So… You want to go to French Lick???
Anyone attending the NAMGBR event in French Lick IN may wish to take the old Dixie Highway from south Chicago to just outside French Lick.
What is the “Dixie Highway” and why does it go near French Lick? Well, about 100 years ago, when automobiles and long distance travel by automobile were pretty new, enterprising folks in tourist areas banded together to chart continuous routes from the nasty North to the sunny South. Entrepreneurs along the way got on the band wagon in hopes of selling a meal or a hotel room to the new industry of automotive tourists, and thusly various stretches of road from Sault Ste Marie MI to south Florida became labeled as “The Dixie Highway” in their various locales.
Chicago and other Illinois groups jumped in with a route from Chicago to Danville, which then turned east into Indiana to join with another branch of the “Dixie Highway” that went through central Michigan through South Bend and joined with the Illinois branch in Indianapolis. That conjoined route passed through Paoli, IN (about 10 miles NE of French Lick) and continued through Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia to finally arrive in Florida.
So, if you drive the Dixie today, what will you find? Well, keep in mind that this was never a purpose-built roadway from point A to point B (like a modern interstate). So what you will find are only some old signs and perhaps sections of highway still carrying the “Dixie” designation. However, the old roads today are still good roads (in Illinois, the main road is IL ST RT 1 aka Halstead St).
The original Dixie Highway route goes into eastern Indianapolis and exits on the south side of the city. Anyone driving the Dixie should probably cut south way before Indianapolis and rejoin the Dixie along Indiana ST RT 37 then continue to Paoli before leaving the Dixie
and continuing to French Lick. You will loose some historical originality by this detour but will escape the city traffic of Indianapolis. By diverting in near Veedersburg you will find yourself in “covered bridge” country and can probably enjoy traversing a few of those on your trip.
Drivin’ the Dixie is not the fastest nor the most scenic route to French Lick, but it does offer the sense of reliving a little bit of the history of early motoring. The Dixie can be best accessed in the Homewood IL area by exiting from I-294 at the Dixie Highway exit, and following the occasional signs marked “Dixie Highway”. This roadway will morph into IL RT 1 and will take you into Danville, where an eastbound turn on US 136 will carry you into southeast central Indiana. Stay on US 136 until you choose to divert around Indianapolis, then head for IN RT 37 and take it to Paoli.
Drive distance from Homewood to Paoli on the Dixie route is about 250 miles…figure about 6-7 hours drive time. Info on the Dixie and routes are readily available on the internet. Check it out.