Road Trips

The Michigan Road in La Porte County

In 2008, I surveyed the Michigan Road from end to end, documenting the road and its built environment. Here is the final installment of that trip report.

The original portion of La Porte County was founded in 1832, was expanded tin 1842, and grew to its current boundaries in 1850 when some of St. Joseph County was annexed.

2.5 miles inside La Porte County, the Michigan Road leaves US 20. In the map below, the Michigan Road follows Bootjack Road. At one time, a small town called Boot Jack stood at this fork.

US 20 followed Bootjack Road until just after World War II, when US 20 was rerouted to bypass Rolling Prairie, a town just west of here. We’ll meet up with US 20 again on the other side of Rolling Prairie.

The road in the upper-right corner of the map, Chicago Rd., is also a historic road. A contemporary of the Michigan Road, it was completed in 1835 to link Chicago and Detroit and roughly follows the old Sauk Trail, an Indian trail that is at least 400 years old. The Chicago Road follows US 20’s modern path. It sure looks like a section of the road was removed between Emery Rd. and Bootjack Rd., doesn’t it?

Here’s that fork in the road from ground level. We say goodbye to the Lincoln Highway here; it follows US 20 on the left and then State Road 2 to La Porte.

Sauk Trail / Chicago Road

Quite a bit of road work has happened along the Michigan Road and Lincoln Highway around Rolling Prairie. In this map, the blue line is the Michigan Road’s original route. The road crossed the railroad tracks at an awkward, and thus dangerous, angle. One source says that in 1940 the crossing was deleted, the road rerouted, and a bridge built to carry the railroad over the road The red line shows how the road was rerouted, down Bootjack Rd. and then right onto Wiley Rd. and under the bridge.

This video shows the Bootjack Road route, including where it curves to avoid the railroad tracks and later turns onto Wiley Rd. and goes under the viaduct.

The video pointed out an old Texaco station. Courtesy Rob Heinek, here’s a photo of Elkins Texaco Garage, which was built in about 1929 on the corner of Bootjack Rd. and Wiley Rd.

This eastbound photo shows the Michigan Road’s original path on the west side of the railroad tracks. It’s somebody’s driveway today.


Westbound from the same spot. Wiley Rd. is just ahead, where the pavement is temporarily darker.


The first cabin in what is now Rolling Prairie was built in 1831, and as more settlers arrived the place was named Nauvoo. In 1853, the village was platted and named Portland. In 1857, when it was discovered that another Portland existed in Indiana, a postal employee changed the town’s name to Rolling Prairie.

Inside Rolling Prairie, this former church is now a branch of the La Porte County Public Library. Kind of a shame how its original windows were reduced to those tiny little things.

Library church

Rolling Prairie’s is the only Michigan Road town whose downtown is not on the Michigan Road. Downtown is actually along Depot St., which intersects the Michigan Road.

Rolling Prairie

I walked along Depot St. for its few blocks. This restaurant is a block south of the Michigan Road.

Blacksmith Shoppe Restaurant

On the opposite corner is Rolling Prairie’s Odd Fellows building.


This westbound shot from Depot St. shows the Michigan Road westbound as it heads out of town.


The First Christian Church.

First Christian Church

The Rolling Prairie Cemetery stands on the edge of town, just before the Michigan Road meets US 20 again.

Rolling Prairie Cemetery

Just past the cemetery, US 20 rejoins the route. Notice how the row of trees ahead is in line with what used to be the road’s pre-bypass north edge. And there’s my little red car, making one of its cameo appearances. 

End of the line

Just shy of five miles after the Michigan Road rejoins US 20 west of Rolling Prairie, an old alignment of the road appears. It’s very easy to miss.

This excerpt from an 1892 plat map shows the road before it was bypassed. It runs through the tiny town of Springville.

The 1853 Rossburg Cemetery stands on the northeast corner of N. Willhelm Rd., where the old alignment begins. The cemetery is way up on a hill, and there’s no sign of Rossburg. The 1892 plat map shows a church on the northwest corner; there’s no sign of it today.

Rossburg Cemetery

Here’s where the Michigan Road turns away from US 20. This is signed Willhelm Rd., but it is the Michigan Road’s original path.

To Springville

Almost immediately, the road forks. The Michigan Road follows the right fork, which the photo shows. It’s signed Springville Rd.

Springville Road

Much of Springville Road is lined with rough-looking trailer parks. I decided that this might not be a place friendly to strangers snapping photos, so I kept driving. Where State Road 39 intersects, just east of where Springville appears on the 1892 plat map, stands the Springville Free Methodist Church.

Springville Free Methodist Church

The plat map shows that a railroad intersected the Michigan Road. At some point, a bridge was built so that Michigan Road traffic could pass underneath unimpeded. Later, the railroad tracks were removed – but the bridge’s abutments were left behind.

Railroad overpass ruins

Springville Road ends just beyond the abutment ruins, and US 20 curves back into the Michigan Road’s path.

To US 20

The stoplight marks where US 35 joins the Michigan Road. You can follow US 35 to Logansport. Originally, the desire for the Michigan Road was to go directly between Logansport and Michigan City, but the Kankakee Marsh made that difficult. So the road was routed around it through South Bend, New Carlisle, and Rolling Prairie instead. The Kankakee Marsh was eventually drained, which allowed roads like US 35 to be built. That’s I-94 ahead. Just beyond I-94, US 20 heads south and leaves the Michigan Road behind. 


Just beyond I-94, the road enters Michigan City.

There’s not much to see on the road in Michigan City, and when there is something to see, there is often no place to park the car to get a photo. This interesting building is home to a little grocery.

Petti Grocery

Just west of the grocery, what was once a pretty big hill was leveled out and a retaining wall built.

Retaining wall

The Michigan Road is Michigan Blvd. through Michigan City. When the road was surveyed and laid out, it continued on its westbound path all the way to Lake Michigan. At some point, however, it was turned to follow what is now US 12 through downtown. Sources I’ve found place the later end of the Michigan Road either at Wabash St. or at 4th St.

When the road was new, this stood near 4th Street:

The Hoosier Slide was a 175-foot-tall sand dune that dominated Michigan City’s skyline. Sadly, it was carted away bit by bit to be used as land fill and in glassmaking, and by 1920 nothing was left of it. Michigan City was said to be a spunky and enterprising town in its early days, founded in 1832 deliberately to stand where the Michigan Road would end when it was built. In its early days, Michigan City vied with Chicago for size and importance.

Today, this cooling tower for a coal-fired power plant stands where the Hoosier Slide did.

At the End of the Road

The Michigan Road ends here, inauspiciously and anticlimactically. US 12 continues as 4th St.

The End of the Road

At the road’s other end, at Madison, the Ohio River is visible. But in Michigan City it’s hard to tell that Lake Michigan lies just beyond the road’s end. Here’s the lake and the cooling tower.

Lake Michigan - Mount Baldy

Although the Hoosier Slide is no longer with us, Mount Baldy, a neighboring sand dune, remains. This photo of the lake is from atop Mount Baldy.

Lake Michigan - Mount Baldy

In case you’re wondering why there are no leaves on the trees when all the other photos in this series are fully green, it’s because I took these photos on a trip in early spring 2007. It was about 35 degrees outside and the wind off the lake was brutal! Notice that the top of the dune is almost level with the tops of the utility poles.

Lake Michigan - Mount Baldy

And so the Michigan Road completes its mission, connecting the Ohio River to Lake Michigan to provide access to the state capital at Indianapolis and to northern Indiana.

Lake Michigan - Mount Baldy

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!

Road Trips

Postcard views of the Michigan Road, Indianapolis to Michigan City

Here are the rest of the vintage postcards I collected showing images from the Michigan Road in Indiana. Last time I shared images from Madison to Indianapolis, the southern portion of the road. Now I’ll share images from Indianapolis to Michigan City, the northern portion of the road.

In Indianapolis, for many years the road on the northwest side of the city was called Northwestern Avenue. Today it’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. from the northwest edge of Downtown to the old city limits, and then Michigan Road from there to the county line. This bridge, long since replaced, carried the road over the White River. Guessing, I think this postcard is from the 1920s. Back then, this was outside the city limits.

The next postcards I owned take us 66 miles north of that bridge to downtown Logansport. The road followed Broadway Street for a few blocks. This view looks east, which is northbound on the Michigan Road. This postcard bears a 1906 postmark.

This 1920s view of Broadway looks west, which is southbound on the Michigan Road.

This 1960s view also looks west on Broadway.

Finally, as the road leaves Logansport northbound it passes by Logansport Memorial Hospital. This hospital building isn’t visible from the road; perhaps it’s been razed in favor of the current set of buildings. Perhaps it was in a different location in the city; I don’t know. But I’m including it because the current hospital is very much on the Michigan Road

Next, a couple views of downtown Rochester. This view from the air is on a postcard postmarked 1911. The grand Fulton County Courthouse is just out of the photo to the right.

Here’s a 1960s ground-level view from the intersection with 8th Street, right in front of the courthouse.

Next I had this postcard from Plymouth, a little south of downtown from its grand avenue of lovely homes. Most of those homes still stand today, making this just as lovely a drive now as then. This postcard is postmarked 1911.

This view of downtown Plymouth is from a postcard postmarked 1958, but judging by the cars I’d say the image is from the early 1950s. This photo looks northbound.

This southbound photo of downtown Plymouth is also postmarked 1958.

This is easily the most interesting postcard in the set. It’s a view of Lakeville, a small town just south of South Bend. It is postmarked 1911. This is a southbound view. Notice how wide this dirt road is! The Michigan Road claimed a 100-foot right-of-way when it was built.

Next is South Bend. This card postmarked 1906 shows Michigan Street, but the city has changed so much that I couldn’t tell you where this is located and whether this is a northbound or southbound photo.

The same would be true for this card postmarked 1909, except that its caption clears things up very nicely.

This card is from the same place as the one above, taken sometime in the 1950s. I think the building second from the right edge of the photo is the same one that’s second from the right edge of the photo above, the building with the advertisement sign painted on the side.

Finally, we reach the end of the Michigan Road, in Michigan City. This vast sand dune is no more. It was carted off load by load, and used to make glass. A giant cooling tower for an electrical power plant stands here today.

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!


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.

Michigan City Lighthouse
Michigan City Lighthouse
Michigan City Lighthouse
Michigan City Lighthouse
Michigan City Lighthouse
Michigan City Lighthouse
Michigan City Lighthouse
Michigan City Lighthouse

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!

Road Trips

The Lake Michigan lighthouse in Michigan City, Indiana

Photographs of the lighthouse in the Lake Michigan harbor in Michigan City, Indiana.

Road Trips

The Michigan City Uptown Arts District

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.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District. Map data © 2019 Google.

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.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

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.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

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!

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

Lots of public art lines Franklin Street. I liked this little scene on one of the street corners.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

Given how close this is to Lake Michigan, this wavelike metal sculpture makes perfect sense.

Michigan City Uptown Arts District

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.

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!

History, Road Trips

The historic Michigan Road

One-lane alignment
Original alignment, Shelby County

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

I am just thrilled by how much enthusiasm there has been for this project. If you’re enthusiastic for it, too, and live on or near the road, contact me and we’ll add you to our e-mail list.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to read more about the Michigan Road, click the link above. Or check out what I’ve written on this blog about the road:

I have enough photographs and stories from my 2008 trips to write as many more posts! Maybe I’ll do that during the slow winter months.

Our effort has also gotten some press. The best coverage has come from the Pharos-Tribune in Logansport:

I’m grateful for and excited about all the positive attention our project has received!

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!

History, Road Trips

270 miles of history

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.

The Michigan Road begins

Here’s the end of the Michigan Road, in Michigan City, Indiana, just south of Lake Michigan.

The End of the Road

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.

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!