A kink in the National Road

Last year I wrote on my Roads pages about a trip I took with a friend down US 40 and the National Road across western Indiana. We enjoyed finding forgotten and sometimes abandoned segments of the road’s original alignment.

Since then, thanks to the gang at the American Road forum, I’ve discovered the Automobile Blue Book, a series of turn-by-turn guides to American roads updated and published annually in the 1910s and 1920s. I bought a 1916 midwestern ABB on eBay, and it showed me a segment of the National Road that we missed in Reelsville. Here’s an aerial image of the area from Live Search Maps.

The ABB gives these directions through this country:

…thru Coatesville 40.0, Manhattan 43.5. End of road; turn right down winding grade thru covered bridge to first left hand road in Reelsville; turn left, running along tracks; cross same 46.6…

In other words, the National Road made two 90-degree turns, one before and one in Reelsville, to cross Big Walnut Creek. Here’s old US 40 and the National Road westbound on 620 W, approaching 625 W. Current US 40 is less than .1 mile to the south. In 1916, the road did not go through past this intersection. (Click the photos for larger versions.)

National Road, Reelsville

An old gas station building remains on this intersection’s northeast corner.

National Road, Reelsville

The Road now headed north. Here’s the beginning of that meandering grade.

National Road, Reelsville

The hill wasn’t very steep, but it clearly used to be steeper, because as you get close to the bridge, you see this old lady down below:

Bridge along the National Road, Reelsville

Here’s a southbound shot that, because of the sun, didn’t come out well. But it shows the old bridge next to the new one for comparison.

Bridge along the National Road, Reelsville

The old bridge hasn’t been decommissioned for very long. The aerial imagery at both Live Search Maps and Google Maps shows the old bridge still connected to the road and the new bridge just beginning to be built.

I wonder if the covered bridge the ABB mentions was in about the same place as the current bridge, since the road used to jog east slightly to meet the old concrete bridge.

I continued north (westbound) and turned left where indicated. The National Road is gravel through here, suggesting that the road was realigned before the National Road was paved in Indiana.

Gravel National Road segment, Putnam Co, Indiana

Here’s where US 40 used to curve in as you traveled westbound. Live Search Maps and Google Maps both mistakenly show that US 40’s route to here still exists.

Old US 40 alignment overlays National Road alignment

Past 800 W, the Road and old US 40 become somebody’s driveway. Current US 40 is not far beyond the driveway’s end.

National Road/US 40 driveway

The rest of my day was spent exploring where bridges and culverts used to be along the National Road in Illinois. I hope to write about that part of my trip soon.

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5 responses to “A kink in the National Road”

  1. Dani Avatar

    Welcome back!
    Having read several of your road trip adventures, when traveling I find myself looking at electric pole patterns and rural highways in a whole different way. Continue sharing!

  2. Nancy Avatar

    Jim – I received federal funding to do a documentary on the Indiana segment of the National Road. Loved your blog entry. Are you in Indiana? I am at Ball State in Muncie. My students and I are doing this for free (the funding paid for equipment and a graduate assistant). Are you interested?

    Nancy Carlson

  3. Michael Avatar

    “I hope to write about that part of my trip soon.”

    Gack! Quit keeping me in suspense of how you’ll describe our adventure.

    Maybe we can do 41 to Evansville someday.

  4. Jim Avatar

    There are some segments of old 41 north of Vincennes. The boys and I drove them over Spring Break. That’s all I’ve been able to find, though.

  5. connetta Avatar

    Enjoyed your pictures.Nice blog.

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