Nature always wins

When I was a boy, I saw a TV movie about a group of people who had survived World War III by going underground. A few years after the nuclear holocaust they emerged to see if the land was habitable. They got into a car they found, started it up, and drove it down a highway.

Nonsense! First, a car left sitting for that long would probably have all sorts of problems – dead battery, gummed-up gasoline, corroded wires – that would keep it from starting. Second, years of the roads getting no maintenance would have left them crumbling at the edges and full of potholes. Yet these people zoomed around in this car on deserted but otherwise perfect roads.

If you leave a road alone long enough, nature eventually reclaims it.

Abandoned US 40

This abandoned and crumbling alignment of US 40 and the National Road lies between Plainfield and Belleville in Indiana, just west of the Oaktree Golf Course. It was left behind in the early 1940s when US 40 was widened to four lanes. I suspect that the Highway Department decided the existing bridge over White Lick Creek was too narrow to be kept in the widening, so they built two new ones, moved the road, and forgot about the old one.  Here’s what it looks like from the air.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Here’s what the bridge looks like.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

You can see the bridge clearly as you whiz by on US 40 maybe 50 feet away. I’ve visited this spot several times – it was the first abandoned alignment I ever found. I still remember how excited I was to come across it, and it remains the coolest abandoned road I’ve ever experienced. I took this next photo on my first visit back in 2006. This is what happens to a road when it’s left untended for 70 years. Nature always wins!

Abandoned US 40 segment

I wonder how many more years before you can’t tell the road was ever there.


14 responses to “Nature always wins”

  1. kurt garner Avatar
    kurt garner

    This is a great section of abandoned road…the bridge really makes it. I wonder if that is on the “select” list compiled by INDOT for protection. Which county is it in and I can let you know?


    1. Jim Avatar

      It’s in Hendricks County. I vaguely remember checking “the list” before and finding the bridge not listed at all… but maybe your keener eye will find it.

  2. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    I really love when old bridges are left behind rather than being removed. Typically they do kind of rot out over time, but sometimes in urban areas they get a new lease on life as refurbished pedestrian crossings. The bridge you have here on old US 40 seems to be unfortunately caught in between… there’s not an obviously high pedestrian traffic requirement, but there’s no call to remove the bridge for something else, either. For me, such bridges can retain their dignity if the route’s simply been abandoned somewhere and they stand alone in recovering wilderness, as on some sideroad or concession line. But the saddest ones of all are those that stand useless and forsaken within sight of their successors.

    This is a bridge that needs a friend and admirer. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      Well, I certainly admire this bridge!

      It’s out in the country enough that it wouldn’t get much use as a pedestrian bridge. It would be cool to make a picnic area out of this spot — restore the bridge and maybe put picnic tables out on it. But US 40 doesn’t get much traffic anymore, and most of what it does get is probably town-to-town traffic, not interstate traffic, so I’m not sure even this make much sense to do.

  3. David Avatar

    Don’t you just love when movies depict stupid things? Semi-plausible premise defeated by reality.
    Nice essay about abandoned roads.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Just for fun, here’s a shot of the road where it comes out of the brush. Westbound. This pavement dates to the 1920s.

  4. Lerch Avatar

    This is my favorite of your posts so far. That is SO cool.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Glad you dig! Click through any photo to see more on Flickr.

  5. Bernie Kasper Avatar

    When you come into the west side of Madison on highway 56 their is an old stone bridge used years ago, about 3/4 mile past the Clifty entrance, this is the south entrance to Clifty.

    Don’t know if you have ever seen it Jim but you might take a look the next time you come down !!

    Nature does reclaim pretty much everything over time, great post and pics !!

    1. Jim Avatar

      I didn’t know about that bridge, but of course the next time I’m down there I’m making a beeline for it!

  6. kurt Avatar

    The following is essentially the death sentence on this great bridge:

    Hendricks Bridge No.040-32-01842A NBI No.13790 Not eligible
    Survey date: 7/6/2007
    Latitude (degrees/minutes) 39 413 Longitude (degrees/minutes) 86 268
    111A Reinforced concrete arch
    / /
    Feature Carried: US 40 Feature Crossed: WEST FK WHITE LICK CREE

    This bridge does not appear to possess significance under the National Register evaluation system.
    No evidence was found during data collection activities to indicate that this bridge is an important
    example of bridge design, engineering, or construction or that it possesses a significant association
    with important historical events or trends. As such, it is recommended not eligible under Criteria A
    and C.

    You may not want to read through any more of the non-eligible bridges on 40-it may make you a little sick to your stomach.


    1. Jim Avatar

      That abandoned bridge has been sitting there abandoned for about 70 years; I’m not sure anybody’s going to be in any rush to tear it down. The bridges on old alignments in Putnam County are probably at real risk, as they probably get Only the Finest in County Bridge Maintenance, if you know what I mean. But my guess is that Putnam County won’t want to demolish them until the situation is particularly bad. Now, the two bridges I’m thinking of in Putnam Co. did not get glowing reports on their last inspections, with condition ratings in the poor-fair range, but they get only 100 cars a day according to the data I have (which seems awfully high). So we may get to enjoy them for many years yet. Photos of those bridges to come in later posts.

  7. Angie Avatar

    I just stumbled onto your site, and I am absolutely in love with your shots of abandoned road alignments and bridges. Excellent perspective and thank you so much for your photographic preservation of these treasures!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Angie, I’m so glad you enjoyed what I’ve written about the old roads! I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to come as I keep exploring.

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