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

Postcard views of the Michigan Road, Madison to Indianapolis

As I researched the Michigan Road back in about 2008, I bought a number of vintage postcards of scenes from the road. They gave some good 20th-century views of the road and the places on it.

I sent those postcards to a road-loving collector not long ago; a man can keep only so much. But I scanned them all first.

The Michigan Road begins in Madison, on the Ohio River. This 1960s postcard shows Madison’s Main Street at West Street. While the Michigan Road actually begins six blocks north of this intersection, Main and West is the spiritual beginning, if you will, of the Michigan Road.

Madison is in the Ohio River valley. As you begin your Michigan Road journey north from Madison, you climb out of that valley on a winding section of the road. This is what part of it looked like in the 1940s.

North of Madison the Michigan Road splits in two. The original 1830s alignment is a narrow country road that leads directly to the small town of Napoleon. But in the early 20th century, the road was rerouted to the east through Versailles and Osgood and then back to Napoleon. This 1970s postcard shows a motel in Versailles that still operates.

The road soon reaches Greensburg. It’s clear how the road originally entered and exited this small city, but it’s anybody’s guess how it passed through its downtown. This impressive YMCA building is near where the road picks up again on the northwest edge of downtown. It still stands and is senior apartments today.

This Methodist church still stands, as well, and is around the corner from the YMCA. Its bell tower was removed somewhere along the way.

Greensburg’s Carnegie Library stands where the Michigan Road leads out of town. It was used as city hall for some years, and I gather now it is a private residence. It was a popular postcard subject.

In Shelbyville, the Michigan Road makes a right turn at Harrison Street downtown. This theater still stands on that corner, although it hasn’t been used as a theater in a long time.

The back of this postcard is a hand-typed advertisement for a film the theater was showing. Notice the 1912 postmark!

A couple blocks later the Michigan Road reaches Shelbyville’s Public Square. In those days, streetcar tracks crisscrossed the square.

Today, the a parking lot sits at the center of the Public Square.

Finally, this image in Downtown Indianapolis shows Washington Street, which carried both the Michigan Road and the National Road. The photo looks to the east, which is southbound on the Michigan Road. I’m pretty sure that the Michigan Road turned north one block east of here at Meridian Street, but when we routed the Michigan Road Historic Byway it was much more practical to let it continue west on Washington a few blocks to West Street, where the byway turns north and soon rejoins the original Michigan Road path.

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Hinkle Hamburgers

Hinkle’s Hamburgers
Canon PowerShot S80
2009

There’s a lot to like about Madison, a small Indiana city on the Ohio River and at the beginning of the historic Michigan Road. One of those things is Hinkle’s. They make a mean hamburger — grilled crispy on the edges, with pickle and grilled onions on a soft bun.

As you can see, this sign is a little weatherworn. Fortunately, it’s been restored since I made this photograph. But in the process it changed color. When you visit Madison, look for the dark green Hinkle’s sign! It’s right on Main Street.

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Photography

single frame: Hinkle’s Hamburgers

Hinkle’s Hamburgers, a Madison, Indiana institution.

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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 Hotel

I 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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