US 50 has a colorful history in terms of realignments across southwestern Indiana. I-64 was originally going to be built along the US 150 corridor from Louisville to about Shoals, where it would pick up US 50 on its way to Illinois. But lobbying got I-64 built farther south, passing closer to Evansville. That didn’t stop the desire for a major highway through this part of Indiana, so the current expressway was built westward from Washington. Of course it bypasses every town along the way, leaving juicy bits of old road behind.

If you’ve guessed that I’m going to show you photos of Old US 50, then you’ve come to know me well. We’ll start with Washington, Indiana.  First, though, let’s look at this map of Washington, Indiana, on which I’ve marked the old alignment in blue.

Where Old US 50 meets State Road 257, I came upon this great neon sign.

Mason's Root Beer

It announced this root beer stand. I stopped of course. How could I resist? While I was photographing the place, a delightful young lady came out to take my order. My root beer float was delicious. Mason’s Root Beer was easy to come by during my 1970s kidhood, but has all but disappeared today.

Mason's Root Beer

Old US 50 doesn’t go through downtown Washington but rather skirts across the south side of town. Ordinarily that would puzzle me, but in this case I happen to know why and will share with you in an upcoming post. (Hint: It means more old alignment photos!) Beyond Washington, signs begin pointing motorists back to US 50 and then begin warning that the road ends ahead. And they mean it.

Old US 50

I stopped and walked out past the Do Not Enter signs to take this photograph. I’m sure there’s more road underneath the brush, and I was very curious to explore. But I was also wearing shorts and wasn’t at all excited about wading through all of this with my legs exposed. Critters? Poison ivy? No thanks.

Old US 50

If I could have wound the clock back 20 years, this is what I would have found in there.

According to the Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), from which I got these photos, this three-span Parker through truss bridge was built in 1930 and met its doom in 1990. This bridge had a twin that stood less than a half mile to the west. It, too, is gone, replaced in 1988 by two modern bridges on the US 50 expressway. You might think the old bridge could have been kept and a single new bridge built in the oncoming lanes, but its 20-foot-wide deck probably doomed it. Consider that Interstate standards call for bridges to be a whopping 37½ feet wide – two 12-foot lanes, a ten-foot outer shoulder, and a 3½-foot inner shoulder. Two semis entering this bridge at the same time would find it a tight fit!

Illinois planned a US 50 expressway but completed only some of it. That work abandoned three great through truss bridges; see them here.

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12 responses to “Root beer and dead ends in Washington”

  1. vanilla Avatar

    Dumb me. I didn’t get a root beer float last time I took this road. Next time for sure!

    1. Jim Avatar

      It was deee-licious!

  2. Denny Gibson Avatar

    When I first saw the root beer photos, I figured it was a place owned by a family named Mason. It simply didn’t occur to me that the name was from the root beer brand. Although I’m familiar with the brand, I don’t recall ever seeing a stand bearing the label. Assuming the place really is carrying Mason brand root beer, that makes me want to visit even more. Funny that root beer stands are just about the only roadside business where a chain (e.g., A&W, Dog ‘n’ Suds) is at least as appealing as a one-off.

    1. Denny Gibson Avatar

      Oops. It seems I may have jumped to another wrong conclusion. According to Luke ('sDrive-In.htm), what they serve is brewed on site. That’s clearly the bigger company’s logo on the building so they must have at least started out as a franchise. Despite Luke’s “should not be confused with…” statement, I wonder if they are brewing the Mason root beer recipe.

    2. Jim Avatar

      Wow, great to know I was drinking homebrew! The Mason’s logo on the sign that’s on the building is the same one that I remember from Mason’s Root Beer bottles when I was young. Somewhere along the way, the Mason’s brand disappeared for many years, but is now being brewed again, I think by a company in Jasper, IN.

      I think A&W and Dog & Suds remain appealing because they’re not so big-corporate, and the stands that remain are not so different from those from the 60s and 70s.

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        Oh, A&W, wow. :) When I was a kid I used to dote on Whistle Dogs. Back then they were those places you’d drive up, park, press a button, and order, and then a waitress came out with a tray for your window. I guess I was seven or so when the local one closed up and they utterly vanished, except for the root beer in the stores. Then, about the time I was 20, they started appearing again as hole-in-wall versions of themselves in mall food courts… then when I was 30, I saw my first stand-alone A&W in over 20 years. I couldn’t believe it. Now I know where about half a dozen are. It’s good to have them back. :)

        1. Jim Avatar

          We still lack standalone A&Ws here. But I too remember them from my kidhood.  My dad was too tight to take us!

  3. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Damn the ivy! Full speed ahead! :)

  4. Bob Avatar

    I love that Root Beer, we stop there every time!

    1. Jim Avatar

      It was good, unlike most of the stuff you can buy at the grocery store today.

  5. Steven Grube Avatar
    Steven Grube

    I grew up in Washington and have been to masons many times. I now live in Indianapolis but each time I go back to Washington I always go to masons.

    1. Jim Avatar

      It’s a real gem. Too bad US 50 bypassed it; I’m sure that hurt business.

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