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.

Road Trips

Historic architecture in Shelbyville on the Michigan Road

1876 map, Michigan Road highlighted in magenta

Driving the Michigan Road, Shelbyville is the first town you encounter southeast of Indianapolis. Even though the town wasn’t incorporated until 1850, it existed before the Michigan Road was built.

If the road had run straight, it would have bypassed Shelbyville. But Shelbyville would not be denied. The road was curved to enter Shelbyville, and then curved again as it exited to resume its original trajectory.

Shelbyville has some interesting architecture, and that’s what I plan to share here. Right after crossing the Big Blue River heading south into town, this great building is on the right. It’s currently home to the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and the Shelby County Tourism and Visitor’s Bureau. Known now as the Porter Center, it was built as the Porter Pool Bath House. I guess the pool is still in there!

The Porter Center

The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. stands next door. I love the neon sign over the door. One day I might even get to see it lit at night.

Coca-Cola plant

The Cow Palace is across the street. I’d bet a dollar that this used to be a Red Barn restaurant. Red Barn was a fast-food chain in the 1960s and 1970s. The stores all looked like barns, with roofs of this shape.

Cow Palace

As the Michigan Road enters Shelbyville from the north, it’s Harrison St. and State Road 9. Just before the road reaches Shelbyville’s Public Square, it passes this building with its great old sign advertising both cigars and drugs. I’m glad the current occupant has kept the old sign.


Here’s a rarity in Indiana: a county seat’s square without a courthouse on it. Instead, there’s parking, and this statue that commemorates the book The Bears of Blue River, written in 1901 by Charles Major. The story is set in 19th-century rural Indiana — specifically, this part of Indiana. It’s hard to imagine bears anywhere in Indiana today.

The Bears of Blue River

Around the Public Square itself, I like several of the buildings. This narrow, ornate building is my favorite.

Sheldon Building

This is the Methodist Building. I guess it’s been in redevelopment but the project has stalled.

The Methodist Building

I read somewhere that this building was once an opera house. What I know for sure about it is that trees planted in front of it make it very difficult to get a clear shot. Hence, this wacky angle.

Former opera house

When I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008, the block just south of the Public Square was in pretty sad shape. But things have improved some on this block, notably the building right next to Linnes Pastries, the new Linnes Bakery and Cafe. This photo shows what this looked like before.

Linnes Pastries

The Michigan Road turns left at Broadway St., which is also State Road 44, and heads east briefly. A slight right turn, leaving State Road 44, keeps you on the Michigan Road. Almost immediately, this little Dairy Queen is on the left. Dig its great old neon sign.

Shelbyville Dairy Queen

I can hardly pass a Dairy Queen when I’m on a road trip. Margaret and I had hot-fudge sundaes.

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

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