27 September 2011

Our Newest State Byway: The Historic Michigan Road and Our Inseparable Ties

This old historic road that runs through Indiana, like a spine connecting the Ohio River with Lake Michigan, the Michigan Road, and I are old friends. We have a history tied to every facet of my life and it seems to be a road I can’t get away from, a road that pulls me back with it into the past and pushes me along with it into the future.

I did all my growing up on “Michigan Road Lands”; tracts of land the State of Indiana received as part of a treaty with the American Indians and sold to settlers beginning in the 1830s. We lived on portions of my grandpa’s farm located just a mile off the Michigan Road. I went to church at the LaPaz Church of God, along the road, until I was about 6 years old when we drove the Michigan Road to South Bend every Sunday to attend a church less than a mile off the road. I went to LaPaz Elementary School, located on the road, through 6th grade. And then I completed Junior and Senior High School along the road at Grace Baptist in Plymouth. And I drove the road every day to get there. Then I went to college and drove the road every day to get to South Bend.

After I graduated from college and got a job in Plymouth, just a block off the Michigan Road, I moved into an apartment in the downtown and had one of the best views overlooking the Michigan Road at 120 ½ N. Michigan. And then I walked along the road to get to work. In 1997 I met my future wife at a coffee shop on the road and in 1998 we were married at the Church of the Brethren in Plymouth-you guessed it-on the road. And we took a celebratory drive in the backseat of her dad’s VW with the top down, down the Michigan Road. A few months later we moved into our first home at 308 South Michigan, a house constructed in 1853 when the road wasn’t much more than a dirt path.

When we purchased our second home it seemed that our new connection to the Michigan Road was going to be tenuous at best. We were located a full quarter mile off the road, again on Michigan Road Lands. But then I looked into the history of our house and the man who built it, Robert Schroeder. Schroeder came to Marshall County with his father in the early 1830s to build the Michigan Road. His father built a cabin on the east side of the road a few miles north of Plymouth. Robert purchased the property in 1865 and built his house at the east end of the property, which is our home now. His grave, marked “first settler of Marshall County” is located in the Fairmount Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the county, just north of our home along the road. It seems we can’t get away from this old road. And now we travel it with our kids to school and church on Sundays.

As much as my life is and was connected to the road, it should be no surprise that my ancestors were just as connected. My Dad and my Grandma Crothers Hochstetler went to the old LaPaz School like I did. My grandparents established the Garner Inn in 1949 at the road’s intersection with Highway 6 south of LaPaz. They traded their farm near Tyner for the inn and lived above it. My Crothers ancestors’ farm was located on the east side of the road on the north side of LaPaz; they built their home in about 1860 and it is still there today. My Barnhill ancestors traveled the Michigan Road from Indianapolis to Argos and established their farm on the west side of the road just north of town in the 1840s. Great x4 grandpa Barnhill started the Antioch Church north of his home on the Michigan Road; his home is still there but the church is long gone. My great grandparents, named Bryant, traveled the road north from Rochester and lived in a home on the east side of Michigan north of Argos, also still there today. My great, great grandfather Garner had a saddle and tack shop on the north edge of downtown Rochester, on the west side of the road; the building is still there. My great grandmother Garner had a dress shop in downtown Argos, on the southwest corner of Michigan and Walnut Streets. My great, great, great grandfather Moore had a dry goods and general mercantile on Michigan Street in Argos; both buildings are still there. My ancestors are buried in the old Argos, Fairmont, and County Line Cemeteries in Marshall County. I say all this to demonstrate that my family did their living, dying, schooling, and worshipping along this great old road, dating back to almost its entire history.

I first learned about the history of the Michigan Road in 1997. I had always thought it was just the road to Michigan. While working with a group of people from Plymouth to put the downtown on the National Register of Historic Places, I learned about the road’s story. I learned that it was the very first road commissioned by the State of Indiana which began as an agreement in the 1826 treaty with the Potawatomie Indians. In 1829 the road was surveyed and construction started the following year. The road stretched 270 miles from Madison to Michigan City, connecting the new state capital, Indianapolis, with shipping ports. The road led to the establishment of a number of Indiana towns, particularly in the north where the land was solidly wilderness. The road was the path over which the American Indian was removed from their lands and also served as a path to freedom for escaping slaves. Between 2005 and 2007 I placed both downtown Rochester and Argos on the National Register where the Michigan Road serves as their main street.

The fascination with the Michigan Road grew as I traced the route on a state map and longed to drive the whole route. I got the chance when I won a bet with my wife over the amount of snow each of us predicted from a blizzard on New Year’s Day, 1999. The winner chose a location to take a weekend trip. I chose Madison by way of the Michigan Road. It was after that trip I realized there needed to be a way created to celebrate the rich history of the road. I submitted one grant request for funds to survey the historic sites along the road and was turned down. I sat down with the state historic preservation office to establish a method to do this under another application, but it didn’t fit neatly into their standards.

I wrote a blog post on the Historic Michigan Road in 2008 and a fellow named Jim Grey found me and left a message. He wrote a piece on the road, to which I commented that we should work together to find a way to honor the road. On August 2, 2008, two guys who had never met before scheduled a meeting to “discover” the Michigan Road in Fulton and Marshall Counties. At that time we talked about finding some way to promote the history of the road. Several weeks later I attended the Indiana Byways Conference on behalf of the Lincoln Highway and realized this was the answer, and contacted Jim with the idea.

We held a meeting in Rochester in January, 2009, and invited as many people we could think of who could be interested in this endeavor in the northern part of the state. It was decently attended by several people who would become our committee members. We decided to hold another meeting in Logansport later that spring and at that meeting we organized and began a series of community meetings up and down the Michigan Road into 2010. Communities showed great interest and support for the project. In December, 2010, we submitted a 90+ page document nominating the Historic Michigan Road as a state byway. In May, 2011 members of our committee presented our case to state officials and on September 9, 2011 an order by the Lt. Governor officially designated the Historic Michigan Road a state byway.

It seems that the road and I are inseparable, like old friends, and it looks like we’ll have a long and happy future together.

26 September 2011

Extreme porch make-over & insul(t)brick

Like most old farmhouses, our backporch is our "front door". We have a front door and I think visitors have used it once or twice in the 20 months we have lived here, but many more times than not people come to the back door on the porch. It was the door we first used to get a look at the house on Sycamore Hill and rarely do we use any other door to leave the house.

Our back door in town was essentially our front door too. The problem was that we had two of them and since one didn't function the first five years we lived there everyone got used to using the other. Then we put on a gorgeous new door, stone porch and pergola, and created an inviting entryway.....and since people were used to using the other door, well, it was at least nice to look at.

So we moved to Sycamore Hill and couldn't have asked for an uglier back door. There was a 30' long porch, 6' wide with a pocked and broken concrete floor, screened in openings that were full of debris, boards enclosing the top portion of the openings so you could only see as far as the gravel drive, and the house wall was the best....it was covered in insulbrick, which was a fiberboard material used for siding, usually over wood siding, installed during the 1920s-40s. It was promoted as a brick look with insulatory qualities. I call it insult-brick, because it is a bit of an insult.

Now, I'm sure somewhere out there is a good example of insulbrick that maybe should be preserved for posterity. However, our back porch wall is/was not such a location. It was dark grey-black and seemed to welcome mud-crafting wasps. But the ugly didn't end there. Right outside our back door, in the porch floor, was a "small pit" as the former owner described it, saying she fell into it one time while she visited her grandparents. The pit had wood boards over it and steel panels covering the wood. Out of curiosity just a few weeks ago I popped up a board. Small pit? That thing is 6' deep! It's a fall-out shelter!

So, we moved in and the porch became the repository for all the crap that we had to move out of the house to renovate it. Finally we emptied the porch of the junk after 6 months of living here. Then it sat. Then this spring I pulled off the two screen doors that certainly had seen better days, and the piece of plywood covering one doorway, and things just seemed a bit better. Then, in a fit of frustration and a bit of curiosity, I pulled out one screen and wood framing around it in one of the openings. The difference was like night and day. I had to be somewhere in an hour, but I started the demo that changed the face of the back porch from ugly to tolerable.

Then-what to do with that insulbrick? We plan to reside the house in a few years, but wouldn't a little primer and paint lighten things up? So I primed, and just a few weeks ago my dad painted, the porch. Wow. And then, though I'm not a big fan of outdoor carpet, I patched the concrete and covered up that mess with some fine synthetics which are waiting to be glued down. What a huge difference this has made on the old house. And the nice thing is that everyone has to use this door...so it's more than just nice to look at. The pictures are the progression from ugly this spring to about perfect this fall. The wife has decorating ideas, but a few pumpkins added about all the charm it needed. Now to paint the doors.

21 September 2011

Art Saves Kewanna

I don't typically send out kudos here on HH, but I was made aware this morning that Kewanna, a small town in northwestern Fulton County, is the recipient of yet another great downtown "save" by their summer-resident artist.

Several years ago Diane Tesler, an artist from Virginia, started a preservation boom in this little rural farming community. Spending her summers in Indiana, and drawing inspiration from the countryside, Tesler has made significant investments in Kewanna. One of her largest projects was the restoration of the town's Odd Fellows Hall. She has just embarked on the restoration of the town's cool-looking (to me) Masonic Hall.

Having taken the leisurely drive between Culver and Logansport on Highway 17, I was introduced to Kewanna and Grass Creek over a decade ago. Today it is a drive I find opportunity to take as often as possible. The one building that always caught my attention was this great old lodge hall on the west side of 17 (photo of the "before")....I've even featured it before on HH. So, seeing a picture of it today come across the wire, with its true facade finally revealed from beneath a bad aluminum job from the 60s, you can imagine I was pretty pumped.

Hat's off to Diane and all the work she's done to preserve the buildings in Kewanna, and the Hoosier landscape portrayed in her work. Her website is: http://www.dianetesler.com/

14 September 2011

The hot air behind wind energy

I am an environmentalist. A few right-wingers out there are salivating over the fact that I just admitted that, and no doubt it will come back to haunt me somewhere down the line. I remember the first time I said those exact words. It was in front of Republicania County's Drainage Board when I challenged the 19th century dredging philosophy still in use which was causing ever-increasing flooding in River City.

So, naturally, I would be the first to embrace massive wind towers across our Hoosier landscape, right? Well, much like the fervor behind the ethanol business only four short years ago (remember that? it was going to solve our dependency on foreign oil), I question the authenticity of any "get on the band wagon" energy plan. Naturally, any undertaking of such magnitude has to be profitable to work. But just like an ethanol plant shouldn't be plopped down just in any 'ol location.....neither should the newest commercial venture in dependency-free energy.

The wind energy debate landed in Republicania County and has risen to a boiling point since discussions about towers shooting up east of a lake resort community began several months ago. Now, I'm not opposed to wind energy towers.....but to somehow equate them to grandpa's windmill on the 'ol homestead is ludicrous. Grandpa's windmill couldn't be seen 3 miles away. Our wind energy ordinance requires that towers not be placed any closer than 1,000 feet from a home. Now, that's less than a quarter mile away (roughly 4 city blocks). Why should home owner's have the enjoyment of their property, and its cash value, be lessened just so a farmer (maybe, or maybe just a guy who purchased enormous tracts of land) and a large corporation can make some serious cash? These are massive commercial undertakings with little local benefit.

Top photo is off the massive wind farm stetching for miles along the South Dakota/Minnesota border. The photo above is the wind farm constructed along I-65 northwest of Lafayette.

My friends on the clean energy side of this debate need to come to terms with the prospect of a potential for windmills randomly placed throughout the county. SMART planning, something our county has failed to do since we adopted zoning in the 1970s, would create zones based on wind maps, and then make the commercial towers only acceptable in those locations with no deviation. 1,000 feet from any residence? That's even less than wind energy corporations' OWN standards. Frankly, there should be a push to place these near or in our industrial or highway commercial areas......this is far more appropriate in land use.

I've had several people ask me to weigh in on our county's wind energy debate, to which I've said that if I could trust our county to do the right thing, I'd be all for it. I've even looked out my windows and thought...hmmm.....1,000' could drop a tower very close....but I found a few acceptable locations that a wind farm could locate in my view. I fully support exploration in renewable energy, including wind, but there are appropriate places for any such initiative. This is not NIMBY, this is simply doing what is right, for everyone, all the way around.

09 September 2011

9/11 Then and Now

A few days ago while driving in the central part of the state and listening to Hoosier Country the dj posed the question "do we need to be bombarded with images from 9/11?" His point was that it was in the past and the feelings that reliving that horrific day in American history could do more harm than good. In fact he commented that a number of psychologists recommended not watching 9/11 footage because of the anxiety, depression, and rage that may ensue.

I remember the week following 9/11 hearing similar comments. The footage of that darkest day was broadcasted 24/7 and helplessly we watched. But I think something remarkable came out of that in the days and weeks to follow. We became One Nation. We became compassionate and sacrificial. And yes, knowing we had a common enemy, we became determined.

But in the months to follow 9/11 the determination swelled into hatred in some American hearts. And a year after 9/11 it seemed that "the day that would change a Nation forever" had changed us, but not into the character developed in the days after 9/11. While I absolutely believe that fighting terrorism on an international scale had to be done, I wonder about the war at home.

Patriotism defined in this post-9/11 world is vastly different from what we witnessed in the days after the sky fell, and nearly opposite of the heartbeat of the Greatest Generation's defining moment. During the days of World War II the homefront was characterized by sacrifice, conservation, and neighbors caring for each other. Today, in the throws of this 10 year war, hearts beat with anger and selfishness. Too strong and generalizing? I don't think so, not after listening to the divisive rhetoric being spewed by politicians and pundits.

Think about the calls for sacrifice during World War II. Think about the propaganda several months after 9/11. The government and corporations were asking us to go out and spend our money. This was patriotism redefined. Fifty years ago we understood the value of collectively educating our children. Today patriotism seems defined by taking a knife to the throat of public education. Individualists did not build this country, as much as we like to think they did.....patriotism is not the dismantling of Social Security, public education, or government in general. In fact, I think it is quite the opposite. Even in my young, right-wing Rush days, I would never have been convinced that what is being proposed by today's conservatives is the right path for a great Nation.

As I thought about the question the dj posed, and having already seen tremendous replay of footage from September 11th, I thought to myself "God, don't let me forget"....don't let me forget the tremendous culture of heroism, compassion, and sacrifice our country experienced in the days following its aftermath. The 10th anniversary of 9/11 could be the cultural equivalent of a hundred years removed from that day. If it did indeed change us........God help us for what it seems to have changed us into.

02 September 2011

Blueberry Memories...going with the theme

It may be the heat, or I may be getting lazy, but here are a couple of posts in fond reflection of the madness known as the Blueberry Festival. Congratulations to this year's parade Grand Marshal, a good friend and director of the Marshall County Historical Society & Museum.