Indianapolis to Richmond, Indiana on the historic National Road
After trying to outrun a storm and rushing south from Chicago to Indianapolis where we pulled into the Lake Haven Retreat RV Park, south of the city and easily accessible from Interstate 74/465 and US 40 (the National Road). The RV park included a five acre lake and was quite nice though we didn’t use any of the facilities other than the cable and wireless Internet. We were driving our rented RV from Crusie America and had just set out on our 17 day journey zig zagging across America.
We checked in after dark and got on the road in the morning. We set off on the National Road – America’s first road west with its origination in Baltimore physically and in principle in 1806 when Congress authorized the road which was then completed in Illinois in 1832.
This journey only takes in the Indiana portion of the road and even then just the section east of Indianapolis. You could travel between these two paces in an hour an half via the interstate highway. But we opted to stop, sightsee and eat along the National Road and did it in three far more enjoyable hours.
Hardly worth taking the expressway in my mind. And if you like antiques or history, this road is very important and you do get a sense of America’s westward expansion and history by driving it.
As a child, I’d seen the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Statue of Liberty and many other “must see” pieces of Americas history. The National Road should be on that list. While it really isn’t possible to identify one thing, the route and scenes that unfold are what you must see and experience.
Imagine driving through a 90 mile long corridor of the Smithsonian and stopping in any gallery to learn more about what intrigues you. Utterly fascinating. From the early 19th century buildings to the mid 20th century neon signs to the early 20th century middle America architecture of rural small town houses.
The towns along the way are, in order:
Greenfield, Charlottesville, Knightstown, Dunreith, Lewisville, Straughn, Dublin, Mt Auburn, Cambridge City, Pershing, Centerville, Richmond
You can opt to do whatever you want along the way and make as many or as few stops as you like.
Greenfield was our first stop with its picturesque houses dotting the landscape to its nice little town center. The town is a typical Main Street town but well preserved (at a population of about 20,000) and really a refreshing stop on any journey. There are antiques shops, a nice arts scene for the town’s size, a number of restaurants including Lincoln Square Pancake House which I wish I was hungry enough for when we stopped because it is the type of place that is probably incredible.
An old cinema has been converted into an arts center also in the downtown area and is called the H J Ricks Centre for the Arts. The Hancock County Courthouse is an impressive structure in the town that is the county seat. The county is named for the first signor of the American Declaration of Independence, John Hancock.
Knightstown was once a thriving Midwestern town that had downtown grocery stores, five and dimes and more. Today it is an historic town but one that has struggled. It’s population is just over 2,000 people and the street scenes of the downtown haven’t changed much except for the shop names.
Lewisville is tiny. 366 people at last census count. The William Houston Dry Good Store from the 1840s is right on the corner on Main Street and is now a community center after five years of restoration on the historic structure. There was a community Christmas shop in it and open at the time of our visit.
The people we encountered were very friendly and something I can’t quite explain about them made me respect them and admire them more than just any other passerby where I lived. I wanted to see their ‘everyday’ and I imagined it wasn’t all beach and palm trees but something in its own magical way kept them in their town.
Lewisville also had an opera house at one time (built in 1901) and the building (the Guyer Opera House) is still there on the National Road (110 West Main Street). It looks as though it may still be used though I couldn’t find much evidence of activity. It was placed on the National Registry in 1979.
Cambridge City was platted in 1836 and is home to quite a few stops for antiques lovers. It also has a nice old Inn that is called Huddleston Farms that serves as a museum but is actually in Mt. Auburn. Of all the towns along the road this one seemed to be the most cared for with the possible exception of Greenfield. The town had a sense of pride, history and seemed to accept its role as an antiques center.
Richmond is the largest town along this section of the National Road at a population of about 36,000. It has produced such nice tourism promotional material that I knew it had to be a stop. The town has great potential and the tourism material makes the destination more appealing than it actually is but then I understand that all too well. It was founded in 1806 by Quakers from the Carolinas.
A stop in the downtown and a random meander or glance at Yelp for a place to eat yielded strange results. We were in the middle of an incredible historic district but found it challenging to walk to food. We ended up in a retirement home with a cafeteria before finding something else we could drive to. Usually a downtown has somewhere to eat in each block or at least visible to the eye when on a main road in the town.
Granted, the retirement home was quite nice inside but we didn’t want to eat there. Richmond is quite a large small town and while it has a nice downtown, restaurants are not numerous enough to be clustered. There is no restaurant row and the shopping is spotty at best.
Blocks and blocks are between restaurants and precious little for window shopping to keep you entertained. We decided on 5th Street Coffee and Bagels (211south Fifth Street) which was four blocks from where we were as opposed to the Main Street Diner which was nine blocks away. As always, we wanted to support a downtown independent restaurant especially one in a historic building.
The place was busy enough and the food was excellent. It turns out the business is family owned and the family owns a number of restaurants in Richmond. From what I’ve seen downtown, quite possibly all of them including the nearby Old Richmond Inn which we would have liked to have tried.
I can strongly suggest this trip to anyone and it is easy to do for many people in the vicinity. Quite honestly, I really think a trip along the entire National Road – which is far less commercial than Route 66 – would be a perfect vacation. Next time, I will do more research on the active things to do/see along the road to make the more passive sightseeing more interesting. Get off the expressway and breathe the air of one of America’s many small towns that are waiting to be re-discovered by you. Enjoy!