Knightstown resident Eric Cox introduces us to the sights of the Midwestern life in one small town along the road that united a nation.
A mid-summer morning passes on Main Street (U.S. 40) in Knightstown. The town’s Carnegie library is open and ready for patrons. Short-order breakfasts are being served as school children learn their lessons. Like many small towns along Indiana’s stretch of the National Road, things are slow to change. Some communities embrace the promise of economic vitality through thoughtful development, while others pine away for the gold ol’ days, before the massive interstates like I-70 siphoned off the traffic that once shopped and filled up gas tanks in towns like Knightstown.
Out in south central Henry County, the corn grows high and the bean fields stretch out thick like emerald carpets on the western crest of the Ohio River Valley. When the sun sets on the tiny town of Lewisville, only porch and street lights, the pizza place on U.S. 40, and the town’s lone stoplight illuminate the rural night. The National Road is flat through most of Henry County, undulating slightly around Knightstown, before stair-stepping down to the Whitewater River valley in eastern Henry and western Wayne counties.
Knightstown’s business district was once a magnet for classic car owners across the Midwest. A community booster group, Make a Difference Knightstown, hosted what was once an annual event that drew hundreds of high-quality vintage automobiles. The show was a boon for local businesses, as well as the organizing group, which funneled proceeds into community beautification projects, like the Henry County Area Veterans Memorial and other worthwhile endeavors.
Classic cars line Knightstown’s Main Street during the Cars of Summer Car Show, which drew hundreds of cars and thousands of people.
“Lest We Forget” are the words printed in wrought iron at the entrance to the Henry County Area Veterans Memorial in Knightstown. Built by the same Make a Difference group that put on the car show, along with several private donors and volunteers, the memorial is filled with personalized granite bricks commem-orating the service of hundreds of area veterans.
The deep cold of winter creates crisp, clear conditions on Knightstown’s Public Square, located just of U.S. 40. A late afternoon sun illuminates snow flurries and Old Glory, whipping angrily in a brisk, southwesterly wind.
Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) is an organization that assists the families of Indiana law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. To bolster its funding, the group sponsors an annual cycling event which takes participants (most police officers) around the state on a fundraising tour. In 2011, the COPS crew came to Knightstown, stopping at a local residence for lunch and rest. In this photo, the COPS bunch pedals into town from the west, along U.S. 40.
Muted evening light softens Knightstown’s worn edges, creating a scene of nearly pure Americana at the corner of Brown and Jefferson streets. While many of the community’s stately homes have been preserved by conscientious owners, others have fallen into disrepair. This home has the advantage of being owned by people with a passion for preservation and good taste.
Like myriad Midwestern communities, high school sports play a major role in residents’ interests and spare time. Knightstown built a new high school – complete with a new football stadium featuring artificial turf – about 10 years ago. Friday night football games, like this one against visiting Lapel, are well-attended, with residents converging on the football field, showing their support regardless of the team’s win-loss record.
Knightstown resident Patrick Kramer navigates Main Street during a 2014 snow storm. Knightstown employees usually work in tandem with Indiana Department of Transportation workers to clear snow from U.S. 40. That teamwork means residents enjoy a relatively clear driving path as they motor to work and other destinations during inclement weather.
A dazzling sunset coupled with Knightstown’s street and stoplights make an interesting image. The bucolic nature of small bergs like Knightstown is what drives many people from the city into the arms of such small towns. Residents find peace and a slower pace here. Traffic jams are practically nonexistent – except when back-ups on I-70 force cars and semis down onto U.S. 40. But, even then the waits are mercifully short compared to Indy’s recurrent drive-time gridlock.
Each June, Knightstown hosts its Jubilee Days celebration, which features a carnival and parade. The summer night is punctuated by the midway’s thumping music and flashing lights. Many a wide-eyed kid circled the attractions, nibbling cotton candy while deciding which ride to try next.
As folks who live along U.S. 40 know, the road is used by a spectrum of travelers and enthusiasts interested in traveling the length of the road or some section therein. Among them are bicyclists, backpackers, cross-bearers, peace activists and even antique car owners. Model T car owners sometimes make the pilgrimage, mustering their fellow club members into a caravan of shiny, rolling history. The former Post & Post Hardware store in Knightstown made a great backdrop for this parked classic.
The Indiana National Road Association gathered up some funding a few years ago and, with it, had these interpretative National Road marker signs installed across Indiana. The signs guide tourists through the road’s significant history and directs them to other area points of interest. Some locals say the signs are a good addition to the area’s already-rich assortment of attractions. Anything that causes visitors to linger in towns along U.S. 40 is seen as a good thing that encourages tourism and helps develop the local economy.
Knightstown Midwestern Small Towns Small Town Indiana Small Towns The National Road
by Donovan Wheeler photos by Caitlin Fogle Like a lot of winding back routes in ...