License plate barn remains unofficial southern Indiana landmark

None of the license plates on Adams' barn is as old as this set of 1913 Indiana porcelain-enameled plates. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Cowan's Auctions Inc.

None of the license plates on Adams’ barn is as old as this set of 1913 Indiana porcelain-enameled plates. Image courtesy of LiveAuctioneers Archive and Cowan’s Auctions Inc.

MIDWAY, Ind. (AP) – Mark Adams looks up and down at the “license plate barn,” as it’s known, which serves as the reckoning point for directions in this tiny Spencer County community on Indiana 161, about 20 miles east of Evansville.

“You just say, ‘Go to the place with all the auto tags, and make a left or a right or a whatever.’ Everybody knows,” says the 56-year-old man who has lived in Midway most of his life.

Louie “Doc”” Magee, a former county commissioner, decorated the barn, his mechanics’ shed and two corn cribs with more than 8,000 unsold license plates, many dated 1961 and 1962.

“Doc was known as an off-the-wall individual who worked as a self-employed carpenter,” Adams says. “He had access to the plates that didn’t sell and used them to put Midway on the map. He banged them in with roofing nails.”

Adams’ parents, Mari Lena and Alvin, moved here in 1960 and bought the barn after Magee died in the early 1970s.

“The shop and corn cribs on the other side of the road got bulldozed down,” says Adams, “and with that went a ton of old tags. What’s left now is only a drop in the bucket.”

Mark Adams has boxes of unused license plates, courtesy of his brother, Gary, who also served a multi-year stint on the Spencer County Commission.

“I want to carry on the tradition with the barn, but it’s tough. When I screw one new plate in, lots of times three old ones fall off.”

It’s commonplace for Adams to see strangers pull up next to the beat-up barn and take pictures.

“I come out and answer their questions because I always want to be neighborly. A lot of them want to know how old the barn is. I tell them 100 years doesn’t begin to cut it.”

Never, Adams says, has the place been vandalized.

“The license plate barn is definitely a rural thing. People around here treasure the memories that the building represents. In a city, the old tags would get destroyed.”

Adams pulls regular maintenance.

“I don’t want the thing to fall down on my watch. I’ve jacked it up and put in concrete pillars. I even put in a garage door. It’s as stable now as it’s ever been.”

Adams keeps two vintage trucks inside the barn, including one he bought in 1975.

“Rumor has it that the license plate barn was once a post office, but I don’t know about that. It’s definitely home base for a bunch of cats, though. They make themselves home in the hay and the stalls where the animals used to be.”

He’s never considering having the place declared a landmark.

“To me, it’s just a thing to talk about. Yeah, the license plates are on the outside, but mules used to live inside the stable. There’s nothing historical about that.”


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press,

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