Road Trips

I love the Michigan Road, but I don’t always like living near it

The Michigan Road sucks. At least it does where it passes near my northwest Indianapolis home.

It’s still the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan, opening the entire northern part of Indiana to settlement. I will always love it.

But a long section of the road has been a part of my daily life for more than 20 years, and frankly, I try to avoid driving on it.

As a major artery, Michigan Road’s speed limit is 45 MPH. Especially since the late 1990s when the last portion of the road was widened to four lanes, traffic really flows fast. The road is designed to swiftly move lots of cars. Yet lots of businesses and even entrances to residential neighborhoods line the road. People turn left all the time, and there is no central left-turn lane. Rear-end accidents are common. It has happened to me twice.

MRBumperBash1

These photos are from the first accident, which happened a half block south of the 1852 Aston Inn house. Can I admit to still feeling satisfied, even five years later, that the other guy’s car sustained so much more damage than mine and was probably totaled? I was stopped behind a car turning left when I noticed this guy coming up fast. The crash was unavoidable, so I pressed hard on my brake to avoid hitting the waiting car before me. It’s amazing the crash didn’t do more damage to my car. And yes, someone’s head smacked the other car’s windshield in the accident. That fellow disappeared the minute I called the cops. Arrest warrant? Here illegally? Hope the concussion was worth it.

MRBumperBash2

Lesson learned: drive in the right lane, even if left-lane traffic is moving faster. The frequent left turns just create too much risk.

MR_NW_Ind
Imagery and map data © 2017 Google.

Meanwhile, this 2½-mile section of Michigan Road, from Kessler Boulevard north just beyond 71st Street to the former town of Augusta, has seen happier days. It’s a sad sight to drive through.

This strip’s heyday was probably the 1960s and 1970s when this road was still US 421. A building boom brought strip malls, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and motels.

Today, those strip malls are aging. You won’t find a Kroger or a Target here — it’s all second- and third-tier retailers and service providers. The motels, gas stations, and restaurants that remain have been repurposed for other uses. Many of these buildings have received minimal maintenance and show their age.

This mishmash of shabby businesses provides a poor introduction to the area, which is filled with middle-class neighborhoods.

This used to be a shoe-repair shop, but has been vacant for a while.

Pink building

I applaud the creative reuse of this former motel as a day care, but I wish it could be made more attractive.

Kiddie Factory

This aging strip of shops is at least kept tidy. The barber shop owner gave his overhead sign a fresh coat of paint in the last couple years; it had faded to near illegibility.

Barber

The pedestrian trail built a few years ago robbed this little strip of some of its parking. I can’t imagine that these tenants were happy about it. Here’s a 2008 photo that shows cars parked at these doors.

Getting your hair done on the Michigan Road

Mr. Dan’s is a small local burger chain. I photographed it in 2015:

Mr. Dan's

I don’t know what happened that the joint is called Mr. Dee’s now, but their reuse of the existing signs has all the grace and style of a knuckle sandwich.

Mr. Dee's

Ace Lock and Key has been on this corner for longer than I’ve lived in Indianapolis. This building looks like its first use was as a gas station. It’s an attractive little building.

Ace Lock and Key

When I mentioned the kinds of retailers you won’t find along this stretch of Michigan Road, I mentioned Kroger and Target specifically because this strip once contained both. Kroger was on the left, and Target was on the right. They moved out just before I moved to the area, and the buildings were vacant for years. Now it’s a grading facility for school standardized tests.

Fomer Target/Kroger strip

The strip mall on the southwest corner with 71st Street/Westlane Road has changed a lot since I moved here. This was once a full-line Marsh grocery store, but for most of the time I lived here it was a dim, dirty store with only basic grocery items. They chained up the carts. Someone at the service desk had to come unlock one so you could use it. Such class. Then Marsh closed it and discount chain Save-A-Lot moved in. Unfortunately, they also tore out Marsh’s attractive facade and rebuilt it with this windowless wonder. At least it didn’t go vacant.

Save-a-Lot

Across the street is the dry cleaner I’ve used all the years I’ve lived here. It was once a drive-in restaurant.

Griffith Cleaners

By all accounts, the food at this Vietnamese restaurant is delicious. The former fast-food building could use some love, however.

Pho 54

Here’s another tidy, aging strip. The clock-repair shop has been there longer than I’ve lived here. I had them repair a watch once, and they did a nice job.

Strip mall

It sure seems to me that this solidly middle class part of town would be able to attract higher-line businesses and improved facades.

Houses are sometimes sandwiched between the various commercial buildings along this section of Michigan Road. Many of them have seen happier days.

House on Michigan Road

A few houses have been well cared for, but it’s far easier to find ones that could use some TLC.

MCM

Over the years some buildings have seen great improvement. This building was vacant for years, and was clearly in sorry condition a couple years ago when this funeral center bought it and renovated it.

Serenity Funeral Services

St. Monica’s Catholic church and school has always been well cared for. A couple years ago, fire destroyed the section of the building at about the center of the photo. The church immediately rebuilt it.

St. Monica's

When I moved here, this U-Haul location was dingy and depressing. Some years ago it was renovated inside and out, and looks great.

U-Haul

This lot was vacant for a long time until this church was built.

Praise Fellowship Family Center

A bowling alley once stood on this lot, but it went out of business five years ago or so. This storage place opened only in the last year or so, and its graceless design says “industrial park” more than “shopping district.” Its setback from the road is also considerably shallower than anything else nearby, which makes it an imposing presence. It’s wrong for this section of the road.

Storage

A few auto-parts places were built along this corridor in the last 10 years or so, and they’re well kept. This is the one I visit most often.

Advance Auto Parts

I do understand this much about retail: the shiny, new shops always go where the money has moved to. If you drive just four miles north of here on Michigan Road, into Carmel, you’ll find solid retailers like Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s, and The Home Depot, plus shiny chain restaurants and coffee shops. Perhaps that’s why this section of Michigan Road is left to molder. It only takes ten extra minutes to get to the nice shops from here.

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

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Road Trips

Changes along the National Road in western Indiana

I’ve made a couple trips along US 40 (the old National Road) between Indianapolis and Terre Haute lately and have taken a few photos along the way. I’ve been driving this road for enough years now that some of the sights have really changed.

First, the Cedar Crest Motel sign is gone. This old motel was in Putnam County about 1.5 miles west of Mt. Meridian. Here’s the sign as I found it in 2011. Longtime readers might recall that this is on the only remaining brick alignment of this road in Indiana.

Cedar Crest Motel sign

Also, out in Terre Haute the great old Woodridge Motel sign is gone, too. The motel still operates, but it has a generic backlit plastic sign now. The new sign is so banal I didn’t even bother getting out to photograph it. Here’s the Woodridge sign in 2009.

Chateau Woodridge

In Seelyville, just east of Terre Haute, the Kleptz Bar neon sign disappeared almost immediately after I photographed it in 2009.

Kleptz Bar

I finally stopped — very quickly — in front of the Putnamville Correctional Facility to properly photograph the original alignment of this road, which is still used as a service road there. It’s blotchy because I shot it at maximum zoom with my iPhone. While most of this road segment is covered in asphalt, its tail is the original 1920s concrete. Those houses, by the way, are associated with the prison. They’re all very attractive, with dark red brick and green-shingled roofs, and I’ve always wished I could tour them.

Old alignment of US 40/National Road near Putnamville, IN

Here’s a through-the-car-window shot I made back in 2009. What’s most interesting to me about these two shots is how they reveal a curvy, undulating road. Putnam County has the most challenging terrain of all the Indiana counties through which this road passes, and when the current four-lane highway was built in the 1930s great care was taken to straighten and smooth the ride.

State prison alignment of National Road

I stopped in Brazil in Clay County. The highway had been rebuilt through town, and I wanted to see it. It wasn’t very exciting; it’s just a modern road. I guess the real excitement was when they tore out the road and found a layer of bricks underneath the asphalt, and the tracks for the interurban that used to pass through town. But I was pleased to see some improvements to the facades of some buildings. Here’s the Times Building in 2009.

Times Building, Brazil, IN

Here it is today, its lower facade refreshed but the upper portion still in poor shape. I Photoshopped this one to correct perspective, which is why it’s so upright when the one above is keystoned. The “today” shots from Brazil, by the way, were shot with my Minolta XG 1 and my 45mm f/2 Rokkor lens on Fujicolor 200.

Times Building, Brazil

And here’s the 1907 Davis Building in 2009, looking pretty rough.

1909 DH Davis building, Brazil, IN

And here it is today, with some improvements made. One of the years between then and now this building made Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered list, which got it some attention.

Davis Building, Brazil

But it hasn’t yet gotten all of the attention it still needs, as this peek inside shows.

Davis Building, Brazil

Finally, a couple counties to the east in Hendricks County, just west of Plainfield, this abandoned bridge is still abandoned.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

It doesn’t appear to be deteriorating very fast, which is nice in a way. It was built in the 1920s, probably; it was abandoned in about 1940 when the new four-lane alignment was built next to it.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

Here’s what it looked like on a visit in 2013.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

And here’s what it looked like on my first ever road trip, in the summer of 2006. Finding this bridge on this trip hooked me hard on following the old roads, by the way.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

I suppose that by summer the bridge will look like this again. I’ll be back one day. Because the old roads keep changing.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

Standard

Rest Haven Court

Rest Haven Court
Canon PowerShot S95
2013

From a Route 66 tour I took with my sons over spring break in 2013.

Photography, Road Trips
Image
Film Photography, Road Trips

Vintage motel signs on the Dixie Highway in Cave City, KY

The Wigwam Village isn’t the only classic motel in Cave City, Kentucky. It’s just the most distinctive.

Cave City, KY

The Holiday Motel and the Caveland Motel have the best vintage signs of all the old motels in Cave City. Judging by photos of the Caveland Motel sign around the Internet, it has received a recent coat of fresh paint. I also find photos around the Internet that show the neon at least partially working on both of these signs.

Cave City, KY

Here’s another look at the Wigwam Village’s vintage sign. Internet photos show the neon working on this one, too.

Cave City, KY

These are all film photos from my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80.

Also check out some great old signage on US 40, the National Road, in western Indiana here.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Preservation, Road Trips

Sleep in a wigwam

The sign says, “Sleep in a Wigwam,” but these are actually tipis. A wigwam is a domed structure. But the fellow who invented this motel concept just liked the sound of the word wigwam better. Thus a name was born: Wigwam Village.

Cave City, KY

That fellow was Frank Redford, who built the first Wigwam Village in 1933 in Horse Cave, KY. It was so successful that he built this one in 1937 in nearby Cave City, KY, on the Dixie Highway, known today as US 31W. Frank licensed the design to Chester Lewis, who built five more around the country through 1949. Three Wigwam Villages remain: this one, and two on Route 66 in Holbrook, AZ, and San Bernadino, CA.

Cave City, KY

Each wigwam, or tipi, contains two beds and a bathroom with a sink, toilet, and shower. According to reviews on Yelp, these are small, basic rooms from a time gone by, and they show signs of their age.

Cave City, KY

When my sons and I planned our Mammoth Cave trip I considered staying here. I absolutely would have if I were traveling by myself. But my sons aren’t into old-road nostalgia like I am. On this trip, the spacious, modern, more luxurious hotels over by the Interstate were mighty compelling to them.

wigwam_air
Imagery ©2015 Google. Map data ©2015 Google.

But there’s hardly an old motel anywhere as distinctive as this one, with its rooms arranged in a half circle around the big-tipi office. That’s an original alignment of the Dixie Highway behind the motel, by the way. Several old Dixie Highway alignments lurk around US 31W as it snakes through central Kentucky.

Cave City, KY

This old roadgeek yearns to explore them all. When I do, you’d better believe I’ll sleep in a wigwam.

(These are all film photos, by the way, taken with my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80.)

Several great old motels line US 40 in Columbus, Ohio. Check out their great signs.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Preservation, Road Trips

John’s Modern Cabins on Route 66

As long as there have been cars, anyone driving a long distance has needed a place to bed down for the night. In the early days of auto travel, they camped, at first in friendly farmers’ fields and later on rented roadside campgrounds. Next, primitive cabins were built as a place for travelers to sleep, and later some of those cabins came with amenities such as heat and running water. Next came the motel, with many rooms in a row under one roof. At first they were all independently operated, but eventually chains of motels opened regionally and nationwide.

When the Interstates came, the chains had the means to build at the exits. Today you’ll find almost nothing but multi-story chain motels along the Interstates. Some of the older chain and independent motels still serve travelers along the old two-lane highways.

Imagery ©2013 DigitalGlobe, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2013 Google.

Few would find a roadside camp or primitive cabin acceptable as lodging today, of course. The camps are all gone, but here and there some of the cabins remain, albeit serving other purposes, such as this set on the National Road in Ohio. As my sons and I drove Route 66 we set out to find a well-known set of abandoned primitive cabins in Missouri. John’s Modern Cabins are on an abandoned section of the road a few miles east of Doolittle, which is a few miles east of Rolla. They haven’t served travelers since sometime in the late 1960s, when I-44 opened alongside the Mother Road and business dried up.

This section of Route 66 was abandoned not that long ago. The section of Route 66 that fronts John’s Modern Cabins used to serve as the north frontage road for I-44, but several years ago I-44 was moved a bit north, cutting off this section of the road. It’s a little tricky to find John’s Modern Cabins today. You have to follow the old south I-44 frontage road and cross a gravel path to reach the abandoned Route 66 alignment and the cabins. The green arrow pinpoints them on the map.

When you find them, you’ll see that they’re in serious decay.

John's Modern Cabins

This notice nailed to a tree warns that these cabins are on private property and are unsafe, and trespassing is at the explorer’s risk. So we walked up to, but stayed out of, these cabins.

John's Modern Cabins

These were just sleeping rooms in their day – four walls, a roof, and (presumably) a bed. If you needed to answer nature’s call, you stepped outside and found an outhouse. One still stands on the property.

John's Modern Cabins

The first cabins on this site were built in the 1930s by Bill and Bess Bayless of logs from nearby trees. After Bess was murdered (!) Bill sold the cabins, and after a couple more owners John Dausch bought them. He named them after himself, erecting the neon sign that still stands on the property. John built a few more cabins of concrete and asbestos.

John's Modern Cabins

If you snoop around the Internet, you’ll find photos of John’s Modern Cabins from before the roofs all started to collapse. It won’t be too many years before they will have collapsed entirely. I think they were just perfect as we found them. I asked one of my sons to photograph me by one.

Me at John's Modern Cabins

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

Standard