Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Clinton County

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. While this article refers exclusively to the Michigan Road, another historic highway, the Dixie Highway, was routed along this portion of the Michigan Road.

Clinton County, founded in 1830, was named for New York State’s seventh governor, DeWitt Clinton. He was largely responsible for the construction of the Erie Canal. I’d like to know why the county was named after him, since no canals pass through it!

Shortly after entering Clinton County, the town of Kirklin appears. Laid out in 1837 by Nathan Kirk, it was once called Kirks X Roads or Kirk’s Cross-roads, recognizing its founder and the two oldest major roads in Clinton County – the Michigan Road and the Newcastle-Lafayette State Road. The latter road stretched from New Castle to Lafayette, probably along the general path of State Road 38, which stretches between those towns today. The Newcastle-Lafayette State Road was built a few years before the Michigan Road. The town was incorporated in 1878.

The building of these roads gave farmers access to markets where they could sell their produce, but it was no small matter to reach those markets. Here’s an excerpt from page 509 of History of Clinton County, Indiana:

“Many of the farmers of [the 1830s] hauled their grain in wagons to Chicago and Michigan City on the lake where they received from 37 to 50 cents per bushel for their wheat. It required from twelve to fifteen days to make the trip. We venture the assertion that the farmer of 1835 went through the laborious undertaking just described with less murmuring than is heard from the lips of the farmer of 1886 who hauls his wheat over a pike a distance of four or five miles and receives for it $1.15 per bushel.”

The first thing I notice every time I enter Kirklin from the south is this attractive and well-kept home. I understand it was once the residence of a prominent doctor.

Home in Kirklin

I came across a cache of 1920s postcard images of Kirklin. This card shows Kirklin’s downtown in those days.

It is astonishing how little the town has changed in 80+ years. A few buildings have been razed, but the overall shape of downtown is the same.

Kirklin

This is the west side of the downtown strip. I believe the white building on the right is the one behind the “Garage” sign in the 1920s photo. Two buildings to the north of the garage were torn down, but the next three buildings match those in the 1920s photo very well.

Kirklin

This is the east side of the downtown strip. I count five buildings here that are in the 1920s photo; the only one missing was where the vacant lot is. I’m told that the water tower is the former site of the Kirklin Methodist Church, torn down sometime in the 1970s despite efforts to save it.

Kirklin

This building was never a Mobil station. Somebody painted it to look like one, perhaps to sucker in people like me. An earlier version of this paragraph wondered when this station was built. A former Kirklin resident wrote to correct me – this was never a gas station, but a barber shop. As you can see, I was out road tripping at the height of the 2008 gas price mess.

Mobil in Kirklin

Much of Kirklin’s downtown is given over to antiques stores. As I was out taking photos of the town, the antiques proprietors all gathered in front of this store to watch. When I came by, they were very curious, and maybe a bit suspicious, of what I was doing. They softened a bit when I explained about the Michigan Road. They lamented the lack of business on this Saturday, the day after Independence Day. They hoped Indianapolis’s sprawl would extend farther into Boone County for the traffic it would bring.

Old Bank

This photo shows the intersection with Madison St. in the 1920s. On the right is the Masonic Hall.

The antiques proprietors told me that the Masonic Hall was torn down in the 1960s. It strikes me as odd that a side street warrants the only stoplight in Kirklin while State Road 38, one block north, gets a stop sign.

At Madison St.

Here’s a better view of the Masonic Hall. Check out that lamp hanging out over the street.

Here’s a southbound view of Main St., as the Michigan Road is signed in Kirklin, from just north of the Masonic Hall.

The Kirklin Public Library stands on the southwest corner of what is now State Road 38.

The building has been remarkably well kept. It is the town’s crown jewel.

Public library

A bit north of Kirklin, the Michigan Road curves and becomes a straight north-south road for the first time.

On the map, this is where US 421 leaves the Michigan Road, following State Road 28 to the west. Here the Michigan Road becomes State Road 29 and carries that number to Logansport. When Indiana implemented its current highway numbering scheme in 1927, the Michigan Road was numbered 29 from its starting point in Madison. US 421 was extended into Indiana in 1951 over existing Indiana highways 28, 39, and 43 to its end at Michigan City. Northwest Indiana’s Kankakee Marsh was drained beginning in late 1800s so the land could be farmed. This allowed later roads to be built through the former marshland, including these that now carry US 421.

Where State Road 28 reaches US 421 from the east stands an abandoned motel.

Old motel

Here’s the Michigan Road as it heads into Boyleston.

Northbound in Clinton County

Boyleston is an unincorporated town founded in 1875 by Lewis Boyle as a stop along the Lake Erie and Western Railroad.

Boyleston

This is the Boyleston Baptist Church.

Boyleston Baptist Church

This grain elevator was probably Boyleston’s focal point. (It has since been torn down.)

Grain elevator

North of Boyleston stands the sprawling Clinton Central High School. I am surprised by how few schools, compared to churches and cemeteries, stand along the Michigan Road. This is the first school on the road since the road passed through northwest Indianapolis.

Clinton County Educational Center

The road bent slightly northeast in Boyleston; it bends back straight north by the school.

Northbound

This cemetery lies just south of Michigantown.

Cemetery

This is a typical scene along the road in this part of the state, as it tracks straight and flat between farms and small towns. Michigantown is ahead.

Northbound

Michigantown was laid out in 1830 along what was then the Frankfort and Kokomo Railroad and was incorporated in the early 1870s. In the 1800s Michigantown was a happening place with merchants and doctors and lawyers, but today like so many other midwestern small towns it stands in some decay. This map shows Michigantown.

A number of older homes stand in Michigantown, this being a clean example.

Old house

The diner next to the house looked to be on a permanent vacation.

House and diner

This is Michigantown’s business district.

Michigantown business district

Ron’s Kwik Mart doesn’t look very kwik anymore. The space on the right used to be the Farmers Bank.

Ron's Kwik Mart

The only business I found open this day was the Michigan Town House. The storefront between it and the post office is known as the Mule Barn Tavern.

Michigan Town House

There are plenty of empty storefronts in Michigantown. The building on the left used to be a small diner. The building on the right was Newell Gas and Appliances.

More Michigantown

This gas station has been abandoned since gas cost $1.099 per gallon.

Gas pumps

North of Michigantown’s business district, the town becomes residential and overall well kept.

Northbound through Michigantown

The Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana moved this house to this spot along the Michigan Road, just south of the railroad tracks on Michigantown’s north end, in late 2007. Workers have been busy laying a new foundation beneath it since.

Historic Landmarks Foundation house

Across the street stands this lovely old home.

Old house, Michigantown

Even though I stop in every town for photos, most of the road in this part of the state passes by farm after farm, as this short video from north of Michigantown shows.

Near Clinton County’s north border stands Middlefork, an unincorporated town named for its placement near the middle fork of Wildcat Creek. Middlefork barely registers on an aerial map.

This cemetery lies just south of Middlefork.

Cemetery, Middlefork

This old house is in Middlefork. It’s one of my favorite houses along the route because of its interesting arches over the porch and balcony.

Old house, Middlefork

This itty bitty house stands in contrast with the previous one.

Little bitty old house

Middlefork ends at State Road 26, just beyond which begins Carroll County. This school stands abandoned on an abandoned alignment of SR 26, which lies 50 feet south of current SR 26 just east of the Michigan Road. (This school is now slowly collapsing. See more photos here.)

Abandoned school

Next: The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Carroll County.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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Camera Reviews

Pentax ES II

The 1964 Pentax Spotmatic, the first 35mm SLR to offer through-the-lens light metering, set the template for pretty much every popular SLR that followed. But the Spotmatic required moving a little lever to activate the meter. And you had to set both aperture and shutter speed yourself. The horror.

Pentax’s engineers worked tirelessly to relieve photographers worldwide of their lever pushing and dial twisting. They triumphed in 1971 with the Electro Spotmatic, which added open-aperture metering and aperture-priority autoexposure. The celebrating ended quickly, however: the Electro Spotmatic proved to be unreliable. Pentax followed quickly with the improved ES, but even that camera had its problems. Pentax didn’t get it right until 1973 when they released the ES II.

Pentax ES II

To make open-aperture metering work, the well-regarded M42 screw-mount Takumar lenses received a slight modification: a tab that let the camera’s exposure system read the lens’s aperture. This coincided with the introduction of Super Multi Coating, Pentax’s advanced lens-coating technology. If you shoot one of these cameras with lenses not marked Super-Multi-Coated or SMC, you lose open-aperture metering and autoexposure. The camera then works like any other Spotmatic, with all that lever pushing and dial twisting.

Pentax ES II

With non-SMC lenses you also get a narrow range of shutter speeds: 1/50, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, and 1/1000 sec. Screw on an SMC Takumar and twist the aperture ring to A, and suddenly these cameras’ shutters fire from 8 sec to 1/1000 sec steplessly — if 1/382 sec gets the right exposure, that’s what the camera chooses.

Pentax ES II

This electro-wizardry needs four SR44 button batteries. Most other 1970s-80s aperture-priority SLRs need just one or two. And the ES II burns through those batteries fast. I forgot to turn off my ES II one time, and when I picked it up again two days later, all four batteries were dead, dead, dead.

By the way, if you like these screw-mount Pentaxes, also see my reviews of the Spotmatic SP (here), the Spotmatic F (here), and the H3 (here). You might also like the K-mount Pentaxes; see my reviews of the K1000 (here), the KM (here), and the ME (here). Or check out all of my camera reviews here.

My ES II came with two lenses: a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Takumar and a 135mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar. I screwed on the 55mm lens, loaded a roll of Arista Premium 400, and took the ES II out onto the road. Here’s my favorite shot from that roll, which I took in Michigantown on the Michigan Road.

300

The 55mm f/1.8 Takumar is widely regarded as a great lens, pin sharp. So I was a little let down by how soft these photos turned out. To see what this lens is capable of, check out the photos on this page.

Ganders Visitors

That softness shows up best at larger resolutions, so if you’re curious, click any of these photos to open them on Flickr and enlarge them there.

Augusta Station

I had a fine time shooting the ES II, however. It handled great. It’s a little heavy in the hands, but then this camera is made entirely of metal.

White Lion Antiques

I took a couple photos with the 135mm f/3.5 SMC Takumar and was even more disappointed with how soft my photos turned out. See this page to see the sharpness this lens can deliver. But do enjoy my neighbor’s ’67 Chrysler.

'67 Chrysler

I wondered: did I have the lenses screwed on tight? Was there something wrong with my lenses or with the camera? I wanted to try to figure it out. So I loaded some Kodak Ektar 100 and kept shooting. Sharpness improved noticeably. I don’t know why.

Bell

I took the ES II downtown one evening for a photo walk along Massachusetts Avenue. The Old Point Tavern is an old Indianapolis bar. They make a great bowl of chili.

Old Point Tavern

Here’s another of those pedal-powered beer bars like the one I shared in this post. The fellow looking directly at the camera actually called out something unkind to me after I snapped this shot.

Pedaling for beer

You’ll find racks full of these yellow rental bikes all over downtown. I never see any of the bikes in use; the racks are always full.

Bikeshare

I’ve shot this shrub in my next-door-neighbor’s yard six or seven times now with various cameras but have never been satisfied with the photos — until now. This is exactly what I have been trying to capture about this bush. Don’t ask me to describe what it is, though; I can’t.

Shrub

To see more from this camera, check out my Pentax ES II gallery.

I’d like to put a roll of Kodak T-Max through my ES II to see how my Takumars like that low-grain film. That’s a good sign: I know I really like a camera when I imagine the next roll of film I’ll shoot in it. The speed with which the ES II burns through batteries bothers me a little, but not so much that I wouldn’t shoot this camera again.

If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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