2010-12-29 / Front Page

History of local landmark told

Historic Sycamore Row is located south of Deer Creek, just west of the Michigan Road (State Road 29). Photo pro- vided Historic Sycamore Row is located south of Deer Creek, just west of the Michigan Road (State Road 29). Photo pro- vided Editor’s Note: Bonnie Maxwell of Delphi is a member of a statewide committee that has nominated the Michigan Road as an Indiana Historic Byway. In Carroll County, the Michigan Road (as State Road 29) passes through Burlington, Carrollton, Sharon, Wheeling, and Deer Creek. Below, Maxwell provides the history of one of the local landmarks along the route, Sycamore Row.

The two rows of sycamore trees south of Deer Creek, just to the west of the historic Michigan Road or SR 29, have a long and important history. The exact source of those trees is uncertain, but their existence was said to go back to 1868 or earlier in a 1950 interview with Charles Mc- Closkey. The Michigan Road passed between those rows of trees until the by-pass and new bridge were built in 1987.

The popular story is that the trees sprouted from sycamore logs laid in the area to cover the marshy spot south of Deer Creek to form a corduroy road as early as when the road was first cleared in the early 1830s. An alternate to that story is that they sprouted from sycamore logs laid down as stringers to support the plank road that was built in about 1850. The plank road was constructed with 10-foot or 12-foot planks, so it would seem that the stringers laid lengthwise would not have been as far apart as the rows later described as being 20-24 feet apart.

There are two other similar stories about their origin. The first is that in about 1867 when the Michigan Road was first graveled, under the supervision of the Logansport and Burlington Turnpike Co., Joseph Uhl built a living embankment and transplanted the trees to hold the waters that were inclined to wash out the road. The second is that a similar plan was made by Dr. J. M. Justice at the same time, and Dr. Justice transplanted the trees from the nearby woods to the edge of the new road.

According to forestry experts consulted by area resident and soil conservation authority Joe O’Donnell, either story could be true. Trees could have sprouted not from sawn planks but from logs if they were small and immediately laid in place. It is doubtful, however, that many, if any, of the trees there today date from the earliest times since they would have to be six to eight feet in diameter. Today’s trees likely grew from seeds dropped by the earlier trees.

Since the first days of automobile traffic, there has been a controversy over whether the trees should be allowed to remain at the site or whether they should be removed to make travel safer. In 1929 when the road was paved, greater speeds increased the potential for accidents. In 1939 when the berm was to be widened, 19 trees were to be cut, but following a protest by Carroll and Cass County residents, only five were removed since no fatal accidents had yet occurred.

By 1950 there were 92 trees left - 36 on the west and 56 on the east. Again in 1963 there was a plan to remove 40 of the remaining 87 trees, but Gov. Welsh was persuaded to halt the cutting after 18 were removed - only two of whichweredead. Carroll County native and ex-U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Claude Wickard was one of the leaders of the protest. Later in 1963 the present historical marker was erected and 20 large saplings were planted 20 feet from the edge of the road.

Carroll School busses traversed that area daily, and there was fear that a bus and a large truck would sometime not safely pass one another between the trees. The lower trunks of the trees were whitewashed and reflectors placed on them, and a 40-mile speed limit was posted. At that time, it was stated that the bridge was 22 feet wide and the remaining trees were at least that far apart - some as much as 15 feet away from the road’s edge.

In 1970 a new bridge was scheduled to be built over Deer Creek just to the north of the sycamores to replace the 1930 iron bridge, and again there was a controversy over whether to reroute the road and build the new bridge to the east of the 65 remaining sycamores. The preservationists ran into a problem when it appeared that to move the road and bridge would mean disturbing a historic spring-fed pond that had been used by the Indians on the Modisett farm and would intrude on the area where soybeans were first cultivated in America by the Fouts family. There were discussions and official hearings both here and in Indianapolis, and a compromise was finally reached that moved the road and the new bridge about 100 feet to the east, but avoided the historic pond and soybean field. The new plan involved re-routing a small portion of Deer Creek and filling some swampy area.

Two miles of new road and the concrete bridge were finally built and opened in July 1987. At that time, the State made The Sycamores available to the county for a park and picnic area, but that idea was not pursued and the State still owns the land.

The Sycamores constitute one of the most historic relics of the Michigan Road, and the site is a unique feature pointed out in the Historic Michigan Road Byway application, which has been submitted to INDOT for final review.

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