BY PAMELA KEECH
Imagine a yard sale that’s 824 miles long and passes right through the center of Indiana. Imagine mountains of antiques and vintage thrills, acres of must-haves from overflowing barns and deaccessioned garages, all along a 200-year-old road. That would be the Historic National Road Yard Sale, coming up at the end of May.
U.S. Route 40 connects Richmond and Terre Haute via Indianapolis. Also called the National Road, it’s the oldest federally funded highway in the country, the brainchild of George Washington. His goal was to link Baltimore to St. Louis, where adventurers and pioneers could board boats or join wagon trains heading west. Thomas Jefferson authorized construction in 1806.
Early on the road was a bone-wrenching ribbon of mud, pigs, taverns, and occasional confrontations with highwaymen. Now it’s a little-taken tour of the mid-20th century: fragile towns with flag-lined Main Streets, luncheonettes that close at 2 p.m., and infinite cornfields. Although much of it is a four-lane divided highway, the speed limit is often an old-fashioned 45 mph.
Sale founder Patricia McDaniel, owner of an antique shop in Dublin, Ind., says, “We started planning for the road’s bicentennial in 2006, and I wanted something everybody could afford to do, no matter their income. At yard sales you can always have a good time whether you’re rich or just a kid with a dollar.” This is the sale’s 11th year and participation keeps growing.
Dive in anywhere along Route 40. The area east of Indianapolis between Greenfield and Centerville is especially “fabtastic.” You’ll know a good sale by the number of cars parked out front. Watch the traffic; the road can be crazy with rubberneckers and brake-slammers.
There is no limit to who will be selling what. Families, neighbors, church groups, and entire towns get in on it. Antique shops offer bargains and stay open late. Be prepared to sort through home goods, doodads, tools, potted perennials, sports equipment, and possibly an antique carriage or two. Don’t count on fancy eats along the way, but it’s possible to snag thick Indiana pork chops right off a farmer’s grill, sloppy Joes in somebody’s front yard, or generous slices of pie baked by church ladies.
The sale is always the Wednesday after Memorial Day through the following Sunday, this year May 28-June 1. The days with the most action are Friday and Saturday. The Historic National Road Yard Sale page on Facebook has running commentary on where the best sales are happening.
Pamela Keech is the author of The Best Flea, Antique, Vintage, and New-Style Markets in America published by The Little Bookroom.