History, Road Trips

Mysteries solved, puzzles revealed in the route of the Michigan Road through Indiana

When my Michigan Road partner Kurt and I laid out the Historic Michigan Road Byway, most of the route was obvious. The road is still all there, with but a few minor reroutings. You can drive it from end to end.

We did puzzle, however, over how the road proceeded through a few cities and towns. Where the road entered and exited was always clear, but which streets it followed through town was sometimes not. We made our best guesses.

Thanks to the fabulous Indiana Transportation History group on Facebook, I was introduced to a book called Development and Lands of Michigan Road, prepared in 1914 by the Indiana State Board of Accounts. It looks like they found and documented the original 1832 surveys for the road! You can see this remarkable book here

This book clears up some mysteries, but creates others. The first puzzle it solves is the road’s original route through downtown Indianapolis.

Clarity into the route through Indianapolis

Indiana Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library

Looking at the book’s map, which represents the original Mile Square of Indianapolis, it is clear that the road enters downtown from the east along what is now Southeastern Ave. before turning west onto Washington Street, which is also the National Road. It’s also clear that the road exits to the north on what is now Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St.

But it’s also clear that the road as surveyed turns north on Meridian Street, goes around Monument Circle, and then heads northwest along Indiana Avenue.

When we laid out the byway, we made it follow Washington Street all the way across the Mile Square to its edge at West St., and then north. It’s easy to describe, easy to follow. It also guides travelers past the lovely Indiana Statehouse, a nice bonus.

The original route, in contrast, is hard to follow. Monument Circle is frequently closed for events. One block of Indiana Avenue was removed in favor of a skyscraper. Compensating for that requires driving a series of one-way streets. So I don’t feel that bad that we got it wrong here.

Deepening mystery on the route through Logansport

The book shows a very different route through Logansport than we assumed. We routed it entirely over what is now State Road 25 through town, crossing Biddle Island as it enters downtown. You can see SR 25 on the map snippet at right below.

But the book shows the road entering Logansport and veering north, probably along what is now Lymas Ave. and Cicott St., crossing the Wabash west of Biddle Island, and then running along the Eel River’s north bank and then out of town. I’ve marked in red on the Google map what I think this routing must have been.

Left: Indiana Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library
Right: Map data © 2018 Google

But an 1836 map of Logansport shows the Michigan Road crossing both the Eel and the Wabash via Biddle Island, as we’ve routed the byway. You can see that map here. Given that the road was surveyed in 1832 — four years before this later map — I wonder whether the road ever ran as surveyed.

Mucking things up in Michigan City

Early descriptions of the Michigan Road we’ve found always say that it ends at the mouth of Trail Creek at Lake Michigan. The survey map bears that out!

Indiana Map Collection, Indiana Division, Indiana State Library

Unfortunately for the byway, the road no longer goes all the way through to the lake. It stops about 1,000 feet before it crosses Trail Creek, at an intersection with US 12.

We routed the byway from there west along US 12, ending it where US 12 meets Willard Ave. I have a dim memory that this is where the early-20th-century Michigan Road auto trail ended. But I have no idea where that memory comes from. If I had it to do over, I’d end the Historic Michigan Road Byway at the intersection of Michigan Blvd. and US 12 in Michigan City.

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Road Trips

A visit to the sycamores

Margaret and I recently took a mini road trip up the Michigan Road. We made it as far as Logansport, where we had dinner and then headed back. But on the way up we stopped to see Sycamore Row.

Sycamore Row

It’s always grand to see these old trees, even if the story on the historic sign might be more legend than fact. Nobody knows for sure why these trees are here.

Sycamore Row

But we’re glad they are. We’re also glad that new sycamores are occasionally planted. Historic photos of Sycamore Row show many, many more sycamores here than there are now.

Sycamore Row

To me, late autumn is the best time to see these trees as it makes their jagged and knurled branches visible.

Sycamore Row

This old alignment ends at Deer Creek. A steel truss bridge carried this alignment over the creek here until 1987, when a new alignment was built several feet to the east. Locals above a certain age remember how harrowing it was to encounter an oncoming semi in here.

Sycamore Row

Turning around for a look back, you can see how the Michigan Road used to flow directly from this road segment. 

Sycamore Row

Canon PowerShot S95

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Lilly Lake, Eagle Creek Park *EXPLORED*

Autumn at Lilly Lake
Canon Canonet QL17 G-III
Agfa Vista 200
2018

This photo was featured in Flickr Explore on November 19. It’s always fun to see all the likes and comments when one of my photos makes Explore.

I wonder how many Flickr viewers had any idea that I was shooting film? To know, they’d only have to click through to my image’s page and read the description.

Can an experienced eye guess that this is a film photograph? To me, the sky is the tell. It has a nuance to it that digital cameras seem unable to capture. They tend to render skies almost too perfectly, with wispy clouds against a sea of perfect azure.

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Film Photography

single frame: Autumn at Lilly Lake

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Personal, Stories Told

The best customer-service experience I’ve ever had

I applied for a job that asked me to write a few short essays on topics germane to the role. One of them, as this post’s title says, was to tell about an amazing customer-service experience I’ve had. You might enjoy the story.

I had an amazing customer service experience with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Yes, you read that right — the BMV. It showed me that persistence and savvy can solve a thorny customer problem.

It was 1994. My license was due to expire so I went to the nearest license branch to renew it. The clerk said, “Mr. Grey, the computer says you renewed your license at the Lawrence branch last month.” That was 90 miles from where I was standing. I’d never been to that town.

Dog in the wayback

This happened long before the phrase “identity theft” had been coined, long before data security was any kind of concern. We were all incredibly careless with our personal information then. It was common to have your Social Security number printed on your checks! Mine was. Heck, until just a few years before this story happened, your SSN was your driver’s license number in Indiana. Clerks at Kroger used to validate the checks I used to pay for my groceries by making sure the SSN on my check matched my driver’s license number. It was madness.

This problem was beyond the clerk’s authority, so she gave me a number to call. The representative who answered lacked the authority to help me as well. “I’m not even sure who can help you with this,” she said. “But I’ll find out. Give me a number where I can reach you. Here’s my number in case you don’t hear from me in the next day or so.”

That day-or-so stretched into a couple weeks, with that rep and I calling each other every few days to check in. She tried office after office at the BMV until she found someone both with the authority and the willingness to take on my case.

The woman who now had my case was some sort of upper-level manager. After I mailed her documentation that proved my identity to her satisfaction, she told me what she knew. “We think someone walked into the Lawrence branch claiming they were you and that they had lost their license card, sweet talked a clerk, and walked out with a license in your name but with their photo on it.”

License plate

“This is not going to be easy, but I am going to do everything I can to resolve this for you,” she said. “I will take this all the way to the BMV Commissioner if I have to, and I may have to.” She advised me to check my credit reports and criminal records in several Indiana counties to see if my impostor was doing dirty deeds in my name. She gave me her phone number so I could stay in touch.

It took her weeks to sort it out, working with various BMV offices to coordinate the solution. She authorized an entirely new driver’s license number for me and put an alert on my old record that the license was fraudulent. “You need to know that we’ve never done anything like this, not in all the years I’ve been here. But we allowed this problem to happen and it is on us to fix it for you. By the way, if the police pull the impostor over for speeding,” she said, “he’ll find himself in handcuffs!”

I was lucky; my credit did not get torched and the sheriff did not appear at my door because of something my impostor did. There was an upside for me, though. The BMV’s ancient computer couldn’t transfer my driving record to my new license, which made two speeding tickets disappear. Poof!

What made this a great customer service experience was:

  • Persistence. Everybody I encountered worked hard on this problem, jumping hurdles and removing obstacles, until it was resolved.
  • Savvy. The BMV was a giant state bureaucracy, with miles of red tape. The customer-service rep and the upper-level manager both knew how to navigate it expertly.
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Road Trips

The one old alignment of the National Road in eastern Indiana and the mystery of Star Blvd.

There’s but one old alignment of the National Road in eastern Indiana, and it stretches 4 miles from Dunrieth west through Raysville to the east edge of Knightstown. From there it’s about 33 miles to downtown Indianapolis.

OldNREastIN

Imagery and map data ©2018 Google.

Modern US 40 was built in about 1940, leaving this old route behind. Here’s where it begins on Dunrieth’s west edge. This is an eastbound photo. It’s cut off from US 40; to reach it, you have to turn south in Dunrieth proper and follow the town’s streets to this location.

Old NR/US 40

Turning around from the same spot, here’s the westbound road. Whenever I see an old alignment covered in asphalt I’m intensely curious to know what paving materials lurk beneath. Concrete? Brick?

Old NR/US 40

As the road enters Raysville it runs under this old Pennsylvania Railroad overpass.

Railroad overpass

On the other side of the overpass, facing eastbound, this little sliver of road breaks off from the old National Road. It’s signed Star Blvd.

Possible old US 40 alignment

As you can see in the map snippet below, it curves up and around much like modern US 40 does. I wondered for a long time whether this was a newer old alignment of the road. Did the state reroute the National Road more or less along its modern alignment between Dunreith and Raysville some number of years before building the modern four lane, divided road?

StarBlvd

Imagery and map data ©2018 Google.

I asked the wonderful Indiana Transportation History group on Facebook. I got my answer fast: it’s a previous routing of that PRR line. It was actually part of the old Indiana Central Railroad before PRR bought it and built the grade separation and new alignment. They did that in the 1900-1920 timeframe. Star Blvd. is the old PRR rail bed.

Star Ave

There it is, the old PRR bed, currently a narrow road for local traffic. The old National Road and US 40 had but two alignments here: the original and the 1940 US 40 expressway.

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Road Trips

Classic motels on US 40 in Wayne County, Indiana

One of these days I ought to survey all of the classic motels on US 40 in Indiana. There are quite a few, primarily in Wayne, Marion, and Hendricks Counties with a few others popping up here and there. Many of them still serve guests, even if those guests stay for months or years at a time and call their room home.

Wayne County borders Ohio and so is the eastern gateway to Indiana along what was once the National Road. It still has these operating classic motels.

Holiday Motel

First is the Holiday Motel, which is within the Richmond city limits. Like all of the Wayne County hotels, it uses a plastic box sign. It once had a larger sign lit with neon tubing, according to an old postcard image I found on the Web (here).

Holiday Motel

The Holiday Motel’s U configuration makes efficient use of limited city space.

Holiday Motel

You come upon the City View Motel after you leave Richmond proper. It’s most of the way to Centerville, actually, and has a Centerville address.

City View Motel

In contrast to the urban Holiday Motel, the outskirts-of-town City View sprawls out across a wide lot.

City View Motel

Whenever I see a plastic box sign on a classic motel, I assume there was once a more interesting neon sign in the hotel’s past. A Web search turned up one postcard that showed the City View’s onetime neon sign (here).

City View Motel

The Richmond Motel is even farther away from Richmond than the City View. It’s on the eastern edge of Centerville.

Richmond Motel

It, too, once had a far more interesting sign. You can see it here.

Richmond Motel

It also sprawls wide, taking advantage of its more rural setting. I think it’s the most cheerful looking of the Wayne County motels with its red and gray color scheme.

Richmond Motel

There’s just one more Wayne County hotel, on the very western edge of Centerville. I made just this one photo of it. There’s no sign, which leads me to believe this motel serves as inexpensive apartments now. But at one time this was the Green Acres Motel; see an old postcard of it here.

Unsigned former motel

Motels have been an occasional subject here — click here for photos and stories of all the motels I’ve written about on all kinds of old roads.

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