When I made my recent Friday-day-off trip up the Michigan Road to see the Sycamores, I also brought my Yashica-12 along, loaded with Kodak Vericolor III expired since July of 1986. I shot this ISO 160 film at at EI 80 to tame the ravages of time. Here’s the Carnegie library in Kirklin.
This is the Mathews house, in southern Carroll County. It’s part of a farm that’s been in the same family for more than 100 years, which makes it a Hoosier Homestead.
I should have moved in closer to this barn, as it’s the star of this show and who needs to see all of that flat blue sky? This is in Clinton County, I think.
Naturally, I made several photos of Sycamore Row with the Y-12.
Finally, not many people know that this grassy lane that heads west from the south end of Sycamore Row was once State Road 218. It hasn’t been that highway in a very long time. SR 218 still exists. It was moved decades ago about a quarter mile to the north, just past the north end of Sycamore Row, so it didn’t have to cross Deer Creek.
The Vericolor III performed pretty well at EI 80 — much better than it did at EI 100 and 125, as I shot it last time. Still, some photos suffered from a little haze and grain that I couldn’t Photoshop away.
Sycamore Row has become for me much like the covered bridge at Bridgeton was when I was in my 20s: a peaceful place to visit when I need to restore my spirit. I enjoy the drive along a road that has become so familiar to me. When I arrive, I walk the length of this old alignment and enjoy these old trees, the quiet broken only by the zoom of the occasional passing car.
A small band of dedicated Carroll County preservationists and historians cares for the Sycamores. Every now and then they plant new trees, as many of the old ones have died and have been removed. You can see some of the trees they just planted along the left side of this photo.
The old trees that remain have great character: craggy, twisted. With any luck, I’ll live long enough to see the saplings grow to take on similar character.
Word reached me late last year that this historic marker at Sycamore Row had been destroyed by a car that went off the road.
Sycamore Row is an old alignment of the Michigan Road, about an hour north of Indianapolis in Carroll County. Bypassed in the 1980s by the new alignment you see at right in the photo below, the trees that line the road here make it unusually narrow. It was a hair-raising spot to encounter oncoming traffic, especially something large like a school bus or a semi. I wrote more about it, and shared some historic photos from when this alignment was still in use, here.
The text on the sign reflects a legend that some have long questioned. It was a common practice two centuries ago to use logs to create a firm road surface where the land was usually wet, as the land here is said to have been in the mid-1800s. Also, it’s not impossible that new trees could have sprouted from sycamore logs laid here. But the truth is, nobody knows for certain how the trees came to be here.
On behalf of the Historic Michigan Road Association, I reported the destroyed sign to the Indiana Historical Bureau, which manages Indiana’s historic markers. They took the opportunity to make a new sign with more information about how the Michigan Road came to exist here, and acknowledging that the sycamores’ origin is uncertain. While the old sign had the same text on both sides, the new marker tells half the story on one side, and the other half on the other side. I was pleased that the IHB chose to tell more of the story of the road itself, including touching on how the Indian people who lived on this land were pressured to give it up for the road. I was especially pleased that the IHB let the HMRA review the proposed text and offer feedback. We suggested a couple small changes, which they accepted. Here’s the new marker.
What’s really cool is that the IHB lists their sources for this text on their Web page for this marker (here).
It struck me at first that this sign was posted backward, as the back side faces you as you stand at the entrance to Sycamore Row. But I’m sure that the IHB’s standards require them to post signs so that they face traffic on the adjacent road. People traveling south on the Michigan Road will see the front of this sign as they pass.
Nearly every time I drive up this way I stop to visit the sycamores. I usually have a camera with me. Here are a couple photos I made of the old marker over the years. I made this one in September, 2019, with my Yashica-12 camera on Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros film.
I made this photo in May, 2013, with a Canon A35F camera on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200 film. As part of the IHB’s program to keep markers in good condition (details here), a volunteer repainted this marker sometime between my 2013 and 2019 photos.
Margaret and I recently took a mini road trip up the Michigan Road. We made it as far as Logansport, where we had dinner and then headed back. But on the way up we stopped to see Sycamore Row.
It’s always grand to see these old trees, even if the story on the historic sign might be more legend than fact. Nobody knows for sure why these trees are here.
But we’re glad they are. We’re also glad that new sycamores are occasionally planted. Historic photos of Sycamore Row show many, many more sycamores here than there are now.
To me, late autumn is the best time to see these trees as it makes their jagged and knurled branches visible.
This old alignment ends at Deer Creek. A steel truss bridge carried this alignment over the creek here until 1987, when a new alignment was built several feet to the east. Locals above a certain age remember how harrowing it was to encounter an oncoming semi in here.
Turning around for a look back, you can see how the Michigan Road used to flow directly from this road segment.
Canon PowerShot S95
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.
At Sycamore Row Canon FT QL, 50mm f/1.8 Canon FL Fujicolor 200 2013
Sycamore Row is an abandoned segment of the Michigan Road about nine miles south of Logansport. The old roadbed is closely bordered on each side by sycamore trees that, legend says, grew from green sycamore logs placed here in the road’s early days as a form of hard surfacing.
I don’t remember now why I was in South Bend and left for home first thing in the morning. I do remember that it was a weekday morning and I’d be going directly to work.
I was testing a Canon FT QL camera and it was with me in the car. When I reached the sycamores, the sun had not yet burned off all of morning’s mist. I thought I might find some good photographic subjects here. This one turned out not to be too bad, of one sycamore overlooking a farm field.
Truth is, nobody knows for sure why the sycamore trees line this short stretch of road, known as Sycamore Row, on Indiana’s Michigan Road.
The historical marker claims that the trees grew from green sycamore logs cut and laid across the road in the mid-1800s. They provided sure footing over what was then swampy land. It’s a plausible explanation, but it might just be a popular legend.
This narrow passageway was a state highway until 1987, and it was a tight squeeze for oncoming cars. You didn’t want to encounter an oncoming truck when you entered Sycamore Row!
You’ll find this abandoned road about 50 miles north of Indianapolis on State Road 29 in Carroll County. It’s just south of Deer Creek. It is part of the Michigan Road, one of Indiana’s earliest highways. Since the 1830s it has connected the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan.
In the early automobile era, Indiana routed State Road 29 along this portion of the Michigan Road. A one-lane iron bridge carried vehicles across the creek then.
As traffic increased, the one-lane bridge became insufficient. A more modern two-lane steel bridge was built in the same place. But this passage remained narrow. Vehicle accidents among the sycamores – some of them fatal – brought a reduced speed limit, warning signs, and flashing lights.
Traveler safety put the sycamores at constant risk of removal. Indeed, some trees were removed on several occasions during road-improvement projects. The people of Carroll County love and celebrate their history, and so they always protested hard. Still, more than 60 trees have been lost here, leaving the 30 or so that remain. It seems certain that none of these sycamores are original, as trees from the mid-1800s would have trunks six or eight feet wide by now. Some sycamore saplings were planted here to replace removed trees. The rest of these trees probably grew from seeds dropped by the original trees. Today, the sycamores form only a single line on each side of the road, and there are wide gaps between some trees.
Standing on the old roadway, it’s hard to imagine such a narrow passage being part of any modern state highway system. It was insufficient long before the road was finally rerouted in 1987. It simply took many, many years to negotiate saving not only these sycamores, but also a spring-fed pond used by the earliest settlers here, and adjoining land that grew the first soybeans cultivated in the United States. The resulting compromise involved rerouting Deer Creek itself and building a new road alignment and bridge.
I drive this portion of the Michigan Road frequently, and whenever I’m not in a hurry I like to pull over for a minute and enjoy the sycamores.
It’s peaceful there. I’m glad the folks in Carroll County worked to preserve Sycamore Row here on the Michigan Road.
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.