Road Trips

The scenery changes

Welcome to Thorntown

I’ve been making road trips since 2006. The photo above is from one of my earliest trips, down State Road 47 and US 41 in western Indiana. What a great day it was! And I was exploring and learning about places I’d never really known before.

Welcome to Thorntown

I’ve seen a lot of Indiana now with my camera in my hand. Where I was once driven by the desire to see new things, increasingly I want to visit places I’ve been before. They’re like old friends, and I want to catch up. So here’s how this same scene in Thorntown looks as of a few weeks ago — much the same, but a little worn.

Stone bridge, Michigan Road

Nature also changes the view. This is the Shepard Bridge, way down in Ripley County on the Michigan Road. This is how I found it in 2008.

Shepard Bridge

In 2018, it’s becoming overgrown. It’s a shame, because unhidden it provides such a lovely view.

Stone bridge, one-lane alignment

Sometimes the man-made elements themselves change — or go away. This is the Middletown Bridge as I found it in 2008. It was on a one-lane alignment of the Michigan Road south of Shelbyville.

Site of the former Middletown Bridge

A section of the bridge collapsed and, after a fight to save it was lost, it was removed. I went to see in 2015 and was greeted with this.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Exploring Napoleon, Indiana

There’s a lot of lovely historic architecture to see in Napoleon, a small town in Ripley County, Indiana. But getting there is part of the fun: from the north or from the south, you do it on the Michigan Road.

NapoleonMap1900

From Atlas of Ripley County, Indiana, O. W. Pegee, 1900

Ripley County boasts two alignments of the Michigan Road, the original and a later one that is now US 421. They come together in Napoleon. In the Michigan Road’s early days, what is now US 421 was a plank road starting in Versailles, and it became the more major route. It’s why, during the early years of the automobile, the Michigan Road was rerouted onto this road.

This 1900 atlas excerpt shows where and how the two roads used to meet on the south side of Napoleon. See the two roads that merge? The Michigan Road is on the left.

Each road had to cross a little stream. At some point, probably when it became clear that the old plank road would be the major route, the Michigan Road was truncated at the first county road south of Napoleon. Makes sense; why build and maintain a needless bridge? Here’s what it looks like today from above.

NapoleonGoogleMap2018

Imagery and map data © 2018 Google

In 2008 I documented what remains of this old Michigan Road alignment. Here’s a southbound photo from north of the county road where, today, you have to turn left to reach US 421 and resume your travel on the Michigan Road. My camera malfunctioned on a northbound photo from this spot, but the road was two-track from here and it faded into the grass ahead.

Former Michigan Road alignment?

This little bit of gravel provides access to this cemetery, which is wedged between here and US 421.

Lutheran Cemetery, Napoleon, Indiana

From my many visits to Napoleon over the years, here are a number of scenes from this little town. Its plat has hardly changed since 1900 and many buildings present then remain today. Arguably the most prominent building on the Michigan Road in Napoleon is this old flour mill.

Flour mill, Napoleon, Indiana

The photo above is from 2008 and the one below is from 2018. The photo below would show a building in dilapidated condition were someone not maintaining this building. I hear that this old mill has been converted into apartments.

Mill

Those painted signs would be faded and chipped away if someone wasn’t keeping them touched up.

Mill

The former Napoleon State Bank building is now a real-estate office.

Former Napoleon State Bank

Surprisingly, the Napoleon State Bank still operates in a modern building across the street. It’s remarkable it has survived in this age of bank mergers and megabanks.

Napoleon State Bank, Napoleon, Indiana

If you step off the Michigan Road and explore Napoleon’s Main Street (now State Road 229) you’ll find more lovely historic architecture. This is the Central House, built in the late 1820s. That makes it at least as old as the Michigan Road itself!

The Central House

Two large churches, both probably built in the early 20th century, stand along Main Street. First is St. John’s Lutheran.

St. John's Lutheran Church

St. Maurice Catholic is the other. Given how small this town is, these churches must have drawn members from a very large region to justify their size. Hopefully, they still do.

St. Maurice Catholic Church and School, Napoleon, Indiana

Of all the old buildings in Napoleon, I like the onetime home of Elias Conwell the best. Like the Central House, it dates to the 1820s. Conwell was quite a character; I told his story here.

The Conwell House

That little creek winds all through Napoleon. Here it is on the north side of town, hugging the northbound Michigan Road.

Creek along the road

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Road Trips

Sights and signs in Versailles and Osgood

US 421 through Versailles and Osgood in Ripley County, Indiana, was not originally the Michigan Road. The original alignment still exists, a little to the west. But in the early 1900s as the automobile came to prominence, the Michigan Road was rerouted so that these two towns could get in on the action.

As you enter Versailles from the south, you soon come upon the Moon-Lite Motel.

Moon-Lite Motel

This traditional old-style motel is still operating and its rooms are all said to be recently remodeled.

Moon-Lite Motel

Most of what’s worth seeing in Versailles is a few blocks off US 421. The Tyson United Methodist Church is probably the town’s crown jewel. I wrote about it before, here.

Tyson United Methodist Church

This art deco wonder still serves this congregation. They just added a lift on the side of the building to let people into the basement more easily.

Tyson United Methodist Church

Moving on from Versailles you quickly come upon Osgood. Its downtown is right on the Michigan Road. This Rexall drug store still operates.

Rexall

Probably the best sight in Osgood is the Damm Theatre, if for no other reason that it’s so much fun to say. “Hey kids, let’s go to the Damm Theatre!”

The Damm Theatre

Just before you leave town heading north, you come upon these curious metal sculptures.

Statue

Thanks to our signs, there’s no doubt you’re on the Michigan Road.

Byway sign

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Road Trips

Shepard Bridge

Back in 2008 I shot some video as I drove the older Ripley County alignment of the Michigan Road and crossed the Shepard Bridge. The video is shaky as I shot it handheld, but it gives a pretty good flavor of this alignment. This alignment is as close as you’re going to get to experiencing the Michigan Road of old.

Crossing the Shepard Bridge

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History, Road Trips

The Shepard Bridge on the Michigan Road

As you follow the old Michigan Road just as it passes into Ripley County from the south, you’ll encounter this one-lane stone-arch bridge. Built in 1913, it’s known by many names: Shepard Bridge, or Nobles Ford Bridge, or County Bridge #38.

Shepard Bridge

The view was unobstructed on a visit I made here ten years ago:

Stone bridge, Michigan Road

ShepardBridgeMap

Image and map data © 2018 Google

This bridge is in a fascinating place, marked on the map with the orange star.

To its west is the vast Jefferson Proving Ground. The U.S. Army took the land, displacing many farms and towns, in 1941 to build this munitions-testing ground. The Army blew up ammunition and bombs here! The majority of it no longer serves that purpose and is today a wildlife refuge.

To its east is US 421. The Michigan Road’s oldest alignment follows the road labeled Old Michigan Road. But with the rise of the automobile in the early 20th century, the Michigan Road became an early auto trail. So that it could pass through bustling Versailles and Osgood, the auto trail was routed along what is now US 421 from here about 22 miles north to the little town of Napoleon. The two alignments come back together there.

This rerouting happened after the Shepard Bridge was built. It had the effect of saving it from eventual demolition. If this alignment had become US 421, this bridge would have been replaced with a bridge designed to handle modern highway traffic.

Shepard Bridge

It was unusual for a stone-arch bridge to be built in 1913. The stone-arch era is heavily consigned to the 19th century. By the early 20th century, bridges of iron, steel, and reinforced concrete had become much more common.

Shepard Bridge

Ripley County is unusually rich in stone-arch bridges, with at least 12 still open to vehicular traffic. A few of them are inside Jefferson Proving Ground and thus carry limited traffic. The ones for which I’m able to find data were built after 1880. The Shepard Bridge is the newest of them.

Shepard Bridge

The Michigan Road borders Jefferson Proving Ground here. You can see a bit of the chain-link fence that surrounds JPG just over the rise in the bridge deck.

Shepard Bridge

This bridge has had some work done on it that appears intended to stabilize it. On an autumn day in 2008, after a long drought, I drove by and noticed the creek was dry. So I walked under the bridge to have a look. The stones appear to be in no more than fair condition. I imagine the brown stuff is some sort of cement intended to keep stones in place.

Stone bridge

Concrete was poured where the arches meet the creek bed — on Oct. 1, 1997, as you can see. I’m sure this stabilizes the bridge a little.

Stone bridge

The concrete is poured such that the upstream end forms a point, so that debris is more likely to flow around and not get hung up. This 2008 photo shows it:

Stone bridge, Michigan Road

With the destruction of the Middletown Bridge in Shelby County, this is the last stone-arch bridge on the Michigan Road. I know of a large stone culvert on this alignment just south of Napoleon, as well.

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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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