Road Trips

The Michigan Road in Shelbyville, 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 Michigan Road makes a nearly perfect southeast-to-northwest trek through Shelby County, except where it bends out of its way to go through Shelbyville. The blue line on the map below shows how the Michigan Road bends more westerly on its way into Shelbyville, and then more northerly on its way out of Shelbyville, until it reaches its former course and returns to its northwesterly ways. The straight red line shows now neatly the roadbuilders returned the Michigan Road to its course.

This former motel on the edge of Shelbyville is now rented long-term as “sleeping rooms,” which is a way of saying “efficiency apartment that has no kitchen.”

Former motel

The neon sign atop this Dairy Queen identifies it as an old-timer in the chain.

Shelbyville Dairy Queen

That DQ stands just south of where the Michigan Road meets State Road 44 in Shelbyville. Notice how deftly State Road 44 curves in and takes over the Michigan Road’s former glory into town.

Adding insult to injury, a tiny segment of the Michigan Road’s path was reduced to a narrow access road when SR 44 ascended to primacy. The map below shows how the Michigan Road was curved to meet SR 44 squarely, with maybe 75 yards of its original path left behind, although closed at its northwest end.

Here’s the northwest end of that segment. It only gives access to the southwestbound Michigan Road to people leaving the businesses along this curve.

Original Michigan Road path

Here’s the segment facing southbound.

Original Michigan Road path

A few hundred yards east, a short, disconnected strip of road lies tantalizingly just north of SR 44. My old-alignment radar went ping when I saw it. Notice how the map labels it E. Broadway St., which is the name SR 44 takes after it curves to head straight west at the left of the map below.

This is what this two-block segment looks like. A highway that rolls like this would have been smoothed out in a hurry by the modern Indiana Department of Transportation and I suspect even by its predecessor, the Indiana State Highway Commission. This suggests to me that this segment was bypassed a long time ago, and if it was ever a state highway, it wasn’t one for long.

Old alignment?

Broadway St. leads to downtown Shelbyville. The Michigan Road turns right onto Harrison St. on its way to the public square.

When Broadway St. meets Harrison St., the Michigan Road turns north onto Harrison. On the northwest corner stands the Shelbyville Antique Mall, which was Major’s 5 & 10 at one time, but began its life as the Alhambra Theatre.

Alhambra Theatre, Shelbyville

Here’s an image of the theater from a postcard postmarked February 1912. The postcard was sent by the theatre to a patron at 317 Harrison Avenue to promote the 1911 film Zigomar, a French detective story. It cost 5 cents to see the show.

Next to the theater stands Linnes Pastries. It has been in Shelbyville since the mid 1930s, but started in Danville, IL, in 1890.

Linne's Pastries

Sander’s Jewelry and its retro signage are on Harrison St.

Sanders Jewelers

While downtown Shelbyville is certainly not dilapidated, restoration money hasn’t been poured into it as it has down south in Greensburg.

Morrison Building, Shelbyville

Hard telling what condition these buildings are inside, but from the outside it looks like there’s a lot to work with if Shelbyville ever experiences a renaissance and these buildings are restored.

S. Harrison St.

Shelbyville’s is the only square on the Michigan Road that does not feature a courthouse. Rather, it features a parking lot. The Michigan Road enters the square from the left and exits on the right of the photo.

Shelbyville square

In the northeast corner of the square stands the former Blessings Opera House, now a physical therapy practice.

Shelbyville square

This building stands in the northeast quadrant of the square at Harrison St. The leftmost building in the second photo at this link shows what was here at about the turn of the 20th century.  

Shelbyville square

The third photo in this link shows this, the northwest quadrant of the square, at the turn of the 20th century.

Shelbyville square

This narrow building in the square’s northwest corner is my favorite.

Shelbyville square

This is the Methodist Building, completed in 1929.

Shelbyville square

These two postcard images of the public square are from the 1910s. This one is southbound.

What is now parking lot was once used for streetcar rails. This photo  is westbound. Notice that the Methodist Building is missing.

Just north of the square, the Shelby County United Fund inhabits this old house.

Shelby Co. United Fund building

I don’t know anything about this building or its history, but it sure looks well kept.

Old house

This looks to me like a former Red Barn fast-food restaurant. These were pretty big in the 1970s, with 300-400 stores nationwide in at least 19 states, but they were all gone by the mid 1980s.

Former Red Barn

Dig the neon on the Coca-Cola building.

Coca-Cola Bottling Co.

This bridge carries Michigan Road traffic over the Big Blue River.

Bridge over the Big Blue River

The Michigan Road is State Road 9 as it crosses the bridge, but SR 9 veers away from the original route and today briefly takes the Michigan Road with it. As the map suggests, the Michigan Road once crossed the railroad tracks here at a pretty wicked, and therefore dangerous, angle. Also, SR 9 eventually became the major route out of Shelbyville. So it made practical sense to route Michigan Road traffic over the tracks on SR 9 and then branch the Michigan Road off SR 9.

A short remnant of the original route remains between the bridge and the tracks.

Former alignment

The utility poles tell the story: The road used to go through here. If you squint at the center of this photograph, you can see the Michigan Road pick up on the other side.

Former alignment

Here’s where the modern Michigan Road branches from SR 9 north of the railroad tracks.

Looking at State Road 9

It curves and resumes its original route.

Back to the original path

Next: The Michigan Road in northwestern Shelby County.

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


A drive down the Michigan Road in southern Indiana

I’ve got the Michigan Road coming out my ears as I share my 2008 trip report here on Fridays. In my work with the Historic Michigan Road Association, I keep track of the Michigan Road wayfinding signs we’ve placed all along the route. I had heard that some signs were missing and had been meaning to take a sign inventory for some time so we could get missing signs made and installed.

While I was on bereavement leave in early January I spent a day by myself driving the Michigan Road in Marion, Shelby, Decatur, Ripley, and Jefferson Counties doing that sign inventory. It is always a tonic for me to drive an old road, listening to my music, stopping to make photographs when the mood strikes.

I hadn’t shot my Nikon N2000 in a while, so I mounted my 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor lens and loaded a roll of Kodak Ultramax 400. I sent the roll to Dwayne’s for developing and scanning, and for some reason they scanned only 18 of the 36 exposures. When I got the negatives back, the rest of the strip was blank. Now I wonder if something’s wrong with my N2000. I’m pretty sure those blank shots should have been scenes around Madison. My memory is sketchy, though; it was right after Rana died and I was in a fog.

Here are the best of the images from the trip down. Many of those images come from Shelbyville, where I stopped to see their remodeled and reconfigured Public Square. I need to make a special trip down to document it properly.

Shelbyville Public Square

The Sheldon Building on Shelbyville’s Public Square is probably my favorite on the entire Michigan Road.

Sheldon building, Shelbyville

I was sad to find that Sanders Jewelers has closed. Their neon sign, which you can see here, has been removed. I’m betting that Sigler’s is the name of the store that operated here before Sanders. I don’t know what store is in here now.

Former Sanders Jewelers, Shelbyville

When I reached Napoleon, I noticed that the original Napoleon State Bank building has been repainted with a mural. See its previous paint job in this photo.

Napoleon State Bank building

I drove the original Michigan Road alignment from the south end of Napoleon. Where it crosses US 50, there’s this historic marker about the road. It’s been restored since the first time I saw it (photo here).

Michigan Road marker at US 50

Finally, I stopped at one of my very favorite places on the Michigan Road, the circa 1910 Shepard Bridge.

Shepard Bridge

I’ll need to make more trips this year to inventory the signs on the rest of the road, so stay tuned!

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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

Movies on the Michigan Road: The Skyline Drive-in in Shelbyville

You might be surprised to know that 20 drive-in theaters still operate in Indiana. One of them, the Skyline, is on the Michigan Road, in Shelbyville. And it’s expanding.

Skyline Drive-In

Things didn’t look so good for the Skyline in 2008 when I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end. I photographed its sign then — and noticed the For Sale sign posted nearby. I figured the Skyline’s days were numbered.

Skyline Drive-In

Joe Gaudin, an independent filmmaker in Shelbyville, bought the struggling venue. Audiences were thin for the first few years, but in time he turned it around. It thrives today. Gaudin told me that his theater draws devoted drive-in fans from a 75-mile radius.

I won’t tell Gaudin’s whole story here — look for an article on the Historic Michigan Road Association’s Web site soon that does. My wife, Margaret, has become our marketing director, and she plans to profile interesting businesses and their owners all along the Michigan Road. Shelbyville was our first stop on that tour.

Skyline Drive-In

But I will say that Gaudin believes adding a second screen will secure his drive-in’s future. He’s working now to make it real, and he hopes to open it during 2020.

Skyline Drive-In

The season hadn’t begun yet when Gaudin met us, and of course work was beginning on the expansion. This is what a drive-in looks like under those conditions!

Skyline Drive-In

Gaudin showed us the projection room. We got to see the modern digital projector, critical to the drive-in’s ability to show first-run movies. But next to it stood the film projector and its lighthouse. This is vintage equipment. RCA manufactured the projector in 1948. I didn’t find a manufacturer label on the lighthouse, but Gaudin said it dates to the 1930s.

Skyline Drive-In

The vintage equipment lets him run old monster and exploitation movies that never made the leap to digital. Those movies create some of the most popular weekends at the Skyline!

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

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Preservation, Road Trips

Inside St. Joseph Catholic Church, Shelbyville, Indiana

Margaret and I were in Shelbyville for the day a couple weeks ago to meet with a few business owners. Margaret has become the Communications Director for the Historic Michigan Road Association, and she is starting to profile businesses on or near the road for our Web site.

We got to town more than an hour early for our first appointment, so we parked on the square and walked around taking photographs. St. Joesph Catholic Church is an imposing structure on E Broadway St., which is also the Michigan Road. It towers over the surrounding buildings.

St. Joseph Catholic Church

As we photographed the exterior, a car pulled up and a fellow got out. He introduced himself to us as Jack, a member at the church. We got to talking and after a few minutes he asked if we’d like to see the inside. Well, of course we would! He called a staff member to see if a visit could be arranged. It was, and shortly we were in.

St. Joseph Catholic Church
St. Joseph Catholic Church
St. Joseph Catholic Church
St. Joseph Catholic Church

It just goes to show you that you never know what beauty lurks in any town. Shelbyville isn’t the flashiest town on the Michigan Road, but my goodness but does it have this gorgeous church.

St. Joseph Catholic Church
St. Joseph Catholic Church

St. Joseph’s stained glass windows are simply stunning. I did my best to capture the deep, rich color.

St. Joseph Catholic Church
St. Joseph Catholic Church
St. Joseph Catholic Church
St. Joseph Catholic Church

I checked: Emil Frei and Associates is still in the stained-glass business, and has been since 1898. Emil may have been from Munich, but he based his business in St. Louis. Today, it operates in Kirkwood, a St. Louis suburb.

St. Joseph Catholic Church

We were incredibly fortunate to meet Jack, who unlocked this tour for us.

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Film Photography

Fomapan 100 in cinematic scale

My Nikkormat EL’s shutter is capping, leaving a black stripe across the top of every photo. It was bummed to find it out after putting film through it. But I hated to waste the images, so I cropped them creatively to make the most I could out of them. My careful compositions could not be salvaged, but several of the photos remained interesting on some level anyway. 16×9 was the aspect ratio I used most. Here are a bunch of those cinematically scaled photographs, on Fomapan 100 through the 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom Nikkor.

Downtown Indianapolis, the former L. S. Ayres building dappled with reflected evening sun.

Washington at Meridian

From the roof of the building in which I work in Downtown Indianapolis, looking northwest.

Downtown Indy

Through a conference-room window at work, looking at balconies in a neighboring building. It’s always amusing during a meeting when residents come out in their houseclothes, or sometimes even less, to sip coffee or sun themselves.


Waterman Hardware, one of the oldest continually operating businesses in Indianapolis, on the Michigan Road southeast of Downtown.


The New Bethel Ordinary. I hear their pizza is to die for. Garlic and onions chew my insides alive so I’ll never find out. In Wanamaker, a community in far southeastern Indianapolis on the Michigan Road.


The New Bethel Ordinary’s patio. Spot the Michigan Road sign!


The northwest corner of Shelbyville’s Public Square. Another Michigan Road town.

Shelbyville on the Public Square

Some of these photos have a bottom-heavy feel to them given what I had to crop out. But as documentary photos they’re still okay.

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