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Michigan Road
U.S. Route 421 

The first road in Indiana to run North and South

In the 1830s Indiana built a north-south road that connected Michigan City with Madison as it ran from Madison, Indiana to Michigan City, Indiana via Indianapolis.

Indiana's first "super highway." This new road was called the Michigan Road.

The road was originally intended to head directly north from Logansport but to avoid the Kankakee marsh, it went to Rochester north to South Bend, then west.

In portions of the state, land for the Michigan Road was purchased in huge chunks from Native Americans, but in the northern part of the state, it was only a 100' swath of ground

The Michigan Road was one of the earliest roads in Indiana. Roads in early Indiana were often roads in name only. In actuality they were sometimes little more than crude paths following old animal and Native American trails and filled with sinkholes, stumps, and deep, entrapping ruts. Hoosier leaders, however, recognized the importance of roads to the growth and economic health of the state and encouraged construction of roads which would do for Indiana what the National Road was doing for the whole country.

As early as 1821 the legislature earmarked funds for more than two dozen roads throughout the state. Roadbuilding was often the responsibility of the counties, which were empowered to call out a local labor force for construction and provide road viewers, or supervisors.

At one time, State Road 29 was much longer, going from Madison in the south to Michigan City in the north; when US 421 was commissioned, it took over much of the route. The original road was laid out in the 1830s and construction on the first road was completed in 1841. It was known as "Michigan Road."

The Michigan Road was probably one of if not the most important transportation routes in the fledgling State of Indiana. Being the first commissioned road by the Indiana State Legislature in 1826; the Michigan Road became a key thoroughfare in opening up the state to settlement. It connected Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capitol. It was used by the pioneer and as a path for freedom for the runaway slave; it was the trail down which the Native American was removed from their lands.

US 421 winds through the southern part of Indiana as it runs from Madison, in the southeastern part of the state, to Indianapolis (the capital). North of Greensburg, US 421 intersects and merges with I-74 west, through the Shelbyville area enroute to Indianapolis. Originally, US 421 followed Southeastern Avenue into downtown Indianapolis, where it merged with US 40 (Washington Street) to West Street, then turned north, following West Street, Northwestern Avenue (later MLK Drive), and Michigan Road up to the northwest side of the city. US 421 went past a famous Indianapolis landmark, the Pyramids. North of Indianapolis, US 421 continues to the north-northwest, providing a direct highway link between Indianapolis and Michigan City. US 421 ends at its junction with US 20 on the south side of Michigan City.

Counties through which the Michigan Road passes

LaPorte, St. Joseph, Marshall, Fulton, Cass, Carroll, Clinton, Boone, Hamilton, Marion, Shelby, Rush, Decatur, Ripley, & Jefferson

Cities & towns through which the Michigan Road passes:

Michigan City, New Carlisle, South Bend, Lakeville, LaPaz, Plymouth, Argos, Rochester, Fulton, Logansport, Burlington, Michigantown, Kirklin, Indianapolis, Shelbyville, Middleton, St. Omer, Greensburg, Slabtown, Smyma, Napolean, Dabney, New Marion, Bryantsburg, & Madison

Like the National Road, it did much to spur settlement and economic growth. One-half of the pioneers to settle northwestern Indiana did so by using the Michigan Road to travel from the Ohio River to their destination. It was the "most ambitious" project to connect Indianapolis with the rest of the state, despite being never more than a "muddy road".

One of the things that made the road possible was a treaty the state of Indiana forged with the Pottawatomie on October 16, 1826. Governor James B. Ray led the negotiations. It allowed for a ribbon of land 100 feet (30 m) wide to stretch from the Ohio River (at Madison) to Lake Michigan (Michigan City). The Pottawatomie left the region by the very road when the last of their tribe was forcibly removed in the 1836 Pottawatomie Trail of Death.

A commission was selected to route the road from Indianapolis to Lake Michigan in 1828. It was told to make the trailhead be the best harbor, preferably natural, that could be had with Lake Michigan. The Kankakee River's swamp posed a problem for the construction of the road, forcing the commission to avoid a more direct northwesterly route and instead have it go from Logansport, Indiana straight up to the south bend of the St Joseph River (now South Bend, Indiana), and then west to Lake Michigan. Michigan City was formally selected to be the trailend in 1832.

The route from Madison to Indianapolis was straighter. From Madison it went north through Ripley and Jefferson counties straight to Greensburg, Indiana, and from there straight through Shelby County, Indiana to Indianapolis.

It proved to be the preferred route to Indianapolis for 34 separate counties, even through the road only went through 14 counties. In 1836 the Indiana General Assembly passed the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act, the act provided funds to pave the entire length of the road. However, the economic difficulties brought on by overspending and the Panic of 1837 caused the state to enter partial bankruptcy before the entire length could be paved. The situation forced Indiana to give control of the road to the individual counties as part of a plan to avoid losing it to the state's creditors.

Today

Indiana State Road 29, originally much longer, followed the route from Madison in the south to Michigan City in the north. The later U.S. Route 421 follows the route from Madison to Indianapolis; the original route for US 421 was altered when Interstate 465 was constructed.

In Indianapolis, a few remnants of the road still remain. In particular stands a tollhouse the Augusta Gravel Road Company placed to recoup their costs in repairing the road. It stands just north of the White River.

A monument marking the intersection of the Michigan Road and the National Road exists at the corner of Washington Street and Southeastern Ave. near downtown Indianapolis. This monument was relocated slightly as part of the changes to Interstate 65 exits in 2008.

 

 
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This website is the composition of many hours of research. Information contained within this site has come from numerous sources such as websites, newspapers, books, and magazines.

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