Old Michigan Road
nominated for historic byway
heritage tourism, officials say
(April 2011) Michigan Road has linked Madison,
Ind., to the rest of Indiana for more than 175 years.
Beginning as little more than a cleared path through the forest, Michigan
Road was the way early settlers made their way north to less populated
locales, business people moved their goods and American civilization
spread. From the end of West Street in Madison, it stretches north to
Lake Michigan at Michigan City, a distance of 264 miles.
Michigan Road is an important part of the history of Jefferson and Ripley
counties, along with the other 15 counties through which it passes.
The route of Michigan Road was possible because of an 1828 treaty with
the Potawatami Indians. Sadly, Michigan Road was also the route by which
the tribe was forcibly removed from the state in 1838.
With its long and colorful history, Michigan Road has been nominated
to be recognized as a Historic State Byway. In December, a steering
committee representing 17 counties submitted the application to the
Indiana Department of Transportation. The steering committee is composed
of individuals from the counties through which the historic route passes.
Members include elected and appointed officials, Main Street Program
directors, economic development and tourism directors, historians and
In Jefferson County, Ind., the representatives are Linda Lytle, executive
director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Rhonda
Deeg, executive director of the Madison Main Street Program.
Ripley County members are Katherine Taul, Ripley County Tourism Director,
and Susan Craig, executive director of the Southeastern Indiana Regional
Taul thinks the byway proposal will encourage heritage tourism. It
not only emphasizes the historical aspects but also some of our unique
communities and it will encourage people to come visit them.
The initial champions of recognizing Michigan Road as a historic byway
were Jim Grey of Indianapolis and Kurt Garner of Plymouth, Ind.
Garner, who calls himself a historic preservation geek,
first traveled the length of the route in 1999. It was his choice of
a vacation trip after he won a bet with his wife about how much snow
they would get in Plymouth. He remembers reaching Madison on St. Patricks
Day, enjoying Irish music at a Madison nightspot and staying at a charming
bed-and-breakfast. His idyllic Hoosier getaway became the germ of an
idea. He wrote about the experience on his blog, Hoosier Happenings.
In Indianapolis, Grey read of Garners Michigan Road trek on the
blog. Coincidentally, he had been blogging about Michigan Road, too.
courtesy of Katherine Taul
old stone bridge north of
Jefferson Proving Ground in Ripley
County, Ind., is mentioned as a
possible interpretive site for the
Michigan Road. Built in 1913 by C.R.
Yates, it is known locally as the
Nobbs Ford-Shepard Bridge.
Grey had grown up in South Bend, four blocks away from
Michigan Street, and had moved to Indianapolis, where he lived close
to Michigan Road. He had a hobby of researching old road alignments.
Through that research I came to learn that not only was Michigan
Street in South Bend and Michigan Road in Indianapolis part of the same
road, but it went all the way to Madison.
He made his first trip to Madison in 2008. Traveling on Saturdays that
summer, Grey took more than 1,000 photos of Michigan Road. Many of them
can now be found on the project website, www.historicmichiganroad.org.
Garner and Grey got together in August 2008 and started talking about
ways to celebrate the once-famous Indiana road that had been nearly
forgotten. A partnership was born.
They introduced the Historic Michigan Road Byway project at an Indiana
State Byways Conference in Aurora in May 2010. Work on the application
began in June. The idea has garnered wide support. In fact, when the
final application was submitted in December, it was accompanied by 80
letters of support.
People understand it will be a vital economic revitalization tool
for their communities, said Garner.
In the application, Garner and Grey make a strong case for recognizing
Michigan Road. The Michigan Roads history is no less than
a microcosm of Indianas history. Our states early growth,
its booms and busts, its proudest and most shameful moments all
have been played out along the Michigan Road. The Michigan Road was
arguably the most important transportation route in the fledgling State
of Indiana, says the nomination.
courtesy of the Jefferson County
Historical Society Research Library
group of children pose in front
of the Michigan Road stone marker
at the D.A.R. monument unveiling
held Sept. 23, 1916, in Madison
for the new highway. The children
are (from left) Elizabeth Barber,
Margaret Rea, Ellen Garber, Mary
Kealty and Mary Goode Garber.
The Indiana legislature commissioned Michigan Road in
1826, just six years after the founding of Indianapolis. As the first
state road, it was envisioned to link the Ohio River and Lake Michigan,
by way of the new state capital.
Although Madison was the states largest city at the time, it was
not a foregone conclusion that Madison would become the southern terminus.
In 1828, the Indiana House selected Evansville for that honor, while
the Senate chose Madison. Madison finally got the nod on Jan. 6, 1830,
with the governor approving the choice a week later, according to the
late Hanover, Ind., historian Frank S. Baker.
Baker quoted journalist David Barnett of the Logansport Pharos Tribune
for the inside story of Madisons selection. It was
told in a seven-part series in the Logansport Pharos Tribute in December
1949 and January 1950.
The story goes that Jefferson County representatives in the state Legislature
threw their support behind an appropriation for the Wabash Canal, with
the understanding that legislators from that part of the state would
reciprocate when it came time to decide which Ohio River city would
get the Michigan Road. Although there was an expensive lobbying campaign
by Cincinnati interests to build to Lawrenceburg, Jefferson Countys
James R. Wallace stepped forward and reminded the Wabash Valley legislators
of their promise. At that point, Lawrenceburg was struck
from the bill and replaced with Madison. It was passed in
that form, and Madison got the Michigan Road.
application nominating the 270-miles Michigan
Road between Madison and Michigan City in
Indiana as a historic byway was submitted to
the Indiana Department of Transportation on
Dec. 21, 2010. It included more than 80 letters
of support. Supporters hope the designation will
promote heritage tourism along the route. To
learn more, visit: www.HistoricMichiganRoad.org.
In the less-settled northern part of the state, the proposed
road had other complications. It would have to traverse Indian territory.
The solution was an 1828 treaty with the Potawatomi tribe. The Native
Americans ceded a strip of land 100 feet wide from Lake Michigan to
the Wabash River at Logansport, as well as one section of good land
contiguous to the road for each mile. The total land grant was approximately
The United States promised to pay the tribe an annuity of $2,000 in
silver for 22 years, a sum of $2,000 annually for Indiana education,
funds to build a mill and provide for a miller, and 100 bushels of salt
These promises were soon forgotten. By 1838 the tribe was marched out
of Indiana along part of the Michigan Road itself to be
resettled in Kansas. The route of their travels has been labeled the
Trail of Death because of their suffering. More than 40
people, mostly children, died of typhoid or exhaustion on the march.
Construction of Michigan Road from Madison to Logansport occurred between
August 1830 and November 1831.The contract commissioner who supervised
the project was Noah Noble of Brookville, Ind,. He worked on the project
until he was elected Indianas fifth governor in 1831.
The portion of the road between Madison and Logansport was 163 miles.
By the end of 1831, approximately 132 miles of road had been cleared,
with the remaining 30 almost finished.
Construction contracts for the 163-mile section from Madison
to Logansport totaled $62,070, or $380.80 per mile. This was substantially
more than either the National Road ($220 per mile) or the northern part
of the Michigan Road ($288 per mile), apparently due to the number of
bridges needed on the Madison-Logansport section. The southern section
had 19 framed bridges, 199 puncheon bridges and 264 graded hills, while
the northern section required five framed bridges, 87 puncheon bridges
and 93 graded hills.
The entire length of Michigan Road was substantially completed by 1834,
although the lack of bridges over the Tippecanoe and Eel rivers caused
headaches for several more years.
By todays standards, road conditions were poor. The original requirement
was that a 100-foot-wide swath be cleared of trees, with no tree stumps
more than one foot high. In the middle 30 feet, tree stumps were to
be grubbed out. There was no requirement that the road be graveled or
paved. It would have been rough going for the horse-drawn vehicles traversing
With no state highway commission, counties were responsible for road
maintenance. In order to make improvements, some parts of the road were
awarded to road building companies who charged tolls. A common way to
improve the roadway was with wooden planking.
Barnett, the Logansport journalist, quoted from a journal written by
a traveler who used Michigan Road in 1833. The journal reveals: I
have just reached here (Madison) again, after as miserable a ride as
I have ever had. I have rode 40 miles since half after 11 today, over
the same dull interminable Michigan road, in a more dreary, muddy and
lonesome day than that of my first ride upon it. No one can form an
idea of the utter desolation of such a ride until he tries it. The road
is hemmed in on both sides by a dense wall of trees, towering up in
the swamps and bogs, except in a few precious places, where rises a
new log cabin, which is announced to you, some time before you see it,
either by the sign post or a tavern or the barking of a dog.
by Don Ward
crossroad sign stands at the
origination of Old Michigan Road in
downtown Madison, Ind. The road
traverses the entire state of Indiana,
from north to south.
The historic byway designation, if it is granted, could
lead to increased heritage tourism for cities and towns along the route,
especially Madison, the southern terminus, which is already positioned
to attract travelers with history on their minds.
Kurt and I say all the time we couldnt have asked for a
better anchor city for the Michigan Road, said Grey. In
the north we hear, Heritage tourism whats that?
But in the south, in Madison, you get it.
Because Michigan Road was an important route on the Underground Railroad,
the byway application mentions Madisons Georgetown District, the
19th century home of many free African-Americans, as a potential interpretive
site. Michigan Hill, the busy city street that connects the center of
downtown Madison with the hilltop, could be another interpretive site.
North of Madison, Michigan Road merges into and follows the route of
U.S. Hwy. 421. It forms the eastern border of the U.S. Armys Jefferson
The original alignment of Michigan Road veers off Hwy. 421 in Ripley
County, just north of the proving ground. It continues through New Marion
and Dabney before rejoining Hwy. 421 in Napoleon.
In Ripley County, the old stone bridge north of Jefferson Proving Ground
is mentioned as another possible interpretive site. Built in 1913 by
C.R. Yates, it is known locally as the Nobbs Ford-Shepard Bridge. Bonapartes
Retreat Restaurant in Napoleon was also a stop on the Underground Railroad,
according to Taul. There is an opening in the restaurants basement
that connects to an escape tunnel.
For motorists wanting to better understand Indianas history and
heritage, Michigan Road represents a pleasant journey through beautiful
country sides and fascinating small towns. With interpretive maps, literature
and signage, Michigan Road will continue to offer a drivable history
lesson for generations to come.
To learn more about the history of Michigan
Road, visit www.HistoricMichiganRoad.org.
To view Jim Greys images of Michigan Road in Jefferson and Ripley
counties, visit: www.JimGrey.net.
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