Over the past few weeks, I have become more aware how early roads shaped our lives. While visiting some friends in Madison, Indiana, one of them asked what was the first highway in Indiana. After some thought I correctly answered the Michigan Road.
The Indiana State Legislature commissioned the Michigan Road in 1826, thus predating construction of the National Road in Indiana by one year. The Michigan Road became a key route in opening the state for settlement by connecting Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capital in Indianapolis.
Pioneers used the road as a path to homesteading new lands up through the central part of the state. Imagine these intrepid souls coming down the Ohio River on flat boats and disembarking at Madison – a long, hard journey. Next, they procured their homestead deeds and then set out along the Michigan Road to their new land on the frontier in Indiana.
The road was improved over the course of the 19th century and early 20th century as a series of county, state, and US highways. Now, it is officially recognized as the Michigan Road Historic Byway by the State of Indiana. You can retrace the route of the Byway by following the directions here.
1916 Map of South Bend
I have two links to the road. My father was born on a farm along the Michigan Road just west of South Bend. A little while later, while he was growing up, this section of the road became part of the Lincoln Highway. He later used the road to move to Indianapolis shortly before the start of World War II. Road improvements on this section of the road, in October 1914 during Good Roads Day, were some of the first along this route to northern Indiana. I was born near the Butler University campus not far from where the Michigan Road crosses the White River. I can still recall hearing the trucks crossing the river bridge and climbing the hill on their way out of town.
Just south of the river is the highest point in Indianapolis at Crown Hill Cemetery. This is a great place to get a panoramic view of the city.
The road as it winds through Indianapolis from the southeast to the northwest provides a good indication of migration to the city and its development as thoroughfare.
1916 Map of Indianapolis
So, what’s your story on how early roads shaped our lives?