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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Life

Ten years of landscaping progress

“You ought to take photographs of your house from the yard now, while your summer flowers are in bloom,” Margaret said. “Your Realtor will probably be very happy to use them in the listing.” Sounds good. So I did it.

This is the result of a ton of landscaping work. It’s not just planting and mulching, but outright repair. Connecting my home to city sewer and then having 21 trees removed tore my yard up almost beyond recognition.

It made me think about the photos I took of the house when I toured it before placing an offer. I found them in my archive. The yard was kind of a mess, but it got far worse than this before it got better.

What a difference! With considerable help from my family, I’ve done a lot of work in this yard over the last 10 years.

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Life, Stories told

Happy life in a modest neighborhood

It’s a modest house in a modest neighborhood. Isn’t the aspiration supposed to be for more, for a fresh build in a tony suburb? But I’ve been happy here, surprisingly so. It has been a good place to rebuild my life after my first marriage crashed and burned.

My humble home

The homes here are ranches, usually faced in brick, largely built in the 1950s and 1960s as people moved out of the city proper. But a couple lots remained vacant until almost 1990, which is about when the golf course was built behind us, putting an end to flooded back yards on each heavy rain. And the cornfield across the main road finally succumbed to suburban sprawl in about 2010 when the megachurch went up. Thanks to the city’s MapIndy site and its historic aerial imagery, you can watch my little neighborhood go from farmland 80 years ago to what it is now.

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I’ve been here ten years now. I probably shouldn’t have bought this house; my divorce left me broke. But I’d moved three times in three years and I craved permanence. And this house was less than a mile from where my sons lived with their mom. And my credit was very good. So I got an ill-advised 100% mortgage and moved in.

I couldn’t see the looming housing bubble about to burst. I couldn’t see my ex-wife soon remarrying and getting that fresh build, that tony suburb, 20 miles away. I wanted to move to live closer to my sons, but my house was suddenly worth less than what I owed on it. And so I remained.

It’s worked out; my sons and I have been happy here. But now my sons are grown and all but gone. And the housing market has recovered. And I’ve remarried; my new wife and I would like to share a roof. This one is too small and would take her youngest son out of his school, so now I’m preparing to put my house on the market.

I’m thrilled to move into the next part of my life, but sad to leave this home behind. I’ve been so content here. Preparing to leave has me in a reflective mood, which drove me to look through my photographs. I was surprised by how many I’ve made around the neighborhood. Could this be the most-photographed neighborhood in Indianapolis? Let me share it with you.

The homes are spaced wide and set back deeply on broad streets. Lots are about a third of an acre.

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In the late autumn and early spring, when the trees are bare, the neighborhood looks dingy and tired. That’s in part because so many houses here have become rentals and receive minimum care. Strangely, all corner houses here are duplexes and have always been rentals. And during the worst of the housing crisis a good number of these modest homes went abandoned into foreclosure.

My front yard

1967 Ford F250

In my neighborhood

But the neighborhood wakes up in the spring, thanks to so many flowering trees the original owners planted.

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

Spring flowering trees

And a few owners have taken great care in their landscaping, which looks best during the summer. And even now, after so many dead ash trees have been removed here, the neighborhood remains heavily wooded and deeply shaded all summer.

Neighbor

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Home in my neighborhood

Because of the tree cover, autumns here can be spectacular.

Neighbor's house under the yellow canopy

Neighborhood trees

Autumn leaves

Autumn Street

Even the wintertime has its charm as the snow hangs in the tree branches. However, the city has plowed our streets but one time that I can remember, making it challenging to get in and out. One snowstorm a few years ago stranded me at home for a week — the snow was simply too deep for my car to cut through.

Snowy day

Mild winter in old suburbia

Snowy day

Snowy neighborhood scene

Down the street

It’s quiet here. Neighbors mostly keep to themselves; I know few of them. But I guess that’s the age. It’s also safe here — crime is very low. About once a year I drive to work and forget to close the garage door. Never once have I found anything missing or even disturbed upon return.

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I won’t miss a few things. The houses that need upkeep but never get it. The one fellow who parks his giant trailer on the street; it’s so hard to see it at night. The neighbors who forget to keep their storm-sewer grates clear, leading to flooded streets under heavy rain. I certainly won’t miss going out in my raincoat and waterproof shoes to rake the drains clear in front of their houses. But I’ll miss a lot of the rest.

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History, Road trips

The Huddleston Farmhouse

You’ll find Quaker influence up and down the National Road across Indiana, but most prominently in Wayne and Hendricks Counties. A prominent Quaker, John Huddleston, settled on this 78-acre site and built his home here, just west of Cambridge City, near the town of New Auburn in Wayne County. He built this house in 1841.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

In addition to being a home for his family (wife Susannah and 11 children), this house provided overnight lodging for National Road travelers. Guests slept on the first floor. The family’s kitchen, dining area, and parlor were on the second floor. The family’s bedrooms were on the third floor.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

This was also a working farm, with the outbuildings you’d expect to find in such a setting.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

I was most taken with the well house and this scene of the pump and barrel.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Indiana Landmarks purchased the property in 1966; it has been their eastern regional office pretty much ever since. It’s open for tours Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings and by appointment. A farmer’s market is hosted here on Saturdays in July and August.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

I’ve yet to happen by when the farmhouse was open. We reached it this Saturday afternoon shortly after it had closed. Perhaps a special trip just to see its inside is in order.


I love the National Road! Check out everything I’ve written about it here.

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Life

Goodbye ash trees; goodbye money

My ash trees are gone. All 21 of them. It changed the view from the street from this (in 2011)…

My little house (crop)

…to this.

Less canopy

The company I hired to remove the trees did a marvelous job. They also gave me hardship pricing, bless their hearts. It was still a hard check to write, but based on some other estimates I got that check could have been as much as 2.5 times harder to write.

The crew started on a Saturday, took Sunday off, and finished Monday. This was my back yard on Sunday.

Goodbye, ash trees

Here’s the same scene on Tuesday, after a fellow came and did final cleanup.

Empty back yard

My back yard had previously been heavily shaded, which I always enjoyed. It made for pleasant sitting on the deck on a summer day.

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But now it’s bare like brand-new construction. If I planted one good tree about 10 feet out from the deck, it would eventually provide shade. I’m partial to maples, so that’s probably what I’d do. If I ever get to it; there are so many other home projects that are more important right now.

Empty back yard

While I’ll miss the backyard shade, I will not miss the tree that used to hang over my driveway. Birds loved to nest in it. They pooped mercilessly onto my cars.

And the birds will no longer shit on my cars

My poor cars. Those dirty birds.

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Photography, Preservation

Strolling through Lockerbie Square

Lockerbie Square is the oldest surviving residential district in Indianapolis, and it’s wonderfully restored and preserved. I found myself there on a Downtown stroll with my Pentax ES II.

Homes in Lockerbie

What a perfect time to photograph Lockerbie’s homes: the trees had just started to leaf, lending color and interest to my photos, but weren’t so full that they blocked the homes.

Little house in Lockerbie

It was also midevening. The sun’s warm light cast interesting shadows everywhere.

Lockerbie House

I occasionally encountered people on the street, residents I’m sure. None of them gave me and my camera a second glance. Perhaps Lockerbie is a frequent photo destination?

Street in Lockerbie

Even when you have no camera in your hands, Lockerbie is a charming evening stroll.

Lockerbie House

Lockerbie Square was built by immigrants, and most of its homes were constructed before 1910. By World War II, the neighborhood was in decline; many of these homes had become boardinghouses and apartments.

Door in Lockerbie

But from about the 1960s the neighborhood began to be restored. Some of these homes were in deplorable condition, but today every last one is well loved and well cared for.

The Riley home

On the only surviving cobblestone street in Indianapolis stands the former home of Lockerbie’s most famous resident, James Whitcomb Riley. In his day, he was an enormously famous Hoosier. The home is open for tours. I’ve done it twice, it’s so good. The house is very nearly as it was in Riley’s day, with most of the furniture being what Riley and the family with which he lived all used. This is as close to a time capsule house as you’ll ever find.

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