Road Trips

US 50 in Ripley County, Indiana

On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois. I wrote about that trip on my old Roads site, but now I’m bringing that material to this blog.

As US 50 passes into Ripley County, it becomes wooded and a little twisty.

US 50 in Ripley County

It’s a fun drive. This is also the original 1926 alignment of the road.

US 50 in Ripley County

Soon the road enters Versailles, which is pronounced verSALES. (I did not know when I made this trip that the original alignment of US 50 here came in from the east on the current alignment, but then turned north on the road just east of Laughery Creek, and then took the first left. There the Busching Covered Bridge, which still stands, carried US 50 over the creek. This road is County Road 25 South today. US 50 continued on this road to Perry Street in Versailles, and then west on Perry Street.)

This is where US 50 intersects with US 421, which is the “auto trails” alignment of the Michigan Road. You’d think that this would be the heart of a bustling downtown, but Versailles built its downtown just north of here. It made sense at the time, as the major north-south road wasn’t US 421 or the Michigan Road, but a plank road that followed Adams St. north out of town. That route was bisected when the lake north of town was created by the Army Corps of Engineers.

US 50 in Versailles

US 421 and US 50 briefly run concurrently in Versailles.

US 50 in Versailles

West of Versailles, US 50 intersects the Michigan Road’s original alignment. At a quick glance, you’d never guess you were crossing a historically significant road.

US 50 at the Michigan Road

If you look to your left, though, you might notice this historical marker. It could use a little TLC.

US 50 at the Michigan Road

Update: On a visit to this spot in early 2022, I found that the marker had at last gotten that TLC!

Michigan Road marker at US 50

Since my 2008 Michigan Road trip, Ripley County erected this marker on this corner, as well.

US 50 at the Michigan Road

Shortly the road comes upon tiny Holton. Or, should I say, the road bypasses tiny Holton. (I did not know when I made this trip how the original US 50 alignment rejoined the current alignment. I do now; it’s outlined in red on the map excerpt below.)

Imagery ©2022 CNES / Airbus, IndianaMap Framework Data, Landsat / Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA/FPAC/GEO. Map data ©2022 Google.

Here’s where the two roads diverge.

Holton

The 1916 Automobile Blue Book talks about crossing a bridge at 61.6 miles. When I trace the route and count the miles, there’s a bridge on modern US 50 at that point. But Google Maps shows something else just south of the current bridge – an older, abandoned bridge! I was pressed for time and had not done full research before I made my recent trip along this portion of US 50. I didn’t know about this bridge and so missed the opportunity to photograph it! Fortunately, a bridgefan passed through here before me, photographed the bridge, and shared his findings at bridgehunter.com. Here’s the bridge from the air. See it there, just below the current bridge?

Next: US 50 in Jennings County.

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Road Trips

Converging Michigan Road alignments in Napoleon, Indiana

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.

The original alignment of the Michigan Road meets the Michigan Road Auto Trail (US 421) alignment in Napoleon. The map labels the road as 850N, but it is signed Michigan Road. Notice that if you follow the Michigan Road’s path straight north, it meets US 421 somewhere north of Jackson St. My guess is that it used to do just that, but was abandoned after the road that is now US 421 was built.

This excerpt from an 1856 Indiana atlas in the David Rumsey collection, supports my theory. I’ve highlighted the Michigan Road in blue and the road from Versailles and Osgood that became US 421 in red.

Andreas, A.T. Ripley County, Illustrated historical atlas of the State of Indiana, Baskin, Forster & Co., Chicago, 1876., via the David Rumsey Collection.

North of the turn, the road becomes a gravel path briefly, as this southbound photo shows.

Former Michigan Road alignment?

It provides access to the Lutheran Cemetery. Past the cemetery’s north edge, the gravel becomes two-track briefly and then the road disappears. I would like someday to explore along this corridor for clues.

Lutheran Cemetery, Napoleon, Indiana

Napoleon was platted in 1820 with an east-west main street that is State Road 229 today. The Michigan Road is Madison St.

Check out the burglar alarm above the door of the 1904 Napoleon State Bank building on the northwest corner of Main and Madison.

Napoleon State Bank, Napoleon, Indiana

The current Napoleon State Bank stands on the southeast corner. This bank has four branches in nearby towns and has managed to stay independent, which is no mean feat today.

Napoleon State Bank, Napoleon, Indiana

I ducked down Main Street for a minute, where I found the 1838 Central House, a former stop for people driving hogs from Indianapolis to Cincinnati along an early stagecoach route. It is used today for the occasional play or musical.

The Central House

Back on the Michigan Road, this building houses the Bonaparte’s Retreat restaurant.

Bonaparte's Retreat tavern, Napoleon, Indiana

On the southwest corner of Wilson St. stands this flour mill, about which I have so far been able to find out nothing.

Flour mill, Napoleon, Indiana

What’s really interesting about this building is seeing the two new signs painted on it with all the old ones long fading.

Flour mill, Napoleon, Indiana

The only White Lily flour I have been able to find information about is pretty much a Southern institution, well known for making the most tender biscuits. But that White Lily flour was, until 2006, made exclusively in Knoxville, Tennessee.

On the northwest corner of Wilson St. is this very large old house. It’s the Elias Conwell house, which I wrote about here.

Elias Conwell House, Napoleon, Indiana

The old house stands at the east end of Berry’s Trace, later known as Brownstown Road. It ran west to at least the east fork of the White River, where it joined the old Three Notch Road that ran from Indianapolis into Brown County. (Most of the Three Notch Road is State Road 135 today; read about it here.) I haven’t been able to figure out Berry’s Trace’s route for certain.

Berry's Trace marker

Heading north out of Napoleon, this little creek comes out from behind a gas station and runs alongside the Michigan Road.

Creek along the road

Directly across the street, drivers are reassured they’re still on US 421 as they leave town.

US 421 (Michigan Road), Napoleon, Indiana

Shortly, the road leaves Ripley County and enters Decatur County.

Next: The Michigan Road in Decatur County.

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

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Road Trips

The Michigan Road Auto Trail in Ripley County, Indiana

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.

At the turn of the 20th century, many roads were dirt and wide enough only for a horse and buggy. They washed out and became impassable in the rain. But large portions, perhaps all, of the Michigan Road had been bought by gravel companies after 1850, which surfaced them in gravel and charged a toll for traveling on them through at least the 1890s.

By 1880, bicyclists nationwide began to organize and advocate for improved roads that would let them enjoy their bicycles more. By the early 1900s, as the automobile became popular, the drive for good roads intensified. Private associations formed to build or, more commonly, link existing good roads. The associations gave them names, posted signs along them, and promoted them. The best known auto trail is arguably the Lincoln Highway, which stretched from New York to San Francisco, but there were many others, national, regional, and local. Towns wanted to be on these “auto trails” because of the commerce they’d bring.

Given that the gravel companies had improved the Michigan Road, and given that it still provided access from south to north, coast to coast across Indiana, it was a natural to become an auto trail. Signs went up along the route, probably attached to utility poles as was the custom then. My 1921 Rand McNally Indiana map (left image below) says the signs were white on black; my 1922 (right image below) and 1925 Rand McNally Indiana maps say black on white. Either way, seeing an MR sign reassured you of your route.

Auto-trails maps show the Michigan Road bypassing the original route through most of Ripley County in favor of a route that went through Versailles (pronounced ver-SALES) and Osgood. It was common in these days for towns and cities to lobby hard for auto trails to be routed through them for the commerce they would bring. So it is very likely that Versailles and Osgood successfully pushed for this rerouting.

And so the improved road went to Versailles and Osgood. According to the 1922 Rand McNally Indiana map excerpted below, all of the bypassed route was a dirt road, while only a small portion of the Versailles-Osgood route was not gravel or paved. You can see the original Michigan Road as it passes through Marion and Dabney, and the Michigan Road Auto Trail as it passes through Versailles and Osgood. (On the map below, a solid black line is a road paved in concrete, brick, or macadam; a dashed line is an “improved” road of gravel, crushed stone, or oiled dirt; and all other lines indicate dirt roads.)

For completeness’ sake, I followed the auto-trail route too. Rexville is the first dot on the map, and it is little more than a sprinkling of houses today. Just north of there is a junkyard mostly populated with old school buses.

School bus graveyard
School bus graveyard

The first big town on the auto-trails route is Versailles. Strangely, none of the three highways that cross this town reach downtown. US 421 enters from the south, just left of center at the bottom of the map below. At Perry St., which is US 50, it turns left and follows 50 west out of town.

The first, and it turns out the only, interesting sight along the way is the Moon-Lite Motel. (The Michigan Road bypasses the heart of Versailles, which is famous for its art-deco architecture. Check out this old church that I visited some years after I made this road trip.)

Motel in Versailles, Indiana

Shortly after leaving Versailles, US 421 splits from US 50 and heads north. The map below incorrectly shows 421 following the left fork of this split:

But since the map photo was taken, your tax dollars reconfigured this intersection. The fork is gone; US 421 is now a right turn off US 50. This northbound photo shows a tiny stub of old US 421 that provides access to to David Ln.

Former US 421 alignment

After you leave US 50, Kelley’s Bel-Air Drive-In appears at the top of the hill. It opened in 1957, so why the ’56 Chevy on the sign?

Kelley's Bel-Air Drive In

Osgood is the next town on the Michigan Road auto trail. It was laid out in 1856 along the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad. The original town lay entirely south of the railroad. US 421 in Osgood is Buckeye St.; it was part of a plank road of oak that stretched from Napoleon south to Versailles. (Buckeye St. was paved with stone in 1898 and with brick in 1914 and 1915. The Indiana State Highway Commission later covered the bricks with asphalt.)

While US 421 between Osgood and Napoleon is almost certainly the descendant of that plank road, it seems likely to me that the plank road followed US 421 south of town only as far as Hasmer Hill Road, which I believe was planked to downtown Versailles. In the map below of US 421 south of Osgood, notice how Hasmer Hill Road follows straight from Buckeye St,. while US 421 curves more southerly.

Hasmer Hill Road dead-ends today at the lake inside Versailles State Park. But before 1955, when this lake was created by damming a creek, Hasmer Hill Road appears to have connected to Main St. in Versailles. You would think that US 421 would have followed the Main St./Hasmer Hill Rd. route to Osgood, given how highways love to go through downtowns, but my maps show US 421 and its predecessors, State Road 29 and State Road 6, following US 421’s present downtown-skipping route as far back as 1921.

The Ripley County Bank stands on the southeast corner of Buckeye and Ripley Sts in Osgood. This photo shows this corner probably no later than the 1910s. This photo shows the bank (front, right), Buckeye St., and the block north of it from about the same time.

Ripley County Bank, Osgood, Indiana

Across the street stands this great Rexall Drug Store. The building to the right is the Damm Theater. I had no way of knowing that, of course, since its sign was off the building, which was undergoing restoration. I visited later and found the sign intact; see it here.

Rexall Pharmacy, Osgood, Indiana

This photo shows the east side of Buckeye St. as it approaches the railroad tracks.

Osgood, Indiana

This building is interesting not just because of its great neon sign, but because of its balcony. The original Osgood fire station is to its left; this photo shows it in 1911, which was before the Tourist Liquors building was built.

Tourist Liquors

From Osgood, US 421 makes its way to Napoleon, where it meets the original alignment of the road.

Next: The Michigan Road in Napoleon, Indiana.

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

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On the bridge

Standing on the Shepard Bridge
Minolta Autopak 470
Lomography Color Tiger
2018

This 1913 stone-arch bridge carries the Michigan Road over Big Creek in Ripley County, Indiana. I’ve written about this bridge a bunch of times: here, here, here, here. It’s one of my favorite bridges.

In 2018 my wife and I followed the Michigan Road north from Madison and paused here to explore. She’s out on the deck with her camera. I made this image on 110 film using a Minolta Autopak 470 camera.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Standing on the Shepard Bridge

A photo (on 110 film!) of my wife on a 1913 stone bridge in Ripley County, Indiana.

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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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