When the big interstates absorbed the bulk of motorists, commerce along the old main roads dried up in some areas, leaving forgotten landmarks at quiet intersections. Many years later, people in sprawling suburbs and busy cities now look for a change of pace with a desire to wander off the beaten path. Escaping stoplights and congested streets, we ventured out into rural Atlanta, Indiana to visit Mercantile 37, a 1940s building with a new cafe and packed showroom of locally-sourced, custom and vintage home goods. Hop on and ride along with us…
The pre-ride rendezvous point was a gas station in Carmel, Indiana, an opportunity to catch up and fuel up. This trio of Ural sidecar motorcycles included: Casey on the orange “cT” model, Corey on the tan Gear Up Sahara, and our friend Mike on his red Gear Up. Alright, time to head north toward farm country.
Not far into the ride, we cut through downtown Noblesville, the county seat of Hamilton County, Indiana. That’s where one of our favorite Hoosier alleyways can be found, which reveals a peek at the impressive courthouse built in 1879 (check out that classy mansard roof).
A little further up the road (10th Street downtown turns into Allisonville Road) we stopped for a photo op at the 246-foot long Potter’s Bridge, the only remaining original covered bridge in the county (erected in 1870).
In central Indiana, the White River snakes in and around burgs and burbs, breaking up the grid system of farm roads. We aimed for Riverwood Avenue because it hugs the river for a stretch. This provided some tree-lined curves and views of many kayakers, canoers and tubers floating slowly to the south.
Sometimes it’s nice to choose a relatively nearby destination that that feels far away. You can get your moto-travel fix without getting road-weary from a long day in the saddle. As the crow flies, Mercantile 37 looks close, but we took the scenic route, cutting through the seasonally-aromatic corn and soybean fields.
A little more than 20 miles into the ride we arrived at Mercantile 37, named for Indiana State Road 37 where it intersects with SR 13. You can easily imagine this as an inviting oasis for motorists driving from Indianapolis to Marion or Fort Wayne. It had a gas pump, restaurant and ‘tourist rooms’ when it was built in 1940. Though the completion of Interstate 69 in 1971 surely affected the amount of passersby, many travelers, local farmers and neighbors still frequented “Wheeler’s Restaurant” up until its closing in the 90s.
The Ural motorcycles prompted many conversations in the parking lot, a welcomed byproduct of riding a Russian-built sidecar that hearkens back to this building’s heyday (Ural started in 1941). There’s something about this combo of gas-powered rubber and steel against a backdrop of gravel, brick and glass.
The Roudebush family has breathed new life into every bit of the existing structure and beyond. Careful to retain the old look, they built out a beautiful market, workshop and cafe with modern amenities. Father and son, J.R. and Nick, rolled up their sleeves and carried out their vision for the building’s new persona.
“The Mercantile 37 studio and showroom features quality, custom home goods created by a collective of local makers.”
We dig their approach: “Operating within the rustic-industrial aesthetic, the products will range anywhere from candles to handmade furniture to custom concrete surfaces. The emphasis is on quality, custom, and local.”
With a nod to the past restaurant’s name, the current “Wheelers Cafe and Market” serves up breakfast, lunch, coffee and other food items that continue the theme of locally-sourced. Experienced cafe managers Angie and Neal have a passion for this…and it’s evident in the finished product. The flavorful sandwiches and Americana-laced ambience added to our roadside travel experience.
We perused the shop and talked to several friendly patrons outside before we donned the helmets to head back home. If you get a chance to visit, be sure to check the Mercantile 37 website since they have specific hours of operation for the cafe and showroom. Its location is 25625 State Road 37 North in Atlanta, Indiana.
Along this route, there are many interesting stops and photo ops to add to your motorcycle excursion through Hamilton County, Indiana. We passed by or rode through Historic Noblesville Square, Strawtown Koteewi Park, Forest Park, Potter’s Bridge Park, White River Canoe Company, Mustard Seed Gardens, and Cool Creek Park & Nature Preserve.