Photography, Road Trips

Vintage Dandy Trail photos

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.

On the Dandy Trail

On the Dandy Trail

On the Dandy Trail

On the Dandy Trail

On the Dandy Trail

On the Dandy Trail

On the Dandy Trail

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: A reader contacted me privately to say that he had found on Google Books a mention of the Dandy Trail, in the May 27, 1920 edition of Motor Age magazine. It noted the formal opening of the Dandy Trail with ceremonies on May 9 and 16, 1920. That dates these photos to the 1920s.

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

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