Road Trips

The Michigan Road in Jefferson County, Indiana

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 Michigan Road begins in Jefferson County, Indiana, along the north edge of old Madison, about six blocks north of the Ohio River. It begins at West Street’s north end, at the green arrowhead on the map below. The Michigan Road is the curvy road that runs west from the arrowhead.

And so begins the Michigan Road.

The Michigan Road begins

The Michigan Road is straight and flat over most of its course – but it sure doesn’t start out that way, as this map shows.

This is known locally as Michigan Hill. I made this shaky handheld video of me driving up the hill.

What the video doesn’t show is how spectacular the views are along this segment. Beyond the first set of curves, where the road turns to head north, you can pull over and take in the view of the river. The trees obscure old Madison.

The Ohio River from the Michigan Road

And here’s the road northbound from this spot.

NB Michigan Road

After making that curve, if you look closely, you’ll see a wall of rock behind the trees on the right.

NB Michigan Road

Incredibly, I found a post card from the 1940s with an image made from the same spot.

The state began maintaining some of the Michigan Road as a highway no later than about 1921. This segment was first called State Road 6, but in a 1928 renumbering it became State Road 29. Except for a detour through Versailles and Osgood, State Road 29 followed the Michigan Road all the way to Logansport. When US 421 was extended into Indiana in 1951, it took over State Road 29’s route to 31 miles south of Logansport. Those 31 miles of the Michigan Road are still State Road 29 today. After US 421 was rebuilt as four lanes in eastern Madison, the first four miles of the Michigan Road became just a city and county road.

This excerpt from a Rand McNally map of no later than 1921 shows the Michigan Road marked State Road 6. The dark square with the number 26 in it corresponds to the Michigan Road in a legend of named auto trails that appears on the map. Next to it is a 1937 Rand McNally (Standard Oil) map excerpt that shows the same segment marked State Road 29, and then a 1959 State Highway Department of Indiana map excerpt showing it labeled US 421. On all three maps, as the highway veers east from Bryantsburg, halfway to Rexville the original Michigan Road turns left off the highway.

Back to the rock wall. At several spots along the wall, water sprays from the rock.

Porous rock

In the winter, this water freezes, as this photo shows.

Frozen Waterfalls

Just around the curve from here stands the Fairmount House, built in 1872. I wrote more about the Fairmount House here.

Fairmount House

This photo shows the Michigan Road southbound from in front of the Fairmount House, giving a sense of having crested Michigan Hill. Walking along the Michigan Road here is dangerous. Cars routinely exceed the speed limit along this narrow and winding segment, as I learned walking it to take all these photographs. I could feel a rush of air as each one whizzed by while I took these photos. A fellow on a moped even stopped to tell me he thought I was nuts for being on foot here.

SB Michigan Road from Fairmount House

Beyond the Fairmount House, the Michigan Road straightens and heads straight north for the next few miles.

Many cemeteries lie along the Michigan Road. It’s not surprising; the road brought people who built towns on it or farmed near it; these people lived and died near the road and so it’s appropriate that they’re buried along it. But the first graves encountered today along the road are of people who lived and died as far as 10 miles away from the road. In 1940, the US Army built the Jefferson Proving Ground on 55,000 acres of land that had, until then, held farms and towns. Homes, churches, and schools were simply left behind, but the Army moved every cemetery within the JPG to a spot along the Michigan Road not quite four miles south of JPG’s south border. Each has a short sign, like what you’d see on a street corner, announcing the place from where these graves came.

Displaced cemeteries 3

Can you imagine the job of moving all these graves?

Displaced cemeteries 2

Everyone here has been at rest since the 1940s, but flowers are still being left on many of these graves. Somebody still remembers.

Displaced cemeteries 1

Shortly the road intersects with State Road 62. Until the mid 1990s, this was State Road 107, which turned north and followed the Michigan Road until US 421 merged with it. On the map below, the Michigan Road is the north-south road on the left.

This photo shows the Michigan Road curving to where it meets US 421.

Michigan Road approaching US 421

The Michigan Road, of course, originally went straight through. You can see remnants of the old road on this map.

This is what the abandoned section looks like today. It provides access to the building on the left. Notice how the utility poles follow the old road.

Abandoned Michigan Road segment

Back on US 421, shortly a fence appears on the west side of the road. It is the boundary of a former army installation, the Jefferson Proving Ground, which consumes 55,000 acres in Jefferson, Ripley, and Jennings Counties. Established in 1940 as World War II loomed, the facility tested ammunition, firing its first round in 1941 and its last in 1995. Until the government moved in, this land had been farmed by four generations of Hoosiers. These farmers had little, but built towns and schools and churches and cemeteries. The counties, presumably, built roads and bridges to connect them. And so they lived, but when the Army moved them off their land almost all of this infrastructure was left behind. Some of it still stands.

Jefferson Proving Ground

Looking southbound from this cemetery, US 421 rolls gently. JPG’s rusted fence is hard to make out along the west side of the road.

SB Michigan Road (US 421)

Next: Into Ripley County.

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

Road Trips

Madison, Indiana: Anchoring the Michigan Road

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.

Madison is Indiana’s first city. It is said to have been founded in 1809, although the first white settler came in 1808, the city was laid out in 1810, and lots were first sold in 1811. 1809 is also the year surrounding Jefferson County was founded.

Madison rose to prominence between the 1830s and 1850s because of river, road, and rail. Advances in steamboat technology, the building of the Michigan Road, and the building of the state’s first railroad from Madison through Indianapolis to Lafayette made Madison a hub of commerce. Much of old Madison was built during these boom years. But as the railroad overtook river and road as the best way to move goods and people, other rail lines appeared in Indiana and neighboring states. Madison ceased to be a hub, and started to decline in the 1850s. With no significant new industries, and the new construction that goes with it, coming to Madison, the city maintained the buildings it had. This has left the old city nearly intact today, with most of downtown and many other homes and businesses around the city listed on the National Historic Register.

To put the Michigan Road in its proper context, I started at the Ohio River and worked my way north through Madison. At left in this photo the Madison-Milton Bridge carries US 421 over the river. A barge, curiously named Barbara, pushes its way east. I took this photo from a place where spectators gather to watch the annual Madison Regatta, a boat race that has roots back to the 1800s.

Ohio River at Madison, Indiana

Just east of this site lies a boat ramp from the river. On one trip to Madison, I was lucky to happen upon the Delta Queen waiting at the ramp. The Delta Queen has since ceased to cruise the rivers.

The Delta Queen

The ramp leads directly to West St., which ends six blocks north at the Michigan Road. This photo shows the Madison-Milton Bridge a little more clearly, although I know of a Madison photographer who captured it better than i could ever hope to.

Boat ramp, Madison

Looking from the top of the ramp, West Street leads north toward downtown Madison and the Michigan Road.

West Street northbound from the Ohio River

Old Madison is full of old buildings. Some of them appear to need a little TLC, like this one on the northeast corner of 2nd and West Streets. The sign calls it the Cinnamon Tea Room.

The Cinnamon Tea Room

On the northeast corner at this intersection is “The Feed Mill,” a consignment and auction shop.

The Feed Mill

Shepley’s Tavern, in operation since 1867, is at 322 West St. This is just around the corner from Main St., also called State Road 56.

Shepley's Tavern

Before we continue north on West Street, let’s explore downtown Madison. Not too long ago, Madison’s Main St. was lined with businesses that served Madison – an assortment of places to buy shoes and clothes, get your prescription filled, take in a movie, deposit your paycheck, or have a soda. Even 50 years ago, many of these buildings were serving their second, third, or maybe fourth purposes. Today, downtown Madison’s focus has changed to antique stores, galleries, bars, and cafes.

The first building I noticed when I reached Main St. was the Ohio Theatre, which anomalously dates to 1936. It replaced a theater on this site that burned. I understand that it shows the movie Some Came Running, which was shot in Madison, once a year. It stands just east of West St. on the north side of the street.

The Ohio Theatre

A little bit down the street stands the Madison Bank and Trust Co. building, built in 1833. In this era of bank mergers, it became a Mainsource Bank in 2005, but fortunately this building retains its old signs.

Madison Bank and Trust Co.

US 421 meets Main St. along Jefferson St. This photo shows the northwest corner.

NW corner Main and Jefferson

Downtown appears to end at Jefferson St., so I surveyed the south side of Main St. Here’s the southwest corner of this intersection.

SW corner Main and Jefferson

From a different angle, here are the two buildings on the southeast corner today. Inglis Drugs, the brown brick building, is a nightclub now. The building east of it hasn’t seen maintenance in a while, but the building east of that got a new facade along the way.

Main at Mulberry

Here’s what it looks like to stroll along Main St.

Madison street scene

I hear that Hinkle Hamburgers is more than just a great neon sign – it’s also great burgers made from beef ground fresh on the premises. Unfortunately, I had my dogs on a leash with me this day and couldn’t go in.

Hinkle Hamburgers

By this time I had reached the western edge of downtown. Here’s the view eastward from here. Except for the modern cars, Main St. looks like a photo plate from an old book.

Downtown Madison, Indiana

Still looking eastbound, here’s the intersection with West Street. Turn left and you head toward the Michigan Road.

Downtown Madison

In the first block of West Street north of Main, the old City Hall stands. It was damaged after a 2006 fire next door. It was built in 1879 and received a new facade in 1925.

City hall

Next door to the old City Hall stands the Elks building, a burned-out shell since August, 2006. (More on this building here and here.)

Burned BPOE

Just north, on the northeast corner at Third St., stands this building, which houses Historic Madison, Inc. It previously housed churches of two denominations and a mortuary.

Wendell Auditorium

A home and the oldest operating fire station in Indiana, built in 1848, sit on the northwest corner at Third St.

NW corner West and 3rd

Moving north to the southeast corner at Fifth St., painted advertisements continue to fade on the Madison Creamery building.

Advertising 1

The Michigan Road is in sight. A sign warns heavy trucks to stay off the Michigan Road and follow US 421 instead. A bridge carries the road over a canal.

Canal bridge

Here’s a look at the canal, eastbound. This was part of the Indiana Central Canal.


This house, on the southeast corner where West St. meets the Michigan Road, seems to anchor the road.

House at the start of the Michigan Road

Many who followed the Michigan Road to northern Indiana’s opportunities did so by following West St. north from the river to where it ended and the Michigan Road began.

First Michigan Road sign

Next: The beginning of the Michigan Road along Michigan Hill.

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

New old-style barn

New old barn
Canon PowerShot S95

I took a 25-mile bike ride recently. I’m toying with doing a multi-day bike tour late this summer, and I need to both train for it, and also see what it’s like to take long rides on a 35-year-old bike as a 53-year-old man. I discovered that the wide, springy seat on my Schwinn is comfortable on a long ride. I also discovered that my lower back starts to ache at about mile 20. I’m going to see if raising my handlebars helps with that.

My route took me up the Michigan Road for about 4½ miles. Here the road is US 421 and therefore a fairly busy highway. The tour I am considering will be all along a highway, so I want to build familiarity with riding on them.

I slipped my Canon PowerShot S95 into the little bag that hangs off my seat. I have passed this barn a number of times while driving by, but never really studied it before. Doesn’t it look like a new barn built in an old style? I didn’t photograph this barn as part of my 2008 survey of the Michigan Road, but Google did for Street View. Have a look here. It looks like this is an old barn with a new skin. I don’t know anything about barn preservation but this seems like a cool way to go about it to me.

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single frame: New old barn

A new barn on an old road.

Road Trips

Michigan Road historic marker in Boone County, Indiana

Not long ago I shared photos of the new historic marker on the Michigan Road at Sycamore Row. It’s one of several historic markers along the 270-mile route built in the 1830s.

One marker is not far from my home in Boone County. Placed in 1966, it tells the road’s story in thumbnail.

Michigan Road marker

This marker received a restoration since I first photographed it in 2008. The Indiana Historical Bureau, which manages these markers statewide, seeks volunteers to repaint faded markers. This one found its volunteer somewhere along the way.

Historical marker

This marker stands on the west side of the road, at Valley Meadow Road, which is north of E CR 550 S and south of E CR 500 S in Boone County.

Michigan Road marker

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Film Photography, Road Trips

Kodak Vericolor III on the Michigan Road

When I made my recent Friday-day-off trip up the Michigan Road to see the Sycamores, I also brought my Yashica-12 along, loaded with Kodak Vericolor III expired since July of 1986. I shot this ISO 160 film at at EI 80 to tame the ravages of time. Here’s the Carnegie library in Kirklin.

Kirklin Carnegie Library

This is the Mathews house, in southern Carroll County. It’s part of a farm that’s been in the same family for more than 100 years, which makes it a Hoosier Homestead.

Mathews house, Michigan Road

I should have moved in closer to this barn, as it’s the star of this show and who needs to see all of that flat blue sky? This is in Clinton County, I think.

Michigan Road farm

Here’s the abandoned school I wrote about a couple weeks ago. It’s in Middlefork in Clinton County.

Abandoned schoolhouse, Middlefork

Naturally, I made several photos of Sycamore Row with the Y-12.

Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row
Sycamore Row

Finally, not many people know that this grassy lane that heads west from the south end of Sycamore Row was once State Road 218. It hasn’t been that highway in a very long time. SR 218 still exists. It was moved decades ago about a quarter mile to the north, just past the north end of Sycamore Row, so it didn’t have to cross Deer Creek.

Old SR 218

The Vericolor III performed pretty well at EI 80 — much better than it did at EI 100 and 125, as I shot it last time. Still, some photos suffered from a little haze and grain that I couldn’t Photoshop away.

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Road Trips

Work in progress: Kirklin’s streetscape, on Indiana’s Michigan Road

Friday I had most of the day off, so I went for a drive up the Michigan Road. I’d heard that a new streetscape was being built in tiny Kirklin, so I stopped to see the progress.

Kirklin streetscape project
Kirklin streetscape project
Kirklin streetscape project
Kirklin streetscape project

The new sidewalks even extend around the corners, for about a block.

Kirklin streetscape project

When I first visited Kirklin, while surveying the Michigan Road in 2008, several shop owners stopped me to find out why I was photographing their town. When I explained, they all lamented that despite being only about 45 minutes north of Indianapolis, they seldom got visitors from there, and they were all barely getting by in their shops.

Many of Kirklin’s builidngs were in dilapidated condition then. In the intervening years, many have been renovated and filled with antique and arty-crafty shops. Most of them are open only on the weekends. But there’s critical mass in Kirklin now, where there wasn’t in 2008. It’s worth the Saturday or Sunday drive to spend a couple hours looking through these shops and perhaps getting a bite in one of the restaurants.

The new streetscape will only enhance Kirklin’s appeal. Bravo to them.

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