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

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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single frame: Hinkle’s Hamburgers

Hinkle’s Hamburgers, a Madison, Indiana institution.

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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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

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.

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