One reason I wanted to bicycle across Indiana was because when I drive it in my car, I whiz by things too fast to notice them. Even when I do notice them, frequently there’s no place to put the car so I can stop and photograph it. A bicycle stows neatly on even the narrowest shoulder.
The National Road is one of Indiana’s oldest roads, originally built in the 1830s. It opened travel into what was then considered the West from the East. As such, people settled on it. A number of homes from the 1800s still stand on the National Road all the way across Indiana. Here are a bunch of them. Each photo is geotagged on Flickr; click the photo to see it there and to access Flickr’s map.
You’ll find this beauty just west of Richmond.
This house is across the street and slightly west of the one above.
This house, a former inn, is on the east side of Centerville.
These two old brick houses are in the same block as the house above.
This large frame house is on the west edge of Centerville.
I found this sturdy brick house in East Germantown, in Wayne County.
This incredible beauty is on the east side of Cambridge City.
This is the Huddleston Farmhouse, which I toured some years ago and blogged about here and here. Those shutters need some maintenance.
This looks like two adjacent structures to me. They’re commercial businesses now, but I’ll bet they were originally residences. They’re in Dublin.
This house is also in Dublin. It looks newer than any of the others I’ve shared so far, late 1800s or even very early 1900s.
This old house is at the main crossroads in Lewisville.
You’ll find this house on the original National Road alignment west of Dunreith.
I’m no architectural expert but I’ve learned some things over the years that help me date houses. I’m stymied by this one — could be anywhere from 1850 to 1920. It’s in Knightstown.
This beauty is also in Knightstown.
As is this one.
This stylish frame house stands west of Charlottesville in Hancock County. All the times I’ve driven the National Road across Indiana, and I’ve never noticed this house before. Bicycling my way across helped me see it.
Many interesting old houses face the road in Greenfield, but this one looks the oldest to me.
There’s a dot on the National Road map called Philadelphia, and you’ll find this house there.
This grand house in Indianapolis’s Irvington neighborhood has been adapted into a church. It’s not actually right on the National Road, but it’s incredibly visible from it.
We’re now on the west side Indiana’s National Road, in Plainfield.
This one is also in Plainfield.
This house is west of Plainfield and serves as the main building on a golf course. It’s just east of the abandoned US 40 bridge.
This is Rising Hall, right on the Hendricks/Putnam County line. I will likely write a longer post about this house alone.
This house stands alone on the road in Putnam County.
This is the McKinley House, which stands near Harmony in Clay County. I’ll certainly do a Then and Now post about it, as I photographed it many years ago when it wore a different paint scheme.
This appears to be among the newer homes in this collection, but I like it. It’s on State Road 340, the original alignment of the National Road, near Cloverland.
These are the interesting old houses that I photographed. I’m sure I missed some, including several in Vigo County that I didn’t photograph because it was raining. I’ll have to go back and get them another day!
The idea for my Ride Across Indiana was sparked on July 7, 2007. That day my longtime friend Dawn and I followed the National Road across Illinois, starting at the Indiana state line. There we found this:
I have always loved to ride my bicycle! But I’m not a serious, competitive cyclist, as the RAIN riders very much appeared to be. I rode for pleasure, to feel the sun in my face and the wind in my hair. (I began my riding days in the 1970s and 1980s, when nobody wore helmets.) The idea of riding across Indiana was compelling, but I couldn’t fathom being in the condition necessary to ride 160 miles in a day, or to be willing to afford an expensive, serious bicycle.
I’m unathletic and clumsy. I don’t much enjoy sports, and thanks in part to a mild impairment that robs me of three-dimensional vision, was never any good at them. But at age 7, on the day my father bought me a used Schwinn I got on and rode it like I was born to be on the seat. It’s the only physical activity I ever took to easily. Until I went away to college, I went everywhere on my bicycle. In my early teens I bought a new 3 speed at a sporting-goods store. It and I were a perfect fit. I put thousands of miles on that bike in the ten years or so I owned it.
The idea of the RAIN ride reawakened my desire to ride. I owned a good bicycle then, a hybrid with knobby tires. I rode it sometimes but didn’t love it. I preferred a 3 speed’s upright riding position and big, padded, springy seat. I couldn’t find a new 3 speed anywhere, so I searched Craigslist for a used one. Soon I found the 1986 Schwinn Collegiate that I still ride. I paid $60 for it, and invested about $100 in a tuneup to bring it into good riding condition.
I still didn’t ride all that much. Life was far too full, and besides, where I lived then afforded no places to ride that weren’t choked with car traffic. But my Schwinn was always there, ready to go.
Planning the trip
The idea to ride across Indiana was rekindled a few years ago when a good friend told me that he was planning to walk across Scotland that year with a group of colleagues. He wondered if I had any audacious ideas like that. “I’ve always wanted to ride my bicycle all the way across Indiana on US 40,” I said. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but it came to mind immediately.
But I wouldn’t do the ride in one day, I said. I’d want to break it up into multiple days, maybe over a week’s time. I want to really see US 40, the old National Road. I’d toured it by car several times, but I was sure I’d whizzed by several things I didn’t even notice. There were also things along the road that I wanted to stop and see, but there was no place to put the car. On a bicycle, I’d be going slowly enough to see everything and could park anywhere.
Moreover, I’m a middle-aged man now in middling physical condition. I don’t believe I could ever be ready for a 160-mile one-day ride.
I moved from Indianapolis to Zionsville four years ago, and then in 2020 the pandemic hit. Thanks to emotional eating and a slowed middle-age metabolism, I was packing on pounds. I started riding again as a way of managing my weight. I was working from home, which gave me some time back because I wasn’t commuting. Moreover, if I rode over my lunch hour and came back sweaty, nobody cared because we were all on Zoom. My suburban home is a few minutes’ ride from little-traveled country roads among the corn and soybean fields, which made for carefree riding, my favorite kind.
It hit me this year that working from home gave me the time and ability to train for this bucket-list ride. I mentioned the idea to Margaret, who was unequivocal: “You need to do this!” So I began training. All year I’ve been taking longer and longer rides to build up my chops. As I did that, I found a comfortable pace and learned my limits, which told me that I should break up the ride into about four days of 30-40 miles each. Fortunately, there were accommodations and restaurants along the route at about those intervals.
A plan started to come together. I bought the gear I’d need for the ride, booked the hotels and Airbnbs, and trained. I chose the week before Labor Day for the trip, and hoped the weather would cooperate. I didn’t want to ride in the rain as my brakes are poor when wet. Unfortunately, as my start date approached the forecast called for thunderstorms my first two days. I pushed the ride out to avoid the rain. It wasn’t any fun at all to re-figure-out the whole ride, especially when availability of accommodations forced me to change the route from west-east to east-west. But I did it.
Despite all of this training and preparation, I told nobody outside my family about this goal, because I wasn’t sure enough that I would do it. What if this much riding was too hard on my middle-aged body? What if the Schwinn wasn’t the right bike for the job? New bikes are hard to come by these days. What if bad weather wiped the whole trip out? It wasn’t until mid August, just a couple weeks before the trip, that I decided the risk of scrubbing the mission had become low enough that I was willing to tell anyone I was going to do it.
Riding the ride
I knew the ride would be physically demanding, but I thought I’d still want to stop to photograph absolutely everything that interested me. I stopped a lot, but it was mostly to rest. Especially in the afternoons, as fatigue and soreness increasingly caught up with me, I just wanted to get to where I was going so I could be off the saddle and rest!
Here was my route:
The first day I rode from my hotel less than a half mile from the Ohio state line, east to Dunreith, 33 miles. There was one short old alignment at the very beginning of my ride, but otherwise the route followed the four-lane US 40. I had a flat tire at the very end of that old alignment, which was frustrating and time-draining. I rode through two of my favorite National Road towns, Centerville and Cambridge City. I was tired by the end of the first day, and my back was sore, but I was in good spirits.
The second day I rode from Dunreith to Downtown Indianapolis, 39 miles. Again, the day began with an old alignment, the original route of the road all the way to Knightstown, about 4.5 miles away. It’s a lovely stretch of quiet country road. Otherwise, I rode on the four-lane US 40, which passed mostly through open farm country. I arrived in Downtown Indianapolis a little more tired than the day before, but in good enough spirits to meet my brother and his girlfriend for drinks.
The third day I rode from Downtown Indianapolis to Cloverdale, a town a few miles off US 40. This was my longest day, at 44 miles. It was also my hardest day — it took me 8.5 hours to reach my destination, a full two hours longer than any other day on the trip. Not only was this the hilliest day of the trip, but also, I struggled with poor energy all afternoon. I think the drinks the night before, plus poor food choices all day (including an insufficient lunch and a sugar-bomb sundae at a Dairy Queen in Plainfield), messed me up. I was incredibly relieved when this day was over. At least I got to ride over the Washington Street bridge in Indianapolis, which used to carry US 40 but has been pedestrian-only for at least 30 years now.
The fourth day I rode from Cloverdale to Terre Haute, 36.5 miles. My original plan was to ride all the way to the Illinois line, which would have added 18 miles to the day — 9 miles to the state line and 9 miles back. I knew I didn’t have that in me. So I shortened the route to the Vigo County Courthouse where the National Road met US 41. But then it rained all afternoon. Not only were my brakes useless, but my handlebar grips were slippery. In the interest of safety I cut the day short, and rode straight to my friend Michael’s house, in town. But it was a day of good spirits and energy, and I got to see several old alignments of the road, including three in Putnam County and one long one in Clay County.
Despite not photographing things as extensively as I wanted to, I made more than 500 photographs along the way. I’ll share images and stories in the weeks to come.
My bicycle, a 1986 Schwinn Collegiate 3 speed, is heavy. If I had this trip to do over again, I’d rather do it on a much lighter bicycle. However, I would still want an upright riding position. A bent-over position would be too hard on my back.
On some hills, I would have killed to have a granny gear, that is, a gear with a very high ratio. Going up some of the hills, even first gear wasn’t low enough and I really strained. I would have pedaled a lot more using a granny gear but it would have been less strain.
When you’re having a hard time, there’s nothing to do but keep going. You will eventually arrive at your destination.
Pleasures can come at unexpected times. Do your best to not be so focused on the ride that you miss the good things by the roadside.
I should have skipped the drinks in Indianapolis on the evening of the second day, and eaten better on the third day.
Now that I’ve done this, I’m pleased to have done it, but I need never do anything like it again.
On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site back then, but am now bringing those articles over to this blog.
Just after sunrise, Brian and I headed for the Michigan border. As the photo below shows, we were reminded that Hoosier hospitality is no accident. Neither is it an accident that tobacco and fireworks are available at the border – Indiana’s tobacco taxes are lower than Michigan’s, and Indiana allows fireworks that Michigan doesn’t. When I was young, Hoosiers of a certain age liked to visit the liquor store that used to stand on the other side of State Line Road, because you could buy beer at 18 in Michigan then. Hoosiers sure called that hospitality! Michigan’s legal age was 21 by the time I was old enough to care.
Old US 31 enters Indiana as a five-lane slab on a straight line from Michigan, as this map shows.
The US 31 strip at the border was a blight during our childhoods and remains so now, as this southbound photo shows.
On the Indiana side, the road is State Road 933. In Michigan it becomes M-51. But to all of us who lived in Michiana before the bypass, this road will always be “31” — or Dixie Way, a nod to it being part of the Dixie Highway.
An old motel, which at night is just an otel, sat a few buildings south of the state line. The building wasn’t much to see, but the sign might please neon fans.
Roseland begins as soon as you drive under the Indiana Toll Road (I-80 and I-90), as the map below shows. The town is known today for its ongoing political squabbles. Just two days before our trip, a notorious member of Roseland’s town council was ejected from a council meeting for being too argumentative. The story goes that he then lipped off to the town marshal, who roughed him up. Roseland’s quite the Peyton Place, it seems. But when I was a kid, it was just a sea of neon you had to pass through at exactly 35 mph or get stopped for speeding. Much of the neon’s gone, but as I entered Roseland at 55 mph, Brian had to remind me that the cops still love to enhance town revenue with speed traps.
The photo below shows the Toll Road overpass with Roseland framed beneath it. The road just north of the overpass is Cleveland Road. It was never US 31, but is currently designated Business 31 west of this intersection because it provides a connection to current US 31.
Next: Old US 31 and the Dixie Highway in South Bend.
On September 15, 2007, one of my oldest friends and I went in search of the original alignments of US 31 in Indiana from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site. But I’m slowly bringing all of those articles to this blog so I can repurpose that URL for another project I have in mind. This is the first of many posts about that road trip.
A silver bus rolled along a narrow Indiana highway, a wanted man aboard: Richard Kimble, in the TV series The Fugitive. The bus turned a corner as the camera dollied away, revealing a US 31 shield on the road.
I leaned forward in my chair, wondering when US 31 had ever been just two lanes in Indiana. All of my trips down US 31 to that time more than 20 years ago had been on the dull four-lane divided highway to Indianapolis. But there it was, a two-lane US 31 on an episode of The Fugitive, shot in the 1960s.
I didn’t know that much of US 31’s original two-lane route in northern Indiana still existed. I also didn’t know that the road had a long and important history before Richard Kimble stepped onto it on TV. But during the years I drove back and forth to college along US 31, I sometimes noticed road signs marked “Old US 31.” I told myself I ought to explore them one day. I tried once near Rochester, and I promptly got lost. I was daunted. But even though I stuck to the well-marked roads for many years after that, my curiosity never abated.
US 31 and I go way back because I grew up four blocks from it on South Bend’s south side. I used to ride my bike those four blocks to a little grocery when my family ran out of milk. Dad always called the road Dixieway, despite the US 31 shields every few blocks and the Michigan St. signs on every corner. Dad said that in the old days you could follow Dixieway all the way to “the South.” Turns out he was right. At a time before highways were numbered, this road was part of a small network of roads called the Dixie Highway that did indeed stretch to the South, to points deep in Florida.
This road has had other names. In the 1920s, Indiana created a state highway system and gave this road the number 1. Also, the portion of this road from downtown South Bend to Rochester was originally part of the Michigan Road, which the state built in the 1830s from the Ohio River at Madison, through Indianapolis, and to Lake Michigan at Michigan City, to stimulate migration and commerce through the state.
The excerpt at left from a 1925 Rand McNally map shows all three designations along this stretch. State Road 1 is marked by a circled 1, the Dixie Highway is marked by the number 25 in a dark square, and the Michigan Road is marked by the number 26 in a dark square.
Then in 1926, the federal highway system came into being. US 31 shields appeared along the highway to reflect its new number, and the old names eventually fell into disuse.
I don’t know just when, but it was probably in the 1960s and 1970s that US 31 was widened to four divided lanes and rerouted to bypass several towns. I’m sure the road was a welcome relief for travelers. But I grew to dislike the four-lane US 31 for being so boring to drive, and I tried to avoid it. I discovered the network of state highways, which usually added a little time to my trip but were a prettier and more engaging drive. Still, sometimes I ended up on US 31, where I was still curious about the original route. Then I discovered that old routes are often labeled on online maps. And then I found some old state maps and learned about the old Automobile Blue Books of the early 20th century and their turn-by-turn directions along the old routes. It was pretty easy to determine the route.
I was telling my old friend Brian, with whom I grew up in South Bend, about wanting to explore US 31’s original route in northern Indiana someday. He enthusiastically recalled that trips to visit family in southern Indiana as a small child always began on the old two-lane US 31. He remembered that somewhere along the way it merged into the newly built four-lane. The more we talked, the more we knew we had to schedule a road trip as soon as we could. We managed to make our trip on September 15, 2007, a crisp and sunny early-autumn day.
At the time I made this trip, there was serious talk of upgrading the entire route to freeway standards as part of Governor Mitch Daniels’ Major Moves initiative. The new road would bypass every town between South Bend and Plymouth, create a bypass of the bypass around Kokomo, and possibly even replace the existing intersections through Westfield and Carmel with depressed roundabouts, allowing through traffic to sail overhead. It all happened, changing US 31 permanently. This road trip shows US 31 before these projects started and, as such, is a historic record.
Not long ago I exchanged blog comments with someone in which I mentioned the multitude of wind turbines along I-65 in northwest Indiana. I thought I’d made some photos of them, but I couldn’t find them in my Flickr space. That would be because I didn’t upload them there. While continuing with my project to delete photographs I no longer want to keep — duplicates and failures — I came upon my photos of the wind farm. I made them while driving to Chicago in late summer of 2011.
Yes, I made these photos while I drove. I shot indiscriminately, vaguely aiming my Canon PowerShot S95 out the window while I kept my eye on the road.