1836-1838: Michigan Road in the Newspaper

Yesterday, I wrote an article about early state roads, and the Michigan Road. Today, I want to look at the Michigan Road…as it was related to the public in newspapers from 1836 to 1838. One of the most interesting things that I have found in this search is the fact that it was entirely possible that the Michigan Road, as we know it, might not have been built. It could have been a railroad route.

Richmond Weekly Paladium, 31 December 1836: Allocation of money involving the Michigan Road was the topic before the General Assembly in December 1836. $140,000 was appropriated “on a turnpike road commencing at Kirk’s on the Michigan road in Clinton county, thence through Frankfort to Delphi and Monticello in White county, and thence by best route to Michigan City.” Another $75,000 are allocated for the Michigan Road between Napoleon and Indianapolis. And yet another $175,000 is appropriated “in contructing a Macadamized road on the line of the Michigan road from Indianapolis to South Bend, thence to Laporte and thence to Michigan City The board are to ascertain whether a Macadamised road or rail road is the best and cheapest and to adopt the cheapest one.” Of this last allocation of funds, $25,000 was to be used to build a Michigan Road bridge in Marion County over the White River.

Richmond Weekly Paladium, 21 January 1937: Second reading of the Michigan Road bill is held. One representative, a Mr. Vandeveer, moved to indefinitely postpone the vote on the bill. That postponement failed, when only seven people voted for it. It was passed to the third reading. A survey of the road, with $2,000 allocated, was to be done in the summer of 1837. The bill was amended, requiring the third reading. In the amendment, the bill was changed to exclude the Board of Public Works to building either a M’Adam road or a railroad for the purpose of the Michigan Road. It was also mentioned that $300,000 was to be allocated for the building of the road. Two weeks later, that amount, and others already spent, would be the question of some members of the General Assembly.

Richmond Weekly Paladium, 04 February 1937: It was reported that the representative from Wayne County to the Indiana General Assembly, a Mr. Smith, was trying to make sense of the fact that the builders of the Michigan Road, already spending $22,000 more than allocated, wanted another $30,000. To this point, according to Mr. Smith, the money already allocated “has been squandered – sunk, sir, in the interminable swamps along the line without common discretion or common sense. What gentleman here will deny the fact, that one half the money expended on that road should have accomplished more than all that is done?”

On the very same page of the very same issue of the newspaper, a bill to “cause a survey and estimate to be made the ensuing summer, north of Indianapolis, through Logansport, South Bend and Laporte to Michigan City, with a view of ascertaining what kind of improvement is most practicable.” This survey would be done under the auspices of the Board of Internal Improvements.

Richmond Weekly Paladium, 1 July 1837: “Mr. Yandes, is authorized, in pursuance of law to cause a survey and estimate to be made, on the Michigan Road, through Logansport, South Bend and Laporte, to Michigan City – with a view of ascertaining the most practicable kind of improvement to be made.” Mr. Yandes “is further authorized, to expend so much of the Michigan road funds, as may remain (if any) after making the survey, in making temporary improvements on the Road, from Napoleon to Lake Michigan, so as to keep the road passible.”

Richmond Weekly Paladium, 16 December 1837: After the survey had been completed in the summer of 1837, the Michigan Road lands were to be disposed of. The report from Indianapolis stated that the proceeds of the sales of those lands came to $8781.70.

As mentioned in yesterday’s “Early State Roads” article, some state roads were funded to create a link to a single person’s property. In March, 1838, a bill before the general assembly was written to “locate a state road from Daniel Dales in White county, to intersect the Michigan road 8 miles north of Logansport.”

The Road North

When the original State Highway law passed in 1917, the search was on for the first five Main Market Highways. Some of the highways chosen were not controversial at all. SR 2 was the original Lincoln Highway route across northern Indiana. SR 3 was the National Road, or at least most of the 1830s route was included. SR 4 and SR 5 would connect across southern Indiana. However, the one that raised questions was SR 1.

The idea was that SR 1 was to connect Louisville to South Bend through Indianapolis. South of Indianapolis, this was pretty straight forward. The route was mostly in place as the Madison State Road and the Jeffersonville State Road. Just like the railroads that went between these cities, they shared the same right-of-way (in this case road or trail) to Columbus, splitting there to go to the respective destinations.

But north was a different story.

Survey map of Marshall County, south of Plymouth. The circled survey section numbers are those that were part of the original Michigan Road survey, prior to the area being surveyed to match the system in the rest of the state.

This is where a little bit of Indiana history comes into play. When the state was young, there were state roads created to connect towns across Indiana. One of the first was the Michigan Road. This road would connect Madison (on the Ohio River) to Lake Michigan at a new town to be called Michigan City. The route north of Indianapolis would not be directly north because a large section of the land due north of Indianapolis was still part of the “Great Miami Reserve,” a large area that had belonged to Native Americans. So the original Michigan Road would leave Indianapolis to the northwest, skirting the Great Miami Reserve to the west to Logansport. At Logansport, the state would buy land from Native American tribes in one mile sections to build the road through what would become Rochester, Plymouth and South Bend. If you look at any map of the area which includes survey lines, it becomes obvious where the road was placed. The attached map shows the survey sections south of Plymouth in Marshall County.

Map of north central Indiana showing the 760,000 acres of the Great Miami Reserve (dotted line) set up in 1818. Thin black lines show the current Indiana county lines.

The other road north was the Range Line Road. This road started at what is now Broad Ripple as the Westfield State Road. Just south of the Hamilton-Marion County line, it would follow the dividing line between to survey townships, otherwise known as a range line. At the time of the creation of both the Michigan Road and the Westfield Road, the Great Miami Reserve, set aside in 1818, contained lands that were north of a line that was from a point 34.54 miles due south of Logansport east northeast to a point 34.54 miles due south of Lagro.

It would not be until 1838 when the land of the Great Miami Reserve would become government land, pending the end of all Native American titles to said land. In 1844, two of the last three counties in Indiana were created from the Miami Reserve: Richardville and Tipton. (The third of those counties was Ohio.) It turned out that a trading post on the Wildcat Creek in Richardville County would be on the range line as it was extended and surveyed north through the new lands. That trading post would be setup as the town of Kokomo.

The Range Line Road would be extended to the new town, which would become the county seat of Richardville County. In 1846, the name of the county would be changed to Howard. The road would then travel due north from Kokomo to just south of the Wabash River, where it would turn to go into the town of Peru. From there, it would connect to the Michigan Road at Rochester via Mexico. Most of this route is marked today as Old US 31.

Indianapolis News, 23 August 1917

Now that the general history is done, let’s get back to the 1917 decision of the route north of Indianapolis. I can’t say for sure why the decision was made, but the Indiana State Highway Commission decided that the Range Line would be used instead of the Michigan. Before the decision was officially made, there were many people on both sides of the argument. One of the people on the Michigan Road side of the article was none other than Carl G. Fisher, creator of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways. His arguments are shown in the attached article from the Indianapolis News of 23 August 1917.

As pointed out in the article, the number of towns, especially county seats, along the Range Line is higher than those on the Michigan before they join at Rochester. The travel distance between Indianapolis and South Bend doesn’t vary much between the two routes. Granted, in the time of horses, a two mile difference in distance was almost monumental. But in the time of the automobile, not so much.

I guess it should be mentioned that, at the time, the only direct railroad route between Indianapolis and South Bend would be the Indianapolis & Frankfort and the Vandalia South Bend line (both Pennsylvania Railroad properties). This would take train travelers through Lebanon, Frankfort and Logansport before heading north to Plymouth and South Bend.

As it turned out, the ISHC would decide the Range Line Road would be the official winner of the SR 1 sweepstakes. This would lead to what ended up being bypass after bypass being built to fix little problems that had plagued the Range Line Road. One that comes screaming to mind, and was corrected about a decade after the decision, was the area at Broad Ripple. Narrow and winding, that section of OSR 1 would be a thorn in the side of the ISHC until it was removed from the state system around 1968 (removed from US 31 in 1930, it would become SR 431 until the completion of Keystone Avenue to the new I-465).

This is far from the last controversial road decision made by the state of Indiana. But it was one of the first. After, of course, the constitutionality of even having to make the decision in the first place. In the end, the historic Michigan Road, one of the first state roads in Indiana, would be one of the last added to the inventory of state maintained highways.