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The Michigan Road

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If the weather holds, on Saturday I will begin to travel and document the Michigan Road in Indiana.

 

For those who missed my earlier words on this topic, the Michigan Road was built in the 1830s using state funds. Some sources I've read call it the first state highway, but I'm pretty sure the Mauxferry Road and the Madison State Road, both older than the Michigan Road, were built with state funds. But where the Mauxferry Road and the Madison State Road were built to carry people from the south, where the bulk of Indiana's population lived, to Indianapolis, the Michigan Road was built to carry people from the south to the north, allowing the north to be settled.

 

The Michigan Road's original route is mostly intact. I know of only a few exceptions, most notably that some of the road is buried under I-74 southeast of Indianapolis, and a railroad crossing appears to have been removed when US 20 was routed around Rolling Prairie near the Michigan line in the 1940s meaning you can't drive over the tracks anymore. But there's plenty of excellent goodness left. Two one-lane 1800s bridges remain, as do two short one-lane alignments. There are three alignments bypassed by modern highways, at least one of which has never been part of the state highway system. And along the way there are a whole bunch of houses built in the 1800s when the road was new.

 

I'm going to start in Madison on Saturday and take my time. Unlike my usual trips, I will linger as long as I darn well please over any section of the route, and just head home when I run out of daylight. I will keep going back all summer when I can get away, and I'll take the dogs with me as long as they are healthy (my Rottweiler was diagnosed with cancer this week).

 

I will do my usual Web writeups, but since it takes me for-freeking-ever to get to that I'll share the best photos here first. I have slowly been buying old postcards via eBay showing scenes along the route, from south to north, to give a flavor of the road from as much as 100 years ago, and I'll post some of those images too.

 

jim

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If the weather holds, on Saturday I will begin to travel and document the Michigan Road in Indiana.

 

For those who missed my earlier words on this topic, the Michigan Road was built in the 1830s using state funds. Some sources I've read call it the first state highway, but I'm pretty sure the Mauxferry Road and the Madison State Road, both older than the Michigan Road, were built with state funds. But where the Mauxferry Road and the Madison State Road were built to carry people from the south, where the bulk of Indiana's population lived, to Indianapolis, the Michigan Road was built to carry people from the south to the north, allowing the north to be settled.

 

The Michigan Road's original route is mostly intact. I know of only a few exceptions, most notably that some of the road is buried under I-74 southeast of Indianapolis, and a railroad crossing appears to have been removed when US 20 was routed around Rolling Prairie near the Michigan line in the 1940s meaning you can't drive over the tracks anymore. But there's plenty of excellent goodness left. Two one-lane 1800s bridges remain, as do two short one-lane alignments. There are three alignments bypassed by modern highways, at least one of which has never been part of the state highway system. And along the way there are a whole bunch of houses built in the 1800s when the road was new.

 

I'm going to start in Madison on Saturday and take my time. Unlike my usual trips, I will linger as long as I darn well please over any section of the route, and just head home when I run out of daylight. I will keep going back all summer when I can get away, and I'll take the dogs with me as long as they are healthy (my Rottweiler was diagnosed with cancer this week).

 

I will do my usual Web writeups, but since it takes me for-freeking-ever to get to that I'll share the best photos here first. I have slowly been buying old postcards via eBay showing scenes along the route, from south to north, to give a flavor of the road from as much as 100 years ago, and I'll post some of those images too.

 

jim

 

Jim,

 

I, for one, am really eager to see and learn about the Michigan Road! The mere fact that some old alignments and bridges still exist is terrific.

 

I recall when you first got this brainstorm, and I thought then it was a terrific idea. I like the idea even more now!

 

I know you have been pouring over old atlases, but how about library reseach? I think you may have a "virgin" road here, in that it isn't well described in the "popular press." I can see with your "nose" for the old alignments some "firsts" in the making!

 

Don't keep us on the hook too long...get the reports up even if they are not perfect in the first draft.

 

Keep the Show on the Road!!

 

Dave

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I recall trying to find some info on the Michigan Road, and finding primarily legislative mentions….funding requests and the like. It apparently was kind of taken for granted. The few mentions in publications of the time seemed to be of the sort “…they arrived along the Michigan Road,” …. kind of like it was a foregone conclusion that is how they would travel.

 

Apparently you have a good idea of the route from your research. Have you collected any period stories or descriptions yet?

 

I combed the books and magazines of the period that are on line, and found mostly the above sort of stuff. I suppose the other likely resource would be local newspapers. Sometimes historical societies have a run…and a few public libraries have some. I know that some state level libraries and archives also have microfilm they will transfer on an interlibrary loan.

 

Great fun! Fifteen years ago I got interested in the original north south routes here in Western Washington, and did some “original research” in the state historical society archives and on the ground. Finally about a year ago, and totally unrelated to my activities, the society did a TV documentary on them. It was fun to view…and at times I wanted shout “…you missed the steamboat landing…”or the like. It is fun to be the “world expert” on the subject, even if no one knows it!

 

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

Dave

 

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If the weather holds, on Saturday I will begin to travel and document the Michigan Road in Indiana.

I have also been eagerly waiting for you to take this trip, too! I look forward to following along.

 

Chris

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My research has been limited to what I can find on the Internet. This has been a pretty rich resource itself. I've found maps from county atlases going back 150 years that suggest that the Michigan Road is, except for those situations noted earlier, largely fully intact. I find this amazing because it has never had a continuous state designation in the modern era. Today, US 20, US 35, SR 25, SR 29, and US 421 run over parts of it (and a couple state routes multiplex on it for short stretches). In the past, part of Old US 31 ran along it. Even though it is not maintained as a continuous road today, you can get on it in Madison and, except for where it is buried under I-74 and where you can't cross the railroad track east of Rolling Prairie, drive it all the way to Michigan City. I regularly drive the MR from my house to my parents' house in South Bend. I have once driven it from Madison to my house. And I have once driven most of the route between Michigan City and South Bend, missing the endpoint in Mich City, a bypassed alignment through unincorporated Springville, and the bypassed alignment through Rolling Prairie.

 

So while I intend to do the library research, I have decided to do it with through knowledge of the road's current context. In other words, I'm gonna drive the thing first!! And as I do more serious research, I'll probably keep driving it again and again to go back and look for things I might have missed.

 

The most fun I've had doing research so far is in buying several postcards on eBay showing scenes from the road at various times between about 1900 and 1960. I have only a dozen of them so far, but I'll keep looking. I'm eager to see what buildings remain today.

 

I do hope to become the expert on this road. After I've driven and researched it enough, maybe I'll write a book.

 

jim

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My trip Saturday was great! Despite stepping in a mud puddle early during the trip and having a wet foot all day. Despite my damaged camera botching several photos. Despite a $150 speeding ticket. (I was going about 60, highway speed -- but I didn't realize I was still within the Shelbyville city limits, where the speed limit was 30. The cop could have impounded my car on the spot.)

 

I followed US 421 to Madison. Even though the Michigan Road starts several blocks north of the Ohio River, I went down to the river along West St. and worked my way north, taking photos of historic downtown Madison, too. The MR starts just north of 6th St. at West St. The MR becomes US 421 for a while, but then the old MR veers away all the way to the town of Napoleon. I took a lot of photos along the way and when I reached Napoleon, I headed back south on 421. The old auto trails guides and maps all ignore the original MR and label as the MR what is now 421. So I'm calling that stretch a "later alignment" and got photos of it too.

 

I uploaded a brief video from just beyond where the MR splits from 421 north of Madison. In the video, I drive over a one-lane stone bridge.

 

 

I uploaded all the photos that turned out in my Flickr space and created a Michigan Road set for them. I haven't labeled them yet (beyond "Along the Michigan Road") but they are in order from south to north. The photos of the junked school buses are the first I took after I turned tail at Napoleon, went back south on 421, and then headed back north. I'll add better labels as I have time today and tomorrow.

 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/mobilene/sets...57605001968216/

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Great work! Thanks to one of Denny's trips a couple of years ago, I found that stretch that runs south out of Napoleon. I believe Denny caught the Michigan Road marker when he was on US 50. I know the last time I was down there a year or so ago, there wasn't dayglow orange paint on that bridge. :glare: There were some F-16's flying over from the Jefferson Proving Ground that day watching my every move. I believe that stretch was part of Morgan's Raid, wasn't it?? The Moon-Lite Motel in Versailles rocks! We were going down there one Saturday night to stay last year...just 'cause of the cool factor....but we never made it. We're going to try to use their sign as a backdrop for a car calendar we're doing this summer.

 

Madison's one of our favorite day trips to take....and a trip there isn't complete without a trip to the Madison Fudge Factory. The Ohio Theater every year shows "Some Came Running" from 1958 which was filmed almost entirely in Madison (starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Shirley MacLaine). The house where the Martin character lived is still there. (Side note: The movie can be had dirt cheap on ebay). They all stayed at the Hillside Inn during filming, which is still there. If you like Madison, the movie's worth it, even though it's not the best flicks in the world. We got it mainly for the shots of Madison.

 

When's the second leg of the trip? I'm guessing a little later now, thanks to the Shelbyville P.D., eh?

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Jim,

 

Wow, double wow, and wow again! I love it! The stills are great, but the video was to live for!! Fantastic!

 

BTW, was that drug store a drug store or political headquarters?

 

I keep telling myself I have to get to the Midwest. You have it all!

 

When does the book come out? :D Put my order in. Im your first customer.

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

Dave

 

PS I got the camera off by Priority Mail this morning.

 

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Madison is a favorite of mine and I've crossed the Michigan Road (I've got a similar picture of the historical marker with a little more corn stubble:-) but never driven it. The stone bridges were a nice surprise. Any date information on those? Oh, and is the Moon-Lite Motel operating and does the neon work and...? OK, I'll save my questions till the end of the presentation. Actually, I'm saving a thorough pass of the photos for post-captioning when most of my questions will probably be answered.

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Isn't that drive up to the stone bridge something else? You round that curve and she reveals herself. It was no less exciting this time as it was when I went that way the first time back in February. The bridges give no information about their ages, which is why I refer to them with feminine pronouns. I think it's safe to assume these bridges are from the 1800s based on construction.

 

I parked my car near the bridge to get photos, and I swear every local within five miles came by to make sure my car hadn't broken down. One woman started to take me to task for leaving my dogs in my allegedly broken-down car!

 

I've slowly been tagging the photos on Flickr and I've now tagged everything in Madison before I actually got on the Michigan Road. In time, I'll place all the shots on the map, too.

 

The Moon-Lite Motel is a going concern, but I don't know if the neon works. I can see that I will have to make return visits to photograph all this neon at night.

 

My photos this time leave a lot to be desired, I think. I learned it's really hard to get a steady shot if you have two big dogs on a leash with you. Also, there are few good places to pull over on the Michigan Road down there, so I took a lot of photos really quick with my car sitting on the road. Fortunately, I encountered very little traffic. And my camera's lens issue ruined probably a dozen shots. I did my best to notice that at the time I took the photo so I could re-shoot, but I didn't get them all.

 

It would be great to go to Madison for the annual showing of Some Came Running!

 

My stepson's father was in the Air National Guard and was actually in charge of the Air Guard portion of Jefferson Proving Ground for several years. My stepson spent quite a bit of time inside. He said there were ruins of buildings inside from the days before WW II when the military took over the land. I've seen photos of a schoolhouse and a stone arch bridge that still stand inside. My old maps show a couple towns on that land. The first cemetery photos in my Flickr set are, gulp, cemeteries within what is now JPG that were relocated when the government took over the land. Can you imagine digging up graves from the early and mid 1800s?

 

jim

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I wrote two posts at my blog recently about my drive on Saturday, and it attracted the attention of a fellow in northern Indiana with some connections to state agencies and the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana. He wrote telling me that he is very interested in seeing the Michigan Road gain historic byway status, and that he has gotten the state and the Historic Landmarks Foundation interested too, but now it's a matter of money to fund the necessary studies to make that happen.

 

I wanted to put this on the radar of my fellow Hoosier roadfans. Perhaps there's enough interest here that grassroots efforts can help, but I don't have much of a clue how to go about that.

 

jim

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I wanted to put this on the radar of my fellow Hoosier roadfans. Perhaps there's enough interest here that grassroots efforts can help, but I don't have much of a clue how to go about that.

 

jim

 

Jim,

 

I spent too much of my career either promoting or protecting public funding. Obviously no two situations are the same, so my two bits worth isn’t worth even that much….but that has never stopped me from offering advice.

 

Grass roots support is very difficult to develop, and harder to sustain. In fact, my opinion is that "grass roots" support is usually the product of an organized campaign, carefully led, where the apparent grass roots are planted.

 

I might try the angel approach...a state legislator, or legislators, along the route of the road. I might look to a new or junior member or members who have no real hope of getting anything costly or policy related that they might sponsor, passed. (Of course if the chair of the Finance Committee lives on or owns a business on the Michigan Road…dismiss everything that follows and go talk to him or her)

 

If you need a little “grass roots” support before a visit to the legislator(s) talk to a few historical societies (and maybe a few service clubs) along the route. They will love you, your photos and stories, and what you already know. Then see if you can get the local societies to endorse some supportive statement that says that the road should be recognized for its historical virtues. Nothing too specific…just society support for the concept…something they practically have to pass, like “We believe the Michigan Road has historical significance for Podunk County and the State of Indiana….” Avoid anything that commits then to anything, or they may never be able to agree to and pass a resolution

 

If a junior legislator put forward a bill that designated the Michigan Road as the Indiana – Michigan Historical Road, or some equally vacuous designation, they might get senior support from their own party as a bone for a junior, and the junior gets bragging rights in the constituent newsletter. They have to show the voters that they accomplished something!

 

The initial bill would probably have to be promoted as having no fiscal impact, or it will end up in a finance committee that will kill it. Coordination with the state tourist department, historical committee, and road departments, etc is essential or they will testify against the bill out of fear that it will compete with their agenda. Anything is assumed to be a threat if it wasn't "created here" or "we weren’t consulted."

 

Once passed, the bill gives legitimacy to the road, and offers a springboard for future funding of signage, historical plaques, maps, etc. The Junior becomes a senior, and his or her creation gets attention. Others along the official Indiana – Michigan Historical Road see commercial benefit in identifying with it and become supporters...Yada Yada….

 

Well there was 20 minutes of day dreaming. Maybe somewhere in that flow of consciousness there was a grain of useful information.

 

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

Dave

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Hmmmmm. What interesting perspective. I have no (zero, nada, zilch) experience in this realm myself. So I'll keep what you've said in mind should anything come to be with this other fellow! jim

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Hmmmmm. What interesting perspective. I have no (zero, nada, zilch) experience in this realm myself. So I'll keep what you've said in mind should anything come to be with this other fellow! jim

 

Jim,

 

Regardless of official recognition, and there are certainly many ways to approach that issue, it might be fun to share what you are finding with historical societies along the road. I have a friend in Mississippi who is a regular invitee to such affairs because of his knowledge of local and regional civil war events.

 

And as for legislative recognition, you might be surprised at the reception you would receive. Legislators often need popular acts that cost next to nothing to implement. They provide the appearance of action with none of the complications. (Of course this doesn't apply to any legislators I know or knew!)

 

In any event, I think you are on to a worthy quest here...something that might well add to the pleasure and understanding of many. It is definately worth the effort!

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

Dave

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I wanted to put this on the radar of my fellow Hoosier roadfans. Perhaps there's enough interest here that grassroots efforts can help, but I don't have much of a clue how to go about that.

 

jim

 

That's good to hear. I've been quite concerned about the status of the road here in Indianapolis with the efforts to change the name of Michigan Road to M.L.K, Jr. Street. I drove it from 38th Street to the north side on Sunday and realized why the effort is there to do this. The pastors wanting the change have their church on it. Without delving into a hot topic discussion, I'll just say that the Michigan Road has its own history that should be preserved. I've had an idea in the back of my head that "should" the name be changed in Marion County to start contacting local government about marking the route with historic signage. But since nothing's changed, there's no need to....yet. Had the previous mayor not lost in the November election, I think we both know what that road would be called today.

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That's good to hear. I've been quite concerned about the status of the road here in Indianapolis with the efforts to change the name of Michigan Road to M.L.K, Jr. Street.

Do you remember when it used to be called "Northwestern Avenue"? It kind of had two names back at that time. I remember it was called that even as far north as 71st street or further, but then it had the dual name of Michigan Road too, and it was always confusing what the actual name was. Then when they renamed Northwestern to MLK up to 38th, they standardized on Michigan north of there and took down all of the Northwestern signs. I thought that was a good compromise.

 

As a southsider at the present time, I would like to see Southeastern renamed back to Michigan Road, also. (but then as an east-west numbered street, it would probably be confused with Michigan St).

 

Chris

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I haven't heard much lately about the push to rename Michigan Road in Indy to MLK. I have to assume the idea is at least on life support. I'm not opposed to part of their goal -- to name a street MLK that isn't in a blighted ghetto neighborhood, as the current MLK is -- but as you might guess, I want them to pick a road without the historical significance of the Michigan Road.

 

Chris, I didn't know about the Michigan Road name confusion on the Northside. All the old timers I know still call the road 421 anyway! I have lived in Indy long enough that I remember Michigan Road being two lanes between 71st and 86th Sts. -- and being thrilled beyond measure when the road was widened, because that segment was a major bottleneck.

 

Do you have any old maps showing the MR being labeled MR through town? All my maps show Northwestern/Southwestern and MR north of about 38th St.

 

By the way, I've described, tagged, and mapped about half of the Flickr set now.

 

jim

Edited by mobilene

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Do you have any old maps showing the MR being labeled MR through town? All my maps show Northwestern/Southwestern and MR north of about 38th St.

If you look at this one: http://indiamond6.ulib.iupui.edu/cdm4/docu...R=125&REC=4, you can see that just after the turn of the century, Southeastern was called Michigan Avenue, the part headed northwest is called Michigan Road, and then of course you have Michigan Street which is something else, entirely..

 

Chris

 

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Chris, thanks for that link. It helps me answer a riddle I hadn't gotten around to solving yet, namely, the MR's original route north from Washington St. I-65 did a real number on the MR, obliterating probably a mile and a half of it. Meanwhile, it's interesting to see how the route was named in those days. jim

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The grass needed cut, the weeds needed sprayed with Roundup, the shrubs desperately (desperately!) needed cut back, and the house needed to be cleaned -- but I resumed my Michigan Road trip today anyway. And what a glorious day it was for it! It was sunny and warm all day, and despite being a holiday weekend, traffic wasn't too bad. Maybe that's because of gas prices -- and maybe it's because I was on the Michigan Road, often in plain sight of I-74, where all the cars seemed to be.

 

I drove to where I left off last time, the little town of Napoleon, and headed back north. I passed through Greensburg -- a very nice town -- and Shelbyville -- a town in need of some TLC -- along the way. I rolled video as I drove the short one-lane alignment (and its one-lane bridge) of the MR north of Greensburg. I got photos of three blocks worth of a narrow road that is probably the MR's original alignment, bypassed by State Road 44 in Shelbyville. I drove the mile-long section of the MR that I-74 orphaned around Pleasant View and learned that there really isn't anything in Pleasant View except a gas station, a few houses, and a 1946 Dodge. And there I ended today's journey, conveniently right at the Marion County (Indianapolis) line.

 

At the moment I am writing this, I am dumping photos into my Flickr space and uploading video of the one-lane alignment to my

space. They should finish sometime and you can go see them. The photos are roughly in order (though Flickr may have reversed them) but at this moment have no meaningful info attached to them; I'll add some over the next few days.

 

It was a great trip. I had a ball today.

 

Next up: Marion County (Indianapolis). I figure I can make a whole day out of just one county.

 

jim

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Jim,

 

I don't think the Flickr shots are up yet but the video of the one lane is. It looks like another facinating bridge at 18 seconds into the video. Any story there?

 

BTW, are you sure you stopped behind the white line at that stop sign? :lol:

 

I'm glad you left the lawn to grow and the shrubs to branch. We need the fresh air, and they will be there tomorrow! You will never regret driving the Michigan, and you'll never miss not mowing the lawn.

 

Keep the Show on the Road

 

Dave

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BTW, are you sure you stopped behind the white line at that stop sign? :lol:

 

Oh! In Indiana, that's optional!

 

We're also allowed to treat the white-bordered Stop signs as Yield signs, too.

 

jim

 

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Jim,

 

OK, now I have seen the new Flickr shots…great! You have obviously gotten the roadside architecture bug…and there seems to be a lot worth noting along the Michigan Road.

 

The old service station was interesting, as was the abandoned house…which looked to be in good shape. Whenever I see a place like that I see a family growing up inside, playing in the yard, eventually the kids leaving, and one day the oldsters passing on. It is an idyllic image, unlike the oft time reality of a string of destructive tenants or unreasonable landlords.!

 

I really liked the photos of names on cornerstones and entryways….there is a story that goes with each and every one. Oh, I am just reminded that many small towns in the mid west ended up in Birds eye views in the 1800's. They often show every building. Look first on the Library of Congress American Memory site. It is splendid and a great use of my tax dollars

 

One of my pet peeves was also illustrated in photo 3595. Wait ten years and none of those beautiful building faces downtown will be visible behind the trees. I know the trees are an asset, but I can’t count the number of times I have tried to see or photograph a great sign, marquee, or building hidden behind a downtown beatification tree. Tell the Chamber of Commerce to leave a few openings in the forest.

 

Looks like the Michigan Road is a goldmine. When will you be publishing your first tour/ driving guide?

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

Dave

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Jim,

 

One of the fun things on two lane roads is then and now photos. The two below aren’t strictly “Then and Now” because the two buildings don’t match, but the businesses do. You will recognize the second photo! You may need to squint to see Minear Dry Goods Co. in the old one from the Indiana Historical Society.

 

I bet with just a little web work you could find several “then” photos for your Michigan Road Guide Book. The same site has a great shot of a car being pulled by oxen through Greensburg…looking for gas….and I bet it was on the Michigan Road!

 

http://images.indianahistory.org/cdm4/item...OX=1&REC=14

 

First it was alignments, then it was maps and blue books, next it was roadside architecture, and soon it will be “Then and Now.” Waiting for the book…..

 

Keep the Show on the Road!

 

Dave

 

ARMinearsOld.jpg

 

ARMinearsNew.jpg

 

 

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One of the things I have long noticed as I've driven the Michigan Road between my home and South Bend is how many old houses sit on it. Within three miles in either direction of my house I count at least 4 structures built in the 1800s along the MR. One of them, essentially around the corner from my house, is for sale! I haven't covered every inch of Indiana road, but in my experience anyway no (once or currently) major Indiana road boasts the density of old homes as the Michigan Road. The homes also help tell the road's story. The road went in, and people built on it to capitalize on it. I think the turn of events that preserved the road also helped preserve these houses. If the MR from here to Logansport had become an Interstate, for example, or even a four-lane divided US highway, most of these homes would have been lost.

 

I do plan to do as much then-and-now stuff as I can as I write my road reports for jimgrey.net. I regularly search eBay for postcards from along the road, and I have found a few sites like the one you link to that has photos. I was so excited to get out on the road that I didn't have my research lined up for these two trips, but that only means, drat the luck, that as I find photos from Indy south that I want to check out today, I'll just have to force myself to drive back down there! I do have some worry about rights. Photos published before a certain time -- 1910? 1916? something -- can be published freely, but after that there are rules. If I get something from some library's digital archive, I don't want to abuse it.

 

The only way I could tell that the Minear building in the before photo you linked was in the same block is because of the Oddfellows building at the north end of the block (the tallest building) -- most of that block is different today.

 

I hope to get started writing this up pretty soon, but I'm about to enter a busy few weeks, so we'll see. This will be different from my past writeups in that in the past, I write it up and that's that. But this will be a living set of Web pages for some time as I find more information and make return trips to experience/photograph things I missed before.

 

jim

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