The Michigan Road. The history of the Michigan Road is covered in lots of wonderful sites. Briefly, the state of Indiana built a state road connecting Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via Greensburg, Shelbyville, Indianapolis, Logansport, Rochester, Plymouth and South Bend. The section will be discussing today is the first part of US 421 that was replaced by I-74 in 1960-1. And I won’t be exactly covering what you think I will. Let me explain.
The idea for this post all started with a street sign. Yes. A street sign. But I will get to the particular sign later.
A family get together in Shelbyville, the location of my house, and hunger led to my traveling the old Michigan Road. Let’s start by saying that in this trip, I would normally take Carroll Road (along the Marion-Hancock County Line) to Southeastern Avenue (the old Michigan Road). In Marion County, and Pleasant View, the name is Southeastern Avenue. The rest of the old road in northwestern Shelby County is called Michigan Road (or, as the street sign at Carroll Road states: “Michican Road”).
This section of the old road is very short, as both ends were replaced in 1960 by I-74. Northwest from this point, a section called Southeastern Avenue (it’s in Marion County), the road doesn’t go very far. Only about 0.2 mile. The concrete ends, and I-74 was built to barge right across the old right-of-way. Going southeast, the old road enters Pleasant View, a small residential community. The Pleasant View/I-74 interchange is on Walnut Street, which is 0.7 mile from the county line. Well, kinda. The street signs at the corner, and there are two sets, make things a bit confusing. On the southwest corner, the street signs read “Southeastern Ave” and “Pleasant View Rd.” On the southeast corner, they read “Walnut St.” and “Michigan Rd.” (It should be noted that the exit signs on I-74/US 421 read “Pleasant View Road.”)
The old US 421 only extends another 0.4 mile to the southeast from this point. According to the book “Development and lands of Michigan Road” (the title is a link to the available page at the Indiana State Library website), the original Michigan Road
actually turned south on what was Shelby CR 850W, then east on (what is now) Frontage Road (old Shelby CR 940N) to connect to where the old US 421 is under the interstate.
A quick look at a map shows that the westbound lanes of I-74 is the original old US 421 location. This is especially shown when driving westbound on I-74. The interstate turns slightly west, and the old road is visible in a straight line. The next picture shows the end of the old road as seen from westbound I-74.
The red lines show the path of the old road and the red square sign marking the end of pavement on the original Michigan Road.
This next snippet shows the aerial view of the same location.
The old road is under the lanes of I-74 to just shy of the next exit: London Road. The connection to London Road was built in 1960-1961 to allow access to the old road that wasn’t replaced by the interstate. From this point to just northwest of Shelbyville, the interstate runs along side the old road, with a few changes for geometry at both the exits and a bridge over the interstate. The state historic byway follows this route. It is marked on maps as “Michigan Road.”
The street sign that gave me the idea for this post is located at Shelby CR 600W. On the trip to Shelbyville, I decided that I needed to find something to eat. I went along US 52 to go to the McDonalds in New Palestine. With the line going around the entire building, I decided to pass on that one. So I turned south on Gem Road to go down to Michigan Road. When I got to the old road, I saw the pictured street sign on the left. Remember when I said that I-74 replaced the old Michigan Road/US 421 in the early 1960’s? Well, this street sign shows either a) someone didn’t get the memo, or b) they haven’t changed the sign in almost 60 years. You be the judge.
If one looks at the Google Maps of this section of the old road, it will show the thing that made the Michigan Road different than most early state roads. State roads like the one I discussed last Saturday, the Paoli State Road, had a 48 foot right-of-way. The Michigan Road was built with a right-of-way of 100 feet. While the state would have problems with that right-of-way in other parts of the state, here it is clearly shown on the Google Map.
The next change in the old road happened twice, actually. It occurred at the Fairland interchange. The original change connected the old road to Shelby CR 200W closer to the intersection with Shelby CR 400N. With the building of the casino at this location, Michigan Road was moved north to make traffic a little better and allow for the building of a parking lot. The original road would have connected the diagonal Michigan Road in a straight line across what is now the interchange.
The second to last change would be where the old road would cross over the interstate. The red lines on the map to the left show the original route of the Michigan Road. The overpass was built with a change in geometry to allow easier construction of the bridge. In that reroute, the Frontage Road was built on the southside of the interstate, partially using the old road to connect it to the road to Shelbyville.
I would like to think that the entire concept of the Frontage Road was to allow access to property that would be cut off with the building of I-74. There are very few places in Indiana where such a road was built. Then again, there are very few places in the state where the interstate was built as a direct replacement for the old state road that was in place at the time.
The last change the state made to the old Michigan Road had nothing to do with Interstate 74. The map to the right shows the current routing of Michigan Road and SR 9. The old road is, again, marked in red.
SR 9 didn’t come to Shelbyville until 1932. To that point, SR 9 ended at US 40 in Greenfield. The bridge over the Big Blue River that is currently in place is the original crossing of the Michgan Road. The map below shows the 1935 routing of the two state roads that meet at this point.
The change of the road at this point allowed for both improved geometry and two less dangerous crossings of the Big Four Railroad at this point. (As an aside, the paved road that meets the two state roads just north of the river is Boggstown Road, which was part of the Indianapolis-Shelbyville state road. That would later become Shelbyville Road. The Marion County section is still named that from Thompson Road to the southeast.)
Of the entire route of the original Michigan Road, this section through Shelby County was the one that was butchered the most. This is an old bridge that was bypassed in southeastern Shelby County. The route described in this post is all part of the Michigan Road State Historic Byway. The byway uses Interstate 74 from the Acton Road exit in Marion County/Indianapolis to the London Road exit in Shelby County. I always recommend, if given the chance, people drive the old road. It, quite honestly, is more scenic and allows access to local businesses that would be forgotten if all travel was done on the interstate.
Images for this post come from Google Maps ((C) 2019 Google), and assorted older maps and books of Shelby County, Indiana. The non-Google Maps images are available at the Indiana State Library website. (Click on the “Indiana State Library” to the left for a link to all Shelby County maps available.)