Road Trips

Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Bloomington

In mid-April of 2007 I was driving home on State Road 37 after visiting an old friend in Bloomington. It had been years since I’d traveled that road. Just south of Martinsville, I saw what looked like a strip of abandoned concrete road, weeds growing through the cracks, on the edge of some farmer’s field. I found my way to that road segment and followed it; it ended shortly to the south at State Road 37 again. A sure sign of an old alignment!

At home I went online and traced the highway on maps. Not only did I find that little abandoned section, but I saw that the road was rich with segments of not one, but two old alignments of State Road 37. I began planning a road trip.

State Road 37

Bloomington, like all other important Indiana cities, would want direct, good quality routes to the state’s capital to conduct business and government. They had it as early as 1822, when Indiana authorized the Paoli State Road. I don’t know whether this road was cobbled out of existing roads or was a new road. I do know that as the 1800s continued, the old State Roads were privatized or turned over to the counties through which they passed. But interest in good roads surged in the early automobile era of the early 1900s. In about 1915 this road became part of the Dixie Highway, a network of roads connecting Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to Miami, Florida.

The automobile drove Indiana back into the State Road business in 1917. It took this section of the Dixie Highway over in about 1923, calling it State Road 22. Then in 1926, as part of a renumbering of all State Roads, it became State Road 37.

In those days roads had to flow with the terrain, winding, rising, falling. As technology improved, road builders became able to cut through the earth. As Hoosiers increasingly relied on motor transport, the original narrow, winding roads became insufficient. So Indiana improved its important roads, straightening them, making them bypass small towns, and widening them to make them safer and allow speedier passage. As of 2007, State Road 37 is almost Interstate quality — straight, smooth, and speedy.

Notice how State Road 37’s path changed twice between Martinsville and Bloomington, as these three map excerpts show.

First, the road was straightened, smoothed, and moved to bypass Martinsville, Hindustan, and Dolan. Next, it was moved to bypass Bloomington. Somewhere in there it was expanded to four wide lanes with big shoulders. State Road 37 has become a superhighway. In the years to come, it will be upgraded to Interstate standards and given its new name, I-69, which the 2005 map predicts. (That was in 2006. By 2020, SR 37 between Bloomington and Martinsville has been upgraded to full Interstate standards and is signed I-69. The section from Martinsville to Indianapolis is being upgraded too.)

Did you notice that the old road still runs through Martinsville, Hindustan, and Dolan? The 1970 map shows it clearly; the 2005 map not so much. But it’s still there. When you drive down current State Road 37, you have to look carefully for the signs or you’ll miss them. But they’re there, and they say, “Old St Rd 37.”

On Sunday, 13 May 2007, I drove as much of the original alignments of State Road 37 between Indianapolis and Bloomington that I could find. This is an epic road trip with lots of photos and stories. I’ll be sharing it all in several posts to come.

This 2007 road trip is now a time capsule, perhaps even a historic record. The old alignments I will show you are now far harder to access because you can no longer turn off SR 37 onto them. I will also show you some pavement around 100 years old that was removed thanks to Interstate construction.

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Radio Radio

Radio Radio
Canon PowerShot S95
2015

Margaret and I were still dating the night I took her to Fountain Square, a hip neighborhood just southeast of Downtown in Indianapolis. We drank delicious sazerac cocktails at a tiny bar and, based on the photographic evidence, took a walk with our cameras.

Radio Radio is a small Fountain Square concert venue. It has this great sign.

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Photography

single frame: Radio Radio

The Radio Radio sign in Fountain Square, Indianapolis.

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Photography

Views of Monument Circle from the Columbia Club

My wife and I were invited to her employer’s annual party, held at the Columbia Club on Monument Circle in Downtown Indianapolis. The Columbia Club is an old-fashioned members club, the kind we can’t afford. But the owners of my wife’s employer can, and they reserved a block of rooms for anyone who wanted to stay the night. We couldn’t turn down the chance.

Our room overlooked Monument Circle. I got out my Canon PowerShot S95 and made a bunch of photos.

Monument Circle at night
The Monument at night
The Monument at night
Circle Theatre and the IPL Building

We took a brief walk after the party ended. Salesforce Tower is right behind the Columbia Club and was lit like this.

Looking up, on the circle in Indianapolis

In the morning, I made more photos from our window. It was a gloomy day.

Monument Circle in the morning
The Lacy Building
Down Market St.
Down Meridian St.
The Monument

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Red Line information

Red Line information
Olympus XA
Kodak T-Max 400
2020

Indianapolis’s bus system has never been all that great. The routes don’t serve large parts of the city, and the buses come at most every half hour.

The city is trying to change that with a new set of rapid-transit bus lines. The first, the Red Line, opened late last year. It runs north-south along a critical transportation corridor, connecting the University of Indianapolis on the Southside to Broad Ripple (and, in some cases, almost the north city limit) on the Northside. The Red Line’s electric buses reach stops every ten minutes.

I took my team at work to lunch in Broad Ripple last fall, and we rode the Red Line both ways. This is the stop Downtown at the bus terminal, where we began and ended our trip. It sure beat driving and finding a place to park.

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Film Photography

single frame: Red Line information

The Red Line bus terminal in Indianapolis.

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Photography

Views from the tallest building in Indianapolis

My friend and colleague Charlie has worked with me at two different software companies. He’s a skilled engineer who specializes in site performance and test automation. He currently works for Salesforce, the giant software-as-a-service company. They have a large office in Indianapolis in the city’s tallest building, renamed Salesforce Tower when they moved in.

Charlie and I met for lunch not long ago, and he took me to the top floor of Salesforce Tower so I could see the views. Here’s the entire north side of Indianapolis. In the center near the bottom you can see the Indiana World War Memorial, and north across the long plaza from it is Central Library. Behind it, I-65 cuts across the landscape. I can even see the Michigan Road running off at a diagonal at left, a little north of center; can you detect it?

Northside of Indianapolis

On the south side of the building, this is the view of Monument Circle below. The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, at 284 feet, 6 inches, was the tallest structure in town until the 372-feet-tall City-County Building was completed in 1962, a couple blocks away. When you see photos of Indianapolis from many years gone by, the Monument towers over everything. Today, not so much.

Looking down on Monument Circle

Other skyscrapers went up in the decades that followed, crowned by Salesforce Tower at 811 feet tall. It’s not just the tallest building in Indianapolis, but also the tallest building in all the Midwest outside Chicago and Cleveland and the 58th tallest building in the US.

Salesforce Tower was completed in 1990. It was originally to be the headquarters for American Fletcher National Bank, but before construction even began, Bank One bought American Fletcher. Later, Chase bought Bank One. Salesforce became the building’s biggest tenant in 2017, which gave them rights to put their name on the building.

View from the Riley gravesite

Here’s a view of the Indianapolis skyline from the highest elevation in Indianapolis, where James Whitcomb Riley is buried inside Crown Hill Cemetery. It’s about five miles away as the crow flies. Salesforce Tower rises above the rest.

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Film Photography

Downtown Indianapolis on Ilford HP5 Plus

Nada

I work in Downtown Indianapolis. Yes, it’s capital-D Downtown here. My favorite way to take a work break is to grab whatever film camera I have with me and take a walk around capital D. For a few weeks recently, that was my little Olympus Stylus, into which I’d loaded a roll of Ilford HP5 Plus.

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The generous people at Analogue Wonderland sent me this roll of Ilford HP5 Plus so I’d write about the experience and drop their name. You can buy HP5 Plus from them here. But do explore their site — they offer over 200 other films! Click the logo to see.

Contrasting Doors

Last time I shot HP5 I used my big semi-pro Nikon N90s SLR. I wanted to see what kind of results I got from a different class of 35mm camera, hence the Stylus. Answer: every bit as impressive. I got excellent detail and balanced contrast shot after shot. As a traditionally grained film, you will absolutely see grain on HP5. But it looks natural and doesn’t detract from sharpness or detail.

Central Christian

I shot this roll little by little in December and January, two of Indiana’s gloomiest months every year. At ISO 400, HP5 Plus had the speed to cope with the poor light and give me big depth of field.

Leon's

Even on a day with some sun, the HP5 Plus delivered good balance between the bright and shadowy areas.

View from the 12th Floor Window

I walked around on idle lunch hours with the Stylus, photographing anything I thought might look good in black and white.

Cups Coffee

There are plenty of lovely older buildings Downtown with interesting details to study. HP5 Plus did a great job navigating the natural contrasts.

Inland Bldg.

Even though Indianapolis is Indiana’s largest city by far, it’s not large like Chicago or Dallas. The core of Downtown is about one mile square, beyond which the tall buildings give way fast to shorter office and apartment buildings and then neighborhoods full of older homes. Roberts Camera is just beyond that mile square. They process 35mm color film at a reasonable price. They also happen to be the US distributor of Ilford products.

Roberts

While I’ve never used them, there are a few auto mechanics just outside Downtown’s mile square. Convenient!

Firestone

HP5 Plus is a great film for everyday photography. If you’d like to try Ilford HP5 Plus for yourself, you can order it from Analogue Wonderland here. They provided me this roll of film in exchange for this mention.

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