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.

2 comments:

jimgrey said...

May it ever be so! And may our association be as durable as the road.

RoadDog said...

Always good to have an old road like the Michigan so honored.

Several years ago, I drove the length of US-421 from Michigan City to Fort Fisher, NC.

I was aware part of it went along the alignment of the Michigan and figured that it did go through Indianapolis, but now takes the interstate around it.