History, Road trips

For sale: Michigan Road Toll House

Toll house

When railroads came to prominence in the mid 1800s, traffic dropped dramatically on roads like Indiana’s Michigan Road. What followed was an early example of privatization: many roads were sold to private companies to operate.

Toll house markerThe Michigan Road was one of them. Several companies bought pieces of it, made various improvements, and operated it as a toll road. One such company was the Augusta Gravel Road Company, which operated a segment of the road that passed through northwest Indianapolis. In 1866, they built this toll house (read more here.)

And it’s for sale. With two bedrooms and one bathroom, this 1,100-square-foot house comes with two lots totaling more than 10,000 square feet. It’s been a rental in recent years, and is in sad condition inside. See photos at the listing on Zillow, which also has better exterior photos than mine.

Toll house

Its price is so low that if I weren’t in the middle of paying huge college bills for my sons, I’d buy it. I don’t know exactly what I’d do with it, as it’s too small for my family, but I sure would hate for this house to fall into the hands of someone who can’t appreciate its place in history.

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Wrecks Inc

Drive carefully
Pentax Spotmatic F, 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar
Kodak Ektar 100
2017

I photograph this sign a lot. I love it! And I drive by it frequently as it’s on the way to Margaret’s.

This time I photographed it from the driver’s seat of my car. The 35mm lens I used let me do that easily from the side of the road, where I had pulled over. Whenever I photograph this sign with a 50mm lens, I have to back way up from it to fit it in the frame.

The more I shoot 35mm lenses, the more I like them. It’s such a useful focal length for road-trip photography. I don’t have to back up nearly as much to get things into the frame, yet when I want to move in close I can still do so credibly.

Photography, Road trips

single frame: Drive carefully

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Old 52

Old US 52
Pentax Spotmatic F, 35mm f/3.5 Super-Multi-Coated Takumar
Kodak Ektar 100
2017

I spend a lot of time on the Lafayette Road, aka Old US 52, as it is my favorite way to get to Margaret’s. It’s been a four-lane road since about the mid 1930s, but hasn’t been a U.S. highway since the 1960s when I-65 opened nearby and US 52 was routed onto it.

And so this old road, which dates to the 1830s, is empty most of the time.

Photography, Road trips

single frame: Old US 52

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Road trips

Changes along the National Road in western Indiana

I’ve made a couple trips along US 40 (the old National Road) between Indianapolis and Terre Haute lately and have taken a few photos along the way. I’ve been driving this road for enough years now that some of the sights have really changed.

First, the Cedar Crest Motel sign is gone. This old motel was in Putnam County about 1.5 miles west of Mt. Meridian. Here’s the sign as I found it in 2011. Longtime readers might recall that this is on the only remaining brick alignment of this road in Indiana.

Cedar Crest Motel sign

Also, out in Terre Haute the great old Woodridge Motel sign is gone, too. The motel still operates, but it has a generic backlit plastic sign now. The new sign is so banal I didn’t even bother getting out to photograph it. Here’s the Woodridge sign in 2009.

Chateau Woodridge

In Seelyville, just east of Terre Haute, the Kleptz Bar neon sign disappeared almost immediately after I photographed it in 2009.

Kleptz Bar

I finally stopped — very quickly — in front of the Putnamville Correctional Facility to properly photograph the original alignment of this road, which is still used as a service road there. It’s blotchy because I shot it at maximum zoom with my iPhone. While most of this road segment is covered in asphalt, its tail is the original 1920s concrete. Those houses, by the way, are associated with the prison. They’re all very attractive, with dark red brick and green-shingled roofs, and I’ve always wished I could tour them.

Old alignment of US 40/National Road near Putnamville, IN

Here’s a through-the-car-window shot I made back in 2009. What’s most interesting to me about these two shots is how they reveal a curvy, undulating road. Putnam County has the most challenging terrain of all the Indiana counties through which this road passes, and when the current four-lane highway was built in the 1930s great care was taken to straighten and smooth the ride.

State prison alignment of National Road

I stopped in Brazil in Clay County. The highway had been rebuilt through town, and I wanted to see it. It wasn’t very exciting; it’s just a modern road. I guess the real excitement was when they tore out the road and found a layer of bricks underneath the asphalt, and the tracks for the interurban that used to pass through town. But I was pleased to see some improvements to the facades of some buildings. Here’s the Times Building in 2009.

Times Building, Brazil, IN

Here it is today, its lower facade refreshed but the upper portion still in poor shape. I Photoshopped this one to correct perspective, which is why it’s so upright when the one above is keystoned. The “today” shots from Brazil, by the way, were shot with my Minolta XG 1 and my 45mm f/2 Rokkor lens on Fujicolor 200.

Times Building, Brazil

And here’s the 1907 Davis Building in 2009, looking pretty rough.

1909 DH Davis building, Brazil, IN

And here it is today, with some improvements made. One of the years between then and now this building made Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered list, which got it some attention.

Davis Building, Brazil

But it hasn’t yet gotten all of the attention it still needs, as this peek inside shows.

Davis Building, Brazil

Finally, a couple counties to the east in Hendricks County, just west of Plainfield, this abandoned bridge is still abandoned.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

It doesn’t appear to be deteriorating very fast, which is nice in a way. It was built in the 1920s, probably; it was abandoned in about 1940 when the new four-lane alignment was built next to it.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

Here’s what it looked like on a visit in 2013.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

And here’s what it looked like on my first ever road trip, in the summer of 2006. Finding this bridge on this trip hooked me hard on following the old roads, by the way.

Abandoned National Road/US 40

I suppose that by summer the bridge will look like this again. I’ll be back one day. Because the old roads keep changing.

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Photography, Road trips

On Shelbyville’s Public Square

It’s the only town square I know of in all of Indiana that doesn’t have a courthouse on it. Rather, the centerpiece of Shelbyville’s Public Square is…a parking lot.

Public Square, Shelbyville

I was in Shelbyville for a board meeting of the Historic Michigan Road Association. Turnout was disappointing. Three of our four core officers made it, plus one of our board members from Shelbyville and, at her invitation, one of the Shelby County Commissioners. That was it. Our board numbers about 30.

Several of our founding board members have retired or have experienced career changes that made them step down. And, truth be told, we’re just not moving our heritage-tourism agenda forward very powerfully. We suffer from the common nonprofit board syndrome of a small handful of people doing everything, and there just aren’t enough hands. I think many of our board members are allocating their time to other initiatives.

But also, last year a lot of our limited time and attention was diverted to a matter involving a billboard. United States Code, Title 23, § 131, paragraphs (c) and (s), prohibits new outdoor advertising within 650 feet of any byway. A billboard company and an industrial park spent considerable money on lawyers trying to find a way to get a billboard erected in our corridor. These lawyers want to exploit a possible loophole in the law, and doing so apparently requires approval and action from our board. This is still not resolved, so I’ll say no more beyond that this enormously frustrating matter consumed our limited time and resources last year and is fixing to drain more of the same this year.

Knowing we’d have to discuss this matter again at our board meeting, I wanted to enter in a pleasant mood. So arrived in Shelbyville early with a couple cameras loaded with film and made some photographs. This is the Methodist Building on the west side of the Public Square.

Methodist Building, Shelbyville

Just north of the Methodist Building is my favorite building in the Public Square: the ornate Sheldon Building.

On the Public Square, Shelbyville

I shot the two photos above with my Pentax ME and a 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens on Kentmere 100. I made the rest of the photos in this post with my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on Kodak Tri-X 400. The Stylus’s zoom let me move in on the Sheldon Building’s cornice.

Sheldon Building detail, Shelbyville

It also let me move in on the square’s clock. I just noticed as I wrote this that it shows two different times.

Shelbyville clock

When I made my 2008 photographic survey of the Michigan Road, this building on the square’s northeast corner housed a physical therapy business. I didn’t know then that it was once an opera house, but that most Shelbyvillians remember it as an old-fashioned hardware store. Today the first floor is a restaurant, where we held our meeting. But the upper floors remain vacant.

Former opera house, Shelbyville

I walked south along the Michigan Road, which is State Road 9. At the corner where you have to turn east along State Road 44 to stay on the Michigan Road stands this building, which was originally the Alhambra Theater.

Former Alhambra Theater, Shelbyville

On my 2008 visit to Shelbyville I found the downtown to be in sorry condition. But in the nine years since, many facades have been restored. The town is shaping up!

Shelbyville

And then I walked back to the Public Square for my board meeting. The discussion about that infernal billboard wasn’t too painful.

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Brick Rd.

Brick National Road near Norwich, Ohio
Canon PowerShot S95
2011

Ohio has some deeply delightful brick and concrete sections of the old National Road, some of which you can still drive. Like this section. It’s good, rumbly brick.

Thus endeth the series of old-road photos to celebrate Down the Road’s 10th blogiversary. But I have more to say about blogging and this blog, so watch for more “Ten Years of Down the Road” posts to come.

Photography, Road trips

Photo: Brick section of the National Road in Ohio

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