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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The Morris Performing Arts Center

The Morris Performing Arts Center
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2007

I don’t know which of my photographs are good, but I do know which ones please me. This one pleases me for its bold colors, especially the blue sky and the red awnings on the building. I also like its composition, with the corner of the building roughly on the left vertical 1/3 line. I wish that stoplight wasn’t intruding from the right. I remember well, even though I made this photo 14 years ago, that I couldn’t find a pleasing angle on the building that also eliminated that stoplight.

For years, I’ve placed into this Flickr album the photos that please me most. Now I’m beginning to print them and put them in an archival box. I’ve wanted to do this for years, but as is typical with me I put it off thinking I lacked the time. Margaret bought me a nice box at Father’s Day, which nudged me to start.

I’m printing these photos on 8×10 paper without cropping them from their original aspect ratios. I’m uploading the digital files to Costco, which doesn’t have a native way to do what I want. So I’m editing each file in Photoshop first, adding white space around each image to expand it to the 4×5 aspect ratio. Costco prints them that way just fine, on Fuji Crystal Archive paper with what they call a “lustre” finish, which seems to be another way of saying “matte.”

I bought some acid-free interleaving paper from B&H to place between each photograph in the box. I also bought some Stabilo All pencils from Amazon so I could write key details on the back, the same details I write under each photo in this “single frame” series. A regular #2 pencil doesn’t leave a good mark on the photo paper, but the Stabilo All pencil does.

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Photography

single frame: The Morris Performing Arts Center

The building formerly known as the Palace Theatre in South Bend, Indiana.

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New old-style barn

New old barn
Canon PowerShot S95
2021

I took a 25-mile bike ride recently. I’m toying with doing a multi-day bike tour late this summer, and I need to both train for it, and also see what it’s like to take long rides on a 35-year-old bike as a 53-year-old man. I discovered that the wide, springy seat on my Schwinn is comfortable on a long ride. I also discovered that my lower back starts to ache at about mile 20. I’m going to see if raising my handlebars helps with that.

My route took me up the Michigan Road for about 4½ miles. Here the road is US 421 and therefore a fairly busy highway. The tour I am considering will be all along a highway, so I want to build familiarity with riding on them.

I slipped my Canon PowerShot S95 into the little bag that hangs off my seat. I have passed this barn a number of times while driving by, but never really studied it before. Doesn’t it look like a new barn built in an old style? I didn’t photograph this barn as part of my 2008 survey of the Michigan Road, but Google did for Street View. Have a look here. It looks like this is an old barn with a new skin. I don’t know anything about barn preservation but this seems like a cool way to go about it to me.

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Photography

single frame: New old barn

A new barn on an old road.

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Road Trips

Michigan Road historic marker in Boone County, Indiana

Not long ago I shared photos of the new historic marker on the Michigan Road at Sycamore Row. It’s one of several historic markers along the 270-mile route built in the 1830s.

One marker is not far from my home in Boone County. Placed in 1966, it tells the road’s story in thumbnail.

Michigan Road marker

This marker received a restoration since I first photographed it in 2008. The Indiana Historical Bureau, which manages these markers statewide, seeks volunteers to repaint faded markers. This one found its volunteer somewhere along the way.

Historical marker

This marker stands on the west side of the road, at Valley Meadow Road, which is north of E CR 550 S and south of E CR 500 S in Boone County.

Michigan Road marker

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Film Photography, Road Trips

Kodak Vericolor III on the Michigan Road

When I made my recent Friday-day-off trip up the Michigan Road to see the Sycamores, I also brought my Yashica-12 along, loaded with Kodak Vericolor III expired since July of 1986. I shot this ISO 160 film at at EI 80 to tame the ravages of time. Here’s the Carnegie library in Kirklin.

Kirklin Carnegie Library

This is the Mathews house, in southern Carroll County. It’s part of a farm that’s been in the same family for more than 100 years, which makes it a Hoosier Homestead.

Mathews house, Michigan Road

I should have moved in closer to this barn, as it’s the star of this show and who needs to see all of that flat blue sky? This is in Clinton County, I think.

Michigan Road farm

Here’s the abandoned school I wrote about a couple weeks ago. It’s in Middlefork in Clinton County.

Abandoned schoolhouse, Middlefork

Naturally, I made several photos of Sycamore Row with the Y-12.

Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row

Finally, not many people know that this grassy lane that heads west from the south end of Sycamore Row was once State Road 218. It hasn’t been that highway in a very long time. SR 218 still exists. It was moved decades ago about a quarter mile to the north, just past the north end of Sycamore Row, so it didn’t have to cross Deer Creek.

Old SR 218

The Vericolor III performed pretty well at EI 80 — much better than it did at EI 100 and 125, as I shot it last time. Still, some photos suffered from a little haze and grain that I couldn’t Photoshop away.

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