Road Trips

The old road at Reelsville, part 1

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.

NatlrdOverlay

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.

NRaroundReelsville

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.

Old alignment US 40 & National Road

The old road is in pretty good shape, as this eastbound photo shows. It was originally concrete, but has since been covered with asphalt.

Old US 40 alignment

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.

Old US 40 alignment

This building, which looks like an old gas station to me, stands on the northeast corner of this intersection. It’s for sale.

Old US 40 alignment

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.

Luten bridge

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.

Bridge along the National Road, Reelsville

The railing and arch were crumbling.

Bridge along the National Road, Reelsville

The arch has been repaired and the deck and railing replaced.

Luten bridge

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.

Luten bridge

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.

Luten bridge

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.

Luten bridge

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.

Gravel National Road segment

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.

1920s concrete

This eastbound shot shows the character of the old concrete road. I never cease to marvel at how narrow old highways were.

1920s concrete on the National Road

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.

Old National Road as somebody's driveway

In my next post, I’ll show you the 1923 alignment.

ReadMore Are you enjoying this trip down Indiana’s National Road? Then check out my trips along the road in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

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29 thoughts on “The old road at Reelsville, part 1

  1. Lone Primate says:

    Ah! Magnificent! Your own shots used to show before and after, and in an uplifting way, too. What a rare privilege. Envy and admiration. :)

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    • What this trip taught me is that even though I may have experienced a road in the past, I should not consider that road checked off my list; things do change!

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  2. Chris Rowland says:

    Wish I could zoom in a little more on that 1913 Goodrich Route Book picture. What are the symbols in circles with the arrows–railroad crossings? There are quite a few zigs and zags there west of Reelsville until what I think is Lena Rd, that aren’t really reflected in the green route and satellite imagery that we can see today.

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    • I think some of those zigs and zags are exaggerations. There’s no evidence on the ground that the road was ever that zig-zaggy! I might still have the original scan I made of the 1913 map; I’ll look when I have a minute.

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  3. Loretta Young says:

    I am curious as to whether you know anything about the old Reelsville Interurban Station?
    My grandpa was a foreman on the Pennsylvania RR and I have one of the benches from the station. I would like to find out more, since all of my family is now gone.
    Thanks for your help.

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    • Bill Bond says:

      The Interurban station was a couple of miles north and west of Reelsville Penn. station.

      The Reelsville covered bridge was pushed off of its south foundation by at ford truck loaded with railroad ties going down the hill and to the Penn. R.R. The original stone foundation.can be seen in your pictures.

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      • Bill, thank you very much for chiming in. It sounds like you’re saying that the covered bridge’s stone abutment is supporting the 1929 bridge. I had assumed that the covered bridge was where the new bridge stands, based on the way the road curves out of the way to reach the 1929 bridge.

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  4. Pingback: Changing a Road’s Path « Explore U.S. 40

  5. Eric Tomaskovic says:

    The old gas station above is now the Kountry Kubbard. It’s a restaurant and convenience store which serves a great breakfast pizza! It’s *the* place to hang out in Pleasant Gardens.

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  6. John Alan Rogers says:

    Jim Check out Dill’s Ford Bridge on Bridge hunter. I’ts another Luten bridge in Putnam co. I’ts off of walnut road near Greencastle, and spans over Little Walnut creek. A new bridge was built in 1990 or so. I came upon this bridge a few years ago while riding around. I’t now has tree’s and weeds growing on it. I have seen alot of old bridges, and this one is something else. Alan Rogers

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  7. John Alan Rogers says:

    The original National Trail road crossed Big Walnut creek where it turns and flows south. Just a little north of where the Old U.S. 40 bridge now stands. After the August flood of 1875 took out this open toll bridge the road was routed through Reelsville, and across it’s covered bridge. Also, if you do anymore road trips in Putnam Co. i would be glad to ride shot gun. Just let me know.

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  8. John Alan Rogers says:

    Yes You can see this corner while standing on the old U.S. 40 bridge looking north. The gravel road on your post is the original National Trails road,but before the flood it crossed the creek on this corner. After it first crossed the railroad. Then the road continued on to Pleasent Gardens. After the flood the road had to go through Reelsville to get across the creek. The gravel road is the National road, so you are correct. Go to Putnam Co. cemetery restoration on your computer and you’ll see a link to old maps clink on the 1879 map of Putnam Co. and you’ll see how the road crossed then, although by 79 the bridge was gone. Of course this old section of the wagon trail is nothing but woods now, but you can see the old stones on the corner of the creek where the toll bridge was. I know most of Putnam Co. like the back of my hand [hint] have you ever seen both of the arches.

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    • I can totally see how that would have worked now. It also answers a question I had. The NR was to go straight between state capitols, and the kink at Reelsville broke that. But then, it wasn’t part of the orignal NR path to begin with; turns out it was a later alignment. Thanks man — you’ve really expanded my knowledge here.

      Putnam County is *the* most interesting part of Indiana’s National Road, and ranks right up there as one of the probably top 5 most interesting parts of the entire National Road from end to end. At least, that’s my opinion, and I’ve driven every drive-able alignment of this road from Baltimore to Vandalia!

      I’m not sure what you mean by “both of the arches”.

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  9. Eric Tomaskovic says:

    Hey Jim, did you ever find your original scan of the 1913 Goodrich map? It would be great to be able to zoom in on the Reelsville area from that time period. By the way, the Kountry Kubbard at the old gas station has changed its name to the Reelsville Diner and it’s really a hoppin’ place.

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    • Eric, I only ever had a scan I found online; I don’t own the actual guide. Unfortunately! But it does clearly show the “kink” route through Reelsville. And maybe next time I’m out that way I should stop for lunch at the Reelsville Diner!

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  10. John Alan Rogers says:

    There’s two arched railroad bridges near Reelsville. The big 4 railroad runs over them. One’s over the little walnut right berfore it enters big walnut creek, and the other go’s over big walnut. In the youtube video about the national road ‘ Putnam co. museum’ on youre site the old gentelman is sitting on top of one of these arched bridges. There well know’n locally. There’s another video on youtube with the same man talking about the big 4. Just look under big 4 arch bridge near Reelsville. Glad to share knowledge.

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  11. John Alan Rogers says:

    Was wondering if you ever checked out this book. Paul was born and lived only feet from the old national road. Right by where the old toll bridge was. He tell’s about some of the early travelers headed west in their wagons. I’m sure you would like this book. Alan Rogers

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