History, Road Trips

Welcome to Aurora

Aurora, Indiana

An old friend of mine, a New Jersey girl, has family in Aurora, Indiana. We became friends while she was a student at Indiana University, and she used to spend some of her breaks in Aurora. Her time there always centered and relaxed her, or at least that’s how it always seemed to me. She described it as a charming small town, the kind where everybody knows everybody else. She was often recognized on the street simply because of her family resemblance.

Aurora was settled in 1796, making it one of Indiana’s oldest towns. It grew rapidly as a busy port town and, later, a railroad stop. Cincinnati and Louisville became the major commerce hubs, however. Aurora’s slowed growth had a happy side effect in that so many of its downtown buildings were not torn down and replaced in the name of progress. And so my friend was right; Aurora is charming and relaxing. But she never told me about one major detail – the bridge.

George Street Bridge

You know I love old bridges! I write about them nearly every time I come upon one. This Whipple truss iron bridge was built in 1887. That was long before anybody conceived of a network of numbered highways criss-crossing the nation, but it was a good enough bridge on an important enough road that US 50 (and its predecessor, old State Road 4) were routed onto it. US 50 was realigned around Aurora in 1950, but this bridge carried State Road 56 until 1972. It’s still a busy bridge – I wanted to stand on its deck to take some photographs, but in twenty minutes of waiting there was never a time when cars weren’t crossing it.

So I gave up and walked along Aurora’s Main Street.

Main St., Aurora, Indiana

I also checked out Aurora’s business district, which appeared to be concentrated on 2nd Street. I am always tickled by buildings that prominently feature a person’s name, such as the John Neff building. Neff’s Shoe Store operates on the ground floor.

JOHN NEFF.

Downtowns in so many Indiana towns of Aurora’s size are either dead or given over to antique stores. But Aurora’s downtown is still vital. Joining Neff’s Shoes on 2nd Street are a florist, an embroiderer, a seller of educational materials, a pizzeria, a furniture store, and a Mexican restaurant (at which I ate lunch). The pizzaria is in the building at left below, and the educational materials store is in the former Aurora State Bank building at right.

Aurora, Indiana

Along Main St. I found a steakhouse, a pub, and a bicycle shop. I also found the First Presbyterian Church building on Main St. “Found” is actually a bit strong of a word, as it was impossible to miss as I crossed the bridge into town. It was built in two stages, the first completed in 1850 and the second in 1855, according to the church’s Web site.

First Presbyterian Church

The church is at 4th and Main. Old State Road 4 may or may not have turned right here; while US 50 passed through town, it turned right at 3rd St. Yet I continued straight up the hill, for I caught a glimpse of this grand old dame at its crown.

Hillforest

This is Hillforest, built by one of Aurora’s prominent citizens in 1855. It is a museum today; you can tour it six afternoons a week, nine months of the year. I may take that tour the next time I’m in Aurora, but I had spent over an hour exploring Aurora and needed to get back to US 50.

Another small Indiana town that welcomed me on a road trip is Thorntown. Read about my misadventure there.

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Felke Florist

If you’ve never been to Plymouth, put it on your list; it is a charming small Indiana city. I came to appreciate it on my many passes through as I explored the Michigan Road in 2008. Its intact old downtown is filled with viable local shops; well-cared-for homes dating to the mid-1800s line the Michigan Road leading in and out. Terre Haute, Muncie, Goshen – they all wish they had a main drag like Plymouth’s.

Once I drove through Plymouth at twilight and Felke Florist’s sign was lit. Try it yourself – it’s impossible not to turn your head to look at the bright, strong red neon. I so regretted that I didn’t have my camera with me. And then on many subsequent trips through town, the sign wasn’t lit. But then late last November as I passed through town, the sign was lit (inexplicably, as it was four o’clock in the afternoon) and my camera was sitting on the passenger seat. You’d better believe I stopped for this photo!

Photography

Captured: Felke Florist

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Road Trips

Stilesville

Several tiny towns dot the National Road in western Indiana, but most of them never developed any businesses of consequence (or at least no evidence survives) and today are little more than a collection of aging homes. Stilesville, however, apparently managed to develop a small local economy. I say apparently because Stilesville boasts an actual, albeit small, business district. In Stilesville, there’s some there there.

The town has, of course, faded considerably. I’m sure I-70 hastened its decline. Yet people were out and about in Stilesville as I walked the town taking photographs. Several came and went from the Cornerstone Pub, the town’s most prominent building. A 1925 road guide I’ve seen said that Stilesville offered lodging and a restaurant; I wonder if this was the place.

Stilesville, IN

I can’t quite make out the name of the bank painted on the building’s west end; can you?

Stilesville, IN

The main intersection, the one with the stoplight, had steps up to the sidewalk on three of the four corners. Fresh concrete had recently been laid on the fourth corner, but without steps, probably thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Stilesville, IN

A block west, Cooper’s Hardware and Clothing was almost certainly once a service station.

Stilesville, IN

Dig the buggy in front of this little old house.

Stilesville, IN

So why did Stilesville find success, but not Belleville or Putnamville or Manhattan, all similarly sized towns along the road? Perhaps Stilesville’s founders were a bold and forward-thinking bunch; after all, they built their little town in 1828, a year before the National Road began to be built in Indiana.

Stilesville, IN

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Road Trips

The arch at Marshall, Indiana

On the way back home from our recent Turkey Run trip I drove the length of State Road 236. It starts at US 41 just south of the park and almost reaches Danville about 41 miles away. It’s so minor that it’s not even worthy of a writeup on my roads pages.

As it heads east, the first little town it enters is called Marshall. Check out its arch! What visions of grandeur, since unrealized, did Marshall’s residents have that prompted them to build such a monument to their little town?

Marshall, IN

One thing’s for sure: there’s no mistaking that you’ve entered Marshall. And there’s no forgetting Marshall, either. I came through here once before, probably 20 years ago. The whole point of the trip down SR 236 was so that I could see this arch again.

Marshall, IN

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