Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Cass 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.

Where the Michigan Road leaves Carroll County and enters Cass County, it stops being a north-south road and curves northeastward. It stays that way until Rochester.

Cass County was formed in 1828 and was named after Lewis Cass, who was then governor of the Michigan Territory. He was involved in making treaties with the Native Americans who lived in the region, opening the area to white settlers.

The Michigan Road comes to Logansport shortly after entering Cass County. Despite what the map says, State Road 29 no longer goes into Logansport, instead veering away from the Michigan Road south of town and ending about where it intersects with State Road 25. When SR 29 was decertified inside Logansport, that stretch of road was renumbered as State Road 329. But even that was decertified in about 2000, and now the Michigan Road is just Burlington Ave. as it enters Logansport.

This southbound photo shows Burlington Avenue in Logansport.

Logansport

The Wabash and Eel Rivers meet in Logansport, and the Michigan Road crosses both of them. It encounters the Wabash first. There are two bridges over the Wabash because there’s an island in the middle where the road crosses. This photo was taken on the south bridge.

South Wabash River bridge

There are a few streets on the island, known as Biddle Island. When you cross the south bridge, Burlington Ave. becomes 3rd St.

This is the north bridge.

North Wabash River bridge

From the north bridge, this is downtown Logansport.

Downtown from the north bridge

At the time I made this survey, I was not clear on the Michigan Road’s path through Logansport. All I knew is that it entered on Burlington Avenue and exited on Michigan Avenue. Since then I discovered a historic document called Development and Lands of Michigan Road, a 1914 document that shows county-by-county maps of the road as originally surveyed. It shows that the road avoided Biddle Island, following a slightly more easterly route and then hugging the north side of the Wabash River before picking up what is now Michigan Avenue and exiting Logansport. But by 1835, the road had been routed over Biddle Island, according to this post at the Indiana Transportation History blog.

When I made this survey in 2008, it seemed likely to me that the Michigan Road followed 3rd St. to Broadway St., went east on Broadway to 6th St., crossed the Eel River, and then turned onto Michigan Ave. That’s the route we’ll follow here.

The Todd Bank Building, built in 1870, stands on 3rd St. just north of the north bridge. It is one of the oldest brick structures in Logansport.

For sale!

Logansport was named for John Logan, a half-Shawnee soldier who had been friendly to area settlers. The forest that covered what is now downtown was cleared in 1828, and the town grew quickly as a transportation hub. The Michigan Road came in 1832, the Wabash and Erie Canal in 1837 or 1838, and the first of many railroads in 1855. The railroad left the deepest impression on Logansport; by the 1920s, they employed 3,000 here.

A thriving downtown was built during Logansport’s best years. This image from a postcard postmarked 1908 shows eastbound Broadway St. from 3rd St.

Much has changed in this scene in 100 years. Only one older building is visible from this corner today. 3rd St. is one way west today, so northbound Michigan Road travelers follow Market St., which is one block south. This is where the Michigan Road becomes State Road 25, which it will remain until it reaches Rochester.

Broadway St.

This postcard, probably from the 1910s, shows westbound Broadway St. from 5th St.

Logansport’s boom busted. Over time, many of its downtown buildings succumbed to the wrecking ball. This westbound shot was taken from about the same place as the postcard image above.

Broadway St.

This building is in both of these Broadway St. photos.

Broadway St.

I was surprised by how many of Logansport’s old buildings had limestone faces.

On Broadway

This photo is of the northwest corner of Broadway at 6th St, which is where the Michigan Road turns north. This is the Keystone Building, which when built was so far away from the rest of town that locals snickered behind the builder’s back.

6th and Broadway

It appears that many of Broadway Street’s old buildings lasted through the 1960s, when this postcard photograph was taken.

This is the same scene in 2008. The north side of the street is far more intact than the south side.

Broadway from 6th St.

Around the corner on 6th St. stands this little greasy spoon with its gloriously rusty sign. I brought my sons here one day for lunch; see it here. Sadly, this delightful little joint has since closed, and its signs are gone.

Whitehouse No. 1

The Michigan Road crosses the Eel River on 6th St., and then turns right onto Michigan Ave. This southbound photo from Michigan Ave. shows the bridge over the Eel River.

Michigan Ave.

The Michigan Road passes Logansport’s Memorial Hospital, which looked like this in about the 1930s.

The hospital is a sprawling complex today, of which this is but a small part.

Memorial Hospital, Logansport

Northbound from the hospital, the Michigan Road passes through a residential area.

Neighborhood, Logansport

I’d love to know this old house’s history.

Old house, Logansport

Because the Michigan Road passes through most of Indiana at an angle, you get used to seeing roads coming in at crazy angles. Logansport’s history includes annexing a couple of smaller towns, and I would not be surprised if this was once the center of one of those towns because of the storefronts here. The Michigan Road begins to ascend out of the river valley here.

Northbound, Logansport

Most of the Michigan Road’s bridges in northern Indiana are modern, so it was a pleasure to find this survivor. My guess is that this bridge is from no later than the 1930s.

Old bridge

As the Michigan Road leaves Logansport, it passes by the Char-Bett, a hamburger and ice-cream stand.

Char-Bett

Here’s a closer look that the wonderful sign.

Char-Bett sign

This photo is from the grounds of Inntiquity, a bed and breakfast north of Logansport.

Inntiquity

An old farmhouse in Cass County.

Old house

I really like the strong lines of this house, which I guess to have been built around 1850, but the landscaping made a clean shot impossible.

Old house

Metea is a tiny unincorporated town in northern Cass County. It was laid out in 1853 and has been called New Hamilton and Lick Skillet, a name applied to more than one economically depressed Indiana town. (One explanation for the name is that the people were so poor that they ate anything with any food value, including the skillet’s scrapings.) Metea never amounted to much, and today all that’s there is a cemetery, a church, and a few homes. This is the cemetery.

Cemetery in Metea

This is the church.

Metea Baptist Church

North of Metea, just before leaving Cass County for Fulton County, stands this old house. It’s set way back from the road.

Old house

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

Carroll County was formed in 1828 and was named for Charles Carroll, the only signer of the Declaration of Independence still alive at the time. Almost as soon as the Michigan Road enters Carroll County, the Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm appears. Hoosier Homesteads are farms that have been in the same family for over 100 years. The house was built in 1862 by George Harness; it and the farm passed through the family to Mary Mathews, granddaughter of the last Harness to own the farm. It served as a stagecoach stop for a while and is said to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad.

Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm

I wonder what happened to that missing shutter (second floor, front, second window from the left).

Mathews Hoosier Homestead Farm

This old house appears just south of Burlington.

Old house

The road bends slightly east as it enters Burlington, and back west as it leaves.

The Burlington United Methodist Church built this, its second building, on the Michigan Road at 10th St.

This is the church’s third and current building, still on this site.

Burlington United Methodist Church

Shortly after Carroll County was created in 1828, David Stipp, said to be a cold and stingy man, laid out Burlington. It was hoped to become the seat of a new county made partly from the Great Miami Reserve, which was 2 miles east. The Lafayette and Muncie Road crossed the Michigan Road here, but I’ve had no luck finding any information about that road. Burlington was an important stage stop, mill village, and trading center for both whites and Indians from the reservation. The town, named after a chief of the Wyandot native Americans, was incorporated in 1967. 

This hardware store stands on the south end of Burlington’s downtown.

Former fire station

The older part of the building was once the Burlington State Bank, as this 1946 photo shows. I wonder if this was once a fire station. The current fire station is a block west down the side street in the photo below. The big arch certainly could have passed a fire truck.

An old house left near downtown, across the street from the hardware store.

Old house, Burlington

These buildings stand in the heart of downtown.

Business District

This photo shows the middle building sometime in the first half of the 20th century when it was Oyler and Huddleston’s, a dry-goods store.

This photo is from inside Oyler and Huddleston’s, which people in Burlington called the Park Store for some reason.

Some other shots of downtown. I’m guessing that this one is from the 1910s.

This one’s probably also from the 1910s.

This photo from the 1970s shows the northbound road from State Road 22.

This is from the same spot, except southbound, in the 1970s. It shows the Oyler and Huddleston building on the right and the former bank in the next block south.

This is a former general store, north of downtown. On the vacant lot to the north once stood a house built by David Stipp that, after he sold it, was a relay house for stage horses. A tavern was kept in the basement; the entrance was a trap door on the porch!

Old storefront, Burlington

Here’s the store during its days as the Farm Boy store, probably in the 1970s.

Burlington Church of Christ, formerly the Burlington Christian Church. This is the third building the church used, built in 1908, and the second on this site.

Burlington Church of Christ

This 1929 photo was taken after a snowstorm that shut down the town. The Church of Christ is near the center.

This photo is of a well used until 1935 to supply the north side of town (and passing travelers) with water. It was on Burlington’s north edge, just south of the bridge over Wildcat Creek.

There have been quite a succession of bridges over Wildcat Creek. The earliest recorded was a wooden covered bridge. I’m not sure which end is north and which is south!

Here’s the bridge in 1913 during a flood.

This photo from the bridge’s north end was taken in May of 1919, shortly before the bridge was torn down, suggests that the bridge had lived out its life.

A concrete bridge was planned. This formwork was constructed, but a flood destroyed it in 1920. Builders had to start over.

The bridge was finished in 1923. Imagine – the bridge was closed for four years! This bridge, which was described as narrow, may have been a Luten bridge. Even if it wasn’t, it looks typical of the kinds of bridges Indiana was building in this timeframe.

This northbound photo shows the road leaving town and crossing the current bridge, a typical boring slab supported by piers.

Northbound, Burlington

This photo shows the Michigan Road southbound as it heads toward Burlington. This is probably from the 1910s, as the covered bridge is there. Notice that the road is made of dirt.

The Michigan Road wasn’t paved in Burlington until 1929. This early-1900s northbound photo shows how the road became a rutted bog when it was wet.

This photo from about the same time shows not only how the road got rutted when wet, but also how it once rolled. This section has since been leveled; the road through Burlington is entirely level. There were certainly many such dips along the road until the modern era, roughly since 1950, when technology and road funding allowed rolling highways to be flattened.

Sharon is the first spot on the map north of Burlington.

I stopped mostly to take photos of the Sharon Baptist Church.

Sharon Baptist Church

Some old buildings on the road have steps down to the road. Clearly, they are a holdover from a day before the Michigan Road was capable of handling 55 mile per hour traffic. Nobody parks along the road on Sunday morning and walks up these steps anymore.

Sharon Baptist Church

The road had been freshly paved when I drove through. Compare this to the muddy photos from 100 years before! Northbound.

Northbound, Sharon

A cemetery stands north of the Sharon Baptist Church, just across County Road 50N.

Beech Grove Cemetery

Just south of the town of Deer Creek stands Sycamore Row, a historic old alignment. The origin of the sycamore trees is uncertain. But they boxed in this short segment of road, making it a tight squeeze. Unbelievably, this remained the in-service road until 1987! Read more about Sycamore Row here.

Sycamore Row

This is what the road inside Sycamore Row looks like today.

Sycamore Row

The little town of Deer Creek lies just north of Sycamore Row and the creek the town is named after.

This is the Deer Creek Presbyterian Church, which was established in 1842. This building is certainly newer than that.

Deer Creek Presbyterian Church

This Deer Creek building was a feed store during at least the late 1950s. It began its life as the West Sonora Christian Church. I failed to photograph it, but just north of this building is an arch with the words WEST SONORA, which I’m told used to stretch over the Michigan Road. I’m guessing that Deer Creek was once known as West Sonora.

What is this?

Next: The Michigan Road in Cass County, Indiana.

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 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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Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Hamilton and Boone Counties

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.

Hamilton County was founded in 1823 and had an agricultural economy for most of its history. But after World War II, Indianapolis expanded northward and Hamilton County’s communities increasingly became Indianapolis suburbs. It is now one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation and certainly the fastest growing county in the state. It is also the wealthiest county in the state, as measured by median household income.

Only 1¾ miles of the Michigan Road lie inside Hamilton County. The road cuts across its southwest corner. On this map, the green line is the Marion-Hamilton line and the blue line is the Boone-Hamilton line.

Carmel is a city in Hamilton County. It has been on an annexing bender since the mid 1990s, reflected in its population growth – about 32,500 in 1996 to almost 69,000 in 2007. Somewhere along the line Carmel assumed all of the land around the Michigan Road within the county. Where Carmel goes, roads are improved and shopping centers are built.

Carmel

A massive improvement to the road was finished in 1997, making it what you see here. When I moved to Indianapolis in 1994, if my memory serves the road was four lanes undivided for a short distance north of Indianapolis, and then narrowed to two lanes.

106th St. and Michigan Road

Boone County, founded in 1830, was named after Daniel Boone. Despite bordering Indianapolis, the county is mostly rural. It has maybe 20% of the population of neighboring Hamilton County. The Michigan Road cuts across the county’s east side, never encountering a town of any consequence.

Looking southbound from just inside Boone County, you can see where the highway narrows. No need for all those lanes out here – yet. New subdivisions keep being built out here, so it’s probably just a matter of time before increased traffic demands a widened road.

Southbound, Boone County

But for now, fields and old farmhouses are the norm.

Old farmhouse in its context

Here’s a closer look at the old farmhouse.

Old farmhouse

I caught these horses grazing in another field nearby.

Horses

Rosston was once a place where trains stopped to pick up grain. I’ve seen old references to the place as “Rosston Station.”

This is Rosston’s old general store, just north of the train tracks which have long been removed. I’m not sure why I didn’t photograph the old grain elevator.

Storefront in Rosston

I haven’t been able to find out anything about the unincorporated town of Waugh.

This old house, but not much else, stands in Waugh.

Old house in Waugh

Where the Michigan Road intersects State Road 47 stands the Christian Liberty Church. Its sign says 1885, but I couldn’t tell whether the building is that old, too.

Christian Liberty Church

After a few more miles of farm fields, the Michigan Road exits Boone County and enters Clinton County.

Next: The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Clinton 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 and the Dixie Highway in northwest Indianapolis

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 Michigan Road begins its journey through northwest Indianapolis at Indiana Ave., where West St. becomes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St.

Indiana Avenue was an important business and cultural center for African Americans as early as 1890. A woman named Sarah Breedlove, better known as Madame C. J. Walker, moved her business of manufacturing hair-care products to Indianapolis in 1910. By 1917, it was the largest black-owned business in the nation. She had started planning the Walker Theatre as a cultural center and home to her manufacturing operations when she died in 1917, and her daughter completed it. It opened in 1927. It faced decline in the 1960s and 1970s, but was restored during the 1980s.

Walker Theatre

It is here where West St. becomes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St., formerly known as Northwestern Ave.

Northbound at Indiana Ave.

The Ransom Place neighborhood lies between St. Clair St. and 10th St. The area was platted in the late 1860s and, at first, white immigrants moved in, building modest homes. But between 1900 and 1920, the neighborhood’s population became overwhelmingly black, and as such the neighborhood remains best known. The area has benefited from preservation and redevelopment funds going back to 1945.

Ransom Place

I-65 bisected many old northwest Indianapolis neighborhoods, relegating a few of them to ghettos. This Interstate parallels the Michigan Road for a couple miles before pulling away, headed toward Chicago.

The road here is a major artery to and from Downtown, especially via I-65.

At the split

Unfortunately, I-65’s primacy makes staying on the Michigan Road a bit tricky. You have to take a left-lane exit of sorts to stay on the road.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., St.

The aerial image on the left is from 1937. Compare it to the 2008 aerial image on the right. The Michigan Road is highlighted in color; 10th St. runs east-west across the middle of each image. In the 2008 image, the blue line shows the northbound route to stay on the Michigan Road; the yellow line, the southbound route. I-65 wiped out almost everything in the upper-right quadrant, including some of the canal. Notice also how many homes present in 1937 in the Ransom Place neighborhood, which is in the lower-left quadrant, are missing in the 2008 image.

This photo shows Crispus Attucks High School and the elevated train that links the Downtown IU Health hospitals. The cross street was 11th St. until it was recently renamed Oscar Robertson Blvd. after the school’s standout basketball star.

At Oscar Robertson Blvd.

Crispus Attucks High School was built in 1927 amid controversy as it was to be an all-black school, the first in Indiana. Indianapolis’s high schools were otherwise integrated, and many viewed this to be a step backward. But after the school was built, it became a focal point for Indianapolis African-Americans. It was a source of particular pride in 1955 and 1956 when the school’s basketball team, led by Oscar Robertson, won back-to-back state championships, the second year as an undefeated team. Attucks became integrated in 1967. By the 1980s, however, enrollment was in serious decline across the Indianapolis Public Schools system, placing Attucks’ future in question. It ended up being converted to a middle school. In 2006, in partnership with the nearby Indiana University Medical Center, it was converted into a college-preparatory school, grades six through 12, for students interested in becoming medical professionals. This photo shows the school’s entrance.

Attucks High School

North of the high school begins a long corridor of decay and dilapidation, exemplified by the Revival Temple Church’s makeshift sign and peeling paint.

Revival Temple Apostolic Church

Across the street, the 1920 New Baptist Church building has been well cared for. The church is 100 years old in 2008.

New Baptist Church

At 21st St., the road briefly takes on a light-industrial feel. This photo is southbound, showing how the Indianapolis skyline looms. The Michigan Road was once also known here as the Dixie Highway. The Dixie was a network of roads, organized before the US highway system was founded, that connected Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan to Miami, Florida. One branch of the Dixie known as the Northern Connector followed the Michigan Road from 21st St. all the way to downtown South Bend.

Southbound at 21st St.

Fall Creek is next, with its bridge. I couldn’t find a safe place to photograph the current bridge. I’m pretty sure this postcard image, which is from about 1900-1920, is of a former bridge at this location.

Watkins Park lies on the northwest corner of 23rd St.

Watkins Park

Across the street from the park, the homes are in poor repair.

Dilapidated house

Bar-B-Q Heaven stands north of 25th St. Its neon sign seems to be lit day and night.

Bar-B-Q Heaven

The Holy Angels Catholic Church was completed in 1903 on the corner of 28th St. It has grown and prospered through all the changes this neighborhood has seen. (Sometime after I made this photo, this church was razed.)

Holy Angels Catholic Church

I-65 crosses the Michigan Road just north of 30th St. Malaise begins slowly to disappear as you drive north from here.

Michigan Road at I-65

Just after driving under the Interstate, Crown Hill Cemetery appears on the right. On this spot since 1864, it is the third largest cemetery in the United States. Many notable Hoosiers are buried here, but none so honored as James Whitcomb Riley, the Hoosier poet, who died in 1917.

This is Riley’s gravesite. Even though it is right along the Michigan Road, you can’t see the road from here, and you can’t see this spot from the road. For decades, children have dropped change onto this monument. It is regularly collected and donated to the Riley Children’s Foundation which helps support the Riley Hospital for Children.

Riley's rest

Riley is buried at the highest point in Indianapolis. You can see the Downtown skyline from here.

View from the Riley gravesite

38th St. was Indianapolis’s northern boundary for many years. North of this old boundary the road is once again signed Michigan Road. On the northwest corner stands the Indianapolis Museum of Art, on the grounds of Oldfields, the former country estate of J. K. Lilly, Jr., who was an executive at Eli Lilly and Co. and a philanthropist.

IMA entrance

The Michigan Road was privatized during the late 19th century. It was sold to gravel companies, which covered it in gravel and charged to travel along it. One of the toll houses remains.

Toll house

The Michigan Road is four lanes wide in this part of the city.

Northbound

This old house stands by as the road nears Crooked Creek.

House along the road

I live in the Crooked Creek area, about a mile from where Kessler Blvd. crosses the Michigan Road. Kessler Blvd. is historic, too; designed by, built by, and named for pioneering city planner George Kessler.

This is where the two roads intersect.

Kessler and Michigan

Across Michigan Road from the Starbucks and the Walgreens stands Crooked Creek School. A school has stood on this spot since 1837. Three or four buildings have served here, and the first was a log cabin. This is the entrance to the previous building, which was torn down in 1985 for the school you see behind it. The entrance was originally behind the last of the cars parked in the photo, but was moved to this spot as a memorial. Many years ago, before the Michigan Road became such a busy road in and out of town, the steps at the end of the entrance led to a wide path that led children right to the Michigan Road for their trip home. Today, walking on the Michigan Road here is like taking your life into your hands. Today, you enter the school grounds via a long driveway on Kessler Blvd. But the original path is still there, serving as a driveway to what is now a back entrance. All three of my children have attended Crooked Creek School.

School No. 7 / Crooked Creek Elementary School

This 1840s farmhouse stands across from 64th St. It was for sale when I took this photo.

1840s farmhouse, 64th and Michigan

This home, which stands at about 67th St., was built in 1852 by the Aston family and served as an inn for travelers on the road. It was common then to see farmers driving livestock down the Michigan Road to the markets in Indianapolis, which was at that time a full day away from here. This was a good place to stop before making the final day’s journey.

Aston Inn

Long before Indianapolis assimilated all of Marion County, this was the spot of a small town named Augusta. Its streets cross the Michigan Road perpendicularly, where Indianapolis’s streets cross it at angles. Augusta lies between 71st and 79th Streets.

Augusta

Unlike most of the rest of Indianapolis, Augusta was built with Michigan Road as its main street. Its side streets cross at right angles, as this map shows.

Augusta, Indiana was founded in 1832 by David Boardman and James Fee, presumably to take advantage of the opportunities the brand-new Michigan Road would provide. In 1834, Boardman and his son built a house in Augusta on the Michigan Road. It still stands, and is one of the oldest homes in the city.

Boardman and son built this house the hard way. They made the bricks from clay they dug and made the timbers from poplar and ash trees they cut down and sawed at a mill on nearby Crooked Creek. Can you imagine how long that must have taken? Some say the house was built on a bluff overlooking the Michigan Road. I think it’s possible that the house was built at the road’s original level, but that the road was lowered, probably during the automobile age, for faster and safer travel. Whichever story is right, the house seems to tower over the road.

The digital library at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis includes this photo of the house in 1976. You’ll notice some changes since 1976. The Michigan Road was widened to four lanes in 1995 or 1996, which removed a stoop and walkway to the front door. Also, the roof has been modified, the chimneys are shorter, window frames are narrower, and the front door is different.

Boardman House de-ivied

Augusta’s best days were few. The railroad came in a couple miles west in the early 1850s. Smelling greater prosperity, most of the town picked up, moved down 71st St. to the railroad, and founded New Augusta. Today, both towns are part of Indianapolis. When you drive through what was Augusta, it’s hard to tell it was ever a town. It seems only to be a few random old houses that inexplicably interrupt a sea of strip malls. But some clues, like this house, remain.

Speaking of strip malls, they dominate the road through the rest of Indianapolis. This northbound photo was taken just south of 86th St.

Approaching 86th St

The Michigan Road is about to run out of Indianapolis. The road just past I-465 in this map is 96th St., the border with Hamilton County.

Here’s where 86th St. crosses the Michigan Road.

86th and Michigan

This animation shows how this intersection has changed over time, going from rural to suburban. The aerial images are from 1937, 1956, 1962, 1979, 1986, 1997, and 2008.

These are The Pyramids. They’re just south of I-465 and east of the road. On a clear day, you can see these from the Riley gravesite. When they were built, they were way out in the sticks, but instantly became a landmark. I heard that the original mirrored glass reflected the sun so badly that it interfered with air traffic, and so new, less-glaring glass was installed. I used to work in an office complex across from the Pyramids, and at certain times of day every office on the east side of the building had to close the blinds against the killer glare. I worked on the second floor of the middle pyramid for about a year (in 1999 and 2000, I think), and I was surprised by how shabby the place was inside.

The Pyramids

From I-465, here’s a northbound shot of the road as it is about to leave Indianapolis. It becomes US 421 again here. The road is routinely this busy here, as it is a major artery between Zionsville and northwest Indianapolis.

Michigan Road at I-465

Next: The Michigan Road in Hamilton and Boone Counties.

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 and the National Road in Downtown Indianapolis

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 Downtown Indianapolis portion of the Michigan Road follows Washington St., which is the old National Road and former US 40, west. Originally, it turned north on Meridian Street, went around the Circle, and proceeded to Ohio Street. It turned west onto Ohio and then northwest on Indiana Avenue. Unfortunately, that portion of Indiana Avenue no longer exists. But when it did, the Michigan Road followed Indiana Avenue to what is now West Street. To stay on the Michigan Road, you veer slightly left onto Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Street, which used to be known as Northwestern Avenue.

Let’s start at the eastern end of this route. A couple blocks before entering the Mile Square, which is the heart of Indianapolis’s Downtown, the road passes under this hulking railroad overpass.

Railroad overpass at College Ave.

I’ve been fascinated by this structure as long as I’ve lived in Indianapolis because it is so imposing. Travel lanes are narrow, as this shot of College Ave. shows.

Railroad overpass at College Ave.

From about East St., Downtown looms. Since 2008, has been reconfigured to add a bicycle trail and Bus Rapid Transit lanes.

Downtown Indianapolis

The City-County Building went up in 1962 and is now the seat of the merged city-county government. Since 2008, the courtyard in front of the City-County Building has been converted into a park.

City-County Building

Indiana’s tallest building, the Chase Tower, is visible behind the City-County Building.

Indiana's tallest building

The Broadbent Building may look brand new, but its skeleton dates back to 1960. Once known as “the zipper building” because of its trapezoidal windows, the facade was removed in 2007 and this facade was put in its place. But what was here before that was a grand and imposing structure made of cut stone called the Vance Block, which was built in 1875 and razed in 1959. This page has photos of the Vance Block, photos of Washington St. in the late 1800s, and even one photo of the zipper building.

The Broadbent Building

Dunkin’ Donuts was preparing to open in this building on the day I took this photograph. The building once housed a Roselyn Bakery, a popular local chain that went out of business some years ago. The V-shaped sign is adapted from the original Roselyn sign. If you drive around Indianapolis, you’ll see plenty of these veed signs next to buildings that house any number of businesses today. Here’s a 1998 photo of this corner from when this building was still Roselyn Bakery. Since 2008, Dunkin’ Donuts closed. This space is now a Five Guys burger joint. Five Guys adapted and kept the big V sign.

Dunkin' Donuts

All is not bright and shiny in Downtown Indianapolis, unfortunately. Like most cities, Indianapolis lived through years of malaise, and much evidence of it remains. Since 2008, much restoration has happened and this block looks a lot better.

Facades

Indianapolis did not get modern skyscrapers until the City-County building was built in 1962, making this one of the city’s tallest buildings for many years.

Tall

This mural, “The Runners,” is by James McQuiston. It is on the south side of Washington St. just east of Meridian St. This mural was painted over in 2020, after deteriorating badly.

The Runners

The Victoria Centre building, which I understand is being converted into condos.

Victoria Centre

The decaying McOuat building on the left was supposed to become condos a few years ago, but those plans apparently never materialized. Since 2008, the McOuat building was restored; see it here.

Blighted, not blighted

I couldn’t fit the entire 17-story Merchants National Bank building, built in 1909 and now called the Barnes and Thornburg building, into a frame. This building’s first floor houses a Borders bookstore. Since 2008, Borders moved out and a bank moved in.

Borders in the Merchants Bank building

Until the City-County building was built, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, completed in 1901 at 284 feet, was the tallest structure in Indianapolis. The Statue of Liberty is only 15 feet taller! Imagine how, before Indianapolis’s skyscrapers began to be built in earnest in the 1980s, the Monument had to dominate the Indianapolis skyline. Today, the tall buildings block the view, unless you look down Market St. or Meridian St. at it. This photo looks north up Meridian St. to the monument.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

This building was the flagship of H. P. Wasson and Co., an Indianapolis-based department store chain that closed in 1980. It stands on the northwest corner of Washington and Meridian.

Northwest corner, Washington and Meridian

On the southwest corner stands the shell of the L. S. Ayres and Co. building. L.S. Ayres was Indiana’s premier department store for many decades, but consolidation in that industry and decreasing Downtown shopping ended this store’s Downtown days in 1991. Its suburban and out-of-town locations continued for several more years, but today the Ayres name is gone. All the former locations are now Macy’s. Today, this building is part of Circle Centre Mall. Typical of the mall project, the facades of many buildings were kept and incorporated into the mall. Carson Pirie Scott now uses the first three stories of the building.

Circle Centre Mall

Because the original route of the Michigan Road can’t be fully followed from here, I decided to stay on Washington Street all the way to West Street, and then turn north onto West Street. This is ultimately how we routed the Michigan Road Historic Byway.

Looking west down Washington St., all of these facades front Circle Centre Mall. The Indianapolis Artsgarden spans the intersection of Washington and Illinois Streets.

W. Washington St.

Here’s a closer look at the Artsgarden. The new Conrad hotel is next to it. The Conrad was an empty lot most of the years I’ve lived in Indianapolis. In the background is the Capital Center.

Artsgarden

Continuing westbound on Washington St., the Indiana Repertory Theatre building was built in 1927 as the Indiana Theater, a movie house in the Paramount Publix chain. It was refitted for IRT’s use in 1980.

Indiana Repertory Theatre

The Indiana Statehouse was completed in 1888 and continues to house Indiana’s executive offices, the State Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court.

Statehouse

Standing quietly in front of the Statehouse is this monument to the National Road. It was placed here in 1916 as part of Indiana’s centennial celebration to commemorate the Road’s role in Indiana’s settlement. No doubt, many who came from points east followed the Michigan Road from here to settle in northern Indiana.

National Road monument

On the opposite corner stands the Old Trails Building, completed in 1928 to house the Old Trails Automobile Insurance Association. Washington St. was not only part of the National Road and the Michigan Road, but also the National Old Trails Road, which was established in 1912 and connected Baltimore to Los Angeles. Presumably, the insurance company was named for the road. Check out this photo taken just after the building was built.

Old Trails Building

Shortly I came upon West Street, where I turned north. This map shows how West becomes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Street at Indiana Avenue. The National Road continues west on Washington Street, so we leave it behind here.

Military Park stands on the southwest corner of West and New York Streets. It’s Indianapolis’s oldest park, originally used to train the militia and, later, as an encampment for Civil War soldiers. It also hosted the first Indiana State Fairs. This shelter house is the current centerpiece of the park.

Military Park

Next: The Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis.

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

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