There’s a lot of lovely historic architecture to see in Napoleon, a small town in Ripley County, Indiana. But getting there is part of the fun: from the north or from the south, you do it on the Michigan Road.
From Atlas of Ripley County, Indiana, O. W. Pegee, 1900
Ripley County boasts two alignments of the Michigan Road, the original and a later one that is now US 421. They come together in Napoleon. In the Michigan Road’s early days, what is now US 421 was a plank road starting in Versailles, and it became the more major route. It’s why, during the early years of the automobile, the Michigan Road was rerouted onto this road.
This 1900 atlas excerpt shows where and how the two roads used to meet on the south side of Napoleon. See the two roads that merge? The Michigan Road is on the left.
Each road had to cross a little stream. At some point, probably when it became clear that the old plank road would be the major route, the Michigan Road was truncated at the first county road south of Napoleon. Makes sense; why build and maintain a needless bridge? Here’s what it looks like today from above.
Imagery and map data © 2018 Google
In 2008 I documented what remains of this old Michigan Road alignment. Here’s a southbound photo from north of the county road where, today, you have to turn left to reach US 421 and resume your travel on the Michigan Road. My camera malfunctioned on a northbound photo from this spot, but the road was two-track from here and it faded into the grass ahead.
This little bit of gravel provides access to this cemetery, which is wedged between here and US 421.
From my many visits to Napoleon over the years, here are a number of scenes from this little town. Its plat has hardly changed since 1900 and many buildings present then remain today. Arguably the most prominent building on the Michigan Road in Napoleon is this old flour mill.
The photo above is from 2008 and the one below is from 2018. The photo below would show a building in dilapidated condition were someone not maintaining this building. I hear that this old mill has been converted into apartments.
Those painted signs would be faded and chipped away if someone wasn’t keeping them touched up.
The former Napoleon State Bank building is now a real-estate office.
Surprisingly, the Napoleon State Bank still operates in a modern building across the street. It’s remarkable it has survived in this age of bank mergers and megabanks.
If you step off the Michigan Road and explore Napoleon’s Main Street (now State Road 229) you’ll find more lovely historic architecture. This is the Central House, built in the late 1820s. That makes it at least as old as the Michigan Road itself!
Two large churches, both probably built in the early 20th century, stand along Main Street. First is St. John’s Lutheran.
St. Maurice Catholic is the other. Given how small this town is, these churches must have drawn members from a very large region to justify their size. Hopefully, they still do.
Of all the old buildings in Napoleon, I like the onetime home of Elias Conwell the best. Like the Central House, it dates to the 1820s. Conwell was quite a character; I told his story here.
That little creek winds all through Napoleon. Here it is on the north side of town, hugging the northbound Michigan Road.
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