Road Trips

The Michigan Road and the National Road in Downtown Indianapolis

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

The Downtown Indianapolis portion of the Michigan Road follows Washington St., which is the old National Road and former US 40, west. Originally, it turned north on Meridian Street, went around the Circle, and proceeded to Ohio Street. It turned west onto Ohio and then northwest on Indiana Avenue. Unfortunately, that portion of Indiana Avenue no longer exists. But when it did, the Michigan Road followed Indiana Avenue to what is now West Street. To stay on the Michigan Road, you veer slightly left onto Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Street, which used to be known as Northwestern Avenue.

Let’s start at the eastern end of this route. A couple blocks before entering the Mile Square, which is the heart of Indianapolis’s Downtown, the road passes under this hulking railroad overpass.

Railroad overpass at College Ave.

I’ve been fascinated by this structure as long as I’ve lived in Indianapolis because it is so imposing. Travel lanes are narrow, as this shot of College Ave. shows.

Railroad overpass at College Ave.

From about East St., Downtown looms. Since 2008, has been reconfigured to add a bicycle trail and Bus Rapid Transit lanes.

Downtown Indianapolis

The City-County Building went up in 1962 and is now the seat of the merged city-county government. Since 2008, the courtyard in front of the City-County Building has been converted into a park.

City-County Building

Indiana’s tallest building, the Chase Tower, is visible behind the City-County Building.

Indiana's tallest building

The Broadbent Building may look brand new, but its skeleton dates back to 1960. Once known as “the zipper building” because of its trapezoidal windows, the facade was removed in 2007 and this facade was put in its place. But what was here before that was a grand and imposing structure made of cut stone called the Vance Block, which was built in 1875 and razed in 1959. This page has photos of the Vance Block, photos of Washington St. in the late 1800s, and even one photo of the zipper building.

The Broadbent Building

Dunkin’ Donuts was preparing to open in this building on the day I took this photograph. The building once housed a Roselyn Bakery, a popular local chain that went out of business some years ago. The V-shaped sign is adapted from the original Roselyn sign. If you drive around Indianapolis, you’ll see plenty of these veed signs next to buildings that house any number of businesses today. Here’s a 1998 photo of this corner from when this building was still Roselyn Bakery. Since 2008, Dunkin’ Donuts closed. This space is now a Five Guys burger joint. Five Guys adapted and kept the big V sign.

Dunkin' Donuts

All is not bright and shiny in Downtown Indianapolis, unfortunately. Like most cities, Indianapolis lived through years of malaise, and much evidence of it remains. Since 2008, much restoration has happened and this block looks a lot better.

Facades

Indianapolis did not get modern skyscrapers until the City-County building was built in 1962, making this one of the city’s tallest buildings for many years.

Tall

This mural, “The Runners,” is by James McQuiston. It is on the south side of Washington St. just east of Meridian St. This mural was painted over in 2020, after deteriorating badly.

The Runners

The Victoria Centre building, which I understand is being converted into condos.

Victoria Centre

The decaying McOuat building on the left was supposed to become condos a few years ago, but those plans apparently never materialized. Since 2008, the McOuat building was restored; see it here.

Blighted, not blighted

I couldn’t fit the entire 17-story Merchants National Bank building, built in 1909 and now called the Barnes and Thornburg building, into a frame. This building’s first floor houses a Borders bookstore. Since 2008, Borders moved out and a bank moved in.

Borders in the Merchants Bank building

Until the City-County building was built, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, completed in 1901 at 284 feet, was the tallest structure in Indianapolis. The Statue of Liberty is only 15 feet taller! Imagine how, before Indianapolis’s skyscrapers began to be built in earnest in the 1980s, the Monument had to dominate the Indianapolis skyline. Today, the tall buildings block the view, unless you look down Market St. or Meridian St. at it. This photo looks north up Meridian St. to the monument.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

This building was the flagship of H. P. Wasson and Co., an Indianapolis-based department store chain that closed in 1980. It stands on the northwest corner of Washington and Meridian.

Northwest corner, Washington and Meridian

On the southwest corner stands the shell of the L. S. Ayres and Co. building. L.S. Ayres was Indiana’s premier department store for many decades, but consolidation in that industry and decreasing Downtown shopping ended this store’s Downtown days in 1991. Its suburban and out-of-town locations continued for several more years, but today the Ayres name is gone. All the former locations are now Macy’s. Today, this building is part of Circle Centre Mall. Typical of the mall project, the facades of many buildings were kept and incorporated into the mall. Carson Pirie Scott now uses the first three stories of the building.

Circle Centre Mall

Because the original route of the Michigan Road can’t be fully followed from here, I decided to stay on Washington Street all the way to West Street, and then turn north onto West Street. This is ultimately how we routed the Michigan Road Historic Byway.

Looking west down Washington St., all of these facades front Circle Centre Mall. The Indianapolis Artsgarden spans the intersection of Washington and Illinois Streets.

W. Washington St.

Here’s a closer look at the Artsgarden. The new Conrad hotel is next to it. The Conrad was an empty lot most of the years I’ve lived in Indianapolis. In the background is the Capital Center.

Artsgarden

Continuing westbound on Washington St., the Indiana Repertory Theatre building was built in 1927 as the Indiana Theater, a movie house in the Paramount Publix chain. It was refitted for IRT’s use in 1980.

Indiana Repertory Theatre

The Indiana Statehouse was completed in 1888 and continues to house Indiana’s executive offices, the State Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court.

Statehouse

Standing quietly in front of the Statehouse is this monument to the National Road. It was placed here in 1916 as part of Indiana’s centennial celebration to commemorate the Road’s role in Indiana’s settlement. No doubt, many who came from points east followed the Michigan Road from here to settle in northern Indiana.

National Road monument

On the opposite corner stands the Old Trails Building, completed in 1928 to house the Old Trails Automobile Insurance Association. Washington St. was not only part of the National Road and the Michigan Road, but also the National Old Trails Road, which was established in 1912 and connected Baltimore to Los Angeles. Presumably, the insurance company was named for the road. Check out this photo taken just after the building was built.

Old Trails Building

Shortly I came upon West Street, where I turned north. This map shows how West becomes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Street at Indiana Avenue. The National Road continues west on Washington Street, so we leave it behind here.

Military Park stands on the southwest corner of West and New York Streets. It’s Indianapolis’s oldest park, originally used to train the militia and, later, as an encampment for Civil War soldiers. It also hosted the first Indiana State Fairs. This shelter house is the current centerpiece of the park.

Military Park

Next: The Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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Preservation

For sale: The Huddleston Farmhouse, an 1841 farmstead on Indiana’s National Road

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Indiana Landmarks has owned this property since 1974 — they’ve even kept their Eastern Regional Office in it. But now they’ve listed it for sale, at the incredible price of $349,000.

The property includes the 14-room 1841 farmhouse, the pumphouse, the barn, and an undisclosed amount of land.

Indiana Landmarks keeps the grounds open to National Road travelers much of the year. Occasionally, they open the house and barn for tours. I’ve been fortunate to be on one of those tours and shared extensive photos in this article and this article. But here are a few photos of the interior. This is the kitchen.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

This is the dining room.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

This is the formal parlor.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Anything built before about 1850 qualifies as “very old” in Indiana. If you’d like to live in one of Indiana’s oldest houses, on the historic National Road near Cambridge City, Indiana, see this listing for more details.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Visiting Vigo County, Indiana, on the National Road and US 40

On my bicycle ride across Indiana, I had pedaled through Wayne, Henry, Hancock, Marion, Hendricks, Putnam, and Clay Counties when I reached the last county of the trip, Vigo. This county borders Illinois and was the end of my trip.

It began to rain steadily as I rode off State Road 340 back onto US 40, and thus into Vigo County. My front handbrake was useless, and my handlebars were too slippery to hold. My rear coaster brake still stopped the bike, albeit slowly; it made riding not completely unsafe. I knew I would not make it to the Illinois line this day. My friend Michael lives near downtown Terre Haute, so I made his home my final destination.

Before I reached Terre Haute I passed through tiny Seelyville. There you’ll find Kleptz’s Restaurant, which has been operating since before I went to college just down the road from here at Rose-Hulman in the late 1980s.

Kleptz' Restaurant, Seelyville, IN

As you can see, Kleptz’s is a big old house. Some friends of mine stopped in for a drink back in the late 80s and they described sitting in Kleptz’s as like sitting in someone’s living room.

I’m a big fan of old neon signs. There used to be a good one on this building, but it’s been gone since 2009. When I photographed it that August, I didn’t know it was doomed.

Kleptz Bar

I don’t normally photograph modern gas stations on my trips, but I did this time.

Casey's, Seelyville, IN

It’s because I remember the building that used to stand on this corner. Here it is from that August, 2009, road trip.

Downtown Seelyville

I photographed this building in the unincorporated town of East Glen because in 1989, freshly graduated from college and looking for an apartment, I considered renting one of the upstairs apartments here. The downstairs was a hair salon even then. (I’m happy I found the apartment I did; read that story here.)

Salon, East Glenn, IN

I’ve photographed this Clabber Girl billboard a number of times over the years. Clabber Girl Baking Powder is one of Terre Haute’s claims to fame. This billboard has been greeting people as they approached town for probably 80 years. Every so often, it receives a restoration.

Clabber Girl billboard

Just beyond the billboard lies Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, the number one undergraduate engineering school in the nation (according to U.S. News and World Report). This is my alma mater.

Entrance to Rose-Hulman, US 40 Terre Haute

Here’s where US 40 meets State Road 46 on the west edge of Rose-Hulman’s campus. Several years ago, US 40 was rerouted to follow SR 46 down to I-70, and then to follow I-70 into Illinois. The National Road, however, continues straight ahead.

US 40 at SR 46

In Terre Haute, I stopped in the rain to have a hot-fudge sundae at this Dairy Queen. It’s on the National Road on the east side of town. A handful of Terre Haute DQ’s had neon signs like this one. They were custom made; you’ll find them only in Terre Haute. This and one other location in town still have them.

DQ, Wabash Ave., Terre Haute

From here, I rode straight to my friend’s house. I really wanted to document the National Road in Terre Haute, especially where it originally passed by the Vigo County Courthouse. That will have to wait for a future dry day.

Margaret drove to Terre Haute to pick me up. My friend, his wife, Margaret, and I all went out for dinner and drinks before Margaret and I headed home. Back in my day, my favorite Terre Haute bar was Sonka’s, on the National Road near downtown. It’s still going!

Sonka's

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.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

State Road 340, an original alignment of US 40 and the National Road in Clay County, Indiana

Until the late 1930s and early 1940s, US 40 was a two-lane highway across Indiana. For the most part, when it was widened to four lanes it was done where the highway already existed. But from the west end of Brazil, in Clay County, to the Vigo County line, a brand new US 40 was built just south of the old. The old US 40 remained a state highway, however, and was given the number 340.

Imagery ©2021 IndianaMap Framework Data, Landsat/Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2021 Google.

Here’s where State Road 340 begins on Brazil’s west edge. US 40 is on the left, and SR 340 is on the right.

US 40/SR 340 (old 40) split

There isn’t much on SR 340 — a couple schools, a couple cemeteries, a bunch of residences and farms, and the unincorporated towns of Billtown and Cloverland.

WB SR 340 - old US 40 - W of Brazil IN

What I like about SR 340 is that it gives a very good idea of what US 40 would be like today had it been improved over the years in its original two-lane configuration.

WB SR 340 in Clay Co.

All of these photos are westbound, including this one from the gas station that stands where SR 340 (on the right) merges with US 40 (on the left) at the Vigo County line.

Where US 40 (left) and SR 340/old US 40 (right) converge

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.

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Preservation, Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Then and now: The McKinley House on the National Road in Clay County, Indiana

I first photographed the McKinley House in 2009 after seeing it as photographed in the 1950s in George Stewart’s book, US 40, Cross Section of the United States of America.

The McKinley House

It was a B&B in those days. It might be yet today for all I know, but what I do know is that its trim has been repainted in black and red.

McKinley House, US 40 Clay Co.

Remarkably, in years gone by a very similar house stood about a mile west of here on the other side of the road. Curiously, it stood in the large lot of the Great Dane factory, which makes trailers that semis pull. It’s been gone for at least a decade now, and all the years I ever observed it, it was a decaying hulk. In its last years it had no windows. Thank heavens for Google Street View, as it keeps a fuzzy record of this house. This image is from October of 2008. Google also has an image from 2009, meaning it still stood when I made my 2009 US 40 road trip. I wish I’d photographed it myself then.

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.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

The houses on the grounds of the Putnamville Correctional Facility

As you pass by the Putnamville Correctional Facility on US 40 in Putnam County, Indiana, you can’t help but notice the brick houses scattered around the property.

There are apparently 25 of them, although when I look at the area on Google Maps I count only 19. I must be missing the rest. They are rented at nominal fee, utilities paid, to key employees of the prison. That way, those people are always close by in case of a crisis.

I’ve long wondered if these houses were built with prison labor.

Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility
Houses on the Putnamville Correctional Facility

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.

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!

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