My wife and I spent a weekend in Louisville recently. We hadn’t gotten away since our January trip to Chicago, and we badly needed a change of scenery. So we rented an Airbnb in the heart of downtown and spent our time walking and making photographs. There wasn’t much else to do thanks to the pandemic.
The US 31 bridge from Indiana to Kentucky over the Ohio River was built in 1929. It underwent a restoration a couple years ago that finished with its new yellow paint job. It had been painted a silvery gray before.
Lots of bridges cross the Ohio at Louisville, including the two I-65 bridges and the old Big Four bridge, visible here. The Big Four bridge is open to pedestrians only. The George Rogers Clark bridge has pedestrian walkways as well — thank heavens, or making these photographs would have been a dangerous proposition.
There are also a couple railroad bridges to the west, plus the I-64 bridge. Here’s a view of some of that.
As the title promised, here’s the sun going down over the Ohio River from the bridge.
While I stood there, a few motor-powered rafts tore around on the river. This one passed by us on its way under the bridge. If you look closely, one of the people on the boat gave me the peace sign.
Not long ago I shared some photos of the Skyline Drive-In, on the Michigan Road in Shelbyville, Indiana. It’s not the only drive-in on the road, however. The Tri-Way is about 150 miles north on the road, in Plymouth. It’s been operating since 1953. It’s a four-screen outdoor theater — another screen was added since I made this photograph!
I haven’t been by here in a long time, but as I remember it, they leave the sign lit most of the time in season.
I grew up a mile or so away from this motel and its neon sign. I saw it a lot while I was growing up, and its neon was usually in disrepair. It made me happy to find it lit and fully working when I visited my hometown this day.
This three-span steel Parker through truss bridge was built in 1939 to carry US 31 across the Wabash River in Peru, Indiana. It recently underwent its first restoration in 30 years, making it ready to serve for decades to come. Indiana Landmarks has the full story here.
I photographed this bridge in 2007 when my old friend Brian and I explored US 31’s original alignments from the Michigan state line to Indianapolis. I documented that road trip here, but these photos show what the bridge looked like then. This is a northbound view.
Here’s the southbound view. Most truss highway bridges were painted green then; light blue is the new standard color.
US 31 was moved to a new alignment bypassing Peru sometime in the 1970s, so this bridge carries only local traffic today. That’s Brian walking along the bridge’s deck, by the way.
I don’t know about you, but my heart soars when I come upon a truss bridge still in use. Their appearance enhances the roadscape; these bridges become local landmarks. Modern concrete steel-stringer bridges offer no distinguishing design characteristics and blend into the scenery. Bully for the people of Peru who get to keep enjoying this bridge.
If you enjoy truss bridges too, watch video of me driving over the last one standing in Indianapolis here.
Every year, historic preservation organization Indiana Landmarks publishes a list of ten historic places across the state that they consider to be “on the brink of extinction and too important to lose.” This year’s list of the 10 Most Endangered is just out; see it here.
Two of the places on this year’s list have found themselves in my camera’s lens. Traveling the state’s old roads as I do, I’ve photographically documented historic structures in a growing number of Indiana’s communities.
Mineral Springs Hotel in Paoli, on the Dixie Highway, was built in 1896 — before Paoli had electricity. So the owners built a power plant in the basement to light the hotel, and they sold excess power to their neighbors! Named for the area’s mineral-water springs that were thought to cure all ails, the hotel did big business for many decades. As the mineral-springs fad passed, however, the hotel’s fortunes declined. It stopped taking guests in 1958, although businesses populated its first floor for a few more decades. Today it’s vacant, its roof leaks, and many of its windows are broken. Indiana Landmarks hopes to find someone to restore it.
I visited Paoli during my 2012 excursion along the Dixie Highway in southern Indiana. The hotel sits on Paoli’s delightful square. Read about my visit here.
In Columbus, the Crump Theater has stood here since 1889. As you might guess from these photos, this is not the theater’s original facade. Indeed, the Crump underwent three major remodelings in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Its art-deco facade was added during the third remodeling.
The facade is distinguished by pigmented structural glass panels known as Vitrolite.
The Crump featured live shows until the 1910s when movies began to supplant them. Eventually the Crump became a movie house, and stayed one until 1997, when it showed its last picture. But by then it was already in deplorable condition with a partially collapsed roof and a non-functioning boiler. The theater has only deteriorated more since then, despite several attempts to save it. The city of Columbus would like to see it saved, and Indiana Landmarks is interested in finding a developer who can restore the building and find a good use for it.
The first two photos are from a 2017 and the third from 2008. Both times I was following the Madison State Road, an 1830s route that connected Madison to Indianapolis via Columbus and was an alternative to the Michigan Road, which ran through Greensburg and Shelbyville to the east. Somehow, I’ve managed never to document my Madison State Road trips, an oversight I must one day correct. Meanwhile, you can see more photos from my visits to Columbus here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.