Michigan Road at White River

Indiana tends to be an enigma. The people, generally, tend to look at maintaining the status quo when it comes to government and institutions. Yet, somehow, the motto of “progress, progress, progress” rings when it comes to places and roads of historic value. There has been a lot of history torn out around Indiana in the name of progress. And this is very evident when it comes to the paths and trails that served Indiana, but are best left either bypassed or destroyed by the march of progress.

Indianapolis News, 30 August 1919

This subject started while looking for an article about the Michigan Road…and it being accepted into the state highway system. I will have to get back to that subject at some point. Anyway, I found an article in the Indianapolis News talking about the Michigan Road Bridge over White River (the one near Butler University) with the headline “Michigan Road Bridge Over White River, Numbered Among The Doomed, Will Give Way To A Modern Structure As Its Contemporaries Did.”

The bridge in question had been there so long that locals didn’t know what the County Commissioners were talking about when they called it the Northwestern Avenue bridge. It had always been (and still is today) the Michigan Road bridge, calling back to the time when the road was the primary north-south route from Indianapolis to South Bend. “The pioneers forget that Indianapolis is a growing city, and that the one far distant Michigan road bridge is now at the edge of town.”

The News goes on to talk about the interesting and romantic history of the old bridge. First, the talk of the cycling path for the days that riding a bicycle was all the rage. The cycling path in question ran along the southern/eastern bank of the Central Canal at the southern end of the Michigan Road bridge. A toll house on the cycle path (apparently, the path was a toll road for bicycles) was located at the Michigan Road bridge. “Wheelmen,” as bicyclists were called at the time, would detour to the cycle path to ride toward downtown. The cycle path would later cross Northwestern Avenue later, near 16th Street.

The White River sits between two rather large hills along the Michigan Road. When the age of the automobile came, climbing out of the White River valley was quite the chore. Of course, these hills were a challenge to the bicycles before the cars…and the horses before the bicycles. By 1919, the treacherous hills on both sides of the valley had been reduced in grade. In the early days of automobiles, the two hills were used for engine testing in hill climbs. Announcements months in advance would tell of the coming time to test your motors climbing the Michigan Road hills.

Closeup of the above image from the Indianapolis News showing just the Northwestern Avenue (Michigan Road) bridge over White River.

The bridge that was in place in 1919 was a replacement for an original wooden covered bridge at the site. “It has been gone for many years, having failed to stand up under heavy and constantly increasing strain of travel over the Michigan road.” The first image in this article also shows the Northwestern Avenue bridge over Fall Creek, or at least the one that had been replaced prior to publication of the 30 August 1919 article.

Despite the amount of traffic carried by the Michigan Road, it would take several more years before this section would once again become a state road. The replacement of the bridge over White River was taken on by Marion County, not the state.

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