Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the Dixie Highway in Fulton 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.

The first white settler in what is now Fulton County was William Polke, who came in 1830 to survey what would become the Michigan Road. He was appointed one of the road’s three commissioners in 1831. Fulton County itself was formed in 1836, named for steamboat inventor Robert Fulton. Upon entering Fulton County, the Michigan Road first comes upon the little town of Fulton. This was once a railroad town, but the tracks that bisected it have long since been removed.

Fulton, Indiana

There are only a few blocks to Fulton.

This is probably not a historic, or even very interesting, building in Fulton, but I notice it every time I pass through town.

Resting place

I began exploring Indiana’s state highways in 1988 when I first had a car and routinely drove it from my South Bend home to Terre Haute, where I went to school. Using a state map, I plotted a course that left US 31 at Rochester, following State Road 25 to Lafayette and then a series of other roads to Terre Haute. I was not yet in touch with my inner road geek and I had never heard of the Michigan Road or the Dixie Highway, both old names for this stretch of highway between Rochester and Logansport. I was only trying to find a more interesting route than boring old US 31.

Fulton is the first town south of US 31 on State Road 25. One of the first times I entered Fulton southbound, a light rain had just started to fall. I had just passed the Speed Limit 35 sign on the edge of town, but had not yet slowed down, when a little old lady stepped into the road in front of me. I jerked the wheel to the left to avoid killing her, but found myself in the path of oncoming traffic. So I jerked the wheel to the right to avoid killing myself – and started to spin. My car spun around and around, Fulton passing nauseatingly by in my windshield, until I came to rest about three blocks later, my car’s nose pointing toward this building. A brand new Thunderbird was parked before that window, my front bumper about six inches from its door.

Feeling very embarrassed, I immediately righted my car in its lane and zipped out of town, hoping nobody had seen me. The gravity of what had just happened didn’t hit me until I reached the Cass County line, where I started to shake. I pulled over in front of a school and sat there for a good twenty minutes until I calmed down and could drive again.

That day Fulton’s speed limit earned my tremendous respect, and since then I am always sure to have slowed down before entering town. But in the hundred times I’ve driven through Fulton since, that little old lady is the only person I’ve ever seen on the street.

The 1941 United Brethren Church building is the nicest building on the road in Fulton. The congregation has been here since 1877.

United Brethren Church

This building’s double doors suggest that it may have once been an automobile repair garage.

Fulton, Indiana

This building’s twin-post awning suggests that it may have at one time been a gas station.

Fulton, Indiana

The white building has seen happier days.

Fulton, Indiana

North of Fulton, the land quickly reverts to fields of corn and soybeans. This combine on a pole is a fixture along this section of the road.

Combine on a pole

Then the Michigan Road passes under US 31 and enters Rochester, which was made the Fulton county seat in 1836 in large part because it was on the Michigan Road and near the Tippecanoe River. Rochester was incorporated as a town in 1853 and as a city in 1909.

This southbound photo shows where US 31’s original alignment merges in with the Michigan Road. If you squint, you can make out the US 31 overpass in the distance on the right.

Goodbye, Old US 31

The Michigan Road in Rochester is lined with lovely older homes. This one’s probably from the 1850s.

Old house, Rochester

It is likely that the rectangular portion of this building, with the pitched roof, was built in the 1860s, and the rest was added later.

Old house lurking

This is the 1930 St. Joseph Catholic Church. I’ve otherwise limited my photos of churches to those built in the 1800s, but photographed this youngster because it was so unusual to see a Spanish revival building along the Michigan Road.

St. Joseph Catholic Church

This home with Queen Anne touches was probably built in the 1880s.

Old house, Rochester

This paving-brick sidewalk appears from time to time along Main St. It has been torn out in most places and replaced with concrete.

Paving brick sidewalk

Limestone houses don’t normally trip my trigger, but this one sure offers a lot to look at.

Old house, Rochester

So does this house, with its large tower and its little spikes on the roof.

Old house, Rochester

The 1895 Fulton County Courthouse is built of limestone in the Romanesque Revival style.

Fulton County Courthouse

This postcard image is from a card postmarked 1911. The courthouse is just out of the photo on the right.

Here’s downtown Rochester from about the same spot today. I am able to find only one building from the postcard photo in this scene, the one on the northwest corner of the intersection ahead.

Downtown Rochester

This building was once a doctor’s office. If you click through this photo and see it larger on Flickr, you can see that the insignia at the top of the building is of a torch and snakes. Notice how the Orthopedics sign continues to the building at right. There’s a fair amount of this kind of thing in Rochester, where modern signage, awnings, and even entire first-floor facades stretch from one building to part of another. It suggests that walls were sometimes knocked out between buildings to create larger spaces. I noticed this in Rochester much more than in any other Michigan Road town that has so many of its older buildings still intact. Rochester thrived longer than many other Michigan Road towns, and instead of tearing down and building new, Rochester adapted.

Originally a doctor's office

The northwest corner of Main and 8th Streets. Notice how the building on the corner has boarded-up windows in about the first half, but not the second, and how the ledge around the top has had some of its detail removed on the portions above the boarded-up windows. It suggests that this one building has two owners.

Downtown Rochester

This is the northeast corner of 8th St.

Downtown Rochester

Bailey’s Hardware and Sporting Goods is an echo from hardware stores of days gone by with its tin ceiling and little bins full of parts. I sure wish I took some photos of the interior!

Bailey's

The Times Theater’s sign has seen better days. I’ll bet this used to be a one-screen theatre, but was “twinned” somewhere along the way. I once worked in a “twinned” theater, and the seats in each half were left in their original positions, angled toward the center of the original screen. If you looked in the direction the seats pointed, you looked at the wall built to split the theater in two. I’ll bet you’ll find the same arrangement in this theater.

Times Theater

The American Legion building was formerly the First Baptist Church. The portion with the pitched roof is the old church, built in about the 1850s. The stone-front portion of the building was added later. The church has been sided; it’s probably brick underneath.

American Legion

These two buildings were built in the 1870s or 1880s and look ripe for restoration. These are in about the least altered condition of all the old buildings along Main St. downtown.

Storefronts

An advertisement for Henry George cigars was painted on the side of this building first, followed by a Mail Pouch advertisement. The Henry George ad has bled through over the years, leading to the first line appearing to say, “I chew men.”

Tobacco Advertisements

Soon enough we met Rochester’s northern limit. On the outskirts of town, this little building was once a gas station.

Former gas station

From in front of the gas station, this is the northbound Michigan Road. For many years, this was also US 31.

Northbound

The unremarkable 1982 bridge over the Tippecanoe River is typical of modern Indiana bridges. It was certainly opened to the great relief of travelers, however, because for many years – including the entire time this road was US 31 – the bridge here had but one lane, and a light at either end controlled traffic.

Tippecanoe River bridge

That bridge stood in about the same place as the current bridge. But this southbound photo shows an abutment and approach to a bridge; Check that stone foundation. A Michigan Road historical marker and a marker remembering a Potawatomi village that used to be here were placed on the old approach. I took the above photo from about where the Michigan Road marker stands.

One-lane bridge approach

That approach and abutment were from an even older bridge, this one, which was built in about 1880. By 1916 it had fallen into poor repair, and was replaced.

William Polke built this, the first frame house north of the Wabash River, in 1832. While Polke and his wife lived here, the house served as an inn along the Michigan Road and as the local land office. The house was moved from the Michigan Road to the Fulton County Museum on modern US 31 and is now part of the “Loyal, Indiana” living history village there.

William Polke house

The house is sometimes open for tours, but I was not so lucky this day. I did get one usable photograph of the interior through the back door window.

William Polke house

Back along the Michigan Road, this old church is now somebody’s home.

Former church

The road makes few curves in northern Fulton County.

Northbound

The tree blocked all decent views of this 1840s farmhouse. Now I know why most old-house photos are taken in the winter.

Old house

This barn is part of this farm. I realized as I took this photo that I had not photographed any other barns along the route. I just don’t see barns as I go; I guess I’m too much of a city boy.

Old barn

Next: The Michigan Road in Marshall 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 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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History, Road Trips

Adding the Michigan Road to the modern Indiana highway system

It was very late to the party: the last segment of the old Michigan Road to be added to Indiana’s modern state highway system.

MR_map
The Michigan Road, highlighted in blue. Map © 2008 Google.

The state of Indiana built the Michigan Road during the 1830s to connect Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capital in Indianapolis.

Indiana built other roads at about the same time, but none like the Michigan Road. Its right-of-way was enormous at 100 feet wide; the road itself used the central third. Even though the road was barely a dirt path at first, it was arguably the grandest road in Indiana. It was a major commerce route that opened deeply wooded northern Indiana to settlers.

The railroad’s rise in the late 1800s led the Michigan Road and all other major roads into disuse and disrepair. But around the turn of the 20th century, the bicycle and the automobile made good roads a priority. Indiana responded in 1917 with its State Highway Commission, which laid a fledgling network of highways over existing major routes and began to improve them, in turn from dirt to gravel to brick or concrete, and eventually to asphalt.

The State Highway Commission numbered just five State Roads in its first year. You might be surprised to learn that the Michigan Road was not among them.

Not in its entirety, at least. State Roads were laid out along portions of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana: from about Rolling Prairie east to South Bend, and then from South Bend south to Rochester.

The east-west segment was part of State Road 2, which followed the 1913 Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast auto trail established through the work of entrepreneur Carl Fisher. The north-south section was part of State Road 1, which continued south from Rochester along a new road that passed through Peru and Kokomo on its way to Indianpolis and, ultimately, the Ohio River across from Louisville.

Plymouth Pilot-News, March 27, 1919

Naturally, all major Indiana cities wanted a good, direct road leading to the state capital, and towns in between wanted to be on those roads. A road would lead from South Bend to Indianapolis. Logansport wanted to be on that route. You have to wonder why the state chose State Road 1 through Peru and Kokomo over the Michigan Road through Logansport. The Michigan Road’s generous right-of-way would certainly ease future improvements. Perhaps the state wanted to provide good-road access to two towns rather than just one. Perhaps Peru and Kokomo had a more effective lobby.

Officials in Logansport went down fighting, agitating for the state to hard-surface the Michigan Road rather than State Road 1 south from Plymouth, as the inset 1919 newspaper article reports. They even claimed — incorrectly — that the Michigan Road was a little shorter.

Alas, State Road 1 was paved.

Indiana expanded its State Road system to more than 50 roads by 1926, adding most of the Michigan Road in the process. The portion from Madison to Indianapolis became State Road 6. The portion from Indianapolis to Logansport became State Road 15.

(By the way, State Road 15 continued northwest from Logansport through Winamac and La Porte to Michigan City, fulfilling the Michigan Road’s mission in much more direct fashion. The indirect route through South Bend had been a compromise — one South Bend certainly enjoyed — to avoid the Kankakee Marsh in northwest Indiana. In the 1830s, no road could be built there. A series of ditches built in the late 1800s through about 1917 drained the marsh, and then by 1922 the river itself was dredged. The direct route finally could be, and was, built. It is US 35 today.)

But the portion of the Michigan Road from Logansport to Rochester remained off the grid.

Ply_Roch_Logan_Peru
Maps courtesy Indiana University Libraries

The U.S. route system we know today was established in 1927. Several State Roads became U.S. highways. Indiana renumbered its State Roads to eliminate numbers the same as the new U.S. routes and to tame what had become a messy numbering scheme. The Michigan Road from Madison to Logansport became State Road 29 (except for a rural segment south of Napoleon in Ripley County, which the highway bypassed to loop in nearby Osgood and Versailles). Old State Road 1, including the Michigan Road from South Bend to Rochester, became US 31. The Michigan Road from South Bend to Michigan City became part of US 20.

Also in 1927, the State Highway Commission decided to build a State Road from Lafayette to Warsaw. To be named State Road 25, it would pass through Logansport and Rochester. At last, this segment of the Michigan Road would join the state highway system! It was added first, in 1928; the rest of State Road 25 was added in stages over the next few years. The state highway map segments above tell the story. In 1923, the Michigan Road didn’t appear between Rochester and Logansport. In 1927 a dotted line appeared to show that the road was approved to be added to the system. In 1928, the thick black line shows that the road was not only added, but hard surfaced, except for a small portion near Fulton. The broken line there and elsewhere on the map indicates a gravel road.

State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) heading northeast from Logansport
State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) in northeastern Logansport, heading toward Rochester

Logansport got its wish nine years too late, as by that time US 31 had become the dominant route to Indianapolis. Not that it mattered much in the long run — US 31 might have boosted Kokomo’s and Peru’s prosperity for a time, but US 31 was rerouted around both towns in the 1970s and traffic through these towns slowed to a trickle. All three towns experienced serious decline toward the end of the 20th century, for reasons bigger than rerouted highways. None is noticeably better off than the others today.

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

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Road Trips

The lovely old homes on the Michigan Road in Rochester and Plymouth

If you like old houses, you’ll love driving the Michigan Road through Fulton and Marshall Counties. The road is lined with lovely old houses in Rochester, Argos, and Plymouth. We stopped in Rochester and Plymouth on our recent trip. Here are some of the houses in Rochester. Click any of the photos to see them larger. (The flag was at half mast because of the death of President George H. W. Bush.)

Here are some of the lovely older homes in Plymouth.

That first photograph is of an especially notable house: that of Plymouth’s first mayor, Horace Corbin. Here’s an engraving of his house as it stood shortly after it was built.

I shared Horace Corbin’s story once before, here.

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

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

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State Theater

Free movie
Canon PowerShot S95
2018

Our day trip up the Michigan Road ended in Logansport. The sun had not yet set when we reached town, but after we finished our dinner, it had.

It was the night of Light Up Logansport, their annual holiday parade. It had been years since I thought about this event. Eleven years, to be exact — I blogged then about being lost in a maze of closed streets, trying to pass through town to get home. A kindly cop let me cross a closed street and I was on my way.

This night, we parked our car beyond the parade route so we’d be sure not to get tied up in it. Walking back to our car took us right by the State Theater, which was all lit up for a free movie that night.

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Photography

single frame: Free movie

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Road Trips

The Logansport City Building

Logansport City Building

Logansport’s City Building doesn’t look like much from the outside. I drove by it many times while exploring the Michigan Road without stopping for a photograph. You only get a clue that something interesting may lurk inside when you see the City Building letterforms over the doors.

Logansport City Building

I made these exterior shots on a Michigan Road day trip my wife and I made recently.

Logansport City Building

But in 2013 I got to go inside, for a meeting of the Historic Michigan Road Association, and I made a few photographs with my phone. I haven’t shared them before because my phone struggled with the low interior light and I wasn’t terribly happy with how they turned out.

Inside the Logansport City Building

But I’m unlikely to get inside again any time soon, and imperfect photographs are better than no photographs!

Inside the Logansport City Building

Logansport built its City Building in 1925, at a time when the city was flush with cash thanks to the railroads that ran through town.

Inside the Logansport City Building

My research revealed nothing more about the City Building. It’s too bad. It’s a lovely building, lovelier than you’d expect in a city the size of Logansport.

Inside the Logansport City Building

What I like best about the building is the stained-glass skylights on the top floor. You can see one through these doors.

Inside the Logansport City Building

There is more than one skylight, but this is the most prominent of them as it is in the center of the roof, visible as you enter the building and ascend the stairs.

Inside the Logansport City Building

I did my best to hold my phone level while standing directly below this skylight.

Stained glass, Logansport City Hall

Returning now to the present day, my wife and I stayed in Logansport long enough for darkness to fall and the decorations to light up.

Logansport City Building

Canon PowerShot S95, iPhone 5

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

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!

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