Before you read this, click Play on this video. If you get caught up watching the animation, which is pretty cool, then play it again before you read the rest of this post and let it provide a soundtrack!
In 1986 I first visited Brazil, Indiana, about which that song was not written but about which I always think when I hear it. A college friend was raised there and he and I sometimes drove to town; I forget why. I wondered aloud one day about why the main drag was named National Avenue, and he replied, “It’s the name of an old highway, older than US 40.” That’s the first time I remember thinking the question that has spurred my roadsleuthing and road trips ever since: “I wonder where it used to go?”
Now I know, of course; it was the National Road and it stretched east to Cumberland and Baltimore in Maryland, and west to Vandalia in Illinois. And today it is US 40.
I’ve been through Brazil a bunch of times, and have even passed through on road trips with camera in hand, but never stopped to photograph it. I wish I had not delayed, as there used to be a Grey’s Auto Parts on the west end of town. I would have liked to have a photo of the sign. I always wondered if there was any relation, but it’s gone now, and so there’s nobody left to ask.
I don’t have anything eloquent or insightful to say about Brazil, but I did get some good photographs, so I’m going to write about them.
The Clay County courthouse was built in Brazil in 1914. The town itself was founded in 1866, although its roots go back to at least 1840.
Does your county’s courthouse have an F-86 fighter jet on its lawn?
When a town booms and booms again, old buildings get torn down to make way for new as prosperity continues. When a town booms but once, in its early days, its old buildings remain and are adapted to many uses their builders did not foresee. Brazil fits into the latter category.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m probably not going too far out on a limb to say that this building used to house The Brazil Times newspaper.
This building is a hodgepodge of misguided remodelings.
Some of Brazil’s downtown buildings have at least been tastefully redone.
This is the most original-looking building I saw in town.
This is the 1909 D. H. Davis building, and it’s for sale. You can own it for a mere $45,000.
I remembered from my 1980s visits that Brazil had a number of brick streets, so I stepped off the National Road briefly in search of one. I didn’t have to look for very long.
There’s plenty more to see in Brazil, but my time was running short. I made for the west edge of town where State Road 340 begins. At 5½ miles, it is the longest two-lane alignment of old US 40 and the National Road in Indiana. A four-lane US 40 was built in 1939 parallel to this alignment about 1000 feet to the south. I wonder what made it impossible to widen the original alignment.
I’ve driven this road any number of times with a camera in the car, but I only ever get photos at its ends, like this one. The road gets just enough traffic, and is narrow enough in all the most scenic spots, that there’s never a good opportunity pull my car over!
Do you like experiencing small-town America on the old highways? Check out Ellicott City, Maryland, at the other end of the National Road.