In my never-ending quest to find the old roads, I am building a nice selection of vintage maps and road guides. The old maps are best at revealing old routes.
I came upon a single page from a 1913 Goodrich Route Book that includes a map of the National Road between Terre Haute and Indianapolis. I scanned that page into my computer and superimposed the current map of US 40 from Bing Maps. The image below shows the overlay, with the National Road and US 40 corridor highlighted in light green. It’s a little hard to make out, but the old route is black and the modern route is orange. As you might expect, the 1913 road isn’t quite as straight as the modern road. But in a couple places in Putnam County, the old road differs heavily.
The first big difference was near Putnamville, some of which I shared in an earlier post. But the road has undergone major reroutings twice around the little community of Reelsville. This aerial image from Bing Maps shows both alignments. I highlighted in green the route from the 1913 map; in red the later route, which was built in about 1923; and in yellow where the two routes overlap. The modern route, built in the early 1940s, cuts across the bottom of the image.
This is the alignments’ eastern end. A roadsleuthing tip: Whenever you see a road branch off like this, curving sharply almost immediately, you may have come upon an old alignment. The curve was added after the new alignment was built so that the road didn’t fork, which would have been awkward for anyone wanting to turn left off the old highway.
The old road is in pretty good shape, as this eastbound photo shows. It was originally concrete, but has since been covered with asphalt.
Here’s where the yellow, red, and green roads intersect on the aerial image above. The road to the left and the road ahead did not exist in 1913.
This building, which looks like an old gas station to me, stands on the northeast corner of this intersection. It’s for sale.
After you turn the corner and crest the hill, you come upon Big Walnut Creek. A modern bridge was built here a few years ago, but an older bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been preserved.
All five of my regular readers may remember that I wrote about this old alignment two years ago. The bridge hadn’t been restored yet and was in terrible shape.
The railing and arch were crumbling.
The arch has been repaired and the deck and railing replaced.
The new railing is remarkably like the original. It’s also exciting to see the concrete deck surface – the old deck’s asphalt surface was certainly layered over original concrete.
This plaque tells why the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places – it is a Luten bridge. Daniel B. Luten was a pioneer designer and builder of reinforced concrete-arch bridges. He was awarded 30 bridge-building patents, the first in 1900, about the time his National Bridge Company began building bridges. (If you went to law school, you may know Daniel Luten from a landmark contract-law case involving a North Carolina bridge.) Dozens of Luten’s bridges still stand, and many of them are on the National Register. This one was built by the Luten Engineering Co., one of Luten’s later companies.
This bridge was built in 1929 to replace a wooden covered bridge that stood where the current bridge now stands. By the time this bridge was built, the newer road alignment had been built to the south. So Putnam County was responsible for this road and had the bridge built. That’s why the plaque lists the county commissioners – if it had been part of a state or US highway, the state of Indiana would have built it, and any plaque on it would read accordingly.
Here’s the old and new bridges in profile. I wonder why the new bridge was built higher on its south end. Check out the bridge’s open spandrels.
Where the old alignment turns left and resumes its westerly journey, the road is gravel. This is as close as it comes to experiencing what Indiana’s National Road was like 100 years ago.
Shortly, a concrete road emerges out of nowhere. At one time, the 1923 alignment merged with the older alignment here, and the concrete road ran briefly through what is now woods (at left in the photo). I don’t know why, but that portion of the 1923 alignment was torn out, probably when the modern US 40 alignment was built. In the aerial image shown near the beginning of this post, this is where the red and green merge to become yellow again on the left end of the image.
This eastbound shot shows the character of the old concrete road. I never cease to marvel at how narrow old highways were.
I turned right around after taking the photo above and took this westbound shot. Here, the old highway is somebody’s driveway. One of these days, I’d like to find out who owns this land and ask permission to walk and photograph the old highway as far as it goes.
In my next post, I’ll show you the 1923 alignment.
UPDATE: Later research revealed the timeline of every one of these old alignments. Read about it here.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
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Last updated on 13 April 2020 by Jim Grey