Film Photography, Road Trips

Shelbyville’s Public Square on the Michigan Road

It’s the only town square I know of in all of Indiana that doesn’t have a courthouse on it. Rather, the centerpiece of Shelbyville’s Public Square is…a parking lot.

Public Square, Shelbyville

I was in Shelbyville for a board meeting of the Historic Michigan Road Association. Turnout was disappointing. Three of our four core officers made it, plus one of our board members from Shelbyville and, at her invitation, one of the Shelby County Commissioners. That was it. Our board numbers about 30.

Several of our founding board members have retired or have experienced career changes that made them step down. And, truth be told, we’re just not moving our heritage-tourism agenda forward very powerfully. We suffer from the common nonprofit board syndrome of a small handful of people doing everything, and there just aren’t enough hands. I think many of our board members are allocating their time to other initiatives.

But also, last year a lot of our limited time and attention was diverted to a matter involving a billboard. United States Code, Title 23, § 131, paragraphs (c) and (s), prohibits new outdoor advertising within 650 feet of any byway. A billboard company and an industrial park spent considerable money on lawyers trying to find a way to get a billboard erected in our corridor. These lawyers want to exploit a possible loophole in the law, and doing so apparently requires approval and action from our board. This is still not resolved, so I’ll say no more beyond that this enormously frustrating matter consumed our limited time and resources last year and is fixing to drain more of the same this year.

Knowing we’d have to discuss this matter again at our board meeting, I wanted to enter in a pleasant mood. So arrived in Shelbyville early with a couple cameras loaded with film and made some photographs. This is the Methodist Building on the west side of the Public Square.

Methodist Building, Shelbyville

Just north of the Methodist Building is my favorite building in the Public Square: the ornate Sheldon Building.

On the Public Square, Shelbyville

I shot the two photos above with my Pentax ME and a 50mm f/2 SMC Pentax-M lens on Kentmere 100. I made the rest of the photos in this post with my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on Kodak Tri-X 400. The Stylus’s zoom let me move in on the Sheldon Building’s cornice.

Sheldon Building detail, Shelbyville

It also let me move in on the square’s clock. I just noticed as I wrote this that it shows two different times.

Shelbyville clock

When I made my 2008 photographic survey of the Michigan Road, this building on the square’s northeast corner housed a physical therapy business. I didn’t know then that it was once an opera house, but that most Shelbyvillians remember it as an old-fashioned hardware store. Today the first floor is a restaurant, where we held our meeting. But the upper floors remain vacant.

Former opera house, Shelbyville

I walked south along the Michigan Road, which is State Road 9. At the corner where you have to turn east along State Road 44 to stay on the Michigan Road stands this building, which was originally the Alhambra Theater.

Former Alhambra Theater, Shelbyville

On my 2008 visit to Shelbyville I found the downtown to be in sorry condition. But in the nine years since, many facades have been restored. The town is shaping up!


And then I walked back to the Public Square for my board meeting. The discussion about that infernal billboard wasn’t too painful.

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

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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.

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!


Coca-Cola plant

Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
Canon PowerShot S95



Canon PowerShot S95

Road Trips

Seeking the signs

It’s a little unusual for me to make road trips this late in the year – I like the road best while it’s still warm outside. Yet I’ve hit the asphalt a lot this autumn. I’ve been sharing my Halloween trip with you lately, a trip down US 40 and the National Road in eastern Indiana. A particular friend and I make a point to take a road trip together every year, and this was our 2009 excursion. We spent most of our day in Wayne County, exploring Richmond and Centerville and spending a little money in the antique shops in Cambridge City. Also, the Michigan Road Historic Byway project has been heating up as my partner in the effort, blogger Hoosier Reborn, and I have been building support in Michigan Road counties south of Indianapolis. So I’ve spent a little time on the Michigan Road recently, and you know I love to do that.

2009 may go down for me as the year I began noticing vintage signs. I’ve already written one sign post (get it? sign post? signpost? I kill me!) this year, about the signage along the National Road in Vigo County. Here I go again!

My National Road friend and I got hungry midafternoon while antiquing in Cambridge City. So we stopped for very tasty tenderloin sandwiches at the Silver Dollar Lounge. The french fries were hot and crisp, too! Thee neon portion of their sign was lit.

Cambridge City

Down the street a bit is the Drive-In Liquors sign, some of its neon also lit.

Cambridge City

After Hoosier Reborn and I finished extolling the virtues of a Michigan Road Historic Byway to people interested in tourism and historic preservation in Madison the other day, I was hungry and went off in search of lunch. Seems like every other time I’ve been to Madison, Hinkle’s Hamburgers has been closed. But this day not only was it open, but their sign was on. I snapped this shot and then went in for a double cheeseburger. Mm mm!

Hinkle Hamburgers

After lunch, I walked Madison’s main drag for a little while snapping shots. This great neon sign lurks quietly a half block north of Main Street on Mulberry Street. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a neon Independent Order of Odd Fellows sign before, and I’ve seen a lot of Odd Fellows buildings in my travels. I wonder when it was last lit.


I followed the Michigan Road home from Madison. The road followed two routes through Ripley County. The original 1830s route remains a lovely drive along a narrow country road. But when the automobile came to prominence in the early 20th century, Michigan Road signs went up on a parallel route slightly to the east, along what is now US 421 through Versailles (that’s ver-sales to you, bud) and Osgood. In Versailles, the Moon-Lite Motel’s sign was partially lit, so I stopped for a photo.

Moon-Lite Motel

The last time I passed through Osgood, the Damm Theatre was still undergoing restoration, and its sign was down. This isn’t the original sign, but it’s a nice reproduction.

Damm Theatre

The Michigan Road passes by a Coca-Cola bottling plant on Shelbyville’s north side, just before it crosses the Big Blue River. I was delighted to find the neon sign over its front door lit.

Coca-Cola, Shelbyville

If you like signs, too, then check out my twilight visit to Logansport, Indiana.