History, Road Trips

Driving US 50 across Indiana

Which road to drive?

I generally have no trouble choosing a road for a trip. I have a running mental wish list of old roads I want to explore – Ohio’s National Road, Indiana’s two Lincoln Highway alignments, State Road 37 south of Bloomington, and US 50 across Indiana and Illinois are at the top of the list. I am also very curious about the Buffalo Trace, which was cut by buffalo across Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois; and the Vistula Trail, an Indian trail that ran from about Pittsburgh, PA, through South Bend, around Lake Michigan, and up to Green Bay, WI.

Detour Conwell St.But as this road-trip season began none of them seemed any better than the others, and I was quite stuck, unable to choose which to follow. But after I received the e-mail about the Eilas Conwell house and learned a few things about Mr. Conwell, the choice was easy. Conwell was a prominent businessman in the Ohio River town of Aurora. Not only does US 50 pass by Aurora, but an old alignment may have run through town along a road in town that bears Conwell’s name.

That was enough of a nudge for me. US 50 it is! I made my first US 50 road trip not long ago from the Ohio state line west to about Seymour, and will follow the road to the Wabash River at Illinois on my spare Saturdays to come. I’ll be blogging about it here and there all summer.

US 50 is one of the original US highways from 1926. Like all highways with numbers that end in zero, it originally stretched across the nation – Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California. It was extended to San Francisco in the 1930s, making it a coast-to-coast road; but then in the 1970s, the road was truncated to West Sacramento as Interstates overtook the old road west of there. Despite this, US 50 has suffered less at the hands of Interstates than most of the original nationwide highways.

DillsboroAcross most of the nation, US 50 has roots in roads much older than 1926. In Indiana, US 50 began as a series of auto trails and local roads. In 1917, Indiana stitched many such roads statewide into its first numbered highway system. When US 50 came to life in 1926, it was signed along the entire length of old Indiana State Road 4 from the Ohio line west to Shoals, and along the portion of old Indiana State Road 5 from Shoals west to the Illinois line.

Like so many highways, US 50 has been straightened and widened in some places and outright moved in others, leaving behind a wealth of old alignments. If you’ve been reading my blog for very long, you know I love the old alignments. But even with all my old maps and road guides, I am finding it very challenging to trace US 50’s original route in some places, in no small part because the original route doesn’t exist in some places anymore. But where I’m able to find the old road, I’m finding plenty of great things to see. I’m photographing them with my usual obsessive-compulsive thoroughness and will be sharing some of them in posts to come.

US 50 in North Vernon

I’ve also toured US 50 across Illinois, where I found an old brick alignment, three abandoned bridges, and a suspension bridge.

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