History

Adding the Michigan Road to the modern Indiana highway system

It was very late to the party: the last segment of the old Michigan Road to be added to Indiana’s modern state highway system.

MR_map
The Michigan Road, highlighted in blue. Map © 2008 Google.

The state of Indiana built the Michigan Road during the 1830s to connect Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capital in Indianapolis.

Indiana built other roads at about the same time, but none like the Michigan Road. Its right-of-way was enormous at 100 feet wide; the road itself used the central third. Even though the road was barely a dirt path at first, it was arguably the grandest road in Indiana. It was a major commerce route that opened deeply wooded northern Indiana to settlers.

The railroad’s rise in the late 1800s led the Michigan Road and all other major roads into disuse and disrepair. But around the turn of the 20th century, the bicycle and the automobile made good roads a priority. Indiana responded in 1917 with its State Highway Commission, which laid a fledgling network of highways over existing major routes and began to improve them, in turn from dirt to gravel to brick or concrete, and eventually to asphalt.

The State Highway Commission numbered just five State Roads in its first year. You might be surprised to learn that the Michigan Road was not among them.

Not in its entirety, at least. State Roads were laid out along portions of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana: from about Rolling Prairie east to South Bend, and then from South Bend south to Rochester.

The east-west segment was part of State Road 2, which followed the 1913 Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast auto trail established through the work of entrepreneur Carl Fisher. The north-south section was part of State Road 1, which continued south from Rochester along a new road that passed through Peru and Kokomo on its way to Indianpolis and, ultimately, the Ohio River across from Louisville.

Plymouth Pilot-News, March 27, 1919

Naturally, all major Indiana cities wanted a good, direct road leading to the state capital, and towns in between wanted to be on those roads. A road would lead from South Bend to Indianapolis. Logansport wanted to be on that route. You have to wonder why the state chose State Road 1 through Peru and Kokomo over the Michigan Road through Logansport. The Michigan Road’s generous right-of-way would certainly ease future improvements. Perhaps the state wanted to provide good-road access to two towns rather than just one. Perhaps Peru and Kokomo had a more effective lobby.

Officials in Logansport went down fighting, agitating for the state to hard-surface the Michigan Road rather than State Road 1 south from Plymouth, as the inset 1919 newspaper article reports. They even claimed — incorrectly — that the Michigan Road was a little shorter.

Alas, State Road 1 was paved.

Indiana expanded its State Road system to more than 50 roads by 1926, adding most of the Michigan Road in the process. The portion from Madison to Indianapolis became State Road 6. The portion from Indianapolis to Logansport became State Road 15.

(By the way, State Road 15 continued northwest from Logansport through Winamac and La Porte to Michigan City, fulfilling the Michigan Road’s mission in much more direct fashion. The indirect route through South Bend had been a compromise — one South Bend certainly enjoyed — to avoid the Kankakee Marsh in northwest Indiana. In the 1830s, no road could be built there. A series of ditches built in the late 1800s through about 1917 drained the marsh, and then by 1922 the river itself was dredged. The direct route finally could be, and was, built. It is US 35 today.)

But the portion of the Michigan Road from Logansport to Rochester remained off the grid.

Ply_Roch_Logan_Peru
Maps courtesy Indiana University Libraries

The U.S. route system we know today was established in 1927. Several State Roads became U.S. highways. Indiana renumbered its State Roads to eliminate numbers the same as the new U.S. routes and to tame what had become a messy numbering scheme. The Michigan Road from Madison to Logansport became State Road 29 (except for a rural segment south of Napoleon in Ripley County, which the highway bypassed to loop in nearby Osgood and Versailles). Old State Road 1, including the Michigan Road from South Bend to Rochester, became US 31. The Michigan Road from South Bend to Michigan City became part of US 20.

Also in 1927, the State Highway Commission decided to build a State Road from Lafayette to Warsaw. To be named State Road 25, it would pass through Logansport and Rochester. At last, this segment of the Michigan Road would join the state highway system! It was added first, in 1928; the rest of State Road 25 was added in stages over the next few years. The state highway map segments above tell the story. In 1923, the Michigan Road didn’t appear between Rochester and Logansport. In 1927 a dotted line appeared to show that the road was approved to be added to the system. In 1928, the thick black line shows that the road was not only added, but hard surfaced, except for a small portion near Fulton. The broken line there and elsewhere on the map indicates a gravel road.

State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) heading northeast from Logansport
State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) in northeastern Logansport, heading toward Rochester

Logansport got its wish nine years too late, as by that time US 31 had become the dominant route to Indianapolis. Not that it mattered much in the long run — US 31 might have boosted Kokomo’s and Peru’s prosperity for a time, but US 31 was rerouted around both towns in the 1970s and traffic through these towns slowed to a trickle. All three towns experienced serious decline toward the end of the 20th century, for reasons bigger than rerouted highways. None is noticeably better off than the others today.

See an index of everything I’ve written about the Michigan Road here.

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Road Trips

Welcome to New Carlisle

New Carlisle is a cheerful Indiana small town about 15 miles west of South Bend on a triply historic road: US 20, the longest US highway; the Lincoln Highway, our nation’s first coast-to-coast road; and the Michigan Road, which has linked the Ohio River to Lake Michigan since the 1830s. The town has been there since 1835, not long after the road was built.

As you enter New Carlisle from the east, you take a tight S curve under a railroad bridge and along a retaining wall that greets you cheerfully.

Welcome to New Carlisle

Until 1926 the road ran straight, crossing the tracks at a dangerous angle that was the scene of many accidents. Four rail lines passed through: two owned by the New York Central Railroad; one by the Chicago, South Bend, and Northern Indiana Railway; and one by the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad. The South Shore tracks were a few feet lower than the New York Central tracks, making for an uneven crossing and increasing motorists’ challenge.

New Carlisle, Indiana. Imagery © 2019 DigitalGlobe, IndianaMap Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2019 Google.

Negotiations with the railroads to build a viaduct and reroute the road for safer passage dragged on for several years but kicked into high gear when New Carlisle passed an ordinance limiting trains to eight miles per hour. That got the railroads’ attention. Terms were worked out, the bridge was built, and the road was curved.

After you negotiate that curve, New Carlisle unfolds before you, tidy and cheerful. Little has changed, at least cosmetically, in this town since before World War II. Check out this mural of the town as it was in about 1941, painted on the side of one of downtown’s buildings.

New Carlisle mural

Downtown New Carlisle has changed little since those days! You’ll have to take my word for it to some extent, as I made these photographs in 2008. Margaret and I drove through on our late-December Michigan Road trip, but heavy rain made it a poor day for photography. But we could see it: New Carlisle still looks very much like this.

Live or Memorex?

I’m always curious why some small Indiana towns remain well-maintained and others don’t. Money obviously makes the difference. But where does New Carlisle’s come from? There’s no real industry here, to speak of. It’s too far away from Chicago to be a commuter town. I suppose many residents commute to South Bend to work; is that enough?

Downtown New Carlisle

Regardless, everywhere you look in New Carlisle’ downtown, the buildings are in good condition. Something must be going right here — unlike so many Indiana towns of similar size, New Carlisle is growing. Its population remained flat at about 1,400 for several decades, but between 2000 and 2010 it swelled to over 1,800.

Colorful
Houston Pro Hardware
Still a bank

As you keep heading west you soon leave the downtown area and pass many lovely older homes.

Old house, New Carlisle
Old house, New Carlisle
Old house, New Carlisle

This church is right on Michigan Street. The sign says, “God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.”

Community Church

Memorial Park is on Michigan Street, too. It’s a lovely spot to rest on a lovely street in a lovely town.

Park

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History, Road Trips

Adding the Michigan Road to the modern Indiana highway system

Brace for impact: here comes a major road history post. I haven’t written one in ages.

MR_map

The Michigan Road, highlighted in blue. Map © 2008 Google.

It was very late to the party: the last segment of the old Michigan Road to be added to Indiana’s modern state highway system.

The state of Indiana built the Michigan Road during the 1830s to connect Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capital in Indianapolis.

Indiana built other roads at about the same time, but none like the Michigan Road. Its right-of-way was enormous at 100 feet wide; the road itself used the central third. Even though the road was barely a dirt path at first, it was arguably the grandest road in Indiana. It was a major commerce route that opened deeply wooded northern Indiana to settlers.

The railroad’s rise in the late 1800s led the Michigan Road and all other major roads into disuse and disrepair. But around the turn of the 20th century, the bicycle and the automobile made good roads a priority. Indiana responded in 1917 with its State Highway Commission, which laid a fledgling network of highways over existing major routes and began to improve them, in turn from dirt to gravel to brick or concrete, and eventually to asphalt.

The State Highway Commission numbered just five State Roads in its first year. You might be surprised to learn that the Michigan Road was not among them.

Not in its entirety, at least. State Roads were laid out along portions of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana: from about Rolling Prairie east to South Bend, and then from South Bend south to Rochester.

The east-west segment was part of State Road 2, which followed the 1913 Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast auto trail established through the work of entrepreneur Carl Fisher. The north-south section was part of State Road 1, which continued south from Rochester along a new road that passed through Peru and Kokomo on its way to Indianpolis and, ultimately, the Ohio River across from Louisville.

PlymouthPilot-NewsMR

Plymouth Pilot-News, March 27, 1919 (click to enlarge)

Naturally, all major Indiana cities wanted a good, direct road leading to the state capital, and towns in between wanted to be on those roads. A road would lead from South Bend to Indianapolis. Logansport wanted to be on that route. You have to wonder why the state chose State Road 1 through Peru and Kokomo over the Michigan Road through Logansport. The Michigan Road’s generous right-of-way would certainly ease future improvements. Perhaps the state wanted to provide good-road access to two towns rather than just one. Perhaps Peru and Kokomo had a more effective lobby.

Officials in Logansport went down fighting, agitating for the state to hard-surface the Michigan Road rather than State Road 1 south from Plymouth, as the inset 1919 newspaper article reports. They even claimed — incorrectly — that the Michigan Road was a little shorter.

Alas, State Road 1 was paved.

Indiana expanded its State Road system to more than 50 roads by 1926, adding most of the Michigan Road in the process. The portion from Madison to Indianapolis became State Road 6. The portion from Indianapolis to Logansport became State Road 15.

(By the way, State Road 15 continued northwest from Logansport through Winamac and La Porte to Michigan City, fulfilling the Michigan Road’s mission in much more direct fashion. The indirect route through South Bend had been a compromise — one South Bend certainly enjoyed — to avoid the Kankakee Marsh in northwest Indiana. In the 1830s, no road could be built there. A series of ditches built in the late 1800s through about 1917 drained the marsh, and then by 1922 the river itself was dredged. The direct route finally could be, and was, built. It is US 35 today.)

But the portion of the Michigan Road from Logansport to Rochester remained off the grid.

Ply_Roch_Logan_Peru

Maps courtesy Indiana University Libraries

The U.S. route system we know today was established in 1927. Several State Roads became U.S. highways. Indiana renumbered its State Roads to eliminate numbers the same as the new U.S. routes and to tame what had become a messy numbering scheme. The Michigan Road from Madison to Logansport became State Road 29 (except for a rural segment south of Napoleon in Ripley County, which the highway bypassed to loop in nearby Osgood and Versailles). Old State Road 1, including the Michigan Road from South Bend to Rochester, became US 31. The Michigan Road from South Bend to Michigan City became part of US 20.

Also in 1927, the State Highway Commission decided to build a State Road from Lafayette to Warsaw. To be named State Road 25, it would pass through Logansport and Rochester. At last, this segment of the Michigan Road would join the state highway system! It was added first, in 1928; the rest of State Road 25 was added in stages over the next few years. The state highway map segments above tell the story. In 1923, the Michigan Road didn’t appear between Rochester and Logansport. In 1927 a dotted line appeared to show that the road was approved to be added to the system. In 1928, the thick black line shows that the road was not only added, but hard surfaced, except for a small portion near Fulton. The broken line there and elsewhere on the map indicates a gravel road.

State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) heading northeast from Logansport

State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) in northeastern Logansport, heading toward Rochester

Logansport got its wish nine years too late, as by that time US 31 had become the dominant route to Indianapolis. Not that it mattered much in the long run — US 31 might have boosted Kokomo’s and Peru’s prosperity for a time, but US 31 was rerouted around both towns in the 1970s and traffic through these towns slowed to a trickle. All three towns experienced serious decline toward the end of the 20th century, for reasons bigger than rerouted highways. None is noticeably better off than the others today.


New! See an index of everything I’ve written about the Michigan Road here.

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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

www.historicmichiganroad.org

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!

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History, Road Trips

A historic byway

For more about the Michigan Road Historic Byway project, see www.historicmichiganroad.org.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the Michigan Road has been coming out of my ears during the past 12 months. I made my first excursion along the road last February, and then during 2008’s warm months drove it end to end, photographing everything I found interesting along the way. My trips spawned not only 15 posts about the road to this blog, but also an exhaustive, county-by-county photo essay of my trips that includes some historical information about the road and the places on it.

One-lane alignmentI 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.

Michigan Road, Decatur County, IndianaIt 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.

Michigan Road at I-465So 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!

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Road Trips

Lincolnway Foods burns

During my Michigan Road trip last weekend I passed through South Bend, where the north-south road becomes east-west. It enters from the south on Michigan St., turns west downtown at LaSalle Ave, and after a block and a half curves onto Michigan Ave. on its way to Michigan City. Well, at least that street was originally called Michigan Ave. Carl Fisher’s efforts put it on the Lincoln Highway and gave it its current and more famous name, Lincoln Way West. This is an old part of town, as the brick cross streets testify. The building in the photo below was originally an A&P store; both my mother’s and father’s families shopped here in the 1950s. It has been an independent grocery since 1980 and still a busy place as I had to wait for several customers to enter or exit before I could take a clean photo.

Lincolnway Foods

This store burned down Friday morning. These photos are stills from WSBT-TV’s coverage.

The roof is said to have caved in, which caused an exterior wall to collapse. One firefighter was injured when the wall fell on him; another firefighter was also injured fighting the fire. The fire is said to have leveled the building.

It’s not like this building was a historic landmark. And judging by comments left by readers of the South Bend Tribune‘s article on the fire (which I’m not going to link because it will go behind a pay wall in a few days and you won’t be able to read it anyway), the store was not known for cleanliness or neatly stocked shelves. But this grocery in all its incarnations has been a fixture in this neighborhood for decades, and it’s sad to see it destroyed.

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