Michigan Road – Encroachment and Some History

One of the oldest state roads in Indiana is the old Michigan Road. I have covered that road several times in the annuls of Indiana Transportation History blogging. Today, I want to go back to the South Bend Tribune of 13 May 1928, and the pending improvements on the old road.

“Improvement by the Indiana highway department of what is known as the Michigan road south from Rochester will give South Bend and this part of the state a second good road to Indianapolis and more satisfactory connection with Logansport. The state highway commission is devoting much attention to this highway and finds that years of encroachment by farmers and others have decreased the original 100 foot width of the Michigan road so greatly that in some places in rural sections it is little better than a lane.”

The news article makes the case that the road should be returned to its original 100 foot right of way “so that the old glory of this celebrated highway may be restored and it may again take its place among the highways of history.” However, they recognize that some farmers, having had part of the ROW as part of their farms for years, might not make what the Tribune sees as the right choice and give it back freely and voluntarily.

“Perhaps no other road in Indiana, not excluding the old National road, has a more interesting history than the old Michigan road with extends from Michigan City, eastward to South Bend and then south through Plymouth, Rochester, Logansport, Indianapolis and Greensburg to Madison on the Ohio river. Due to the development of many local county and township roads in later years the need of a main through route like the old Michigan road was not so insistent as it is to-day and as a result was a tendency in many places to encroach upon the 100 foot right-of-way of this old historical road.”

The article continues with the “encroachment” theme throughout…making it quite clear that it shouldn’t have been allowed in the first place.

Then the article covers more history of the road. “During the administration of Gov. James B. Ray from 1825 to 1827 and due primarily to Gov. Ray’s influence, the United States congress authorized a treaty between the United States and the Potowatomie Indians for the purpose of obtaining land from the Indians to make a road through northern Indiana. The treaty was concluded on Oct. 6, 1827, between commissioners appointed by the United States and the chiefs and warriors of the Potowatomie Indians. This treaty provided that a large territory in southern Michigan and northern Indiana be ceded to the United States government. The real purpose of the treaty was to open new territory for settlement, although this reason, of course, was not implied in the treaty.”

“Indiana was authorized to lay out a road from Lake Michigan south. The right-of-way was to be 100 feet wide. The Indians were to receive $2,000 in silver for a term of 22 years. The government was to provide a blacksmith for the Indians and was to furnish $2,000 for education. The government also was to build a grain mill on the Tippecanoe river and keep the mill in operation. This mill was erected near what is now Rochester. The government also was to give the Indians 160 bushels of salt each year. The president of the United States, John Q. Adams, ratified the treaty in 1827 and congress passed legislation about 1827 authorizing Indiana to locate and make a road.”

The act in the Indiana General Assembly creating the Michigan Road was made into law on 24 January 1828. Survey work began in the autumn of 1828. “A course from Lake Michigan to the Wabash river, where the town of Logansport now is, was surveyed but on account of the marshes of the Kankakee river this route had to be abandoned. Finally, however, a survey for a road east of the marches 102 miles lone was made and the road was finally so located.”

The original survey of the road coming from Michigan City was not accepted by the commissioners creating the Michigan Road. So surveyors created another one…almost identical to the first. “The direction of the Michigan road as laid out began at Trail creek on Lake Michigan, thence eastward to the southern bend of the St. Joseph river, now the city of South Bend, then turned south, running to the Wabash river, crossing it at what is now Logansport, and thence south to Indianapolis. The road was later continued southeast through Greensburg and thence to Madison on the Ohio river.”

Acts for the building of the Michigan Road were passed on 29 January 1830 and 4 February 1831. The second of these covered the road “lying between Logansport and the southern bend of the St. Joseph river.” That second act was also never signed by the Governor. However, since it was also never vetoed, it became law according to the Indiana Constitution in force at the time.

Financial difficulties and other problems, however, led to the Michigan Road not being opened as desired. This required another act of legislation dated 2 February 1832 to provide for selling of tracts of land along the Michigan Road. “The road was authorized to be opened 100 feet in width. The opening was to be made clear of all timber as was the custom in those days.”

Thus is a brief history of the background of the Michigan Road. There are a lot of great sources of information for this great highway available online.

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