Road Trips

The old road to Bloomington

Not long ago, I traveled the old alignments of Indiana State Road 37 from Indianapolis to Bloomington. That’s because I am a roadfan. I drive as a hobby, following scenic routes, white-knuckling it down twisty and hilly roads, and even looking for places where highways used to go. When I’m on a road trip, my journey is my destination, and time flies.

We take straight and flat roads for granted today — roadbuilders cut right through the earth. In earlier times, roads had to flow with the terrain, winding, rising, falling. As technology improved, important curvy and hilly roads were straightened, made to bypass small towns, and often widened to make them safer and allow speedier passage. Indiana’s State Road 37 includes a stretch between Indianapolis and Bloomington that’s been around for a very long time. Its original narrow, winding path through the Southern Indiana hills was fairly indirect. Today, 37 is almost Interstate quality — straight, smooth, and speedy. This stretch of 37 will become I-69 in several years. Notice how State Road 37’s path changed between Martinsville and Bloomington between 1936 and 1970 in these two maps. The road was moved to bypass Martinsville, Hindustan, and Dolan, and was straightened, smoothed, and widened the whole way.

State Road 37 in 1936 and 1970

Improvements sometimes orphan old road segments, which we road geeks call alignments. Sometimes they become local roads. Sometimes these segments are simply abandoned.

A few weeks ago I visited an old friend in Bloomington. I saw several roads marked “Old St Rd 37” along the way, so at home I logged onto Windows Live Local, my favorite satellite map site, and traced the highway. I saw that the road was rich with old alignments.

Old State Road 37 sign

Sunday after church I headed south. I will describe my trip in detail later on my roads pages at jimgrey.net, but this was a very exciting trip and I wanted to share the highlights here now.

SR 37 currently follows I-465 around the east side of Indianapolis, but at one time it went through Indy on West Street, which turns into Bluff Road on the Southside. I started on West Street and headed south. Several segments of Bluff Road were removed when the highway was moved slightly west, and those that remain mostly serve as neighborhood roads now. The last segment of Bluff Road ended just south of the Marion County line in Johnson County.

Shortly south of there, at County Road 700 North, I hit pay dirt: a long abandoned section. I turned right onto 700N, which curved south onto old 37 still in use. But to the north, I saw this:

Pavement leading to abandoned SR 37 segment in Johnson County

Old SR 37 obviously used to go through here, so I drove around the barrier. The road led through an unusually tidy trailer park for less than a quarter mile, but I could see a mound of dirt blocking the road ahead.

Mound of dirt blocking this alignment of old SR 37

I shut off my car and walked around the dirt mound. I could see ahead where the road appeared to end. But as I got closer, I could see that there used to be a bridge there.

It may look like the road ends here, but it’s deceptive.

The creek bank and the creek itself were shallow, and people had placed all sorts of objects in and over the creek to aid roadfans like me in their adventures, so I picked my way across.

The creek this road used to span

As I came up the bank, I saw the concrete road pad with three layers of asphalt on it, a couch dragged out into the middle of the road, and then the road stretching out for a long way before me.

Visible concrete pad

I am always astonished that without human intervention, roads eventually look like this:

Overgrown abandoned SR 37

I walked probably a half mile along this alignment, making it the longest abandoned alignment I’ve ever seen. Notice how large the trees are beyond where the old road was cut off. This stretch hasn’t been a road in many, many years.

The end of this abandoned alignment.

The closer I got to the end, the more I could hear cars. At the end, I turned east and saw cars speeding by through the brush and trees. I was probably 30 feet from current Indiana State Road 37.

Cars whiz by on current SR 37.

That walk absolutely exhilarated me! It wasn’t until I was halfway back that it occurred to me that people from the trailer park probably used this spot for illicit activities, and that it might not actually be safe to be in there.

I got back into my car and drove the lengh of old SR 37 that was still in use. At the other end, the road curved to intersect with current SR 37, but a short segment of the original pavement was visible on the other side of the guardrail at that curve. I drove around the guardrail to see, and crossed a little bridge. The road ended at somebody’s driveway:

Unused segment of old SR 37 as somebody’s driveway

I heed “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs when I go exploring, but I didn’t see the one along this stretch until I’d been back there for ten minutes taking pictures. About the time I saw it, a police car entered from the little path onto current SR 37 in the picture at center left. The property owner probably called the cops on me. I turned around and hightailed it out of there. Fortunately, the officer let me be chased off.

Old roads tend to have some iron truss bridges left, but along old SR 37 I found only two. Here’s one of them. Doesn’t this conjure images of a pleasant spring Sunday afternoon drive, windows down, watching nature go by?

Iron truss bridge on SR 37

A couple miles south of Martinsville, I found another very short abandoned alignment, this one in plain view.

Abandoned segment of SR 37 in Morgan County

The longest alignment of old SR 37 begins about a mile south of here, and runs for 15 miles until emptying out onto College Avenue in Bloomington. This well-maintained road winds pleasantly through the woods, providing lots of lovely scenery as this photograph shows.

Curvy segment of old SR 37

I have 50 more photos from the trip along Indiana State Road 37 to share; you can see them all with more play-by-play and color here.

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Last updated on 21 December 2019 by Jim Grey

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8 thoughts on “The old road to Bloomington

  1. Can’t you get WordPress to allow bigger pics when you click on them like Blogger does? I’m spoiled and like to see detail.

  2. Yes, it is possible, but I’m trying not to prematurely fill up the space WordPress gives me.

    I am toying with storing the photos at jimgrey.net in full size and linking from here to there, but that is extra work and sometimes it’s all I can do just to post what I post now.

    • Derek, thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll make the trip one day, or at least follow the original alignment north out of Bloomington to where it intersects modern SR 37. Do it fast, before I-69 makes it so much harder to reach the old alignments!

    • Yeah, I took the road that hadn’t been traveled in 40 years. And now you know where the entire Internet turns for its mound-of-dirt needs.

  3. Steve Miller says:

    Had you crossed College (Old New 37, as it happens…) at the end of the old alignment through the Morgan-Monrow State Forrest, Hindostan, and Dolan, you could have continued on Old Old 37, past Cascade Park and its WPA-era shelter houses. At some earlier point, that road was known as “North Pike.”

    The College Avenue alignment for SR 37 was completed in 1949; the 37 Bypass around Bloomington’s west side was completed about 1975. Most of the new alignments between Bloomington and Indianapolis were done in dribs and dabs through the ’50s until the mid-’60s. That iron truss bridge looks very familiar.

    • I did follow that alignment, actually! It was a quaint little drive. Thanks for giving dates for the various alignments. It’s always good to know when the roads were built.

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