Interviewed on the radio about the Michigan Road

Yesterday I got to talk about the Michigan Road on radio station WKVI in Knox, Indiana. This town of about 3,500 residents is about 40 miles southwest of South Bend. Have a listen! (If you’re seeing this in your email or in your reader, click the title to see this on my site, where a video will appear below.)

The short of the story: when the Michigan Road was surveyed in the 1830s, the desire was to route it directly from Logansport to Michigan City. But the marshes of the Kankakee River blocked the way and it was impossible to build a road through them. So the road was routed through Rochester, Plymouth, and South Bend instead before heading to Michigan City.

The marshes were drained starting in the mid-late 1800s, and by 1920 the work was complete. While it opened up a huge amount of incredibly fertile farmland, it also destroyed the habitat for a number of wildlife species.

With the advent of the automobile, Indiana was again interested in building the direct road between Logansport and Michigan City. They built it in the 1930s as highway US 35, which runs right through Knox. Were it not for the marshlands, Knox could have been a Michigan Road town!

Small world department: WKVI morning host Charlie Adams was the sports anchor on WSBT-TV in my hometown starting in the late 1980s, and I used to watch him when I’d go home to visit my family. Near the end of the clip above Charlie talks about a motivational talk he gave at my high school with the South Bend Police Chief Information Officer, who arrived in the gym on his motorcycle.

Road Trips

The end of the Dayton Cutoff

My road-loving colleague Denny Gibson tells the story best, but when the National Road was laid out across Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, the Federal Government mandated that the highway be laid out as straight as possible between the three states’ capitals. That meant that the road would not pass through the Ohio towns of Eaton and Dayton, which irked officials there. So they took matters into their own hands, building a road from Springfield, through Dayton and Eaton, to the eastern edge of Richmond just inside Indiana. They put up blatantly false signs at either end proclaiming it to be the National Road and even duplicated the National Road’s milestones along the route. It worked; more traffic followed what became known as the Dayton Cutoff than followed the National Road — so much so that this road was improved while the competing section of the National Road was not.

This lasted until the 1920s, when the current numbered route system was instituted, the National Road was signed as US 40, and Ohio state highway funds finally improved the National Road west of Springfield. US 40 became the favored road, even though the Dayton Cutoff was signed as US 35 between Richmond and Dayton.

Here’s where the Dayton Cutoff and the National Road coverge on Richmond’s east end. The Cutoff is highlighted in blue. The Eaton and Dayton subterfuge was so successful that, in Indiana, the Dayton Cutoff is signed as Old National Road even today!

You can still drive most of the Dayton Cutoff. Unfortunately, a railroad crossing was removed just inside Indiana, orphaning its last half mile. Here’s what that orphaned section looks like now, heading east.

End of the Dayton Cutoff

This is the where the Cutoff ends in Richmond. The road originally followed the driveway on the left. I assume that, at one time, US 40 was level with that driveway.

End of the Dayton Cutoff

Denny Gibson traveled the whole route a few years ago, taking photos along the way. Check out his trip report.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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!

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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.

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History, Road Trips

A historic byway

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 alignment

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.

Michigan Road, Decatur County, Indiana

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.

Michigan Road at I-465

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!

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