Road Trips

The Bedford puzzle

Bedford is a small Indiana city at the crossroads of US 50 and State Road 37. These major highways attract heavy through traffic, so much so that they have been realigned in and around Bedford several times. But once upon a time, back when US 50 was still Old State Road 4 and State Road 37 was Old State Road 22 (and before that the Dixie Highway), these roads converged in downtown Bedford and followed the same path southwest out of town. This image shows how these roads leave town today, with numbers next to various old-road remnants. I believe it shows remnants of at least three former alignments, but I can’t confidently stitch them all together. This is quite a puzzler!

1: Washington St. once carried Old SR 4 and Old SR 22. Perhaps they diverged here; who knows. But today both roads dead end; the right road is private property.

Road split

2: If you study the aerial image closely, you can see a two-track road that is on the same line as the left fork of Washington St. I believe I see two utility poles along it, which is a good sign. I can’t explain the little abandoned pony truss bridge that crosses the creek where it bends. It’s near the bottom of the image below. It’s not in line with US 50’s general direction, and no road emerges from it after it crosses the creek.

3: I think the old road continued through what is now a farm field. I detect a faint line across the field where the road would have gone. Then it would have curved to cross the White River. Remarkably, two piers from the old bridge remain. They’re plainly visible from the air.

You can also see them from the current US 50 bridge. There wasn’t a good place to stop there, but my travel companion noticed a nearby boat ramp road. We waded into inch-deep mud and were eaten alive by mosquitoes to bring you this shot of one pier.

Old bridge pier

4: A narrow gravel road begins just where drivers would have come off the bridge. It is signed something like “Old Highway Road” on the ground, but it’s perpendicular to the former bridge. The gravel road ends at Old US 50 and Old SR 37, which assumes the gravel road’s line at that point. So before this point, the road labeled Old US 50 and Old SR 37 must be a newer old alignment. This photo shows where Old US 50 forks right, leaving Old SR 37 behind.

Old US 50 veers right

An interesting tidbit: My 1916 Automobile Blue Book sends drivers down the road on the left to the next town, Mitchell. Then it has the driver follow what is now State Road 60 west to where it intersects with modern US 50. In contrast, my 1924 ABB sends drivers down the right fork in the photo above. Modern US 50 soon rejoins its path. This resolves one piece of this puzzle – US 50’s path west from here to where it meets SR 60 about 10 miles away was built sometime between 1916 and 1924.

But I’m still grasping at straws about everything else I see here.

Another old alignment that puzzled me, at least at first, is US 40 and the National Road near Reelsville, Indiana.

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12 thoughts on “The Bedford puzzle

  1. In my opinion, and it’s a guess of course, the abandoned pony truss bridge at (2) is likely the original connection of Sand Pit Road to Washington Avenue. It was built at the closest possible point both to the road and the thoroughfare with regard to the river. It likely predates the current connection of Sand Pit Road and Michelle Road. It’s largely overgrown now but if you look closely at the angle at the western terminus of Sand Pit Road, you can still see wheel ruts (http://maps.google.ca/?ie=UTF8&ll=43.719505,-79.411926&spn=0.482365,1.547699&z=10). I’m strongly inclined to believe this was how Sand Pit Road previously connected to the rest of Bedford.

    The terrain map of the area show that the old bridge at (3) crossed the river at the first possible spot as what’s now the unnamed northward spur road off Dixie Hwy; south of that is a tremendous drop-off over the river on the west and south sides. I think that’s probably the original course of Hwy 37 and even “Old Hwy 37” connecting to “Old Hwy 50” is probably newer. Again, guesses, but likely ones, I think, backed up by the logic of terrain and pre-Interstate economies. :) What does the 1916 map say?

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    • You’re probably right about Sand Pit Road. When (what I think was) 50’s second alignment (Mitchell Rd.) was built, they probably needed a way to connect Sand Pit Rd. to it, and so they rerouted it to its current alignment.

      I often overlook Google Maps’ terrain view – thanks for pointing it out here. You’re quite right; the bridge is just north of a pretty serious ridge; Old Highway Rd. ends where the ridge does.

      My 1916 ABB isn’t with me at the moment, but I don’t recall that it has the driver make a left turn right after crossing the bridge. I’ll have to check that later.

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  2. Jim, these are beautiful photos and wonderful narratives. Every time I read one of your blogs about a small town, I think that I’d like to move there.

    You obviously took the terrific ground-level photos yourself. Are the aerial photos from Google Earth?

    And you have a 1916 Automobile Blue Book? I would absolutely love to see it sometime.

    Thanks for another great blog.

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    • Scott, thank you. The aerial images come from Google Maps. I’d be happy to show you my 1916 ABB one of these days. I have a small cache of vintage maps and road guides that helps me figure out where the road used to go.

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  3. Mark says:

    I can give you a bit more information on the Bedford Puzzle. I frequently traveled through this area as a child, and I have always observed roads and, especially, new roads under construction. In particular, the configuration of the intersection between SR 37 and US 50 in this area used to be different – US 50 was the through road and you had to make a left turn to continue south on SR 37. Heading north from this intersection, the road followed what is now shown as old US 50 on maps and then made a much sharper turn to the right to cross the bridge. At this time (mid to late 1960s), the road was a two lane road through this area and SR 37 and US 50 still went through Bedford, entering from the south on what is now called Mitchell Road. (Washington St. would have been an even earlier alignment.) These changes were all made when the Bedford bypass was built. I remember thinking it odd that they would change the intersection so US 50, which, as a US highway, would seem to be the more important route, had to make a turn in the new configuration instead of SR 37, but the reality is that SR 37 had more through traffic on it than US 50, so it actually does make sense. Also, the interchange where the bypass diverges from the old route was originally an at-grade intersection – the interchange, I think, was always in the plans but was built later, probably due to funding issues.

    I suspect that you and others are correct that Washington Street continued south to the site of the old (original?) bridge location across the White river. The bridge across the lost river was almost certainly the original end of Sand Pit road, which was, I think, rerouted when the bypass was built, as Washington St. was truncated at that time due to the location (and major cut into the hill) for the bypass. I also suspect that the county road that now continues west from the current US 50/SR 37 intersection probably represents an even earlier alignment of US 50, linking it to the Dixie Highway and SR 37 to continue over the old bridge and into Bedford.

    A couple of other interesting notes a bit further west along US 50. Although I have no definative proof of it, I have always thought that Wheatland Road/Old Wheatland Road was the original route of US 50 between Wheatland and Vincennes. I believe that the road was rerouted to straighten it and eliminate railroad crossings in Wheatland (where IN 550 now crosses) and in Vincennes. At the point where the current US 50 bypass now crosses over the railroad, Bruceville road used to cross the tracks and become Washinton St. in Vincennes. I also believe that Bruceville Rd. is an older routing for IN 67 (or its predecessor route, perhaps) to Bruceville. On older maps, Old Wheatland Road is named as Old Louisville Rd., which, along with Louisville St. in Wheatland, lends further credence to this being the original route. If this is accurate, then this is another long stretch of old US 50, all of which may still be driven except for the Bruceville Road railroad crossing in Vincennes.

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  4. Mark says:

    It appears my memory was playing tricks on me…after I made my post, I took a look at an old Topo map of the Bedford area. It seems that the US 50/SR 37 intersection configuration did not change as I remember it doing! Although I still think the change probably occurred at some point, the present configuration (except for the divided highway) was in place as early as 1958. The map did clarify one thing, however, which is that the bridge to nowhere which you mentioned was most definitely the original route of Sand Pit road, connecting to south Washington St., which formerly continued past US 50 at least to this bridge. Interesting to get the confirmation that Old Wheatland Rd. was in fact once US 50. Thanks.

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  5. Growing up in an around Bedford in the ’40s and ’50s, I remember that SR 37 entered the north end of Bedford on Lincoln Avenue to downtown and left town on Washington Avenue (not street). It was probably concurrent with US 50 at this point. Later, when I was a teen, it was routed south on M Street. We had our Soap Box Derby races on M Street Hill.

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