Road Trips

Madison, Indiana: Anchoring the Michigan Road

In 2008, I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end, documenting the road and its built environment. Here is an installment of that trip report.

Madison is Indiana’s first city. It is said to have been founded in 1809, although the first white settler came in 1808, the city was laid out in 1810, and lots were first sold in 1811. 1809 is also the year surrounding Jefferson County was founded.

Madison rose to prominence between the 1830s and 1850s because of river, road, and rail. Advances in steamboat technology, the building of the Michigan Road, and the building of the state’s first railroad from Madison through Indianapolis to Lafayette made Madison a hub of commerce. Much of old Madison was built during these boom years. But as the railroad overtook river and road as the best way to move goods and people, other rail lines appeared in Indiana and neighboring states. Madison ceased to be a hub, and started to decline in the 1850s. With no significant new industries, and the new construction that goes with it, coming to Madison, the city maintained the buildings it had. This has left the old city nearly intact today, with most of downtown and many other homes and businesses around the city listed on the National Historic Register.

To put the Michigan Road in its proper context, I started at the Ohio River and worked my way north through Madison. At left in this photo the Madison-Milton Bridge carries US 421 over the river. A barge, curiously named Barbara, pushes its way east. I took this photo from a place where spectators gather to watch the annual Madison Regatta, a boat race that has roots back to the 1800s.

Ohio River at Madison, Indiana

Just east of this site lies a boat ramp from the river. On one trip to Madison, I was lucky to happen upon the Delta Queen waiting at the ramp. The Delta Queen has since ceased to cruise the rivers.

The Delta Queen

The ramp leads directly to West St., which ends six blocks north at the Michigan Road. This photo shows the Madison-Milton Bridge a little more clearly, although I know of a Madison photographer who captured it better than i could ever hope to.

Boat ramp, Madison

Looking from the top of the ramp, West Street leads north toward downtown Madison and the Michigan Road.

West Street northbound from the Ohio River

Old Madison is full of old buildings. Some of them appear to need a little TLC, like this one on the northeast corner of 2nd and West Streets. The sign calls it the Cinnamon Tea Room.

The Cinnamon Tea Room

On the northeast corner at this intersection is “The Feed Mill,” a consignment and auction shop.

The Feed Mill

Shepley’s Tavern, in operation since 1867, is at 322 West St. This is just around the corner from Main St., also called State Road 56.

Shepley's Tavern

Before we continue north on West Street, let’s explore downtown Madison. Not too long ago, Madison’s Main St. was lined with businesses that served Madison – an assortment of places to buy shoes and clothes, get your prescription filled, take in a movie, deposit your paycheck, or have a soda. Even 50 years ago, many of these buildings were serving their second, third, or maybe fourth purposes. Today, downtown Madison’s focus has changed to antique stores, galleries, bars, and cafes.

The first building I noticed when I reached Main St. was the Ohio Theatre, which anomalously dates to 1936. It replaced a theater on this site that burned. I understand that it shows the movie Some Came Running, which was shot in Madison, once a year. It stands just east of West St. on the north side of the street.

The Ohio Theatre

A little bit down the street stands the Madison Bank and Trust Co. building, built in 1833. In this era of bank mergers, it became a Mainsource Bank in 2005, but fortunately this building retains its old signs.

Madison Bank and Trust Co.

US 421 meets Main St. along Jefferson St. This photo shows the northwest corner.

NW corner Main and Jefferson

Downtown appears to end at Jefferson St., so I surveyed the south side of Main St. Here’s the southwest corner of this intersection.

SW corner Main and Jefferson

From a different angle, here are the two buildings on the southeast corner today. Inglis Drugs, the brown brick building, is a nightclub now. The building east of it hasn’t seen maintenance in a while, but the building east of that got a new facade along the way.

Main at Mulberry

Here’s what it looks like to stroll along Main St.

Madison street scene

I hear that Hinkle Hamburgers is more than just a great neon sign – it’s also great burgers made from beef ground fresh on the premises. Unfortunately, I had my dogs on a leash with me this day and couldn’t go in.

Hinkle Hamburgers

By this time I had reached the western edge of downtown. Here’s the view eastward from here. Except for the modern cars, Main St. looks like a photo plate from an old book.

Downtown Madison, Indiana

Still looking eastbound, here’s the intersection with West Street. Turn left and you head toward the Michigan Road.

Downtown Madison

In the first block of West Street north of Main, the old City Hall stands. It was damaged after a 2006 fire next door. It was built in 1879 and received a new facade in 1925.

City hall

Next door to the old City Hall stands the Elks building, a burned-out shell since August, 2006. (More on this building here and here.)

Burned BPOE

Just north, on the northeast corner at Third St., stands this building, which houses Historic Madison, Inc. It previously housed churches of two denominations and a mortuary.

Wendell Auditorium

A home and the oldest operating fire station in Indiana, built in 1848, sit on the northwest corner at Third St.

NW corner West and 3rd

Moving north to the southeast corner at Fifth St., painted advertisements continue to fade on the Madison Creamery building.

Advertising 1

The Michigan Road is in sight. A sign warns heavy trucks to stay off the Michigan Road and follow US 421 instead. A bridge carries the road over a canal.

Canal bridge

Here’s a look at the canal, eastbound. This was part of the Indiana Central Canal.

Canal

This house, on the southeast corner where West St. meets the Michigan Road, seems to anchor the road.

House at the start of the Michigan Road

Many who followed the Michigan Road to northern Indiana’s opportunities did so by following West St. north from the river to where it ended and the Michigan Road began.

First Michigan Road sign

Next: The beginning of the Michigan Road along Michigan Hill.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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Road Trips

Surveying the Michigan Road from end to end

In 2008, I slowly documented Indiana’s Michigan Road from its beginning in Madison on the Ohio River, over 270 miles to Michigan City on Lake Michigan. Working at it on spare weekends, it took me a solid six months to complete.

I wrote extensively about this survey on my old Roads site, which I’m deprecating. With this post, I begin bringing that content here to my blog. Some of it overlaps or duplicates content I’ve written here in the past, but I’m choosing to allow it for continuity’s sake. I expect to create 20 to 25 posts, sharing them at a rate of one per week. We’ll be at this for a while!

This post sets the stage, telling the Michigan Road’s history in thumbnail and telling why I am interested in this historic road.


I grew up four blocks from Michigan Street in South Bend. I always assumed it was called that because it led to Michigan.

Later, I would live about a mile from Michigan Road in Indianapolis. At first, I thought it curious that a road would be named Michigan so far away from Michigan.

I learned later that these roads are one and the same, connecting not only Indianapolis and South Bend, but the Ohio River and Lake Michigan. For 30 years in two cities, I had lived near an important element of Indiana history. So I determined to drive the entire road, all 270 miles of it, and complete Indiana’s original coast-to-coast trip. Along the way, I learned about the road’s, and some of the state’s, history.

Ohio River at Madison, Indiana

When Indiana became a state in 1816, most Hoosiers lived along the Ohio River. The state’s first and largest city, Madison, was on the river, and the state’s first capital, Corydon, was near the river. Indiana wasn’t ten years old in 1825 when the capital moved to Indianapolis at the state’s swampy center. People needed ways to get to the new capital city, and so the state built its first roads, which were little more than paths cut through the forest. Sources disagree about how many roads were built, but I do know for sure that the Madison State Road connected Madison, and the Mauxferry Road connected the Corydon area, to Indianapolis.

One-lane alignment

But then in 1828 came the Michigan Road, connecting Madison not only to Indianapolis, but to Lake Michigan as well through lands newly acquired by treaty with the Indians who had lived in northern Indiana. The Michigan Road was complete by 1837 and people began migrating into the north’s flat but rich farmland.

Michigan Road, Decatur County, Indiana

The Michigan Road was, for its day, a grand thoroughfare.  Trees were felled across a 100-foot swath; the trees in the middle 30 feet were “grubbed,” meaning the stumps were dug out. In marshy areas, where horses could lose their footing and wagons become stuck, the road was corduroyed; that is, logs were laid across the mucky road and then covered with sand. In some places, the road was covered with wood planks to provide an even surface. When railroads boomed in the mid-1800s, private interests took over the road, covering it in gravel and charging tolls to travel on it. The rise of the automobile led the state to create a network of good roads. By the 1930s, the state had taken over and paved most of the Michigan Road. Many towns had grown to prominence along the Michigan Road, and because the Road was how people traveled between these places, the state maintained much of this road as it built bigger and faster highways along corridors that had become strategically more important to state and interstate commerce.

Michigan Road at I-465

This remarkable sequence of events preserved the Michigan Road. It has been moved in a few places, such as around a horse track near Shelbyville and when a new bridge was built south of Logansport, abandoning an old one-lane alignment. It has been bypassed in a couple places causing some of its route to be lost, such as over a railroad track near Rolling Prairie. And I-74 disrupted the road southeast of Indianapolis, moving brief segments of the road so exits could be built and even burying several miles of the road underneath its lanes. But from Madison, you can drive straight through to Michigan City along most of the road’s original path with only a few brief detours that quickly return you to the road. Along the way, the road takes on many different characters, from almost-forgotten farm road to country US highway to major city thoroughfare to Interstate highway.

Plenty of excellent goodness remains along the Road. Two one-lane 1800s bridges remain, as do two short one-lane alignments. One long segment has never been part of the state highway system and rolls with the terrain. Despite being paved and two lanes wide, driving it is as close as it gets to recalling travel on it in its early days. And along the way there are a whole bunch of houses, churches, and cemeteries placed along it in the 1800s when the road was new.

This trip report takes you along the entire Michigan Road county by county through all 14 counties on the route.

Next: A look at Madison, the city that anchors the Michigan Road on the Ohio River.

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Sophie

Sophie in the window
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2007

I was looking back through old photographs and found this one of Sophie, who was my cat for a short time after I was divorced. Read Sophie’s whole story here. This blog was just six months old when I made this photograph. I was still reeling from my divorce. I deliberately avoided writing about it here — I wanted to use this blog as a way to move on and look forward. So I seldom told stories about my life as it was happening then.

I routinely left windows open for Sophie when I went to work so she could enjoy the breezes and the outside smells. She loved this window in particular because she could stretch out in it. But I guess fleas jumped in and onto her through the screens, and soon I had the worst flea infestation I’d ever seen. They got into the carpets; as I walked through the house I could see and feel them jumping up and bouncing off my legs. I had to spray flea killer through the entire house three times, each time sequestering poor Sophie to a crate in the garage all day. I never opened a window again, and never saw another flea.

Sophie needed more time and attention than I could give her. Long story short, I gave Sophie to my ex-wife and she gave me the dogs we’d had while we were married. Each of us still maintains we got the better end of the deal. The dogs were a Rottweiler named Sugar and a Golden Retriever-Chow mix named Gracie. Read Sugar’s story here, and Gracie’s here. Since Gracie died in 2013, I’ve remained petless.

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Photographs, Stories Told

single frame: Sophie in the window

Reminiscing about Sophie, a cat I used to own

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Then and now: McDonald’s with classic sign in Richmond, Indiana

On US 40 (aka the National Road) in Richmond, Indiana, you’ll find a McDonald’s on the southwest corner of 18th Street. It features a classic Golden Arches sign from around 1970. Here’s a photo I made of it on my first visit in 2009. The restaurant was a classic red Mansard-roofed design, with a giant PlayPlace tacked on.

Old McDonald's sign

When I next visited, in 2015, I hoped the classic sign would still be there. I wasn’t disappointed. But the red roof had been reshingled in a dark color.

Old McDonald's sign

On my Ride Across Indiana, the sign was still there (yay!) but the restaurant looks to have been razed and rebuilt. McDonald’s architecture is so generic now.

McDonald's on US 40, Richmond

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Road Trips

Indiana State Road 42 in Terre Haute

On October 18, 2008, I explored Indiana State Road 42 from end to end. It begins southwest of Indianapolis in Mooresville and ends in Terre Haute. This is the last article in this series.

I lived in Terre Haute for nine years in the 1980s and 1990s. When I needed to go to Indianapolis I liked to to drive SR 42 to the I-70 exit in Brazil because SR 42 was more fun over that distance. Except, that is, at the Vigo-Clay county line, where the road made two 90-degree turns around a church. I was surprised to find that the road had been curved gently on the Clay County side and the double-90 removed. This change is new enough that Google Maps hasn’t updated the route yet!

©2008, Google Maps

The church is in the photo at right; the road used to run on its right side.

Former double-90

The people who own this house, I’m sure, let out whoops and hollers when they learned that the state was removing the double 90 – because the first turn going west happened right here. While I lived in Terre Haute, this house got clobbered a couple times by people screaming down SR 42 at night and failing to negotiate the turn.

House where the left turn used to be

Shortly inside Vigo County, SR 42 curves northwest. I have old maps that suggest that this curve did not always exist, and that Sugar Grove Dr. used to run straight and connect with what is now SR 42. Sugar Grove Drive ends west of here where the Indiana Air National Guard base (and the stunningly overnamed Terre Haute International Airport) begins, and picks up on the other side as Hulman Ave., which goes through Terre Haute. But notice little Otter Road just below the center of the map image. Do you see the abandoned strip of road near it?

©2008, Google Maps

Here’s what it looks like, eastbound.

Abandoned Bloomington Road

My old map suggests that what is now Sugar Grove Rd. used to fork here headed east. The left fork is what is now SR 42, and the right fork, which is now Otter Rd., was the road to Bloomington. This road is interrupted by I-70, but you can detour over it on another road and pick the road back up again on the other side. It still goes to Bloomington. It joins with State Road 46 inside Clay County to finish the journey.

Speaking of State Road 46, State Road 42 ends there today, just past the optimistically named Terre Haute International Airport. Here it is on the map. Notice how US 40 converges. I went to college about where US 40 enters the image.

©2008 Google Maps

And here it is in living color.

West end of SR 42

SR 46 is Terre Haute’s eastern boundary. Beyond the stoplight, the road becomes Poplar St. and cruises laterally through Terre Haute. At one time, SR 42 went along for the ride as far as US 41, and so did I this day. Not far into town stands the Sycamore Farm, which has been there since about 1860. Fifty years ago, Sycamore Farm was still way out in the boonies. Eastbound photo.

Sycamore Farm

Terre Haute is a decaying town, its best days so far behind it that nobody who remembers them is left. But somebody along the way made sure its park system was well funded. Say what you will about Terre Haute, but it has wonderful parks. Old SR 42 is the southern border of Terre Haute’s crown jewel, Deming Park. This is an eastbound shot.

Deming Park

In 1971, Vigo County tore down its five old high schools and built three sprawling, boring, characterless modern buildings to replace them. It’s a shame, because this is the kind of school building Terre Haute used to build. This is the view from 25th St.; the school’s south edge is on old SR 42.

Woodrow Wilson Jr. High

This map shows old SR 46’s trip from about here to its end at 3rd Street, which is US 41. It also shows the Wabash River for perspective.

©2008, Google Maps

At 12th and Poplar stands Headstone Friends, which sells CDs and records, posters, incense, and hand-dyed tie-dye shirts. They also sell scales and rolling papers, or at least they did when I was in college in the late 1980s; I failed to check when I visited this day. This is one of my favorite places on the planet. Headstone’s has been in business since 1970, and in this location since the ’70s sometime. They’ve been burning incense in there for so long that the whole joint has a distinctive sweet smell that always makes my nose run. I bought a tie-dyed T-shirt here on this trip and all the way home my car smelled like Headstone’s, which I suppose is better than it smelling like my dog, who was along for the ride. If you’re ever in Terre Haute, put Headstone’s on your itinerary. They’re open noon to 8, Monday through Saturday.

Headstone Friends

Here’s a westbound shot from in front of Headstone’s, toward downtown. Terre Haute is not a city of tall buildings.

Westbound

At 9th St. stands the former E. Bleemel Flour and Feed building. Most of the time I lived here, this was an auto repair garage, and a dump of one at that. But in the early 90s somebody restored it. It was, for several years, an antiques store, but now it’s a restaurant. I think that’s a better use of the building.

Bleemel Flour and Feed

The section of old SR 42 between 9th and 9½ St. – Terre Haute is known for its half-streets – is rich with old buildings, like this one, which housed the former Terre Haute Brewing Company. It really needs some love.

Terre Haute Brewing Company

This was once a livery stable. It’s a steakhouse today.

Old building

This CVS drug store is neither old nor historic, but it was surprising to see its facade torched.

A crackling good CVS

I wasn’t sure when I made this trip whether SR 42 originally ended at 7th Street (old US 41) or 3rd Street (US 41). I guessed 7th Street and was wrong. On the right, just out of the photo, is the Vigo County Public Library, the very one that Steve Martin mentioned in his movie Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.

Former western end of SR 42

This trip proves that you don’t have to drive the truly historic roads (like the National Road or the Michigan Road) to find plenty of good, interesting things to see and do. Just get out there and go!

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Road Trips

Beautiful old bridges on Indiana State Road 42

On October 18, 2008, I explored Indiana State Road 42 from end to end. It begins southwest of Indianapolis in Mooresville and ends in Terre Haute.

As I drove west from Eminence, the road became lined with trees as it approaches Mill Creek. This photo is eastbound.

Eastbound

In 1939, the state built a steel truss bridge over Mill Creek. A similar bridge up the road made the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, but this one has not. I hope somebody in Putnam County picks up the mantle!

Steel truss bridge, Mill Creek

I thought it was standard that these bridges be painted green, but word has apparently not reached Putnam County. (This bridge completed a renovation in 2015, at which time it was painted baby blue, the new standard color for Indiana highway truss bridges.)

Steel truss bridge, Mill Creek

The view of Mill Creek is lovely. I took this photo off the south side of the bridge. But wait – what’s that in the photo’s lower left?

Steel truss bridge, Mill Creek

See it there? That neat row of cut stones?

Steel truss bridge, Mill Creek

Please consider the following:

©2008 Google Maps

Just beyond the bridge is a road that pulls away and then turns to be right in line with current SR 42 after it completes the curve west of the bridge. This fairly screams “old alignment.” Notice how the suspected old alignment, if extended southeast, would cross Mill Creek directly, instead of at a bit of an angle as it does today. In the olden days bridgebuilders’ bags of tricks were fairly limited, leading them to build bridges straight across creeks and rivers. That row of stones has to be part of an older bridge’s foundation, and the stones around it probably bits of the demolished former abutment here.

Incredibly, here’s a small photograph of the previous bridge alongside the newer one, taken at about the time the newer one was built. It was a wooden covered bridge! This would have to be an eastbound photo from the west end of these two bridges.

Courtesy bridgehunter.com

In the excitement over all this, I forgot to drive the suspected old alignment. I did, however, think to take a shot of some of the fall color just west of the bridge.

Fall on SR 42

State Road 42 skirted Cloverdale on its south edge and then the terrain became more challenging. The road stopped the 90-degree-curve nonsense and began to curve around the terrain. At Doe Creek, a narrow concrete bridge awaited.

Old concrete bridge

My experience is that bridges only as wide as the road, with concrete railings like this, were built in the 1910s and 1920s. I could see a clear path down the bank, so I walked down to see what the old girl looked like in profile. Sadly, she was a bit ungainly.

Old concrete bridge

Shortly I came upon Cagles Mill Lake, also known as Cataract Lake, one of many lakes the US Army Corps of Engineers built to control flooding. Here, SR 42 makes a brief dip into Owen County.

©2008, Google Maps

The bridge over the lake did not disappoint.

Bridge over Cagle Mill Lake

As I approached the bridge, there was a traffic signal flashing yellow, and cones everywhere. Clearly, this bridge had just been renovated, and the finishing touches were still being put on. It was built in 1951, when the lake was created.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

I’m not sure how such a minor road warrants such a major bridge, but this one is a real gem.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

I passed through the remainder of the lush lake area and into Clay County. I zipped through the little town of Poland without even slowing down because I knew another steel truss bridge awaited on the other side – but it turns out I missed an old church on the National Register of Historic Places in so doing. I guess my consolation is that the steel truss bridge over the Eel River is on the Register, too.

Steel truss bridge near Poland, IN

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy steel truss bridges? (This bridge, too, has received a coat of baby blue paint since I photographed it.)

Steel truss bridge near Poland, IN

A sure sign of autumn is how low the sun is at midafternoon.

Steel truss bridge near Poland, IN

Next: Vigo County and Terre Haute.

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