People often ask me, "What's it like to wander with you?" The braver souls ask, "Can I wander with you?" A key element is that the journey is the destination, not just the end point.
My Aunt Ann Johnson got to experience a Life Off The Highway wandering trip on Memorial Day 2021. We planned to visit two sites and hit a favorite restaurant in and around Michigan City, Indiana.
From Frankfort, we drove the Michigantown Blacktop to the Historic Michigan Road State Scenic Byway. Went north to Logansport then northwest on US 35. At Royal Center, we took off across country roads. Headed west to visit Pulaski for the second time in two weeks. Last time I captured pictures of the lovely St. Joseph Catholic Church on SR 119. Once I was back home, I learned that there is more to the town on the other side of the Tippecanoe River!
This time we found the school building I missed before. It is quite a nice building. The attached blue quonset building doesn’t add anything to the look but I am sure it had a purpose. A building on the corner by the bridge was very well maintained but without any markings. After a little research, I learned it's called The Old Mercantile, a local community center. Adjacent to the Mercantile, is a historic marker about the Pulaski Mill. A little farther down was Bill & Babe's restaurant perched "on the river bank since 1954." Across the street, is the new P. J. Gilsinger & Company Museum, a celebration of all things John Deere. The exhibits are from Paul Gilsinger's private collection celebrating his family's 120-year affiliation with the iconic farm equipment company. This town could benefit from some signage as there is certainly more here than meets the eye!
We traced the river road out of Pulaski and eventually headed due north. We just wandered and eventually drove on gravel roads that lined the western edge of the Winamac Fish & Wildlife Area. Kept driving north and drove through the industrial park west of Knox. Came upon an interesting Norfolk & Southern RR bridge over the Yellow River and stopped quickly pictures. Finally cut back east on SR 8 and hopped back on US 35.
Continued north through Kingsford Heights and Kingsbury. During WW2, the Kingsbury Ordnance Plant employed 20,000 workers making ammunition for the war effort. If you look at the area east of Kingsbury on satellite view, you can still see remnants of the complex. Kingsford Heights started as a residential district for civilian workers at the nearby plant. All along the way we talked about family, childhood memories, her parents (my grandparents), college friends and more. We didn’t lack for conversation. We drove through LaPorte before arriving in Michigan City and then traveled west to the Brincka Cross Gardens in Porter County.
We walked the trails through the Morainal flora that was both natural and nurtured. Some areas were planted and cared for by Mr. Brincka and his partner Mr. Cross when it was their home. Several different areas were established with focused plantings. Earlier in the spring there were 10,000 colorful daffodils washing over the hillside. We saw gorgeous rhododendrons in bloom. As the temperatures were mild, it was very pleasant walking along the paths. We passed an exhibit area of huge hostas, then circled around a barn with its own garden. Up ahead of us was a woman taking a closeup picture of a fern. When asked, she said ferns are her favorite. She loves taking pictures of flowers, her husband is also an avid photographer. As we talked with them, we learned they are both Hoosiers who also enjoy wandering. They take pictures of natural spaces, abandoned buildings (Mudlavia Springs Hotel near Attica), and other features around Indiana. We are connecting through LifeOffTheHighway.com.
Ann and I drove into Michigan City and pulled into a spot at Carlson’s Drive-In. I ordered a Chili Dog, fried mushrooms and a homemade Root Beer. She had a homemade corn dog, fried cauliflower, and a Root Beer. It was very good and the service was too. The server came to the car for the order and then brought food on a tray that hooked on the truck window. It was a throwback and a nice change of pace.
We went back west to Beverly Shores to visit the Century of Progress Homes on Lake Michigan. It was quite overcast, but wasn’t raining so still okay. I took pictures of all the houses, but have sunny pictures of the Florida House and the Armco-Ferro house. Four of the five houses are currently occupied by owners and the fifth one, the House of Tomorrow, is under restoration. These houses are part of a National Park Service Historic District.
Drove south on SR 49 to SR 8 east in southern Porter County and then south again on 500 East to Dunn’s Bridge County Park. The metal arch bridge was constructed over the Kankakee River in the mid-1890s by a farmer with land on both sides of the river. The bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places. There is no admission fee and there is plenty of parking. There were people fishing, military flags draped on the side of the bridge, the sun came out and we walked up and over the bridge.
Continued straight south through Tefft and just crossed SR 10 and kept going. Dug ditches everywhere in this region were used to drain the Great Kankakee Marsh. It was during the turn of the last century when the Kankakee River was straightened and the swamp tamed. The drainage ditches continue to work to this day. We passed an unusual landscape, the Tefft-Savanna Complex, and then saw a sign for the Prairie Border Nature Preserve. Continued driving through the middle of the Jasper-Pulaski FWA.
On south of the wilder areas, the landscape opened up to big fields and broad vistas. Found a high point and tried to capture it in pictures, but impossible to appreciate the expanse. Drove by a farm field with a crop I didn’t recognize. We saw a farmer loading up a sprayer from a farm tanker truck marked Twin Bridges Farms, Francesville. I drove into the lot where he was refilling the sprayer. He told me it was mint.
Turned east on SR114 then south on US 421 into Monon. Took pictures of several buildings. Continued south to SR 225 and into Battle Ground then out Pretty Prairie Road on the north side of Wabash. Over to Grant Road then south again across the Wabash River into Americus and then to Ann's granddaughter Kelsey's house. Visited with them, Josh showed me the work he’s done on the farmstead, bridges, rip-rap lined stream, pole barn, and restored antique tractors. They have had to tame the water that comes down the hillside rushing to the Wabash River less than a mile away.
We left a while later and headed over the bluff defining the Wabash River Valley. Drove south through Buck Creek past East Tipp Middle School then to SR 26 near Monitor then onto Chili’s in Lafayette. After a nice dinner, I took her over to New Castle Road just south of the Subaru Automotive plant and we drove south and east through Tippecanoe County and on east into Clinton County. She wasn't familiar with this road. New Castle Road connected Lafayette and New Castle which today is the route of SR 38 from Lafayette to Noblesville, New Castle, and Richmond. Dropped her off at her house and then headed home to Carmel.
It was a 350-mile day trip, but we drove through such diverse landscapes - prairies, swamps, moraines, lakefront, and river valleys. Indiana has a lot more to offer than people think. Step one, pick an ending point to turn around. Step two, start wandering around. Step 3, hit the back roads and experience Life Off the Highway.
Pictures from Pulaski, Indiana.
Brincka Cross Gardens
Carlson's Drive-In, Michigan City and Century of Progress Houses, Beverly Shores
Dunn's Bridge, Porter County. Jasper County prairie vistas. Monon Theatre in Monon, White County.