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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Road Trips

The same scene on the Ohio River in Indiana, 60 years apart

My wife and I still own too much stuff after four years of marriage. We went on a jag recently to rearrange the entire downstairs of our home, along the way shedding some things we don’t need anymore.

Emptying a drawer, I came upon a stack of old postcards I bought early in my road-trip hobby. They depict roadside scenes all over Indiana, but mostly on the Michigan and National Roads. I don’t need these postcards anymore. I scanned them all, and sent them to a fellow I know who collects postcards just like these.

Old postcards are a great way to see what the old roads and the surrounding environment used to look like. Sometimes places look very different, and sometimes they don’t. The postcard above is probably from the 1940s, of a scene just west of Leavenworth, Indiana, on State Road 62. (The postcard says this road is also US 460, but US 460 was removed from Indiana in 1976.)

Remarkably, some time before I bought that postcard I made a photo from the same place. I stepped over the steel guardrail and down the bank a little for my photograph, but as you can see the mighty Ohio and the surrounding terrain still look much the same.

Ohio River, from IN SR 62, Leavenworth, IN
Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, Fujicolor 200, 2006

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Road Trips

National Road and US 40 bridges over the Wabash River in Terre Haute, Indiana

When I moved to Terre Haute in 1985, the bridge that carried US 40 over the Wabash River into West Terre Haute was in sorry shape. It had served since 1905 and had been rehabilitated in 1973. But by the late 1980s it again needed a great deal of work. This postcard, which carries a 1912 postmark, shows it in sturdier times.

This unusual seven-span bridge had a central plate-girder section that carried vehicular traffic, with Pratt deck truss spans on either side for pedestrians. The pedestrian spans were closed by the time I lived in Terre Haute, presumably because deterioration had made them unsafe.

This bridge replaced a wooden covered bridge that was built in 1865. I’ll bet it was the longest covered bridge in the state while it was in operation.

But back to the unusual deck-girder/deck-truss bridge. Rather than restoring it yet again, the state chose to replace it with not one, but two new bridges, one eastbound and one westbound. The bridges were named for two Terre Haute natives, singer/songwriter and comedic actor Paul Dresser (westbound) and journalist and author Theodore Dreiser (eastbound). Dresser and Dreiser were brothers; Dresser changed his last name. Dresser wrote one of the most popular songs of the 19th century, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” making his bridge over the Wabash River a touching tribute. The Dresser and Dreiser bridges opened in 1992, and the old bridge was demolished.

Terre Haute Tribune-Star photo

Notice the separation of these two bridges. Since the 1970s, US 40 had been realigned a couple of times through downtown Terre Haute, and these two bridges merely met US 40 where it was. Here’s how the two bridges cross the Wabash River.

Map image ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

US 40 and the National Road used to go straight through downtown Terre Haute, where it met the 1905 bridge and the 1865 bridge before it. This 1973 topographical map shows the route; it’s the red line across the middle of the image.

By the time I moved to Terre Haute, US 40 had been rerouted downtown. Westbound, when it reached US 41 (Third Street), the original path was no longer through. You turned north on US 41 for one block to Cherry Street, when you turned west again and followed a curve onto the 1905 bridge. Eastbound, after coming off the bridge a curve led to Ohio Street, one block south of the National Road. US 40 followed Ohio Street for several blocks before turning north and then east again onto the National Road. This 1989 topographical map shows the configuration.

From a 2009 visit to Terre Haute, here’s the Vigo County Courthouse, at the corner of the National Road and US 41. By this time US 40 had been rerouted again westbound to turn north at Ninth Street and then west one block later at Cherry Street.

Vigo County Courthouse

The grassy area in the lower right is where the National Road used to go.

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Stories Told

The Christmas card you didn’t get from me

I haven’t sent Christmas cards in years. I feel bad about it. But only a little.

Receiving cards is always a pleasure, but sending them had become a chore. It had become One More Thing To Do at a very busy time of year. On top of working full time and raising my sons, I also always hosted our big family Christmas celebration. Family drove in from points distant and stayed with us, usually for several days. That meant cleaning and decorating, buying gifts, planning meals, and cooking for everyone. It was a lot of work for this single dad, but it was worth it for the joy my family experienced while we were together.

My 2010 holiday season was especially crazy for reasons I no longer remember. At two weeks before Christmas I had not yet found time to buy cards, let alone write in them and send them. And I didn’t know where time was going to come from to make it happen. I chuckle at it now, but I was feeling serious stress about it. I didn’t want to let friends and family down!

If I could make the job take less time, I reasoned, maybe I could still squeeze it in. I decided to try making Christmas postcard with a preprinted message. All I’d have to do is address, stamp, and send them. So I put my camera on a tripod, gathered my sons in front of the tree, made the shot, brought it into my computer, added the caption, and sent the card off to be printed. It took all of 30 minutes. It wasn’t the greatest family photo ever, but it would work well enough. Here it is:

IMG_3526_proc

And then the printer screwed them up. Every last one of them came back with the caption cut off. By then it was just days before Christmas and I had no more time to mess with it. Defeated, I got my money back — and sent no cards that year.

The world didn’t end. Christmas was still merry!

And I’ve not mailed a single Christmas card since. If you send me one, I’ll send you a nice note in the new year. Because life has calmed down by then, and I have time.

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Road Trips

A long ago Wabash River crossing on US 50 in Indiana

Main Street and old US 50 in Vincennes ends at the Wabash River today, but until the early 1930s a bridge over the Wabash River connected Vincennes to Illinois. Not only did I find brick pavement in the last block leading up to the river, but I found postcard images of the old bridge.

This eastbound photo shows the old bricks, which probably date to the 1920s.

The old brick road

Here’s a better look at the bricks as they head toward where the old bridge’s approach once lay.

The old brick road

The old bridge itself was quite a contraption. At its center was a swing bridge which pivoted 90 degrees to allow boats to pass. Originally, wooden covered bridges connected the swing bridge to both shores. In researching this bridge at my favorite bridge site, bridgehunter.com, I found these postcard images that show how the bridge evolved.

In this image, a covered bridge stands on the Illinois side and a bowstring arch swing bridge stands in the middle. By this time, however, the covered bridge on the Indiana side had been replaced with two bowstring arch spans, probably on the same piers and abutments.

The Lincoln Memorial Bridge was completed in 1932, but this image suggests that the old bridge stayed in service for a while. By this time, the bowstring arch spans on the swing bridge had been replaced by Pratt pony truss spans, and the covered bridge on the Illinois side by Parker through truss spans. (Pratt and Parker are kinds of trusses; they differ primarily in that Pratts are flat on top and Parkers appear curved on top. Pony trusses are open on the top; through trusses have connecting members across the top.)

The Lincoln Memorial Bridge still stands, though it hasn’t carried US 50 in some time. At the end of this bridge in Illinois, a great monument stands commemorating the crossing of young Abraham Lincoln and his family into Illinois. If you stop to see the monument, you can see that the old highway leading away from the old bridge remains on the Illinois side as well. It, too, is brick.

Brick segments of old US 50

I wrote all about the Illinois side of this crossing last year. Check it out.

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