Near the end of the Michigan Road in Michigan City, Indiana, you’ll find this lighthouse keeping watch over the harbor of Lake Michigan. It and an associated breakwater were built in 1904 and have served ever since. The Coast Guard relinquished this lighthouse in 2007, and I believe Michigan City itself took up its operation and maintenance.
Margaret and I visited on a cold, windy day when the pier was closed, so we could only make long-zoom photographs from the beach. We’ll go back another day when we can walk out to it.
If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know about my fascination with the Michigan Road. It’s Indiana’s first state-funded road, built in the 1830s to connect southern Indiana to northern Indiana through the capital at Indianapolis. Amazingly, it is still mostly intact. With a couple minor detours, you can drive all of it still today.
Here’s the beginning of the Michigan Road, in Madison, Indiana, just north of the Ohio River.
Here’s the end of the Michigan Road, in Michigan City, Indiana, just south of Lake Michigan.
In between these two bits of pavement lies Indiana itself – its biggest city, several of its small towns, and acres upon acres of its farmland. Driving this road gives you a comprehensive view of Indiana life both past and present.
I spent my spare time last summer slowly following the Michigan Road and photographing everything I found interesting – pavement, bridges, churches, cemeteries, schools, homes, drive-ins, theaters, courthouses, hotels, and motels, for over 1,000 photos. By themselves, these images tell quite a bit of Indiana’s history. But each photograph made me curious about these places’ backstories, and so I began researching. The more I learned, the more I wanted to tell some of the stories. So last fall I began writing about the road via the photos I took.
I’ve been publishing my work in progress to my personal Web site all along. But over the weekend I finished writing about everything I’ve learned. So I uploaded the last of the files to the server and now, no matter where you are, you can travel all 270 miles of the Michigan Road. To begin your journey, start here.
If you like what you read, keep checking back. My fascination with this road is as strong as ever, and I’m still digging for more stories of life along it. As I learn more, I’ll keep updating those pages.
I want to see the Michigan Road remembered and celebrated for its important place in Indiana’s history. It turns out I’m not alone. Blogger Hoosier Reborn has harbored similar sentiments for years. It was serendipity that he and I encountered each other, and we have since encouraged each other toward achieving some sort of recognition for the road.
It helps tremendously that Hoosier Reborn has spent his career in historic preservation. He has good experience with just these kinds of projects. He also has contacts in historic preservation, economic development, and tourism throughout northern Indiana, people with influence who can help make things happen. He brought these assets to bear on Saturday in Rochester where he organized a first meeting for people interested in seeing the Michgan Road named a state historic byway.
So far, our coalition draws from Michigan Road counties in northern Indiana. To win historic byway status, we need backing from communities all along the Michigan Road. We’ll leverage the contacts we have now to build relationships with similarly interested people in all of the road’s counties. We plan to have built this statewide group in time to submit the historic byway application in the summer of 2010. A strong statewide organization will give the application enough mass and momentum, we think, to secure Indiana Department of Transportation approval.
We plan to use the historic byway designation as a springboard for future work to honor and preserve the road and to encourage tourism and economic development along it. We’d like to start by using it to win grant funding to have Michigan Road Historic Byway signs installed all along the route. Hard telling what we might do after that, but as Hoosier Reborn remarked to me on Saturday, “We’ll be old men and still be working on Michigan Road projects.” Sounds good to me!