Near the end of the Michigan Road in Michigan City, Indiana, you’ll find this lighthouse keeping watch over the harbor of Lake Michigan. It and an associated breakwater were built in 1904 and have served ever since. The Coast Guard relinquished this lighthouse in 2007, and I believe Michigan City itself took up its operation and maintenance.
Margaret and I visited on a cold, windy day when the pier was closed, so we could only make long-zoom photographs from the beach. We’ll go back another day when we can walk out to it.
In the heart of downtown Michigan City, at the end of the Michigan Road — or the beginning, depending on your perspective — you’ll find the Michigan City Uptown Arts District.
When I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008, this was some mighty depressed real estate. But in 2010 the Uptown Arts District was formed, and a slow transformation began. The transformation remains underway today, but “there’s a there there,” as we say in the road-tripping business. You can spend a pleasant day here popping in and out of the boutique shops and galleries, and enjoying a meal and a pint at one of the several restaurants.
Margaret and I did this on the day before Thanksgiving, a blustery and gray day. There wasn’t much action on this midweek day-before-a-holiday, but we were pleased to find many shops and pubs open.
We spent most of our time on the Uptown Arts District’s main drag, Franklin Street. It’s a downtown strip typical of Indiana, with plenty of old buildings in a row.
Several striking buildings line this strip, including this one, a former Eagles lodge. I’d sure like to know the story of that crazy roof!
Lots of public art lines Franklin Street. I liked this little scene on one of the street corners.
Given how close this is to Lake Michigan, this wavelike metal sculpture makes perfect sense.
We capped our Uptown Arts District stroll with a visit to an Irish pub, where we had a couple remarkably good pints of Guinness. From there we could see were within walking distance of a large outlet mall, so we went over and did a little early Christmas shopping. All in all, it was a lovely day. If you’d like to have a similarly lovely day, it awaits you at the end of the Michigan Road.
I’ve been working with blogger Hoosier Reborn on having the Michigan Road named a state historic byway. We’re building a grassroots organization from communities along the route that will provide the support necessary to win the designation from the Indiana Department of Transportation. We have built support in the counties north of Indianapolis except for Clinton County (if you’re from there and would like to see the road so honored, please contact me!). We’re ready to expand our organization into the route’s counties south of Indianapolis. We have offers from Shelbyville, Greensburg, and Madison to host meetings, and we plan to follow through in November. We plan to submit the historic byway application to INDOT in the summer of 2010.
I’ve created a Web site to serve as an information hub for our efforts. It sketches the road’s history, gives turn-by-turn driving directions, and links to my personal site’s extensive photographic survey of the road. So for all things Michigan Road, please go to
If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know about my fascination with the Michigan Road. It’s Indiana’s first state-funded road, built in the 1830s to connect southern Indiana to northern Indiana through the capital at Indianapolis. Amazingly, it is still mostly intact. With a couple minor detours, you can drive all of it still today.
Here’s the beginning of the Michigan Road, in Madison, Indiana, just north of the Ohio River.
Here’s the end of the Michigan Road, in Michigan City, Indiana, just south of Lake Michigan.
In between these two bits of pavement lies Indiana itself – its biggest city, several of its small towns, and acres upon acres of its farmland. Driving this road gives you a comprehensive view of Indiana life both past and present.
I spent my spare time last summer slowly following the Michigan Road and photographing everything I found interesting – pavement, bridges, churches, cemeteries, schools, homes, drive-ins, theaters, courthouses, hotels, and motels, for over 1,000 photos. By themselves, these images tell quite a bit of Indiana’s history. But each photograph made me curious about these places’ backstories, and so I began researching. The more I learned, the more I wanted to tell some of the stories. So last fall I began writing about the road via the photos I took.
I’ve been publishing my work in progress to my personal Web site all along. But over the weekend I finished writing about everything I’ve learned. So I uploaded the last of the files to the server and now, no matter where you are, you can travel all 270 miles of the Michigan Road. To begin your journey, start here.
If you like what you read, keep checking back. My fascination with this road is as strong as ever, and I’m still digging for more stories of life along it. As I learn more, I’ll keep updating those pages.
I want to see the Michigan Road remembered and celebrated for its important place in Indiana’s history. It turns out I’m not alone. Blogger Hoosier Reborn has harbored similar sentiments for years. It was serendipity that he and I encountered each other, and we have since encouraged each other toward achieving some sort of recognition for the road.
It helps tremendously that Hoosier Reborn has spent his career in historic preservation. He has good experience with just these kinds of projects. He also has contacts in historic preservation, economic development, and tourism throughout northern Indiana, people with influence who can help make things happen. He brought these assets to bear on Saturday in Rochester where he organized a first meeting for people interested in seeing the Michgan Road named a state historic byway.
So far, our coalition draws from Michigan Road counties in northern Indiana. To win historic byway status, we need backing from communities all along the Michigan Road. We’ll leverage the contacts we have now to build relationships with similarly interested people in all of the road’s counties. We plan to have built this statewide group in time to submit the historic byway application in the summer of 2010. A strong statewide organization will give the application enough mass and momentum, we think, to secure Indiana Department of Transportation approval.
We plan to use the historic byway designation as a springboard for future work to honor and preserve the road and to encourage tourism and economic development along it. We’d like to start by using it to win grant funding to have Michigan Road Historic Byway signs installed all along the route. Hard telling what we might do after that, but as Hoosier Reborn remarked to me on Saturday, “We’ll be old men and still be working on Michigan Road projects.” Sounds good to me!
Over Labor Day weekend I finally finished driving the Michigan Road. Here is what stands at its end:
You might think it’s the open to The Simpsons brought to life, but it’s actually the cooling tower of the fossil-fuel-fired Michigan City Generating Station.
I didn’t count on how built up Michigan City would be and how that would isolate the road from Lake Michigan. Wind gives the only clue that the lake a quarter mile away; the lake is not visible. At its end, the Michigan Road is US 12. If you follow US 12 another mile west, you reach the beach, where you’ll see the cooling tower from the other side.