Road Trips

Historical structures on the Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis

On my recent bike ride up the Michigan Road pedestrian trail in northwest Indianapolis, I passed a number of historical structures that I photographed when I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008. Surprisingly, they have changed very little! Here are some then-and-now photos where the then and the now are pretty similar.

While the old Crooked Creek School building was demolished in the 1980s, the entrance arch remains allegedly on its original spot just north of Kessler Boulevard. Here it is in 2008.

School No. 7 / Crooked Creek Elementary School

And here it is in 2017. Sadly, the top of the structure is a little damaged. How does damage like that even happen?

Arch at Crooked Creek School

This 1840s farmhouse at 6358 Michigan Road was vacant and for sale in 2008.

1840s farmhouse, 64th and Michigan

It remained vacant for a long time before someone finally bought it and lived in it. I think it’s been sold one more time since then. I live around the corner from this house and drive by frequently. I’ve watched many exterior improvements be made — all faithful, thanks to protective covenants Indiana Landmarks placed on the house.

1840s farmhouse

A you-pick blueberry patch went in next door. It is kind of startling to find such a thing within the city limits! I’m pretty sure it’s run by the people in this old farmhouse.

Blueberry patch

The Aston Inn at 6620 Michigan Road was built in 1852 and, for a time, served as an inn for travelers. In those days, it was still a full day’s journey from here to downtown Indianapolis! Here are my 2008 photos.

Aston Inn

Aston Inn

Little has changed in 2017, except that the trees and shrubs in front of the house have grown to block the house. I’m sure the owners hope the greenery will turn down the volume on the traffic noise from always-busy Michigan Road. But it’s a shame not to be able to fully see this great old house.

Aston Inn

Aston Inn

In Augusta, the 1832 Boardman House, at 7716 Michigan Road (right), stands next to this block house that looks to be from the early 20th century. I photographed it in 2008 both before and after the owner de-ivied it.


Augusta - Bordman House

Boardman House de-ivied

Boardman House

I met the owner of this house once and he said that it is an extremely sturdily built structure, with walls a foot thick (I think) on the bottom story and hand-hewn exposed beams overhead in the cellar. He has since sold the house. The new owner has cleaned the place up nicely. The block house has been de-ivied, as well.

House in Augusta

The Boardman House

The Boardman House

Across the street, at 7711 Michigan Road, stands this little structure that I feel certain is a log cabin beneath that siding, which looks from a distance to be aluminum. The shape of the house suggests it strongly. The center door is flanked by windows. There’s a large space above the door and windows before the roof begins, suggesting a typical loft above the ground floor. The sloping-roof addition is a classic way to expand a log cabin. I first photographed this house in 2010.

Log cabin?

In 2017, the siding is dirty and the gutter is hanging low — time for a little basic maintenance. But the house still stands. And I’m still dying to know whether I’m right. I hope the owner stumbles upon this post and leaves a comment.

Possible log cabin

Here’s hoping that I can come back with my camera in another nine years and find all of these structures still in good condition.

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Abandoned school

I’ve been looking through old photographs as I’ve thought about a subject for the photo book I’d like to produce. Reviewing photos from my Pentax KM, I found this 2013 photo of my dad. I used a 55mm f/1.8 SMC Pentax lens and Kodak TMax 400 film — which I mistakenly shot at 100. Fortunately, Photoshop rescued it and brought out strong contrast.

Dad’s walking down the steps of the four-room schoolhouse where his education began, now abandoned and decaying, in the coal-and-railroad town of Handley, West Virginia. As I grew up, he told stories of how he had to repeat the first grade because the first time through he simply refused to speak to the teacher all year, and of how that teacher used to delight in sadistically pushing children so they’d fall down the hill on which this school stands. Oy! Visiting Handley made all these stories I’d heard since childhood so much more real.


Captured: On the schoolhouse steps


School arch

This arch, of which I’ve written before, once admitted students to one of the oldest schools in Indianapolis. Students have been educated at this site on the Michigan Road in northwest Marion County, Indiana, since 1837. The building formerly attached to this arch was built in about 1916 and razed in 1983. The school that stands on this ground now, Crooked Creek Elementary School, was built in stages from the 1960s through the 1980s.

On Monday I’m going to share some urban decay photos from this part of Michigan Road. But I wanted to lead with this photo, as the school is a bright spot in this neighborhood — the neighborhood in which I live. I shot it early last year with my Yashica-D on Kodak E100G slide film.

Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

Captured: School arch

Stories Told

Balloon Day

The balloons filled the air, hundreds and hundreds of them squirming around each other in the wind. The sky turned red, yellow, blue, and green as they raced away. A cross current soon caught them, drawing them across the sky on their way to who knows where. Six hundred children gathered on the school’s back lawn jumping and whooping with excitement from the moment they opened their hands to send these balloons on their way. We all stood and watched them go, each of us excitedly trying to follow the balloons we had released, pointing to the sky and calling out to our friends a play-by-play as each balloon made its way. We watched them go until the last one disappeared from view.

James Monroe SchoolThis was an annual autumn event at my elementary school, at least while I was there in the 1970s. Each student would get some number of balloons — did we buy them? I can’t recall. Attached to each: a post card with the school’s address on one side, and on the other, an explanation and instructions and the name of the student who let it go. As what goes up eventually comes down, we hoped people would find each spent balloon, write on the postcard where they found it, affix a stamp, and drop the card in the mail.

We tracked every returned card on a huge map, watching how the balloons dispersed from South Bend. Typically, they flew north and east: up into Michigan, over to the Indiana counties to the east of us, sometimes into Ohio. An occasional rogue would catch some northerly current and sail up to Saulte Ste. Marie, Michigan, or be wafted by the west wind and find its way to Wheeling, West Virginia. Sometimes a card came back from Ontario in Canada — how exciting; a balloon made it across the Great Lakes!

The map filled with markers as the pattern emerged. We tracked the number of miles each returned card had traveled, allowing many weeks to go by to be sure we had received as many cards as possible. The student whose balloon traveled the farthest received some sort of prize.

I always hoped my balloon would go the farthest, and was always excited when one of my cards came back — and a little disappointed when my balloons inevitably landed in non-exotic locales such as nearby Elkhart. Most of our balloons landed within fifty miles of the school, actually, but that never diminished our overall excitement. Getting our balloons, letting them go, watching pins appear on the map, seeing which student’s balloon had gone the farthest — every bit of it captured our collective attention and imagination.

That’s what it was all about, actually — studying wind currents, noticing dispersal patterns, considering the probability a card would actually be returned. It was a giant educational exercise that captivated the entire school.

Unbelievably, I have about thirty silent seconds of film from a Balloon Day in about 1977. A neighbor with an 8mm movie camera came to school to watch her daughter Sally release her balloons. That’s Sally as the film begins, holding a red balloon in one hand and an orange one in the other.

Many thanks to Robyn Weber, that neighbor’s oldest daughter, for sharing this film with me and granting me permission to share it.

First shared in October, 2012. Robyn and Sally were friends from Rabbit Hilla fine place to grow up. Read about it!

History, Preservation

The incredibly sticky sense of place

If you’ve lived in one place for a long time, think back on how much the area has changed. Think especially of farmland that now boasts subdivisions or office parks. Don’t we marvel at the sprawl? Don’t we rail at how a long stretch of lonely road turned into a string of maddening stoplights? Don’t we sometimes wish for the bucolic scene of days gone by?

If you moved into your current home after it had been there for a very long while, as I have, you might not remember a time before the area was as it is. But it was almost certainly once farmland.

I’m going to share a photograph with you that blew my mind when I was 13.

Our neighborhood was busy and thriving, full of homes and ringed with shops and schools. You could get away with not owning a car, as you could walk to most things you might need. My mother walked to her job as a teacher’s aide at the elementary school, which was a block away . She kept the textbook inventory. Her book room was a repurposed home-economics classroom, since cooking classes ended after the seventh and eighth graders were moved to a middle school. Mom stored books among several complete kitchens.

After school one afternoon I walked over to visit Mom at work and snooped through the kitchen cabinets in her book room. In one of them I found a very large canvas photo print showing the school’s front lawn, probably taken from a second-floor classroom window, probably on the occasion of a May Day celebration. I found the image online recently, with a comment that the photo was taken in 1939, just eight years after the school was built. Here it is.


By the time I attended this school in the 1970s, most of this scene was the same, though the trees were much larger. But what blew my mind is the photo’s upper-right corner – the grove of trees in the distance. I was used to seeing it full of houses – including the one in which I grew up!


I knew that our house had been built in 1951. But it might as well have been 1851 or even 1751, for it was a time I could not imagine. From my limited childhood perspective, my neighborhood might as well have existed since the dawn of time.

The 1939 photograph made that time more imaginable!

At right is an excerpt from a 1922 map of South Bend that I own. It shows the location of my childhood home and of the school, neither of which had been built yet. I lived on Erskine Boulevard, the curved street, which would eventually curve back and end at Donmoyer Avenue, the street at the bottom of the map.

I’ve written about my elementary school here many times, and occasionally other former students find my posts and leave comments full of memories. One fellow former student who attended in the mid 1950s, by which time this land was filled with houses, commented on this post how his father always called my neighborhood “the new extension.” His dad suffered from the same delusion I do. I remember as a boy how farmland to the south slowly filled in with cul-de-sac subdivisions, and how thirty years later they still seem new to me just because I vividly remember the land as it was.

Things change even in the existing built environment. If you’re a young student of James Monroe School – or, should I say, Monroe Primary Center, which is its name today – you might not know a time before the school was renovated and expanded (read about it here and here). The school’s wide and deep front yard included no driveway and much of the original landscaping remained, as this 1984 photo shows.

James Monroe School

I took this photo early one gray morning in 2013 from about the same place.

James Monroe School

By the way, I’m pretty sure that those tall pine trees at right in these photos are the three little bitty ones at bottom right in the 1939 photo, all grown up.


History, Preservation

The Arch at Crooked Creek School

Thanks to John Roberts – a long-dead one, not the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – the school around the corner from my house has been there since 1837.

Not in its original building, of course.

John owned some land in what was then rural northwest Marion County, along the brand-new Michigan Road where it crossed Crooked Creek. He granted it to the Washington Township trustee with a stipulation: it must be used for education.

And so a log building was built there, and children from all over made their way to the school on Crooked Creek. I gather that other log and frame buildings housed the school before a small brick building was built in 1891. A larger brick building was built there in about 1916 as several smaller schools consolidated. Here’s that building in about 1927, after a first addition was built – everything to the right of the entrance arch. The main entrance faced the Michigan Road.

Crooked Creek School, 1927

Crooked Creek School, a.k.a. School No. 7, c. 1927

The building was expanded twice more to accommodate students through the eighth grade in a rapidly growing Washington Township. The first two additions were sympathetic to the original building’s style. But in 1964, an enormous, modern, single-story addition was ungracefully tacked on. By this time, Michigan Road was a very busy US highway, so for safety’s sake this latest addition included a new entrance with a long driveway onto Kessler Blvd., the street on the property’s southern border.

The older sections of the building were demolished in 1983, and the 1964 addition became the foundation for a new, sprawling, single-story, open-plan Crooked Creek School. It opened in 1985.

The 1916 entrance arch remains in about its original location. It’s easy to spot as you drive by on Michigan Road.

School arch

December 2013 photo

The arch has decayed noticeably in the past several years. I shot the photo below in 2008.

School No. 7 / Crooked Creek Elementary School

2008 photo

All of my children attended Crooked Creek School. I attended PTO meetings there for a few years, where I learned that thanks to families moving into new suburbs north of Indianapolis, enrollment in Washington Township’s schools had been in decline for a couple decades. As a result, a few of Washington Township’s elementary schools have closed over the years. Crooked Creek seems like a perfect target for closure, as it is the westernmost elementary school in the township, and it sits on an unusually large plot of land that I imagine would be very valuable for redevelopment. Yet Crooked Creek remains open. A Crooked Creek teacher told me that the school corporation explored closing the school and selling the land several years ago – but found that John Roberts’ conditions for the land meant that it would revert to Roberts’ heirs if it were no longer used for education. Score one for Roberts!


This school is on the opposite corner from
where the new Wal-Mart is being built.