Ave. and LaSalle Ave. was closed to traffic and made into a pedestrian-only “mall” called River Bend Plaza. This map shows how it works:

Then in 1975, The Associates relocated to Chicago, leaving the project a shambles. The city became known for the holes in the ground where proud buildings, some historic, once had stood. The pedestrian mall succeeded only in making it necessary to park farther from downtown businesses, creating a needless barrier for customers. South Bend’s first enclosed shopping mall was built at about the same time, on the far south side, and shoppers went there instead. It took South Bend 15 years to rebuild downtown after that.

This photo shows where Michigan St. starts to curve away onto St. Joseph St. Michigan St. has since been repaved and opened to traffic, as you can see near the center of the photo.

Approaching downtown

To follow the Michigan Road, turn left onto Western Ave. and then immediately right onto Michigan St., where you are greeted with this scene. As someone who grew up with that awful pedestrian mall, it is very gratifying to see all the cars here.

Northbound

This early 1950s postcard is from about the same place.

This image from a postcard postmarked 1906 is from about the same spot. South Bend has changed a great deal in the past century!

Check out the old State Theater marquee in the 1950s postcard photo. The one below is the only one I’ve known. I saw my first movie at the State, a rerelease of Bambi, sometime in the early 1970s.

State Theater

Here’s a long shot of the State.

State Theater

South Bend still bears some evidence of its disastrous urban renewal period, as this block north of Jefferson Blvd. shows.

Northbound

This image from a postcard postmarked 1909 shows the road northbound from Jefferson Blvd. as it once was.

The First Source Bank and Marriott Hotel building at Washington St. filled one of the last downtown holes in South Bend. When I was a kid, this lot was a popular place for people to watch the annual July 4th fireworks.

First Source Bank and Marriott Hotel

This grand 1921 building was originally a vaudeville theater called the Palace but is now the Morris Performing Arts Center. This real gem has been extensively restored. I’ve been in it twice, before and after the restoration, and all I can say is that an amazing, painstaking, and loving job was done. The theater’s story is here.

The Morris Performing Arts Center

The block of Michigan St. in front of the Morris is only one lane wide and not used for traffic. To follow the Michigan Road, you must detour. One way is to turn left onto Colfax, go two blocks west to Lafayette Blvd., go north for one block, and then turn left onto LaSalle Ave., where you’ll resume the Michigan Road route.

Northbound

The former La Salle Hotel stands where St. Joseph St. merges back into the Michigan Road’s original path. But to keep following the Michigan Road, you turn left around the hotel onto La Salle Avenue.

LaSalle Hotel

Here, the Michigan Road ceases to be the Dixie Highway and becomes the Lincoln Highway, running east-west rather than north-south.

Next: The Michigan Road and the Lincoln Highway in St. Joseph County.

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

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Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Marshall 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.

Since I made this survey, a new-terrain US 31 was built from just northeast of Plymouth, north to South Bend. In Marshall County, what I call US 31 in this article is now no longer a state or US highway, and is under local maintenance.

Much of northeastern Indiana, including what is now Marshall County, was purchased from the Potawatomi Indians via treaty in 1832. Marshall County was formed on July 20, 1836. It was named for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who died the previous year. The Michigan Road came to Marshall County by 1838.

The Michigan Road enters Marshall County when it crosses State Road 110.

Argos has roots to 1833 when Sidney Williams bought some land here and built a tavern and an inn and even helped build some of the Michigan Road. A town eventually built up around Williams’s land and was named Sidney after him in 1851. In 1856, an adjoining town called Fremont was organized. In 1859, the towns were consolidated and named Argos. The town was incorporated in 1869. Argos, which remains a small town, was hard hit when US 31, which had formerly followed the Michigan Road, was moved to bypass the town. This map shows that current US 31 is very close to Argos.

This old house stands near Argos’s southern edge. I like its arched windows and door.

Old house, Argos

This was probably once a service station. Notice how the second bay, on the left, was added sometime after the original bay and office were built.

Former service station

This house is quite a hodgepodge. It looks like the original part of the house was built in about the 1850s, and that the front part with the stone work was added in the early 1900s, perhaps as late as the 1920s. The stone work is by a local fellow named Foker who did similar stone work throughout the area. There’s a lot of it on display on the Michigan Road in Argos.

Old house, Argos

Wheels and stars were common themes in Foker’s work.

Foker stone

This may be an old automobile repair garage.

Fomer garage, Argos

Another former service station on the south edge of downtown.

Former gas station

An old theater, formerly named the Princess and also the Lido, stands next to the old service station in downtown Argos.

Former theater

This house, which probably was built in the 1840s, is said to have served as an inn during the Michigan Road’s early years. The two-story section in the middle of this structure is probably the original house; the porch and rear section came later.

Old house, Argos

A faded Kreamo Bread advertisement has faded on the side of this building, but its slogan, “America’s Finest,” can still be made out. Kreamo was a bakery in South Bend.

Kreamo Bread advertisement

The whitewashed building used to be an opera house. I’m told it was a dime store in the 1980s.

Argos/Huff opera house

This, the 1883 W. D. Corey building, was once Holland’s Hardware but is now mostly vacant after a fire. The white storefront still operates as a bar.

W. D. Corey building

Just north of downtown, two homes on the National Register of Historic Places face each other. This one is from 1890.

Old house, Argos

This one is from 1892.

Old house, Argos

This northbound shot from in front of the 1890 house shows the road in Argos’s northside residential district.

Argos residences

The man who founded Argos built his home on this spot. The rectangular two-story portion of this house may be that house, and if so, it was built in the 1830s. Everything else would have been added later, probably in the early 1900s.

Old house, probably heavily modified

Another Argos house with Foker stonework.

Foker stone

This house probably dates to the 1840s; logs may lurk behind that siding.

Old house, Argos

The vacant Fuller Baptist Church building, built in about 1860, stands on the northeast corner of Church St.

Fuller Baptist Church building

Just up the street is the Argos Wesleyan Church building.

Argos Wesleyan Church

On the northern outskirts of town stands Beamer’s Drive-In, which had closed the day before I took this photo, so there was no chocolate malt for me.

Beamer's Drive-In

An old schoolhouse, converted into a residence, lurks behind the trees. I normally don’t include buildings so hidden, but this was such a colorful shot and it captured the beauty of this day perfectly.

Former schoolhouse

Northbound from the converted schoolhouse, the road tracks perfectly straight. This is still the original alignment of US 31 in this part of Indiana.

Northbound, north of Argos

Shortly, the road curves to meet current US 31. The Michigan Road follows US 31’s path for about ¾ mile. (The map incorrectly labels the Michigan Road as State Road 31 in the upper left corner.)

This southbound shot shows where the road curves to meet US 31 at a right angle.

Southbound

Northbound from the same spot, this stub of the Michigan Road is left behind. I’ve driven by here hundreds of times in my lifetime and it seems like trailers are always parked here.

Old road

Travelers turn right onto US 31, and then shortly left onto Michigan Road again, which is still the original US 31 alignment. There was no good place to photograph it facing northbound, so here it is southbound pointed at current US 31.

Meeting US 31, Part 2

As the road curves it passes this, the Tabor House, home of the first white settlers in Marshall County. If you don’t know it’s there, you will probably not see it.

Tabor house

Just south of Plymouth, this house was originally an inn on the Michigan Road. It also served some government purposes, elections and council meetings and such, in Marshall County’s early days, given that it was at the time the only quasi-public building in the county.

Inn

William Polke, Michigan Road surveyor and commissioner, is said to have been the driving force behind locating Plymouth where the Yellow River and the Michigan Road intersect. He even named the town, although it’s not clear why he chose the name. Plymouth was incorporated as a town in 1851 and as a city in 1873. This map shows the town, the Michigan Road its main street, in the context of its current and former highways. US 31 bypasses it to the east and US 30 to the north, but at one time these two roads intersected downtown at Michigan and Jefferson Sts. Jefferson St. is the 1928 alignment of the Lincoln Highway.

Oak Hill Cemetery stands on Plymouth’s south side.

Oak Hill Cemetery

Plymouth’s Michigan Street is rich with 19th-century homes — so much so that to keep this already-long page within reason, I’m going to show you just a few and move on.

Old house, Plymouth
Old house, Plymouth
Old house, Plymouth
Humrichouser-Kane house

These light posts line Michigan St. in the residential districts north and south of downtown. They’re original. Look closely at the base, which reads “DO NOT HITCH TO THIS POST CITY OF PLYMOUTH.”

Plymouth streetlight

Felke Florist has a great neon sign, which I’ve seen brilliantly lit when I’ve driven through Plymouth in the evening. One day I’ll have my camera with me on such a night.

Felke Florist

The Bible Baptist Church.

Bible Baptist Church

The main building of the Trinity United Methodist Church, which was formerly the United Brethren Church, is from 1926.

Trinity United Methodist Church

The fellow who lives in, and is slowly restoring, this 1850s house gave me a personal tour of his town (and of Argos and Rochester, too), and pointed out the most interesting homes along the way. This house is just south of the railroad viaduct and downtown. The road was lowered when the viaduct was built; hence the concrete retaining wall.

Old house, Plymouth

The viaduct from the retaining wall.

Viaduct

Check out that stone abutment.

Viaduct

Don’t tell anybody, but we climbed onto the viaduct to get a few shots. This long shot is southbound.

Southbound

I zoomed in tightly to frame downtown and the newly restored Luten bridge in this northbound shot.

Northbound

Here’s the same scene from the ground.

Entering Downtown Plymouth

The railing is new in the restoration, but is sympathetic to those built during the time this bridge was new. Before the restoration, a steel guardrail kept cars out of the drink.

Luten bridge

The Marshall Co. Trust and Savings Co building stands on the river.

Marshall Co. Trust and Savings Co.

Here’s the same building from the northeast.

Marshall Co. Trust and Savings Co.

This northbound shot is from the Trust and Savings Co. corner. That’s another former bank building on the opposite corner.

Downtown Plymouth

Across Michigan St. from that former bank is the 1939 Rees Theater, restored not long ago to its Art Moderne glory.

Rees marquee

This postcard photo from probably the mid 1950s shows the Rees marquee in its context.

Downtown Plymouth is remarkably vibrant. It is one of the gems of the Michigan Road. Greensburg is the only other similarly-sized Michigan Road town with a downtown that competes. This photo is southbound from Garro St.

Southbound at Garro St.

Plymouth must have been quite the financial center in its day, because here’s another bank building, on the northwest corner of Garro St.

Bank

This colorful building from 1884 stands on the northeast corner of Garro St.

1884 building

The Plymouth Pilot-News occupies what was the first Montgomery Ward retail store in the nation. I’m told this building housed J. C. Penney in the 1980s.

Montgomery Ward

Here’s a straight southbound shot from the early-to-mid 1950s from just north of Washington St.

North of downtown, Plymouth becomes heavily residential again. That fellow Foker brought his stonework into Plymouth, as well, but it’s not as common on the Michigan Road here as it is in Argos.

Foker stone porch

This former service station stands on the northeast corner of Jefferson St., which is a former alignment of the Lincoln Highway.

Former service station

This looks like it was once simply a house, but now the First Assembly of God meets here. (Since I made this trip, this house has been demolished.)

First Assembly of God

Horace Corbin, a lawyer, came to Marshall County in about 1852. He became a judge and a land officer, and when the town of Plymouth became a city in 1873, its first mayor. He and his wife lived here until 1903. The house has been restored in the past ten years, and my hat is off to the current owners for the effort and expense involved in keeping this link to the city’s history alive.

Corbin house

The house is in a typically dense neighborhood today, but that was not always so. I’ll bet that when Corbin built it, it was out in the sticks! Here’s what the house looked like in 1876. It’s from the David Rumsey map collection.

This is what the neighborhood around the Corbin house looks like today. Northbound.

Northbound

North of Plymouth lies Fairmount Cemetery, Marshall County’s oldest, from 1834. Many of the graves show markers typical of the period.

Fairmount Cemetery

North of the cemetery is the Tri-Way Drive-In Theatre, so named because it is near US 31, US 6, and US 30.

Tri-Way sign

Here’s its great neon sign in action. Many thanks to the fellow who honked as he passed me, causing me to come out of my skin.

The Michigan Road merges with US 31 north of Plymouth. (It used to. A new-terrain US 31 was subsequently built east of here, and a segment of the earlier highway was removed. Today, this merger no longer exists and Michigan Road simply continues straight.)

Here’s the northbound view from the ground. Notice the road on the left, labeled 3rd Rd. on the map. Where it curves slightly west is where that road becomes the Michigan Road and the road on the right ceases to be the Michigan Road. But then if you follow the non-Michigan Road, you will soon merge with US 31 northbound. I’m pretty sure the Michigan Road follows modern US 31’s southbound lanes.

Northbound

In the foreground is the southbound ramp that connects US 31 to Old US 31 and the Michigan Road. The northbound ramp flies over current US 31 as it curves away to bypass Plymouth. Southbound photo.

Ramps

Soon US 31 meets US 6, just north of which lies little La Paz, which was organized in 1873.

This is most of the town.

La Paz, Indiana

This is probably a former bank because the door opens to the corner and because a much newer First Source Bank branch is across the street. I’ve seen many new bank buildings locate close to the ones they replace in little towns. I wonder what’s behind the vinyl siding.

Former bank?

Pat’s, a bar, which has been there as long as I can remember.

Pat's in La Paz

I wonder if the railroad built these little houses south of the tracks.

What are these?

The tracks on La Paz’s northside are still in regular use.

Train north of La Paz

A southbound look at La Paz from the railroad overpass.

La Paz

This former service station stands just north of the tracks. The big graffiti on the front used to read GO BIG BLUE before some of the red boards were removed.

Former service station

Across the street from the empty service station stands the Birchwood Motel sign.

Birchwood Motel

The motel itself is hard to see from the road. I walked onto the property a bit to snap this shot of the tiny motel, which does not appear to have been used as such in years.

Birchwood Motel

Next: The Michigan Road in St. Joseph County.

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

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Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Fulton 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.

The first white settler in what is now Fulton County was William Polke, who came in 1830 to survey what would become the Michigan Road. He was appointed one of the road’s three commissioners in 1831. Fulton County itself was formed in 1836, named for steamboat inventor Robert Fulton. Upon entering Fulton County, the Michigan Road first comes upon the little town of Fulton. This was once a railroad town, but the tracks that bisected it have long since been removed.

Fulton, Indiana

There are only a few blocks to Fulton.

This is probably not a historic, or even very interesting, building in Fulton, but I notice it every time I pass through town.

Resting place

I began exploring Indiana’s state highways in 1988 when I first had a car and routinely drove it from my South Bend home to Terre Haute, where I went to school. Using a state map, I plotted a course that left US 31 at Rochester, following State Road 25 to Lafayette and then a series of other roads to Terre Haute. I was not yet in touch with my inner road geek and I had never heard of the Michigan Road or the Dixie Highway, both old names for this stretch of highway between Rochester and Logansport. I was only trying to find a more interesting route than boring old US 31.

Fulton is the first town south of US 31 on State Road 25. One of the first times I entered Fulton southbound, a light rain had just started to fall. I had just passed the Speed Limit 35 sign on the edge of town, but had not yet slowed down, when a little old lady stepped into the road in front of me. I jerked the wheel to the left to avoid killing her, but found myself in the path of oncoming traffic. So I jerked the wheel to the right to avoid killing myself – and started to spin. My car spun around and around, Fulton passing nauseatingly by in my windshield, until I came to rest about three blocks later, my car’s nose pointing toward this building. A brand new Thunderbird was parked before that window, my front bumper about six inches from its door.

Feeling very embarrassed, I immediately righted my car in its lane and zipped out of town, hoping nobody had seen me. The gravity of what had just happened didn’t hit me until I reached the Cass County line, where I started to shake. I pulled over in front of a school and sat there for a good twenty minutes until I calmed down and could drive again.

That day Fulton’s speed limit earned my tremendous respect, and since then I am always sure to have slowed down before entering town. But in the hundred times I’ve driven through Fulton since, that little old lady is the only person I’ve ever seen on the street.

The 1941 United Brethren Church building is the nicest building on the road in Fulton. The congregation has been here since 1877.

United Brethren Church

This building’s double doors suggest that it may have once been an automobile repair garage.

Fulton, Indiana

This building’s twin-post awning suggests that it may have at one time been a gas station.

Fulton, Indiana

The white building has seen happier days.

Fulton, Indiana

North of Fulton, the land quickly reverts to fields of corn and soybeans. This combine on a pole is a fixture along this section of the road.

Combine on a pole

Then the Michigan Road passes under US 31 and enters Rochester, which was made the Fulton county seat in 1836 in large part because it was on the Michigan Road and near the Tippecanoe River. Rochester was incorporated as a town in 1853 and as a city in 1909.

This southbound photo shows where US 31’s original alignment merges in with the Michigan Road. If you squint, you can make out the US 31 overpass in the distance on the right.

Goodbye, Old US 31

The Michigan Road in Rochester is lined with lovely older homes. This one’s probably from the 1850s.

Old house, Rochester

It is likely that the rectangular portion of this building, with the pitched roof, was built in the 1860s, and the rest was added later.

Old house lurking

This is the 1930 St. Joseph Catholic Church. I’ve otherwise limited my photos of churches to those built in the 1800s, but photographed this youngster because it was so unusual to see a Spanish revival building along the Michigan Road.

St. Joseph Catholic Church

This home with Queen Anne touches was probably built in the 1880s.

Old house, Rochester

This paving-brick sidewalk appears from time to time along Main St. It has been torn out in most places and replaced with concrete.

Paving brick sidewalk

Limestone houses don’t normally trip my trigger, but this one sure offers a lot to look at.

Old house, Rochester

So does this house, with its large tower and its little spikes on the roof.

Old house, Rochester

The 1895 Fulton County Courthouse is built of limestone in the Romanesque Revival style.

Fulton County Courthouse

This postcard image is from a card postmarked 1911. The courthouse is just out of the photo on the right.

Here’s downtown Rochester from about the same spot today. I am able to find only one building from the postcard photo in this scene, the one on the northwest corner of the intersection ahead.

Downtown Rochester

This building was once a doctor’s office. If you click through this photo and see it larger on Flickr, you can see that the insignia at the top of the building is of a torch and snakes. Notice how the Orthopedics sign continues to the building at right. There’s a fair amount of this kind of thing in Rochester, where modern signage, awnings, and even entire first-floor facades stretch from one building to part of another. It suggests that walls were sometimes knocked out between buildings to create larger spaces. I noticed this in Rochester much more than in any other Michigan Road town that has so many of its older buildings still intact. Rochester thrived longer than many other Michigan Road towns, and instead of tearing down and building new, Rochester adapted.

Originally a doctor's office

The northwest corner of Main and 8th Streets. Notice how the building on the corner has boarded-up windows in about the first half, but not the second, and how the ledge around the top has had some of its detail removed on the portions above the boarded-up windows. It suggests that this one building has two owners.

Downtown Rochester

This is the northeast corner of 8th St.

Downtown Rochester

Bailey’s Hardware and Sporting Goods is an echo from hardware stores of days gone by with its tin ceiling and little bins full of parts. I sure wish I took some photos of the interior!

Bailey's

The Times Theater’s sign has seen better days. I’ll bet this used to be a one-screen theatre, but was “twinned” somewhere along the way. I once worked in a “twinned” theater, and the seats in each half were left in their original positions, angled toward the center of the original screen. If you looked in the direction the seats pointed, you looked at the wall built to split the theater in two. I’ll bet you’ll find the same arrangement in this theater.

Times Theater

The American Legion building was formerly the First Baptist Church. The portion with the pitched roof is the old church, built in about the 1850s. The stone-front portion of the building was added later. The church has been sided; it’s probably brick underneath.

American Legion

These two buildings were built in the 1870s or 1880s and look ripe for restoration. These are in about the least altered condition of all the old buildings along Main St. downtown.

Storefronts

An advertisement for Henry George cigars was painted on the side of this building first, followed by a Mail Pouch advertisement. The Henry George ad has bled through over the years, leading to the first line appearing to say, “I chew men.”

Tobacco Advertisements

Soon enough we met Rochester’s northern limit. On the outskirts of town, this little building was once a gas station.

Former gas station

From in front of the gas station, this is the northbound Michigan Road. For many years, this was also US 31.

Northbound

The unremarkable 1982 bridge over the Tippecanoe River is typical of modern Indiana bridges. It was certainly opened to the great relief of travelers, however, because for many years – including the entire time this road was US 31 – the bridge here had but one lane, and a light at either end controlled traffic.

Tippecanoe River bridge

That bridge stood in about the same place as the current bridge. But this southbound photo shows an abutment and approach to a bridge; Check that stone foundation. A Michigan Road historical marker and a marker remembering a Potawatomi village that used to be here were placed on the old approach. I took the above photo from about where the Michigan Road marker stands.

One-lane bridge approach

That approach and abutment were from an even older bridge, this one, which was built in about 1880. By 1916 it had fallen into poor repair, and was replaced.

William Polke built this, the first frame house north of the Wabash River, in 1832. While Polke and his wife lived here, the house served as an inn along the Michigan Road and as the local land office. The house was moved from the Michigan Road to the Fulton County Museum on modern US 31 and is now part of the “Loyal, Indiana” living history village there.

William Polke house

The house is sometimes open for tours, but I was not so lucky this day. I did get one usable photograph of the interior through the back door window.

William Polke house

Back along the Michigan Road, this old church is now somebody’s home.

Former church

The road makes few curves in northern Fulton County.

Northbound

The tree blocked all decent views of this 1840s farmhouse. Now I know why most old-house photos are taken in the winter.

Old house

This barn is part of this farm. I realized as I took this photo that I had not photographed any other barns along the route. I just don’t see barns as I go; I guess I’m too much of a city boy.

Old barn

Next: The Michigan Road in Marshall County.

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

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Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Clinton 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.

Clinton County, founded in 1830, was named for New York State’s seventh governor, DeWitt Clinton. He was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal. I’d like to know why the county was named after him, since no canals pass through it!

Shortly after entering Clinton County, the town of Kirklin appears. Laid out in 1837 by Nathan Kirk, it was once called Kirks X Roads or Kirk’s Cross-roads, recognizing its founder and the two oldest major roads in Clinton County – the Michigan Road and the Newcastle-Lafayette State Road. The latter road stretched from New Castle to Lafayette, probably along the general path of State Road 38, which stretches between those towns today. The Newcastle-Lafayette State Road was built a few years before the Michigan Road. The town was incorporated in 1878.

The building of these roads gave farmers access to markets where they could sell their produce, but it was no small matter to reach those markets. Here’s an excerpt from page 509 of History of Clinton County, Indiana:

“Many of the farmers of [the 1830s] hauled their grain in wagons to Chicago and Michigan City on the lake where they received from 37 to 50 cents per bushel for their wheat. It required from twelve to fifteen days to make the trip. We venture the assertion that the farmer of 1835 went through the laborious undertaking just described with less murmuring than is heard from the lips of the farmer of 1886 who hauls his wheat over a pike a distance of four or five miles and receives for it $1.15 per bushel.”

The first thing I notice every time I enter Kirklin from the south is this attractive and well-kept home. I understand it was once the residence of a prominent doctor.

Home in Kirklin

I came across a cache of 1920s postcard images of Kirklin. This card shows Kirklin’s downtown in those days.

It is astonishing how little the town has changed in 80+ years. A few buildings have been razed, but the overall shape of downtown is the same.

Kirklin

This is the west side of the downtown strip. I believe the white building on the right is the one behind the “Garage” sign in the 1920s photo. Two buildings to the north of the garage were torn down, but the next three buildings match those in the 1920s photo very well.

Kirklin

This is the east side of the downtown strip. I count five buildings here that are in the 1920s photo; the only one missing was where the vacant lot is. I’m told that the water tower is the former site of the Kirklin Methodist Church, torn down sometime in the 1970s despite efforts to save it.

Kirklin

This building was never a Mobil station. Somebody painted it to look like one, perhaps to sucker in people like me. An earlier version of this paragraph wondered when this station was built. A former Kirklin resident wrote to correct me – this was never a gas station, but a barber shop. As you can see, I was out road tripping at the height of the 2008 gas price mess.

Mobil in Kirklin

Much of Kirklin’s downtown is given over to antiques stores. As I was out taking photos of the town, the antiques proprietors all gathered in front of this store to watch. When I came by, they were very curious, and maybe a bit suspicious, of what I was doing. They softened a bit when I explained about the Michigan Road. They lamented the lack of business on this Saturday, the day after Independence Day. They hoped Indianapolis’s sprawl would extend farther into Boone County for the traffic it would bring.

Old Bank

This photo shows the intersection with Madison St. in the 1920s. On the right is the Masonic Hall.

The antiques proprietors told me that the Masonic Hall was torn down in the 1960s. It strikes me as odd that a side street warrants the only stoplight in Kirklin while State Road 38, one block north, gets a stop sign.

At Madison St.

Here’s a better view of the Masonic Hall. Check out that lamp hanging out over the street.

Here’s a southbound view of Main St., as the Michigan Road is signed in Kirklin, from just north of the Masonic Hall.

The Kirklin Public Library stands on the southwest corner of what is now State Road 38.

The building has been remarkably well kept. It is the town’s crown jewel.

Public library

A bit north of Kirklin, the Michigan Road curves and becomes a straight north-south road for the first time.

On the map, this is where US 421 leaves the Michigan Road, following State Road 28 to the west. Here the Michigan Road becomes State Road 29 and carries that number to Logansport. When Indiana implemented its current highway numbering scheme in 1927, the Michigan Road was numbered 29 from its starting point in Madison. US 421 was extended into Indiana in 1951 over existing Indiana highways 28, 39, and 43 to its end at Michigan City. Northwest Indiana’s Kankakee Marsh was drained beginning in late 1800s so the land could be farmed. This allowed later roads to be built through the former marshland, including these that now carry US 421.

Where State Road 28 reaches US 421 from the east stands an abandoned motel.

Old motel

Here’s the Michigan Road as it heads into Boyleston.

Northbound in Clinton County

Boyleston is an unincorporated town founded in 1875 by Lewis Boyle as a stop along the Lake Erie and Western Railroad.

Boyleston

This is the Boyleston Baptist Church.

Boyleston Baptist Church

This grain elevator was probably Boyleston’s focal point. (It has since been torn down.)

Grain elevator

North of Boyleston stands the sprawling Clinton Central High School. I am surprised by how few schools, compared to churches and cemeteries, stand along the Michigan Road. This is the first school on the road since the road passed through northwest Indianapolis.

Clinton County Educational Center

The road bent slightly northeast in Boyleston; it bends back straight north by the school.

Northbound

This cemetery lies just south of Michigantown.

Cemetery

This is a typical scene along the road in this part of the state, as it tracks straight and flat between farms and small towns. Michigantown is ahead.

Northbound

Michigantown was laid out in 1830 along what was then the Frankfort and Kokomo Railroad and was incorporated in the early 1870s. In the 1800s Michigantown was a happening place with merchants and doctors and lawyers, but today like so many other midwestern small towns it stands in some decay. This map shows Michigantown.

A number of older homes stand in Michigantown, this being a clean example.

Old house

The diner next to the house looked to be on a permanent vacation.

House and diner

This is Michigantown’s business district.

Michigantown business district

Ron’s Kwik Mart doesn’t look very kwik anymore. The space on the right used to be the Farmers Bank.

Ron's Kwik Mart

The only business I found open this day was the Michigan Town House. The storefront between it and the post office is known as the Mule Barn Tavern.

Michigan Town House

There are plenty of empty storefronts in Michigantown. The building on the left used to be a small diner. The building on the right was Newell Gas and Appliances.

More Michigantown

This gas station has been abandoned since gas cost $1.099 per gallon.

Gas pumps

North of Michigantown’s business district, the town becomes residential and overall well kept.

Northbound through Michigantown

The Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana moved this house to this spot along the Michigan Road, just south of the railroad tracks on Michigantown’s north end, in late 2007. Workers have been busy laying a new foundation beneath it since.

Historic Landmarks Foundation house

Across the street stands this lovely old home.

Old house, Michigantown

Even though I stop in every town for photos, most of the road in this part of the state passes by farm after farm, as this short video from north of Michigantown shows.

Near Clinton County’s north border stands Middlefork, an unincorporated town named for its placement near the middle fork of Wildcat Creek. Middlefork barely registers on an aerial map.

This cemetery lies just south of Middlefork.

Cemetery, Middlefork

This old house is in Middlefork. It’s one of my favorite houses along the route because of its interesting arches over the porch and balcony.

Old house, Middlefork

This itty bitty house stands in contrast with the previous one.

Little bitty old house

Middlefork ends at State Road 26, just beyond which begins Carroll County. This school stands abandoned on an abandoned alignment of SR 26, which lies 50 feet south of current SR 26 just east of the Michigan Road. (This school is now slowly collapsing. See more photos here.)

Abandoned school

Next: The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Carroll County.

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

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Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Hamilton and Boone Counties

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.

Hamilton County was founded in 1823 and had an agricultural economy for most of its history. But after World War II, Indianapolis expanded northward and Hamilton County’s communities increasingly became Indianapolis suburbs. It is now one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation and certainly the fastest growing county in the state. It is also the wealthiest county in the state, as measured by median household income.

Only 1¾ miles of the Michigan Road lie inside Hamilton County. The road cuts across its southwest corner. On this map, the green line is the Marion-Hamilton line and the blue line is the Boone-Hamilton line.

Carmel is a city in Hamilton County. It has been on an annexing bender since the mid 1990s, reflected in its population growth – about 32,500 in 1996 to almost 69,000 in 2007. Somewhere along the line Carmel assumed all of the land around the Michigan Road within the county. Where Carmel goes, roads are improved and shopping centers are built.

Carmel

A massive improvement to the road was finished in 1997, making it what you see here. When I moved to Indianapolis in 1994, if my memory serves the road was four lanes undivided for a short distance north of Indianapolis, and then narrowed to two lanes.

106th St. and Michigan Road

Boone County, founded in 1830, was named after Daniel Boone. Despite bordering Indianapolis, the county is mostly rural. It has maybe 20% of the population of neighboring Hamilton County. The Michigan Road cuts across the county’s east side, never encountering a town of any consequence.

Looking southbound from just inside Boone County, you can see where the highway narrows. No need for all those lanes out here – yet. New subdivisions keep being built out here, so it’s probably just a matter of time before increased traffic demands a widened road.

Southbound, Boone County

But for now, fields and old farmhouses are the norm.

Old farmhouse in its context

Here’s a closer look at the old farmhouse.

Old farmhouse

I caught these horses grazing in another field nearby.

Horses

Rosston was once a place where trains stopped to pick up grain. I’ve seen old references to the place as “Rosston Station.”

This is Rosston’s old general store, just north of the train tracks which have long been removed. I’m not sure why I didn’t photograph the old grain elevator.

Storefront in Rosston

I haven’t been able to find out anything about the unincorporated town of Waugh.

This old house, but not much else, stands in Waugh.

Old house in Waugh

Where the Michigan Road intersects State Road 47 stands the Christian Liberty Church. Its sign says 1885, but I couldn’t tell whether the building is that old, too.

Christian Liberty Church

After a few more miles of farm fields, the Michigan Road exits Boone County and enters Clinton County.

Next: The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Clinton County.

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

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Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in northwest Indianapolis

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.

The Michigan Road begins its journey through northwest Indianapolis at Indiana Ave., where West St. becomes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St.

Indiana Avenue was an important business and cultural center for African Americans as early as 1890. A woman named Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madame C. J. Walker, moved her business of manufacturing hair-care products to Indianapolis in 1910. By 1917, it was the largest black-owned business in the nation. She had started planning the Walker Theatre as a cultural center and home to her manufacturing operations when she died in 1917, and her daughter completed it. It opened in 1927. It faced decline in the 1960s and 1970s, but was restored during the 1980s.

Walker Theatre

It is here where West St. becomes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St., formerly known as Northwestern Ave.

Northbound at Indiana Ave.

The Ransom Place neighborhood lies between St. Clair St. and 10th St. The area was platted in the late 1860s and, at first, white immigrants moved in, building modest homes. But between 1900 and 1920, the neighborhood’s population became overwhelmingly black, and as such the neighborhood remains best known. The area has benefited from preservation and redevelopment funds going back to 1945.

Ransom Place

I-65 bisected many old northwest Indianapolis neighborhoods, relegating a few of them to ghettos. This Interstate parallels the Michigan Road for a couple miles before pulling away, headed toward Chicago.

The road here is a major artery to and from Downtown, especially via I-65.

At the split

Unfortunately, I-65’s primacy makes staying on the Michigan Road a bit tricky. You have to take a left-lane exit of sorts to stay on the road.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St.

The aerial image on the left is from 1937. Compare it to the 2008 aerial image on the right. The Michigan Road is highlighted in color; 10th St. runs east-west across the middle of each image. In the 2008 image, the blue line shows the northbound route to stay on the Michigan Road; the yellow line, the southbound route. I-65 wiped out almost everything in the upper-right quadrant, including some of the canal. Notice also how many homes present in 1937 in the Ransom Place neighborhood, which is in the lower-left quadrant, are missing in the 2008 image.

This photo shows Crispus Attucks High School and the elevated train that links the Downtown IU Health hospitals. The cross street was 11th St. until it was recently renamed Oscar Robertson Blvd. after the school’s standout basketball star.

At Oscar Robertson Blvd.

Crispus Attucks High School was built in 1927 amid controversy as it was to be an all-black school, the first in Indiana. Indianapolis’s high schools were otherwise integrated, and many viewed this to be a step backward. But after the school was built, it became a focal point for Indianapolis African-Americans. It was a source of particular pride in 1955 and 1956 when the school’s basketball team, led by Oscar Robertson, won back-to-back state championships, the second year as an undefeated team. Attucks became integrated in 1967. By the 1980s, however, enrollment was in serious decline across the Indianapolis Public Schools system, placing Attucks’ future in question. It ended up being converted to a middle school. In 2006, in partnership with the nearby Indiana University Medical Center, it was converted into a college-preparatory school, grades six through 12, for students interested in becoming medical professionals. This photo shows the school’s entrance.

Attucks High School

North of the high school begins a long corridor of decay and dilapidation, exemplified by the Revival Temple Church’s makeshift sign and peeling paint.

Revival Temple Apostolic Church

Across the street, the 1920 New Baptist Church building has been well cared for. The church is 100 years old in 2008.

New Baptist Church

At 21st St., the road briefly takes on a light-industrial feel. This photo is southbound, showing how the Indianapolis skyline looms. The Michigan Road was once also known here as the Dixie Highway. The Dixie was a network of roads, organized before the US highway system was founded, that connected Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to Miami, Florida. One branch of the Dixie known as the Northern Connector followed the Michigan Road from 21st St. all the way to downtown South Bend.

Southbound at 21st St.

Fall Creek is next, with its bridge. I couldn’t find a safe place to photograph the current bridge. I’m pretty sure this postcard image, which is from about 1900-1920, is of a former bridge at this location.

Watkins Park lies on the northwest corner of 23rd St.

Watkins Park

Across the street from the park, the homes are in poor repair.

Dilapidated house

Bar-B-Q Heaven stands north of 25th St. Its neon sign seems to be lit day and night.

Bar-B-Q Heaven

The Holy Angels Catholic Church was completed in 1903 on the corner of 28th St. It has grown and prospered through all the changes this neighborhood has seen. (Sometime after I made this photo, this church was razed.)

Holy Angels Catholic Church

I-65 crosses the Michigan Road just north of 30th St. Malaise begins slowly to disappear as you drive north from here.

Michigan Road at I-65

Just after driving under the Interstate, Crown Hill Cemetery appears on the right. On this spot since 1864, it is the third largest cemetery in the United States. Many notable Hoosiers are buried here, but none so honored as James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet, who died in 1917.

This is Riley’s gravesite. Even though it is right along the Michigan Road, you can’t see the road from here, and you can’t see this spot from the road. For decades, children have dropped change onto this monument. It is regularly collected and donated to the Riley Children’s Foundation which helps support the Riley Hospital for Children.

Riley's rest

Riley is buried at the highest point in Indianapolis. You can see the Downtown skyline from here.

View from the Riley gravesite

38th St. was Indianapolis’s northern boundary for many years. North of this old boundary the road is once again signed Michigan Road. On the northwest corner stands the Indianapolis Museum of Art, on the grounds of Oldfields, the former country estate of J. K. Lilly, Jr., who was an executive at Eli Lilly and Co. and a philanthropist.

IMA entrance

The Michigan Road was privatized during the late 19th century. It was sold to gravel companies, which covered it in gravel and charged to travel along it. One of the toll houses remains.

Toll house

The Michigan Road is four lanes wide in this part of the city.

Northbound

This old house stands by as the road nears Crooked Creek.

House along the road

I live in the Crooked Creek area, about a mile from where Kessler Blvd. crosses the Michigan Road. Kessler Blvd. is historic, too; designed by, built by, and named for pioneering city planner George Kessler.

This is where the two roads intersect.

Kessler and Michigan

Across Michigan Road from the Starbucks and the Walgreens stands Crooked Creek School. A school has stood on this spot since 1837. Three or four buildings have served here, and the first was a log cabin. This is the entrance to the previous building, which was torn down in 1985 for the school you see behind it. The entrance was originally behind the last of the cars parked in the photo, but was moved to this spot as a memorial. Many years ago, before the Michigan Road became such a busy road in and out of town, the steps at the end of the entrance led to a wide path that led children right to the Michigan Road for their trip home. Today, walking on the Michigan Road here is like taking your life into your hands. Today, you enter the school grounds via a long driveway on Kessler Blvd. But the original path is still there, serving as a driveway to what is now a back entrance. All three of my children have attended Crooked Creek School.

School No. 7 / Crooked Creek Elementary School

This 1840s farmhouse stands across from 64th St. It was for sale when I took this photo.

1840s farmhouse, 64th and Michigan

This home, which stands at about 67th St., was built in 1852 by the Aston family and served as an inn for travelers on the road. It was common then to see farmers driving livestock down the Michigan Road to the markets in Indianapolis, which was at that time a full day away from here. This was a good place to stop before making the final day’s journey.

Aston Inn

Long before Indianapolis assimilated all of Marion County, this was the spot of a small town named Augusta. Its streets cross the Michigan Road perpendicularly, where Indianapolis’s streets cross it at angles. Augusta lies between 71st and 79th Streets.

Augusta

Unlike most of the rest of Indianapolis, Augusta was built with Michigan Road as its main street. Its side streets cross at right angles, as this map shows.

Augusta, Indiana was founded in 1832 by David Boardman and James Fee, presumably to take advantage of the opportunities the brand-new Michigan Road would provide. In 1834, Boardman and his son built a house in Augusta on the Michigan Road. It still stands, and is one of the oldest homes in the city.

Boardman and son built this house the hard way. They made the bricks from clay they dug and made the timbers from poplar and ash trees they cut down and sawed at a mill on nearby Crooked Creek. Can you imagine how long that must have taken? Some say the house was built on a bluff overlooking the Michigan Road. I think it’s possible that the house was built at the road’s original level, but that the road was lowered, probably during the automobile age, for faster and safer travel. Whichever story is right, the house seems to tower over the road.

The digital library at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis includes this photo of the house in 1976. You’ll notice some changes since 1976. The Michigan Road was widened to four lanes in 1995 or 1996, which removed a stoop and walkway to the front door. Also, the roof has been modified, the chimneys are shorter, window frames are narrower, and the front door is different.

Boardman House de-ivied

Augusta’s best days were few. The railroad came in a couple miles west in the early 1850s. Smelling greater prosperity, most of the town picked up, moved down 71st St. to the railroad, and founded New Augusta. Today, both towns are part of Indianapolis. When you drive through what was Augusta, it’s hard to tell it was ever a town. It seems only to be a few random old houses that inexplicably interrupt a sea of strip malls. But some clues, like this house, remain.

Speaking of strip malls, they dominate the road through the rest of Indianapolis. This northbound photo was taken just south of 86th St.

Approaching 86th St

The Michigan Road is about to run out of Indianapolis. The road just past I-465 in this map is 96th St., the border with Hamilton County.

Here’s where 86th St. crosses the Michigan Road.

86th and Michigan

This animation shows how this intersection has changed over time, going from rural to suburban. The aerial images are from 1937, 1956, 1962, 1979, 1986, 1997, and 2008.

These are The Pyramids. They’re just south of I-465 and east of the road. On a clear day, you can see these from the Riley gravesite. When they were built, they were way out in the sticks, but instantly became a landmark. I heard that the original mirrored glass reflected the sun so badly that it interfered with air traffic, and so new, less-glaring glass was installed. I used to work in an office complex across from the Pyramids, and at certain times of day every office on the east side of the building had to close the blinds against the killer glare. I worked on the second floor of the middle pyramid for about a year (in 1999 and 2000, I think), and I was surprised by how shabby the place was inside.

The Pyramids

From I-465, here’s a northbound shot of the road as it is about to leave Indianapolis. It becomes US 421 again here. The road is routinely this busy here, as it is a major artery between Zionsville and northwest Indianapolis.

Michigan Road at I-465

Next: The Michigan Road in Hamilton and Boone Counties.

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

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