I originally published this post in 2013. This year I started a job in a building right by this bridge, so I drive over it frequently. It made me want to dust this post off and share it again.
It is the last steel truss bridge in Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana, and it’s named after one of Indy’s most famous sons, Astronaut David Wolf. And I love to drive over it!
The Astronaut. David Wolf was born and raised in Indianapolis, got his undergraduate degree at Purdue University, and earned a medical degree from Indiana University. He then became a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force. Soon he joined the Johnson Space Center in Houston and later the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where was selected to become an astronaut. He’s since spent more than 168 days in space.
True story: My first wife was a photographer in the Indiana Air National Guard when I met her, and had a framed, autographed head shot of David Wolf. The inscription read something like, “To the best photographer I know.” She took the photograph! (That’s not her photograph at right.)
The Bridge. It is a two-span riveted Parker through truss bridge with Warren pony approach trusses on either end. The Indiana State Highway Commission built it in 1941 to carry State Road 100; back then, this was way out in the sticks. But since then the city sprawled out this far, and later the state relinquished the road and the bridge to the city. Remarkably, the city has stepped up to maintain this bridge (it hasn’t with other former highway bridges, such as this one). When it widened the road to four lanes in the late 1980s, it built a new neighboring bridge to carry westbound traffic and routed eastbound traffic over the old trusses. The city carefully restored this bridge in 2008. It carries more than 40,000 cars across the White River every day!
Because this bridge is so long (547.8 feet) and is tightly hemmed in by strip malls on all sides, it is difficult to photograph. I’ve never found a place to stand were I can fit the whole thing inside my lens. Here’s the western Parker truss.
The Drive. This bridge and I both live in the same township, and it’s between me and major shopping, so I’m out this way frequently enough. It always lifts my spirits to drive over it. I love watching it come into view and then experiencing the truss shadows as I drive through them. Here, experience it with me!
Is it silly of me that every time I drive over this great bridge, I exclaim, “It’s always a good day when I get to drive across the Astronaut David Wolf Bridge!”? Never mind, don’t tell me. I’m cool with being silly.
It was very late to the party: the last segment of the old Michigan Road to be added to Indiana’s modern state highway system.
The state of Indiana built the Michigan Road during the 1830s to connect Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capital in Indianapolis.
Indiana built other roads at about the same time, but none like the Michigan Road. Its right-of-way was enormous at 100 feet wide; the road itself used the central third. Even though the road was barely a dirt path at first, it was arguably the grandest road in Indiana. It was a major commerce route that opened deeply wooded northern Indiana to settlers.
The railroad’s rise in the late 1800s led the Michigan Road and all other major roads into disuse and disrepair. But around the turn of the 20th century, the bicycle and the automobile made good roads a priority. Indiana responded in 1917 with its State Highway Commission, which laid a fledgling network of highways over existing major routes and began to improve them, in turn from dirt to gravel to brick or concrete, and eventually to asphalt.
The State Highway Commission numbered just five State Roads in its first year. You might be surprised to learn that the Michigan Road was not among them.
Not in its entirety, at least. State Roads were laid out along portions of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana: from about Rolling Prairie east to South Bend, and then from South Bend south to Rochester.
The east-west segment was part of State Road 2, which followed the 1913 Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast auto trail established through the work of entrepreneur Carl Fisher. The north-south section was part of State Road 1, which continued south from Rochester along a new road that passed through Peru and Kokomo on its way to Indianpolis and, ultimately, the Ohio River across from Louisville.
Naturally, all major Indiana cities wanted a good, direct road leading to the state capital, and towns in between wanted to be on those roads. A road would lead from South Bend to Indianapolis. Logansport wanted to be on that route. You have to wonder why the state chose State Road 1 through Peru and Kokomo over the Michigan Road through Logansport. The Michigan Road’s generous right-of-way would certainly ease future improvements. Perhaps the state wanted to provide good-road access to two towns rather than just one. Perhaps Peru and Kokomo had a more effective lobby.
Officials in Logansport went down fighting, agitating for the state to hard-surface the Michigan Road rather than State Road 1 south from Plymouth, as the inset 1919 newspaper article reports. They even claimed — incorrectly — that the Michigan Road was a little shorter.
Alas, State Road 1 was paved.
Indiana expanded its State Road system to more than 50 roads by 1926, adding most of the Michigan Road in the process. The portion from Madison to Indianapolis became State Road 6. The portion from Indianapolis to Logansport became State Road 15.
(By the way, State Road 15 continued northwest from Logansport through Winamac and La Porte to Michigan City, fulfilling the Michigan Road’s mission in much more direct fashion. The indirect route through South Bend had been a compromise — one South Bend certainly enjoyed — to avoid the Kankakee Marsh in northwest Indiana. In the 1830s, no road could be built there. A series of ditches built in the late 1800s through about 1917 drained the marsh, and then by 1922 the river itself was dredged. The direct route finally could be, and was, built. It is US 35 today.)
But the portion of the Michigan Road from Logansport to Rochester remained off the grid.
The U.S. route system we know today was established in 1927. Several State Roads became U.S. highways. Indiana renumbered its State Roads to eliminate numbers the same as the new U.S. routes and to tame what had become a messy numbering scheme. The Michigan Road from Madison to Logansport became State Road 29 (except for a rural segment south of Napoleon in Ripley County, which the highway bypassed to loop in nearby Osgood and Versailles). Old State Road 1, including the Michigan Road from South Bend to Rochester, became US 31. The Michigan Road from South Bend to Michigan City became part of US 20.
Also in 1927, the State Highway Commission decided to build a State Road from Lafayette to Warsaw. To be named State Road 25, it would pass through Logansport and Rochester. At last, this segment of the Michigan Road would join the state highway system! It was added first, in 1928; the rest of State Road 25 was added in stages over the next few years. The state highway map segments above tell the story. In 1923, the Michigan Road didn’t appear between Rochester and Logansport. In 1927 a dotted line appeared to show that the road was approved to be added to the system. In 1928, the thick black line shows that the road was not only added, but hard surfaced, except for a small portion near Fulton. The broken line there and elsewhere on the map indicates a gravel road.
Logansport got its wish nine years too late, as by that time US 31 had become the dominant route to Indianapolis. Not that it mattered much in the long run — US 31 might have boosted Kokomo’s and Peru’s prosperity for a time, but US 31 was rerouted around both towns in the 1970s and traffic through these towns slowed to a trickle. All three towns experienced serious decline toward the end of the 20th century, for reasons bigger than rerouted highways. None is noticeably better off than the others today.
See an index of everything I’ve written about the Michigan Road here.
At the encouragement of fellow blogger Dan James I got my Canon PowerShot S80 out and have been shooting it. This 2005 camera is positively ancient as digital cameras go, but it still works and delivers fine shapness and color in its eight-megapixel images. It’s been frightfully cold so I haven’t been out shooting much, but now that it’s March it should start warming up.
The S80 was a gift from a reader. (Lone Primate, are you still out there?) It became my chief road-trip camera, such as on a trip exploring all the old bridges of Putnam County, Indiana, in 2010. (Read about that trip here and here.)
I also used the S80 as I explored US 50 across Indiana in 2010. It’s a spectacular road.
If you ever get a chance to drive Indiana’s US 50, do. It’s lined with charming little towns with plenty of great old architecture.
This wooden bridge was on US 50’s original alignment in Jennings County, Indiana. It’s been demolished in a road realignment. Never delay taking a road trip — what’s here today might not be tomorrow!
I made this quick shot in my hometown of South Bend while there on business one afternoon.
When each of my sons turned 13 I took them on the train to Chicago, just son and father, for a weekend of sightseeing. My older son and I explored Millennium Park one foggy morning.
The S80 whetted my appetite for a high-quality compact digital camera. Canon had recently released the S80’s successor, the S90, which they shortly updated as the S95. That’s the camera I went for in late 2010; my S80 days were brief in comparison to all the years I’ve used the S95. But when I charged the S80’s battery and inserted it, the camera fired right up. Let’s see what it can do.
New Carlisle is a cheerful Indiana small town about 15 miles west of South Bend on a triply historic road: US 20, the longest US highway; the Lincoln Highway, our nation’s first coast-to-coast road; and the Michigan Road, which has linked the Ohio River to Lake Michigan since the 1830s. The town has been there since 1835, not long after the road was built.
As you enter New Carlisle from the east, you take a tight S curve under a railroad bridge and along a retaining wall that greets you cheerfully.
Until 1926 the road ran straight, crossing the tracks at a dangerous angle that was the scene of many accidents. Four rail lines passed through: two owned by the New York Central Railroad; one by the Chicago, South Bend, and Northern Indiana Railway; and one by the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad. The South Shore tracks were a few feet lower than the New York Central tracks, making for an uneven crossing and increasing motorists’ challenge.
Negotiations with the railroads to build a viaduct and reroute the road for safer passage dragged on for several years but kicked into high gear when New Carlisle passed an ordinance limiting trains to eight miles per hour. That got the railroads’ attention. Terms were worked out, the bridge was built, and the road was curved.
After you negotiate that curve, New Carlisle unfolds before you, tidy and cheerful. Little has changed, at least cosmetically, in this town since before World War II. Check out this mural of the town as it was in about 1941, painted on the side of one of downtown’s buildings.
Downtown New Carlisle has changed little since those days! You’ll have to take my word for it to some extent, as I made these photographs in 2008. Margaret and I drove through on our late-December Michigan Road trip, but heavy rain made it a poor day for photography. But we could see it: New Carlisle still looks very much like this.
I’m always curious why some small Indiana towns remain well-maintained and others don’t. Money obviously makes the difference. But where does New Carlisle’s come from? There’s no real industry here, to speak of. It’s too far away from Chicago to be a commuter town. I suppose many residents commute to South Bend to work; is that enough?
Regardless, everywhere you look in New Carlisle’ downtown, the buildings are in good condition. Something must be going right here — unlike so many Indiana towns of similar size, New Carlisle is growing. Its population remained flat at about 1,400 for several decades, but between 2000 and 2010 it swelled to over 1,800.
As you keep heading west you soon leave the downtown area and pass many lovely older homes.
This church is right on Michigan Street. The sign says, “God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.”
Memorial Park is on Michigan Street, too. It’s a lovely spot to rest on a lovely street in a lovely town.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
To me, late autumn is the best time to see these trees as it makes their jagged and knurled branches visible.
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.
Turning around for a look back, you can see how the Michigan Road used to flow directly from this road segment.
Canon PowerShot S95
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