My trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana finally brought me to Vigo County, where I lived for nine years. Sadly, those were years before my full roadgeek had been awakened, and I was blind to much of what the road offered there.
Of course, since then my eyes have opened. I’ve made a number of road trips, taken thousands of photos, and written quite a bit about it all here in my little corner of the Web. And then last month a reporter at the Terre Haute Tribune-Star found some of my writing as he was researching a story about US 40 and the National Road. He interviewed me for his story, and I was thrilled to have been quoted extensively in his article.
Plenty of 20th-century roadside relics remain along the road in Vigo County. It begins in tiny Seelyville with Kleptz’s Restaurant and its great neon sign.
This derelict motel, the former Ritz Plaza Motor Lodge, stands on the outskirts of Terre Haute. This has been a dump for at least 20 years, stretching back to when I was a student at nearby Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in the late 1980s. It was operating as efficiency apartments for students then; I think the sign (far right) was still intact. The building looks abandoned today. (Thanks to Autostitch for making this panorama. Click it to see it larger on Flickr.)
This billboard is on the opposite corner from the motel. The first time I ever saw it was in 1984, when my parents brought me to visit Rose-Hulman for the first time. The clock was stopped that day, but I’ve always seen it keeping accurate time since.
On the western edge of the Rose-Hulman campus stands this 1931 gas station building. Its original location was on US 40 in town. I have a dim memory of once noticing a tiny little house and wondering who could possibly live in it; I think it was this gas station. It hadn’t operated in some time and the pumps were gone. What I didn’t know then was that early gas stations were deliberately built to look like little houses because travelers of the day were more comfortable stopping at a place that looked homey. This little building was in danger of being demolished a few years ago when the Indiana National Road Association partnered with Rose-Hulman to move it here and restore it.
This motel is within spitting distance of Rose-Hulman and was a common place for parents to stay when they visited; maybe it still is. I’ve never been inside, but here’s a postcard view of a room from days gone by.
During my Terre Haute days, my bike rides frequently amounted to Dairy Queen runs. I didn’t intend them to be that way, but there are so many DQs in Terre Haute that most of my routes passed by one. I’d inevitably ride home sucking down a chocolate malt, undermining the ride’s health benefits. I’ve never seen a Dairy Queen sign of this type except in Terre Haute. I think the DQ on North 13th St looks like this too; if you’re reading this and you’re a Hautean, please leave a comment telling me whether my memory is correct!
Carney’s Tire is a former Phillips 66 station. The pumps are long gone, but they kept the sign.
This neon wasn’t broken the last time I drove through here, but I can’t remember what it used to spell out. The top word is certainly Tavern.
Downtown Terre Haute is a lot more alive today than it was 15 years ago when I moved away. That’s not to say that it’s become a hotspot, but there are more bars and restaurants here now than then. I don’t think this building was anything when I lived here. As a matter of fact, I don’t even remember it. As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t yet learned to see in those days. At any rate, it was doing good business on this late Saturday afternoon.
What caught my eye about this building was all the advertising painted on its side.
Soon I came upon this landmark sign in downtown Terre Haute. Everybody knows the Saratoga.
I’d only been to the Saratoga once while I lived here, and that was for a company holiday party. I was in my 20s then, and the Saratoga’s regular crowd was a bit older. But now I’m a bit older. The day I came through here was a couple days before my birthday, so I stopped in and treated myself to a nice dinner. I fit right in, and the prime rib was really good!
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 18 February 2020 by Jim Grey