History, Road Trips

Welcome to Aurora

Aurora, Indiana

An old friend of mine, a New Jersey girl, has family in Aurora, Indiana. We became friends while she was a student at Indiana University, and she used to spend some of her breaks in Aurora. Her time there always centered and relaxed her, or at least that’s how it always seemed to me. She described it as a charming small town, the kind where everybody knows everybody else. She was often recognized on the street simply because of her family resemblance.

Aurora was settled in 1796, making it one of Indiana’s oldest towns. It grew rapidly as a busy port town and, later, a railroad stop. Cincinnati and Louisville became the major commerce hubs, however. Aurora’s slowed growth had a happy side effect in that so many of its downtown buildings were not torn down and replaced in the name of progress. And so my friend was right; Aurora is charming and relaxing. But she never told me about one major detail – the bridge.

George Street Bridge

You know I love old bridges! I write about them nearly every time I come upon one. This Whipple truss iron bridge was built in 1887. That was long before anybody conceived of a network of numbered highways criss-crossing the nation, but it was a good enough bridge on an important enough road that US 50 (and its predecessor, old State Road 4) were routed onto it. US 50 was realigned around Aurora in 1950, but this bridge carried State Road 56 until 1972. It’s still a busy bridge – I wanted to stand on its deck to take some photographs, but in twenty minutes of waiting there was never a time when cars weren’t crossing it.

So I gave up and walked along Aurora’s Main Street.

Main St., Aurora, Indiana

I also checked out Aurora’s business district, which appeared to be concentrated on 2nd Street. I am always tickled by buildings that prominently feature a person’s name, such as the John Neff building. Neff’s Shoe Store operates on the ground floor.

JOHN NEFF.

Downtowns in so many Indiana towns of Aurora’s size are either dead or given over to antique stores. But Aurora’s downtown is still vital. Joining Neff’s Shoes on 2nd Street are a florist, an embroiderer, a seller of educational materials, a pizzeria, a furniture store, and a Mexican restaurant (at which I ate lunch). The pizzaria is in the building at left below, and the educational materials store is in the former Aurora State Bank building at right.

Aurora, Indiana

Along Main St. I found a steakhouse, a pub, and a bicycle shop. I also found the First Presbyterian Church building on Main St. “Found” is actually a bit strong of a word, as it was impossible to miss as I crossed the bridge into town. It was built in two stages, the first completed in 1850 and the second in 1855, according to the church’s Web site.

First Presbyterian Church

The church is at 4th and Main. Old State Road 4 may or may not have turned right here; while US 50 passed through town, it turned right at 3rd St. Yet I continued straight up the hill, for I caught a glimpse of this grand old dame at its crown.

Hillforest

This is Hillforest, built by one of Aurora’s prominent citizens in 1855. It is a museum today; you can tour it six afternoons a week, nine months of the year. I may take that tour the next time I’m in Aurora, but I had spent over an hour exploring Aurora and needed to get back to US 50.

Another small Indiana town that welcomed me on a road trip is Thorntown. Read about my misadventure there.

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6 thoughts on “Welcome to Aurora

  1. Hillforest looks like a pocket Monticello. :)

    Old bridges are the best. I realized last weekend what the reason was: it’s the construction. So many of them, even modest pony truss bridges, have something to see, too look at. They can be spotted from a considerable distance. They’re stunning, even startling, when abandoned and left alone in nature. Bridges we’ve been building at least since the 1950s tend to be designed to be visually unobtrusive; often, people drive them with little idea they’re on a bridge at all aside from 4′ high crash barriers. They’re just… more of the road; there’s no momentary sense of celebration as you pass over them; markers of going from one place to another. They’ve become average, and it’s hard for me to imagine anyone a century from now spending a lot of time marvelling over 40′ box girder bridges over creeks the way we do over equivalent little bridges of a century ago.

    The rural fringe of Toronto (back when it still existed, as such) used to be flush with charming little truss bridges, a lot of them just shared lane affairs that bespoke the calm and lack of urgency of life, then and there; pretty little Mechano-style things that crossed rivers and streams at weird, economic angles. I imagine this is true of most of North America. In the 1960s they were pretty much all removed and replaced with multi-lane, Roman road straight standard, damn-the-torpedoes saucepan bridges of today. While I admire their efficiency and the power and confidence they imply, they sure ain’t much to look at.

    Here’s to old bridges, Jim and entourage! :)

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    • I am always chuffed when I come across a truss bridge. I think they’re my favorite. They stand there so proudly.

      I had to go up to Delphi on Saturday to give a talk about the Michigan Road. I forgot my camera, daggone it, because there are two great steel pony truss bridges on US 421 between here and there (http://bridgehunter.com/in/clinton/kilmore-421/ and http://bridgehunter.com/in/clinton/south-wildcat-421/). Encountering them was much as you describe. In both cases, I came around a bend in the road and there they were, standing tall, calling attention to themselves, improving the surrounding landscape.

      On the same road, there are a few modern concrete bridges — bridgefans call them UCEBs, or Ugly Concrete Eyesore Bridges. You’re right, they are just more road. They make the road an appliance, as charming as a refrigerator.

      Even though Indianapolis and Marion County are one and the same, there are still a few rural points here. On Friday I went to lunch with my tech writing team to a dairy farm here that has a restaurant on site. There’s an old one-lane bridges on that road. (http://bridgehunter.com/in/marion/4900001/ — no photo, but info about it nonetheless). It’s a concrete arch bridge, not as visually interesting as a truss bridge. But still, as you describe, it connects to a slower, simpler time. I didn’t mind a bit waiting on one end of the bridge for a few cars to pass.

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