Road Trips

Climbing Michigan Hill in Madison, Indiana

I wonder if schoolchildren in Madison, Indiana, are taught about the Michigan Road when they study Indiana history. It would be a shame if they weren’t, for this historic road begins in their town.

Michigan at West

Every road begins somewhere, after all, and this one begins north of Madison’s historic downtown, at the top of West Street.

MRMadison

Imagery and map data © 2018 Google

If you’ve driven the Michigan Road anywhere else along its 270-mile length you know it is, by and large, flat and straight. But its first 8/10 of a mile winds its way up a steep hill. The stars on the map mark the beginning of the road and the top of the hill. It’s an exhilarating start to this historic road!

The Michigan Road was built in the early 1830s to connect Madison, then the state’s largest city, to the new capital at Indianapolis, and then to Lake Michigan. It passed through Greensburg, Shelbyville, Logansport, Rochester, Plymouth, and South Bend on its way to its end at Lake Michigan in Michigan City.

Most of Indiana is flat, but this state’s southern counties feature rugged terrain. That’s in part because of the valley created by the Ohio River, and in part because Ice Age glaciers and their land-flattening effect extended only so far south in what would become Indiana.

Thus, as you begin driving the Michigan Road, you’ll find your car in low gear for the climb.

From the beginning of the Michigan Road

This is the first house on the Michigan Road. It looks like it’s getting some work.

First house on the Michigan Road

It’s challenging to photograph this part of the Michigan Road. There are no shoulders and only a couple pulloffs, and plenty of traffic enters and exits old Madison via this hill. You can’t stand very far back from traffic, and drivers don’t expect to find pedestrians as they round one of the many curves. When I walked this hill in 2008 one motorcycle rider stopped, looked at me incredulously, and asked if I had a death wish! He was right, and I vowed not to do it again. So this time we photographed only the bottom, and then the top, of Michigan Hill. Fortunately, I photographed the hill extensively in 2008. The next three photos are from that walk.

NB Michigan Road

The Ohio River is visible from one of the pulloffs. The hill in the distance is Kentucky.

The Ohio River from the Michigan Road

Modern cars have little trouble climbing Michigan Hill, but most early automobiles would have struggled.

NB Michigan Road

Back to 2018 now and at the top of the hill, where you’ll find the Fairmount House. I photographed it extensively in 2008, and shared those photos and what I know about the house here. It was for sale at the time.

Fairmount House

The house hasn’t changed in 10 years, but the landscaping sure has. It blocked every clear angle to bring the whole house into the photo.

Fairmount House

But it’s a lovely property, made even lovelier by landscaping.

Fairmount House

Here’s a view down Michigan Hill from the Fairmount House.

Michigan Road SB at Fairmount House

Just beyond where the road levels out stands this monument to the road, placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution the same year the U.S. highway system was born. This portion of the Michigan Road would eventually become US 421, but in 1926 it was assigned number 29 in Indiana’s State Road system.

Honored by the DAR

If you ever drive the Michigan Road from end to end, you’ll find that from here on out the hills and valleys are slight and the curves are gentle.

I shot some shaky handheld video of the ascent in 2008. It’ll give you a good flavor of what the drive is like.

Canon PowerShot S95 (and Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom for the 2008 photos)

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The beginning of the Michigan Road

The beginning of the Michigan Road
Canon PowerShot S95
2018

When I surveyed the Michigan Road end to end in 2008, I failed to photograph this marker at the road’s beginning. The Daughters of the American Revolution placed it in 1916, on the occasion of Indiana’s centennial.

Margaret and I have made our first trip on our re-survey of the road. We did not fail to photograph the marker this time!

Sadly, no Michigan Road Historic Byway wayfinding signs were present. One should stand near this rock with a “Begin” sign under it, and another should stand across the street with an “End” sign under it. They have gone missing.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: The beginning of the Michigan Road

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Photography, Road Trips

Ten years ago on the Michigan Road

It was ten years ago this summer that I surveyed the entire Michigan Road, a project that contributed directly to a later project I co-led to have the road named a Historic Byway in Indiana. My wife and I wanted to re-survey the entire road this summer to document it as it is now. Given all that’s happened this year, we have yet to start. Other priorities continue to fill our summer. We will be fortunate to drive one or two segments of it this year. Perhaps we can finish it next year.

I drove the road to South Bend last Wednesday for a Historic Michigan Road Association board meeting. I noticed how much has changed just on that section of the road in ten years. It led me to think about changes I’ve noticed as I’ve driven other sections of the road over the years. I’m itching to start the new survey!

I made a quick pass through my 2008 photos and selected ten that pleased me as photographs. I was a beginning photographer then. Have a look.

NB Michigan Road

Madison, near the Michigan Road’s southern end.

Fairmount House

The Fairmount House, Madison.

Stone bridge, Michigan Road

Stone bridge, Ripley County.

Michigan Road, Decatur County, Indiana

A curvy section of road in Decatur County.

Dodge in Pleasant View

Old Dodge parked just off the road, Shelby County.

Waterman Hardware in Five Points

Waterman Hardware, one of Indianapolis’s oldest businesses.

Dunkin' Donuts

Brand new Dunkin’ Donuts preparing to open — it has since closed — Indianapolis.

Bar-B-Q Heaven

Bar-B-Q Heaven, Indianapolis.

1884 building

1884 building, Plymouth.

Approaching South Bend

Approaching South Bend. The Michigan Road is no longer US 31 here; a new-terrain US 31 was built nearby.

Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom

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Road Trips

I love the Michigan Road, but I don’t always like living near it

The Michigan Road sucks. At least it does where it passes near my northwest Indianapolis home.

It’s still the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan, opening the entire northern part of Indiana to settlement. I will always love it.

But a long section of the road has been a part of my daily life for more than 20 years, and frankly, I try to avoid driving on it.

As a major artery, Michigan Road’s speed limit is 45 MPH. Especially since the late 1990s when the last portion of the road was widened to four lanes, traffic really flows fast. The road is designed to swiftly move lots of cars. Yet lots of businesses and even entrances to residential neighborhoods line the road. People turn left all the time, and there is no central left-turn lane. Rear-end accidents are common. It has happened to me twice.

MRBumperBash1

These photos are from the first accident, which happened a half block south of the 1852 Aston Inn house. Can I admit to still feeling satisfied, even five years later, that the other guy’s car sustained so much more damage than mine and was probably totaled? I was stopped behind a car turning left when I noticed this guy coming up fast. The crash was unavoidable, so I pressed hard on my brake to avoid hitting the waiting car before me. It’s amazing the crash didn’t do more damage to my car. And yes, someone’s head smacked the other car’s windshield in the accident. That fellow disappeared the minute I called the cops. Arrest warrant? Here illegally? Hope the concussion was worth it.

MRBumperBash2

Lesson learned: drive in the right lane, even if left-lane traffic is moving faster. The frequent left turns just create too much risk.

MR_NW_Ind

Imagery and map data © 2017 Google.

Meanwhile, this 2½-mile section of Michigan Road, from Kessler Boulevard north just beyond 71st Street to the former town of Augusta, has seen happier days. It’s a sad sight to drive through.

This strip’s heyday was probably the 1960s and 1970s when this road was still US 421. A building boom brought strip malls, grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, and motels.

Today, those strip malls are aging. You won’t find a Kroger or a Target here — it’s all second- and third-tier retailers and service providers. The motels, gas stations, and restaurants that remain have been repurposed for other uses. Many of these buildings have received minimal maintenance and show their age.

This mishmash of shabby businesses provides a poor introduction to the area, which is filled with middle-class neighborhoods.

This used to be a shoe-repair shop, but has been vacant for a while.

Pink building

I applaud the creative reuse of this former motel as a day care, but I wish it could be made more attractive.

Kiddie Factory

This aging strip of shops is at least kept tidy. The barber shop owner gave his overhead sign a fresh coat of paint in the last couple years; it had faded to near illegibility.

Barber

The pedestrian trail built a few years ago robbed this little strip of some of its parking. I can’t imagine that these tenants were happy about it. Here’s a 2008 photo that shows cars parked at these doors.

Getting your hair done on the Michigan Road

Mr. Dan’s is a small local burger chain. I photographed it in 2015:

Mr. Dan's

I don’t know what happened that the joint is called Mr. Dee’s now, but their reuse of the existing signs has all the grace and style of a knuckle sandwich.

Mr. Dee's

Ace Lock and Key has been on this corner for longer than I’ve lived in Indianapolis. This building looks like its first use was as a gas station. It’s an attractive little building.

Ace Lock and Key

When I mentioned the kinds of retailers you won’t find along this stretch of Michigan Road, I mentioned Kroger and Target specifically because this strip once contained both. Kroger was on the left, and Target was on the right. They moved out just before I moved to the area, and the buildings were vacant for years. Now it’s a grading facility for school standardized tests.

Fomer Target/Kroger strip

The strip mall on the southwest corner with 71st Street/Westlane Road has changed a lot since I moved here. This was once a full-line Marsh grocery store, but for most of the time I lived here it was a dim, dirty store with only basic grocery items. They chained up the carts. Someone at the service desk had to come unlock one so you could use it. Such class. Then Marsh closed it and discount chain Save-A-Lot moved in. Unfortunately, they also tore out Marsh’s attractive facade and rebuilt it with this windowless wonder. At least it didn’t go vacant.

Save-a-Lot

Across the street is the dry cleaner I’ve used all the years I’ve lived here. It was once a drive-in restaurant.

Griffith Cleaners

By all accounts, the food at this Vietnamese restaurant is delicious. The former fast-food building could use some love, however.

Pho 54

Here’s another tidy, aging strip. The clock-repair shop has been there longer than I’ve lived here. I had them repair a watch once, and they did a nice job.

Strip mall

It sure seems to me that this solidly middle class part of town would be able to attract higher-line businesses and improved facades.

Houses are sometimes sandwiched between the various commercial buildings along this section of Michigan Road. Many of them have seen happier days.

House on Michigan Road

A few houses have been well cared for, but it’s far easier to find ones that could use some TLC.

MCM

Over the years some buildings have seen great improvement. This building was vacant for years, and was clearly in sorry condition a couple years ago when this funeral center bought it and renovated it.

Serenity Funeral Services

St. Monica’s Catholic church and school has always been well cared for. A couple years ago, fire destroyed the section of the building at about the center of the photo. The church immediately rebuilt it.

St. Monica's

When I moved here, this U-Haul location was dingy and depressing. Some years ago it was renovated inside and out, and looks great.

U-Haul

This lot was vacant for a long time until this church was built.

Praise Fellowship Family Center

A bowling alley once stood on this lot, but it went out of business five years ago or so. This storage place opened only in the last year or so, and its graceless design says “industrial park” more than “shopping district.” Its setback from the road is also considerably shallower than anything else nearby, which makes it an imposing presence. It’s wrong for this section of the road.

Storage

A few auto-parts places were built along this corridor in the last 10 years or so, and they’re well kept. This is the one I visit most often.

Advance Auto Parts

I do understand this much about retail: the shiny, new shops always go where the money has moved to. If you drive just four miles north of here on Michigan Road, into Carmel, you’ll find solid retailers like Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s, and The Home Depot, plus shiny chain restaurants and coffee shops. Perhaps that’s why this section of Michigan Road is left to molder. It only takes ten extra minutes to get to the nice shops from here.

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Road Trips

Historical structures on the Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis

On my recent bike ride up the Michigan Road pedestrian trail in northwest Indianapolis, I passed a number of historical structures that I photographed when I surveyed the Michigan Road in 2008. Surprisingly, they have changed very little! Here are some then-and-now photos where the then and the now are pretty similar.

While the old Crooked Creek School building was demolished in the 1980s, the entrance arch remains allegedly on its original spot just north of Kessler Boulevard. Here it is in 2008.

School No. 7 / Crooked Creek Elementary School

And here it is in 2017. Sadly, the top of the structure is a little damaged. How does damage like that even happen?

Arch at Crooked Creek School

This 1840s farmhouse at 6358 Michigan Road was vacant and for sale in 2008.

1840s farmhouse, 64th and Michigan

It remained vacant for a long time before someone finally bought it and lived in it. I think it’s been sold one more time since then. I live around the corner from this house and drive by frequently. I’ve watched many exterior improvements be made — all faithful, thanks to protective covenants Indiana Landmarks placed on the house.

1840s farmhouse

A you-pick blueberry patch went in next door. It is kind of startling to find such a thing within the city limits! I’m pretty sure it’s run by the people in this old farmhouse.

Blueberry patch

The Aston Inn at 6620 Michigan Road was built in 1852 and, for a time, served as an inn for travelers. In those days, it was still a full day’s journey from here to downtown Indianapolis! Here are my 2008 photos.

Aston Inn

Aston Inn

Little has changed in 2017, except that the trees and shrubs in front of the house have grown to block the house. I’m sure the owners hope the greenery will turn down the volume on the traffic noise from always-busy Michigan Road. But it’s a shame not to be able to fully see this great old house.

Aston Inn

Aston Inn

In Augusta, the 1832 Boardman House, at 7716 Michigan Road (right), stands next to this block house that looks to be from the early 20th century. I photographed it in 2008 both before and after the owner de-ivied it.

Augusta

Augusta - Bordman House

Boardman House de-ivied

Boardman House

I met the owner of this house once and he said that it is an extremely sturdily built structure, with walls a foot thick (I think) on the bottom story and hand-hewn exposed beams overhead in the cellar. He has since sold the house. The new owner has cleaned the place up nicely. The block house has been de-ivied, as well.

House in Augusta

The Boardman House

The Boardman House

Across the street, at 7711 Michigan Road, stands this little structure that I feel certain is a log cabin beneath that siding, which looks from a distance to be aluminum. The shape of the house suggests it strongly. The center door is flanked by windows. There’s a large space above the door and windows before the roof begins, suggesting a typical loft above the ground floor. The sloping-roof addition is a classic way to expand a log cabin. I first photographed this house in 2010.

Log cabin?

In 2017, the siding is dirty and the gutter is hanging low — time for a little basic maintenance. But the house still stands. And I’m still dying to know whether I’m right. I hope the owner stumbles upon this post and leaves a comment.

Possible log cabin

Here’s hoping that I can come back with my camera in another nine years and find all of these structures still in good condition.

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History, Road Trips

Tracking the changes at Kessler Blvd. and Michigan Road in northwest Indianapolis

Michigan Road bicycle tripI wish I had started photographing the Michigan Road near my home as soon as I moved to the area in 1995. So much has changed. It would be interesting to have photographs that show the evolution.

But I only started photographing the Michigan Road in 2008 after a lot had already changed. And then I never could have predicted some of the changes that have come.

I live near Michigan Road’s intersection with Kessler Boulevard on Indianapolis’s Northwestside. Michigan Road is the Michigan Road, built in the 1830s to connect the Ohio River to Indianapolis to Lake Michigan. Kessler Boulevard itself has an important place in Indianapolis road history as an early but unfinished attempt at a beltway around the city. In 2013 when the Historic Michigan Road Association erected wayfinding signs along the Michigan Road Historic Byway, I personally donated funds to ensure signs would be placed at Kessler Boulevard.

MR signs at Kessler/Michigan

Over the last 20 years or so, commercial structures have been replaced and some land has been cleared to build new commercial structures. That happens all the time on any major road. But this is the major road I live nearest. These changes affect my everyday life. Here’s a 2017 aerial image of the intersection, courtesy MapIndy. On the northwest corner is Crooked Creek School, which has been there since 1837. On the northeast corner is a Starbucks; behind it is a Walgreens. On the southeast corner is a gas station and a McDonald’s; a Walmart Neighborhood Market is to its south. And on the southwest corner is a building with a fried-fish joint and a physical-therapy office, and a car repair garage.

KesslerMichigan2017

The first change was on the southwest corner. Crooked Creed flows close to the road here, creating a narrow wedge of a lot. When I moved to the area in 1995, the Gillum family operated a large and popular produce stand on it from spring to autumn. In the late 1990s they built a building on the site and operated their stand all year, adding a deli counter and high-quality and organic grocery items. While I applauded their attempt and stopped in frequently, the store failed within a couple years. I don’t know the real story, but I assume that this middle-class neighborhood couldn’t support Gillum’s quality goods and associated high prices. I wonder also if the lot’s awkward access hurt the business — its’ challenging to turn left off Michigan into the lot, or left out of the lot onto Michigan. The building stood vacant for a long time before it was reconfigured and a Dunkin’ Donuts moved into its south half. Fisher’s Fish and Chicken later moved into the north half. Dunkin’ Donuts didn’t make it (despite my near-daily patronage!) and later a physical-therapy office moved in. Here’s how the site looks in 2017.

Fisher

Its neighbor to the south, the Michigan Road Auto Center, has been steadily serving customers the whole time I’ve lived here. They’ve had a front-row seat to all of these changes!

Michigan Road Auto Service

The second change was the Amoco/BP station on the northeast corner was razed so that a Starbucks could be built. It’s been there for quite some time now, as my 2008 photo shows.

Kessler and Michigan

Little has changed on the northwest corner — Crooked Creek School isn’t going anywhere. The first photo below is from 2008. The second photo, from 2017, shows the 1924 concrete-arch bridge on Kessler Boulevard over Crooked Creek. The third photo shows the new pedestrian trail the city built along Michigan Road where it passes by the school property.

Kessler and Michigan

Kessler Blvd. bridge

Trail

Things have changed the most in this intersection’s southeast quadrant. For years, it was large wooded area next to a large lot with an abandoned-looking one-story brick building. I never photographed the building, but an old house faced the street in the wooded area.

House along the road

This McDonald’s stands in about this location today.

McDonald's

The McDonald’s came after a Walmart Neighborhood Market was built on part of the wooded lot and where the brick building used to be. While I’m not a giant Walmart fan and would have been happier with a Kroger, having a grocery store here at all has been a giant blessing and has made this part of town a lot more livable.

Walmart site

That great old house wasn’t demolished, thank goodness. It was moved to the end of a dead-end street that borders the Walmart property. Here it is behind Walmart’s fence.

House on Michigan Road, moved

I lifted my camera up over the fence to get this shot of the back of the property. As you can see, even the outbuildings were moved.

House on Michigan Road, moved

Completing this intersection’s transition, a Shell station built in the 80s was razed in favor of a new, larger convenience store and gas station. This was one of the few Shell stations remaining in the area with this style of canopy, and I was sad to see it go. But it really is nice to have a full-scale convenience store here now.

Shell

Former Shell station

Circle K

Frankly, the section of Michigan Road from Kessler north a couple miles to just past 71st St. is pretty depressed. When Walmart went in I hoped it would encourage a rebirth north of Kessler, but so far little has changed. I’ll share some photos in an upcoming post.

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