History, Road Trips

The MichiganĀ Road

When Indiana was new, most Hoosiers lived along the Ohio River. The state’s first and largest city, Madison, was on the river, and the state’s first capital, Corydon, was near the river. Indiana wasn’t ten years old in 1825 when the capital moved to Indianapolis at the state’s swampy center. People needed ways to get to the new capital city, and so the state built its first major roads. The Madison State Road connected Madison, and the Mauxferry Road connected the Corydon area, to Indianapolis.

But then came the Michigan Road, connecting Madison not only to Indianapolis, but to Lake Michigan as well through lands newly acquired by treaty with the Indians who had lived in northern Indiana. The Michigan Road was complete by the mid 1830s, and people began migrating into the north’s rich, flat farmland.

The original road, which was made of dirt or timbers, fell into disuse during the 1800s railroad boom. But then private interests took over the road, covering it in gravel and charging tolls to travel on it. The rise of the automobile led the state to create a network of good roads, for which it used segments of the Michigan Road. As towns and cities were built and grew to prominence along the Michigan Road, the road became important as a means of traveling between these places, keeping the state from destroying or abandoning much of this road as it built bigger and faster highways. Because this remarkable sequence of events preserved the Michigan Road, you can drive almost all of its original route today.

I am interested in the Michigan Road because I have lived near it for more than 30 of my 40 years, first in South Bend and now in Indianapolis. I learned only a few years ago that Michigan Street in South Bend and Michigan Road in Indianapolis are the same road, and that this road has a rich story and important place in Indiana’s history.

As the warm weather months unfold I will drive the Michigan Road from end to end, about 270 miles. I will write about my experience, tell a little bit about the history of the road and the towns on it, and share photographs from the road today and some I have found from the road’s past.

I started my trip on Saturday, driving north from Madison. This northbound photo is from a twisty uphill segment near where the road begins. Facing south from here, you can see over Madison to the Ohio River.


I’ll write more about the first leg of my Michigan Road journey soon. Meanwhile, if you live on or near the Michigan Road and have stories or images to share, I’d love to hear from you.