Road Trips

Back to Hanging Rock Hill

You don’t expect to come upon a place like this in Indiana. This is Hanging Rock, on a section of State Road 7 known as Hanging Rock Hill. It’s in the Ohio River town of Madison.

Hanging Rock Hill

If you want to head north out of Madison, you’re going to have to go uphill. The original town plat from its 1809 founding is deep in the river valley.

Hanging Rock Hill

When I say uphill, I mean seriously uphill. Here’s a northbound shot from under the rock.

Hanging Rock Hill

Now southbound. If you want, you can pull off SR 7, drive under Hanging Rock, and then get back onto the highway. Long ago the road was routed under the rock, as photos on this page show.

Hanging Rock Hill

Water runs from the cliff above. I’ve never seen it at more than this trickle. But I hear that after the area gets a couple inches of rain, this turns into quite a waterfall. Under especially heavy rainfall the flow here can spill out onto the highway itself.

Hanging Rock Hill

I called this post “Back to Hanging Rock Hill” because I’ve visited it before and blogged about it. See that ten-year-old post here. Nothing has changed — as you’d expect, given how permanent rock tends to be.

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Music

Broadway HotelI have built quite an internal repertoire of popular music. I can sing along with hundreds, maybe thousands, of songs. It’s not something I set out to do — I just like to sing along to songs I like, and the lyrics have stuck.

Some song or other plays in my head at virtually all times. The places and things I encounter, as well as the conversations in which I take part, frequently remind me of a song. Then my mind plays it, on repeat, until some other experience changes the tune.

Upon encountering Madson’s Broadway Hotel, an old Al Stewart song filled my head the rest of the day. It’s a sad, odd little song with a lovely piano and violin interlude, and it has nothing other than a shared name to do with this old-timey inn in Madison.

Broadway Hotel

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Preservation

A dozen years after being gutted by arson, the 1904 Elks building in downtown Madison, Indiana, is being restored.

BPOE

Here’s what it looked like in 2008, for comparison.

Burned BPOE

I first remarked on this building last November when Indiana Landmarks became involved; read about it here.

Madison Elks Lodge is being restored

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Preservation, Road Trips

Strolling through Madison

Madison, Indiana, is a preservationist’s dream town. A whopping 133 blocks of its downtown is a Historic District and a National Historic Landmark.

On Main St.

Main Street

Founded in 1810, the town competed with Louisville and Cincinnati as Ohio River port cities. It grew rapidly into the railroad age of the mid-1800s, but railroads leading to those other two cities performed better than the one leading to Madison. Indeed, Madison’s railroad failed in 1862. Even though its line ended up becoming a part of the vast Pennsylvania Railroad system, the die was cast. After the Civil War, Madison’s growth stalled.

Bank

Broadway Hotel

Madison’s antebellum loss is our modern gain as it largely froze the town in time. You’ll find all the major architectural styles from the nineteenth, and even some of the twentieth, centuries in downtown Madison.

Ohio Theater

Hinkle Hamburgers

Residences surround the downtown commercial area, and most of the homes are simply stunning.

House in Madison

Madison street

Dr. Hutchings

The river is just a few minutes’ walk from anywhere in Madison’s historic district. Goods are not received at any port here anymore — you’re far more likely to see powerboats racing here. It’s been happening in Madison for at least 100 years. An annual powerboat race, now known as the Madison Regatta, has been held annually since 1929 over the Independence Day weekend.

Bench on the Ohio

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Preservation, Road Trips

The new old Broadway Fountain

At Broadway Fountain

This fountain might look old, but it dates only to 1981. That’s not an entirely fair or accurate representation of this fountain and its story, however. Its story goes back more than a century before that.

At Broadway Fountain

A cast-iron fountain that looked just like this was on display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Considerable wrangling and dogged persistence (story here) saw it moved to Madison, Indiana, in 1884.

At Broadway Fountain

But by World War II, the fountain had deteriorated badly and had to be turned off. It sat in that condition until 1950, when a local real-estate agent raised the funds for its restoration.

At Broadway Fountain

By the 1970s the fountain had again deteriorated. In 1976, Madison officials sought another restoration. This time, they went even farther: they had the entire fountain remade in bronze, a hardier metal than iron. It took several years for a sculptor to make molds of every part of the fountain and put the new pieces together on the site. Broadway Fountain reopened in 1981.

Canon PowerShot S95

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Road Trips

Climbing Michigan Hill in Madison, Indiana

I wonder if schoolchildren in Madison, Indiana, are taught about the Michigan Road when they study Indiana history. It would be a shame if they weren’t, for this historic road begins in their town.

Michigan at West

Every road begins somewhere, after all, and this one begins north of Madison’s historic downtown, at the top of West Street.

MRMadison

Imagery and map data © 2018 Google

If you’ve driven the Michigan Road anywhere else along its 270-mile length you know it is, by and large, flat and straight. But its first 8/10 of a mile winds its way up a steep hill. The stars on the map mark the beginning of the road and the top of the hill. It’s an exhilarating start to this historic road!

The Michigan Road was built in the early 1830s to connect Madison, then the state’s largest city, to the new capital at Indianapolis, and then to Lake Michigan. It passed through Greensburg, Shelbyville, Logansport, Rochester, Plymouth, and South Bend on its way to its end at Lake Michigan in Michigan City.

Most of Indiana is flat, but this state’s southern counties feature rugged terrain. That’s in part because of the valley created by the Ohio River, and in part because Ice Age glaciers and their land-flattening effect extended only so far south in what would become Indiana.

Thus, as you begin driving the Michigan Road, you’ll find your car in low gear for the climb.

From the beginning of the Michigan Road

This is the first house on the Michigan Road. It looks like it’s getting some work.

First house on the Michigan Road

It’s challenging to photograph this part of the Michigan Road. There are no shoulders and only a couple pulloffs, and plenty of traffic enters and exits old Madison via this hill. You can’t stand very far back from traffic, and drivers don’t expect to find pedestrians as they round one of the many curves. When I walked this hill in 2008 one motorcycle rider stopped, looked at me incredulously, and asked if I had a death wish! He was right, and I vowed not to do it again. So this time we photographed only the bottom, and then the top, of Michigan Hill. Fortunately, I photographed the hill extensively in 2008. The next three photos are from that walk.

NB Michigan Road

The Ohio River is visible from one of the pulloffs. The hill in the distance is Kentucky.

The Ohio River from the Michigan Road

Modern cars have little trouble climbing Michigan Hill, but most early automobiles would have struggled.

NB Michigan Road

Back to 2018 now and at the top of the hill, where you’ll find the Fairmount House. I photographed it extensively in 2008, and shared those photos and what I know about the house here. It was for sale at the time.

Fairmount House

The house hasn’t changed in 10 years, but the landscaping sure has. It blocked every clear angle to bring the whole house into the photo.

Fairmount House

But it’s a lovely property, made even lovelier by landscaping.

Fairmount House

Here’s a view down Michigan Hill from the Fairmount House.

Michigan Road SB at Fairmount House

Just beyond where the road levels out stands this monument to the road, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution the same year the U.S. highway system was born. This portion of the Michigan Road would eventually become US 421, but in 1926 it was assigned number 29 in Indiana’s State Road system.

Honored by the DAR

If you ever drive the Michigan Road from end to end, you’ll find that from here on out the hills and valleys are slight and the curves are gentle.

I shot some shaky handheld video of the ascent in 2008. It’ll give you a good flavor of what the drive is like.

Canon PowerShot S95 (and Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom for the 2008 photos)

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