Preservation, Road Trips

The mystery of the former one-lane bridge on the Michigan Road in Fulton County, Indiana

It was exciting to come upon this abandoned bridge abutment when my old friend Brian and I explored old US 31 in northern Indiana in 2007. (That whole trip is documented here.)

Bridge abutment, Rochester, Indiana

Standing on the old abutment it’s easy to see where the old bridge used to meet the Tippecanoe River’s north bank. It’s just right of where the current bridge, built in 1982, meets it.

Tippecanoe River bridge

My dad remembers driving the old bridge. He said it was just one lane wide, and there was a stoplight at either end. Traffic on US 31 would often back up at either end waiting to cross here. The mother of an old friend, who grew up in Fulton County, remembers a time before they installed the stoplight — and the games of chicken oncoming drivers played with each other.

My research turns up only the photo above, circa 1910, as possibly a bridge at this location. Those stone abutments look right, and the rise of the left approach looks to me to match the abandoned approach and abutment. The river is awfully full, though, fuller than I’ve ever seen it. This photo could have been made during a flood.

Current bridge and old abutment from the air. Imagery © 2019 DigitalGlobe, Indiana Map Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2019 Google.

But this two-span bowstring through truss bridge is not the bridge my friend’s mother remembers. She specifically remembers a single-span bridge with a squarer truss design, probably a Pratt through truss

If that bowstring truss was ever at this location, it had to have been replaced with the one everybody remembers, sometime after the 1910 photograph was made. The Great Flood of 1913 destroyed a lot of bridges; perhaps it did this one in.

By the early 1970s, US 31 was rebuilt as a four-lane expressway about a mile to the west, relieving the traffic burden on the old bridge here.

By the way, this bridge is on the Michigan Road. When US 31 was commissioned in Indiana, it used the Michigan Road from about 3½ miles south of here in Rochester, to about 42 miles north of here in downtown South Bend.

In 2010, an aspiring Eagle Scout stabilized this abutment, mortaring in the stones and laying in concrete pavers where the old road bed had gone missing. I made this photograph of it in late 2011 and wrote about it here.

Old bridge abutment

Here’s the same scene the day after Christmas in 2018. The mortar’s color has neutralized with age, making the abutment look more natural.

Old bridge abutment, north of Rochester

Three historic markers stand on the old abutment. The third, which is the shorter stone, was placed sometime since 2011. I never think to photograph it because I forget it’s newer and that I’ve not already photographed it. I can’t remember what it commemorates. The larger stone commemorates a village of Potawatomi Indians that was once here, and how those Indians were removed to lands out west in a forced migration now known as the Trail of Death. You’ll find a wealth of information about the Trail of Death here. I have a Potawatomi ancestor, I am told, though I can’t confirm it.

Old bridge abutment, north of Rochester

The final marker on this abutment honors the Michigan Road itself. Two other state markers like this one honor the road: one in Ripley County at US 50, and one in Boone County about three miles north of I-465.

Historic marker

Every time I stop here, the Tippecanoe River is tranquil.

Tippecanoe River

Here’s hoping that someday confirmed photographs of the old bridge here emerge.

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

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Potawatomi dancers at the pow wow

Potawatomi dancers

I’ve known for most of my life that I have Potawatomi and Cherokee Indian ancestors. I’ve always felt more connected to my German roots, but I’ve been curious about my Indian side just the same. So when the opportunity came up to see a Potawatomi pow wow, I took it.

The Pokagon band of Potawatomi Indians (or, as they say, Pokégnek Bodéwadmik), has this pow wow every Labor Day weekend on its land near Dowagiac, Michigan. Potawatomi from all over gather to dance and sing and celebrate their heritage. It’s also an opportunity for many tribes, not just Potawatomi, to sell handmade goods. Of course we checked out the booths, and I even bought a colorful piece of pottery. But the dancing was where it was at.

This young lady’s feet barely left the ground as she danced. It is supposed to symbolize her connection to mother Earth.

Potawatomi dancers

In contrast, this flamboyant fellow really twisted and twirled, his fringe always flying.

Potawatomi dancers

Wait, what? A blonde-haired Potawatomi dancer?

Potawatomi dancers

I soon figured out that the more elaborate the regalia, the more active the dancing.

Potawatomi dancers

I’ve always thought my Potawatomi ancestors came from my mother’s mother’s family, but I’ve been mistaken. Talking about it in the car on the way home, Mom said that her mother’s family had Cherokee ancestors, but Grandpa’s grandmother was full Potawatomi. That made Grandpa a quarter Potawatomi, but you never would have guessed it as he looked like he came straight off the boat from Germany. Even though I’m just one sixteenth Potawatomi (and probably an equal measure Cherokee), I look far more Indian than my grandfather ever did.

Last year about this time I attended the rededication of a monument to Potawatomi chief Menominee. Check it out.

Stories Told

A monument to Menominee

A band of Potawatomi Indians had made their home near Twin Lakes in Marshall County, Indiana, a bit south of Plymouth. In 1838, 100 wigwams and cabins dotted the land in their village. They had converted to Catholicism; they were learning to farm the land. They wanted to coexist with the white settlers who had come. But the government wanted the Potawatomi lands, and had pressured other Potawatomi chiefs to sign treaties giving their lands away. Menominee refused. So in late August of 1838, the government began rounding up Potawatomi as prisoners and bringing them to Twin Lakes, 858 in all. On September 4, 1838, the collected Potawatomi were forced to leave their land. They marched from Twin Lakes to the nearby Michigan Road, and then south along the Michigan Road to Logansport. From there, they were marched west to Osawatomie, Kansas, where they arrived on November 4. More than 40 died of illnesses contracted along the way, which led to the journey being named the Trail of Death.

In 1909, a statue of Chief Menominee was placed near the Potawatomi village at about the place where the Trail of Death began. It was unveiled by Menominee’s granddaughter to serve as a memorial of what had happened. On September 18, 100 years later, the statue was rededicated, and many Potawatomi came to take part. Several spoke, telling the history of the Trail of Death.

Menominee statue rededication

I have Potawatomi ancestry. My great great grandmother – my mother’s father’s mother’s mother – is said to have been full Potawatomi. I had never explored this part of my heritage before, had never thought much about it. But when my cohort on the Michigan Road byway project, who was involved with the rededication, invited me, I knew I had to go.

Menominee statue rededication

I found the ceremony to be unexpectedly saddening as I heard the story of these people, with whom I share blood, being forced off their land. Yet I felt little kinship to the many Potawatomi who traveled from all over for the event. I recognized that I have traveled the path of a white man; that my German and Scots-Irish ancestry has been more vital to me and has shaped me in concrete ways. Yet I feel as though I’ve missed something important all these years, a connection to a people who wanted to live peaceably and, by the time of the forced migration, sought to follow the same God I serve. I realize that I feel connected to these Potawatomi because they were fellow believers, and it is through this connection that the story of the gross injustice they suffered moves me.

A good introduction to the Trail of Death is at See also my friend Hoosier Reborn’s take on the rededication at his blog.