Return I will to old Brazil (on the National Road in Indiana)

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.

Clay County Courthouse

Does your county’s courthouse have an F-86 fighter jet on its lawn?

F-86 on grounds of Clay County Courthouse

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.

Times Building, Brazil, IN

This building is a hodgepodge of misguided remodelings.

Brazil, IN

Some of Brazil’s downtown buildings have at least been tastefully redone.

Brazil, IN

This is the most original-looking building I saw in town.

Brazil, IN

This is the 1909 D. H. Davis building, and it’s for sale. You can own it for a mere $45,000.

1909 DH Davis building, Brazil, IN

Harris Bank donated the 1901 Brazil Trust Co. building to the Indiana National Road Association, which hopes to sell it for $45,000.

The Brazil Trust Co.

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.

Brazil, IN

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.

Brazil, IN

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!

Brazil, IN

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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!


21 responses to “Return I will to old Brazil (on the National Road in Indiana)”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Ah, Jim, how many times have you made my morning. :) You’re still a DJ, just on a different radio.

    I’d be curious to learn how the place came to be named Brazil; I bet there’s an interesting story there in and of itself.

    Why in the world are they selling those places for a tenth or a twentieth of their value? Judging from the photos, Brazil looks tidy and orderly; it doesn’t look like it’s on the skids or anything. Quite the contrary. What gives?

    There’s something so compelling about that last shot. It’s like stepping back in time through a photo… somehow it looks like the 60s, only in colour. If you know what I mean. :)

    1. Jim Avatar

      Brazil, Indiana, has its roots in a farm that dates to the 1840s. At that time, the country Brazil had been in the news, and it apparently captured the farm’s owners imaginations so much that they named their farm Brazil. Apparently, others settled around the farm and in 1866 the whole place was incorporated as a town using the farm’s name.

      Most small Indiana cities are declining, and Brazil is no exception. Coal and clay were major industries in and around Brazil 100 years ago, and that’s what built the town, but there’s no real industry in the area anymore that I can see. Brazil is too far away from Indianapolis to become a bedroom community. It’s only 20 minutes from Terre Haute, and when I lived there I knew several people who lived in Brazil and commuted to TH for work, but Terre Haute has been declining for years, too. It’s sad to see these buildings in Brazil go for so little — I could buy both buildings for less than I paid for my modest house in Indy! — but it only reflects the economic realities of the region.

      Indiana also has a Mexico and a Peru, by the way.

  2. Jen Tullis Avatar
    Jen Tullis

    My grandparents are still alive, if you like I can ask them about Grey’s Auto Parts. My grandfather was the next to the youngest of many siblings. He and my Aunt Dorlene are still living and they still tell stories about Brazil. My aunt still lives there. My mom graduated from Brazil when it was still Brazil High School. I remember when I was a kid how excited I would get if I got to go with Grandma to Brazil to get groceries or to the pizza place that was next to Dairy Queen. My Dad use to get my brothers and I ice cream from that DQ if we were good. Thanks Jim for bringing back memories of Brazil. I know its not much of a town, but it’s home to a lot of people I love. Jen

    1. Jim Avatar

      Brazil’s the kind of place where I wouldn’t mind spending my retirement. Small, easy to get around, plenty of character, inexpensive to live there. Geez, I could buy the Davis building, renovate the upstairs and live in it, and open a little store of some sort on the ground floor.

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        Or created two or three apartments and let someone else pay the mortgage. :) Mind you, at fifty grand, there probably wouldn’t be much of a mortgage in twenty years. All gravy!

        Think it’ll be a bedroom community of Greater Outer Indianapolis by 2030? :)

        1. Jim Avatar

          Brazil’s an hour away from Indy; I have a hard time imagining it ever being a suburb!

        2. Katrina Avatar

          I don’t know, Jim. We lived 1.5 hours away from DC and 1.15 hours away from Northern VA and we are definitely a growing bedroom community. Stranger things have happened. I hope I’m still around to see it.
          Thanks again for the photos and wonderful trip.

  3. Katrina Avatar

    Quite a trip down memory lane for me. I love reading about your road trips. I was just home in July and was saddened by the economic downturn in TH as well as Brazil…not that Brazil was ever thriving while I lived there.

    The last photo looks like it was taken in Cloverland….at the opposite end of Rte 340. Is that true?

    Thanks for the wonderful journeys that you allow me to take sitting in my office chair in beautiful Virginia.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Brazil seemed right on the edge back in the late 80s, and seems to have gone over that edge 20 years later. But it’s in the same boat as so many other Indiana towns of about its size.

      The last photo was actually taken on the eastern end of 340. Here’s a photo taken just past Cloverland:

  4. Steve Avatar

    Grey’s Automotive is now operating under the name of Toy Auto Parts. Strange, but I think it’s the new owners last name. Jimmy’s (Grey) still around there to answer questions, if you hurry (812/446-2354). I think he signed a contract to stay with them a while. Jimmy and I graduated together from BHS in 1969.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Hey, wow, thanks for the info! It’s a hoot that this fellow and I share both first and last name.

  5. Jerad H Avatar
    Jerad H

    When I found this post on a search for the Davis bldg, I thought you were the Jim Gray that owned that auto parts store. One I started reading it, I realized you weren’t. If anyone has any questions about Brazil, just ask. I live there now.

  6. Fred (Fritz) Lavery Avatar
    Fred (Fritz) Lavery

    My mother was born south east of Brazil in 1916. my dad was in Brazil in 34-35 with the C.C.C. working on Forrest Park. i was born in 1936. we were in Ohio, my dads home. We moved to Brazil in 1948. i went to a one room school (Wesley Chapel) south east of Brazil. then to BJHS in the 7th grade then to BHS in the 9th grade ended up in the class of 54. i remember all of the old buildings and brick streets. Clay county was the brick capitol of the world, so why not use bricks on the streets.the Indianapolis 500 track is called the Brick Yard ???

    1. Jim Avatar

      Fritz, thank you for sharing your memories. Sure enough, the 500 track is the Brickyard, but unfortunately the bricks were made in Veedersburg, not Brazil!

      1. Brazilian Avatar

        Some were made at Brazil….they sub contracted…If you want source Indy 500 Historian….

    2. Eve Avatar

      It looks like Brazil is still the brick city. We are currently building a home near St. Louis, MO and our builder told us that the brick that is being applied to our house is being made in Brazil, IN. It is a new style of brick that is being made specifically for Lombardo Homes. I was quite surprised when we were told this since I have been working on some family genealogy and had learned that my grandfather (whom I never knew and only spoke to twice) was born in Brazil, IN. I received his birth certificate recently and found out that his parents names were Ben and Ada (Christenberry) Jenkins. Do you know, Fred, if your mother knew this family? I am eager to visit Brazil one day to see where my family came from. Jim, I have really enjoyed finding this web page and seeing the beautiful historical buildings of Brazil. I know one jewelry artist whom lives there that I buy jewelry from when she visits St Louis art fairs, Carolyn Phillips. I am even more excited to visit Brazil, my family roots, one day soon!!

      1. Jim Avatar

        I didn’t know they were still making bricks in Brazil!

  7. Audrey Ann Earnhart Avatar
    Audrey Ann Earnhart

    brazil looks like a sweet little town that’s a little frayed around the edges. i came upon this site when i found the obituary of a lady who lived there who shares a last name with me, only her spelling is in the original german. if i could buy one of those buildings i would make it into a movie theater or maybe a roller rink or a library/coffee bar, or maybe a combination of all three, plus an art gallery and a recording studio and a comedy club. don’t laugh, there’s a popular hangout near me that’s a combination restaurant-bowling alley-theater that puts on live shows. people have their wedding receptions there. i think what will save the downtowns is if they think in terms of entertainment, since everybody orders what they need online. adequate parking is important, so a nearby free parking garage would help too. the parking meter, malls and the internet put the kibosh on the downtowns. may brazil be evermore like bedford falls, and never a potterville.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Brazil would be a terrific outer suburb if it were only a little closer to Indianapolis. I happened to drive through just last Thursday and I was pleased to see some renewal. The Davis building has had some renovation, for example, and it looks like there are some businesses in it now.

      You have some good points about what might make a downtown be vibrant again, especially in a place like Brazil.

  8. Steve Lamb Avatar
    Steve Lamb

    The Brazil Trust bank building is indeed a coffee cafe with several apartments upstairs. Lynn’s Pharmacy and Olde Fashioned Ice Cream Soda Shoppe has been in one of those buildings pictures for many years. The old junior high school has been remodeled and is now apartments. Lockers still line the halls and some living quarters have the original blackboards. The gymnasium however still sits idle and last I heard would need at least $1.25M to restore. Some buildings you have pictures have been updated and the intersection of U.S. 40 and S.R. 340 was terribly restructured and remains an accident waiting to happen.
    Thanks for this site, Jim.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      So good that there’s been that much downtown revitalization. The 40/340 intersection has always been problematic.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: