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

Old US 31 in southern Fulton and northern Miami Counties in Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

We crossed current US 31 south of Rochester.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

As soon as we did, the road’s demeanor changed. Where we had seen shoulders, the road now lacked them. Where the pavement had been dark and in recent repair, we now saw the silvery gray of old asphalt. Where the road had been striped, only faint striping now occasionally appeared. The road seemed narrower. If it weren’t for the Old US 31 signs at every crossroad, we might have thought we’d taken a wrong turn.

Old US 31, Fulton County, IN

We passed a few houses right away, but after that it was just Brian, me, the corn, and the soybeans. My 1916 Automobile Blue Book said we’d come upon a place called Green Oak, where the road would be “rather sandy in spots.” While the map below shows two spots where Green Oak might have been, there was no evidence of it along the road. As the map suggests, there wasn’t much evidence of anything along the road.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

After six miles, we again approached US 31. This sign, with its fading letters, greeted us, an artifact of this road’s heyday. A similar, but newer and brighter, sign stood several feet east of us on US 31.

Old sign on Old US 31

Across E 650 S, and then across US 31, old US 31 continues. Current US 31 is the county line. I stood in Fulton County to make this photo, but old US 31 is in Miami County.

Looking across to Old US 31

This map shows this intersection.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

This was the most excitement we would have for another 6½ miles. Except for itty bitty Perrysburg, for which we did not stop, this road was as empty as it had been for the past six miles, shoulderless and unstriped. Here’s what it looks like facing northbound.

Old US 31 NB

After about 5½ miles, old US 31 pulled up alongside current US 31. And then a half-mile later, there was a dead-end sign and we could see old US 31 fade off into nothing.

End of Old US 31

Brian asked the owner of the last house on the road if we could walk out along the road. She said her property ended where the fence did, and we were welcome to go out that far. We went for a closer look. If it is possible, the road seemed even narrower as we drew closer to the end. I squatted for this shot, which shows the condition of this asphalt, ignored for probably 30 years.

End of Old US 31

Here’s what the end looks like from the air. We turned around and drove to the US 31 access road, and then headed south on the big slab.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Next: Old US 31 and Original State Road 1 in Mexico, Indiana.

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Road Trips

Old US 31, the Michigan Road, and the Dixie Highway in Rochester, Indiana

On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.

I was telling Brian the things I’ve learned about sniffing out the old alignments. I got interested in them at a good time, because online aerial maps sure make the job easier. But I’ve also discovered how helpful old maps and road guides can be. I had brought my 1924 midwestern Automobile Blue Book along and showed it to him. He seized upon it and studied the turn-by-turn directions from South Bend to Indianapolis. He asked about State Road 1, which the book mentions and which was US 31’s name before 1927. He observed that some of State Road 1’s path appeared to be different from the old US 31 that we were traveling.

We continued south into Fulton County, sometimes cruising less than 1,000 yards away from current US 31. When we entered Fulton County, I noticed that the road was signed Old US 31. I’m not sure that it was in Marshall County. This shoulderless road’s lanes were wide enough for oncoming semis to pass comfortably, suggesting that it was a fairly modern two-lane highway when it was replaced.

I had heard about a one-lane bridge on US 31 near Rochester. We came upon where it used to be, at the Tippecanoe River, about four miles north of Rochester.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

As we drove over this bridge, I saw an old stone abutment on the left, so we stopped. While I took photos from the current bridge, Brian walked out onto the old roadbed. A woman drove a tractor below, cutting the grass.

Bridge abutment, Rochester, Indiana

The abutment wasn’t in terrible shape, but it was also possible for stones to fall out or be pulled out. In 2011, a young man working toward being an Eagle Scout led a project to stabilize the abutment. Here’s the result.

Old bridge abutment

I was surprised to learn that the one-lane bridge lasted until 1982! Given that the road flows straight over the current bridge, but had to curve a bit to meet the one-lane bridge, I’d say that there was at least one earlier bridge here. It stood where the current bridge now stands. That bridge was built in 1916 and was a single-span Parker through truss. Courtesy Bridgehunter.com, here’s a photo of that bridge as it appeared in a 1980s South Bend Tribune article.

Somewhere along the way I came upon this photo of the bridge that preceded it, a two-span bowstring arch built in the mid-late 1800s. This photo faces west; the road coming in from the left in the photo, and the stone abutment where the bridge begins, is the road and abutment I photographed above.

I walked out onto the old roadbed and abutment to see the other side of the river. The bridge’s northern end wasn’t as plain to see.

Tippecanoe River bridge

On this map of Rochester, old US 31 is Main St. Old US 31, and Main St. with it, curve off to the southeast just north of 18th St. This is where old US 31 strikes out on its own, departing from the Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway. Those roads have to settle for being called State Road 25 the rest of the way to Logansport.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

The 1896 Fulton County courthouse is on Rochester’s square, on Main St. between 8th and 9th Streets. This Bedford limestone courthouse came 60 years after Fulton County was formed and Rochester was named the county seat. Rochester was here for about a year before a county formed around it.

Fulton County Courthouse

The courthouse is a real jewel among the buildings in downtown Rochester. These two photos are from the business district, which is near the courthouse.

Downtown Rochester

It’s sad to see all the boarded-up windows in the building at left below. I left downtown feeling like it was really too bad that Rochester’s downtown weren’t more like Plymouth’s, to go with its excellent courthouse.

Downtown Rochester

About eight blocks south of the courthouse, old US 31 veers left, leaving the Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway. We arrived as some rain clouds rolled in. In the photo, you can barely see the current US 31 overpass over State Road 25 in the distance.

Goodbye, Old US 31

We walked up and down the curve taking photos. A couple times, people stopped Brian to ask what we were doing. I guess Brian seems more approachable than me! Brian said to me, “We should tell them we’re building a traffic circle here!”

Beyond the curve, old US 31 flows straight out of Rochester. But we didn’t drive it.

Old US 31

After I told Brian about old State Road 1 and showed him my 1924 Automobile Blue Book, he started to turn into a crazed old-alignment maniac. He noticed that the ABB gave directions for driving through Rochester that differed from old US 31’s path, calling part of it “State Road 1,” and he was stoked to follow them. So we did. We backtracked to 14th St. and headed east. This map shows the route we took in green and the old US 31 route in blue. Based on my 1924 ABB and other resources I have, I’m only pretty sure that 14th St. was part of State Road 1 between Main St. and College Ave., which is where 14th St. bends south a bit. I’m sure that the rest of the route was State Road 1.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here are the directions the ABB gave.

The very narrow road curved through a residential area. The houses appeared to be quite old, at least from the turn of the last century. The ABB said to jog right and then left at an “irregular four-corner.” We took that to mean the intersection of 14th and College, because we had to jog right there. But we never jogged left anywhere, suggesting that the road had been straightened at some time after the ABB was published. After the road passed College, we were stuck by the beauty of the scene.

State Road 1

We became confused when we reached 18th St., as 14th St. became CR 225 E and headed south. I thought we might be way off course as we drove, until we saw our road merge with what we correctly guessed was old US 31. Here’s a northbound photo of the merger. Old US 31 is on the left. Notice how much wider it is than old State Road 1.

Old US 31 and Original State Road 1

And then old US 31 intersected with current US 31.

Old US 31

Next: A lonely stretch of Old US 31 between Rochester and Peru.

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Photography

The round barns of Fulton County, Indiana

I can’t believe that when my friend Dawn and I made our tour of Fulton County’s round barns ten years ago that I didn’t upload all of my photographs to Flickr. I uploaded photos of only one round barn, the one below. Dawn and I got to tour it. I wrote about it here.

Round barn

Fulton County has eight round barns, though I’m sure it used to be far more. Several of the barns are easily seen from county roads.

Round barn

A few of the barns are on the Fulton County Museum site. This is one.

Round barn

This is another. On the day we visited, they were celebrating old tractors and there was a bit of a fair/flea-market atmosphere.

Round barn

A couple round barns were partially hidden from the road. We weren’t about to trespass to get better photographs, but that didn’t prevent one property owner from driving out to warn us away.

Round barn

This final round barn is the pro shop for the golf course in Rochester’s Lakeview Park. It was built in 1910, but received extensive renovations when it was moved to the park.

"Round barn"

Most of these barns were built in the 1910s after Purdue University began recommending them. They were efficient and economical in their time. For an explanation of why, check out this article at the Fulton County Historical Society.

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Preservation, Road Trips

The mystery of the former one-lane bridge on the Michigan Road in Fulton County, Indiana

It was exciting to come upon this abandoned bridge abutment when my old friend Brian and I explored old US 31 in northern Indiana in 2007. (That whole trip is documented here.)

Bridge abutment, Rochester, Indiana

Standing on the old abutment it’s easy to see where the old bridge used to meet the Tippecanoe River’s north bank. It’s just right of where the current bridge, built in 1982, meets it.

Tippecanoe River bridge

My dad remembers driving the old bridge. He said it was just one lane wide, and there was a stoplight at either end. Traffic on US 31 would often back up at either end waiting to cross here. The mother of an old friend, who grew up in Fulton County, remembers a time before they installed the stoplight — and the games of chicken oncoming drivers played with each other.

My research turns up only the photo above, circa 1910, as possibly a bridge at this location. Those stone abutments look right, and the rise of the left approach looks to me to match the abandoned approach and abutment. The river is awfully full, though, fuller than I’ve ever seen it. This photo could have been made during a flood.

Current bridge and old abutment from the air. Imagery © 2019 DigitalGlobe, Indiana Map Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2019 Google.

But this two-span bowstring through truss bridge is not the bridge my friend’s mother remembers. She specifically remembers a single-span bridge with a squarer truss design, probably a Pratt through truss

If that bowstring truss was ever at this location, it had to have been replaced with the one everybody remembers, sometime after the 1910 photograph was made. The Great Flood of 1913 destroyed a lot of bridges; perhaps it did this one in.

By the early 1970s, US 31 was rebuilt as a four-lane expressway about a mile to the west, relieving the traffic burden on the old bridge here.

By the way, this bridge is on the Michigan Road. When US 31 was commissioned in Indiana, it used the Michigan Road from about 3½ miles south of here in Rochester, to about 42 miles north of here in downtown South Bend.

In 2010, an aspiring Eagle Scout stabilized this abutment, mortaring in the stones and laying in concrete pavers where the old road bed had gone missing. I made this photograph of it in late 2011 and wrote about it here.

Old bridge abutment

Here’s the same scene the day after Christmas in 2018. The mortar’s color has neutralized with age, making the abutment look more natural.

Old bridge abutment, north of Rochester

Three historic markers stand on the old abutment. The third, which is the shorter stone, was placed sometime since 2011. I never think to photograph it because I forget it’s newer and that I’ve not already photographed it. I can’t remember what it commemorates. The larger stone commemorates a village of Potawatomi Indians that was once here, and how those Indians were removed to lands out west in a forced migration now known as the Trail of Death. You’ll find a wealth of information about the Trail of Death here. I have a Potawatomi ancestor, I am told, though I can’t confirm it.

Old bridge abutment, north of Rochester

The final marker on this abutment honors the Michigan Road itself. Two other state markers like this one honor the road: one in Ripley County at US 50, and one in Boone County about three miles north of I-465.

Historic marker

Every time I stop here, the Tippecanoe River is tranquil.

Tippecanoe River

Here’s hoping that someday confirmed photographs of the old bridge here emerge.

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

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
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