Road Trips

Road trip season is almost here

I like to fill my spare spring and summer Saturdays taking road trips. And I don’t mean “let’s drive to Chicago for the weekend” – I mean exploring the old two-lane highways, just taking in the countryside and enjoying the small towns along the way. The journey is the destination! Also, as these old roads were straightened, widened, and sometimes even moved over the years to allow for swifter travel, bits of their original alignments were sometimes left behind. I loves me some old alignments!

One of my favorite old alignments is in Illinois on the National Road, which was the nation’s first federally funded highway. It was built in the 1820s and 1830s to connect the east (Baltimore, MD) to what at the time was considered the west (Vandalia, IL). US 40 more or less follows its path today. A remarkable series of events left several miles of the National Road abandoned in Illinois starting at the Indiana border. Basically, in the early 1950s Illinois intended to convert the road into a 4-lane expressway, and built new westbound lanes next to the old highway. By the time those lanes were laid down, the Interstate system was on the drawing board and it became clear that I-70 would be built parallel to US 40 across the state. It suddenly made no sense to improve the old road into eastbound lanes, so the state just abandoned the road.

As I-70 heads west out of Indiana, it does so in part over the National Road’s original path. Just inside Illinois, I-70 curves south a bit, leaving the old National Road behind. Deep inside a wooded area, you can still find remains of the old road buried a few inches down. These bricks were laid in the 1920s.

Abandoned National Road

As you exit the woods, the overgrown brick road extends out into the open.

Abandoned National Road

There are a few places where the old brick road is in very rough shape, such as this spot where most of the bricks have been removed. (That’s my friend Michael, contemplating the destruction.)

Abandoned National Road

But much of it is intact. I even drove on a little bit of it.

Actually, this wasn’t the first time I’d driven on the old road. On an earlier trip, I managed to embarrass myself by accidentally backing my car off a service road that bisected the National Road, effectively beaching my car. Two good Samaritans helped me push the car off the edge and onto the old brick road. I backed it way up and then built up enough speed to sail up and over the ridge. Oops!

Abandoned National Road

I’ve driven the National Road across Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana, and Illinois. Ohio is conspicuously absent from the list because the last time I tried it, I wrecked my car as I entered from West Virginia. (My sons and I walked away, but the car was done for. Here’s the story.) This year, I intend to finally conquer the National Road across Ohio. Many great old alignments remain there, some of them brick, and I intend to see them all! I also hope to see more of the Dixie Highway in Indiana this year.

The whole point of telling you all this is that writing about my road trips consumes this blog during the warm months every year. My longtime readers know that I’ll share the most interesting sights with you – historic architecture, charming downtowns, country views, and especially old alignments.

The National Road has been one of my favorite blog subjects. Here’s a list of everything I’ve written about it.

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20 thoughts on “Road trip season is almost here

  1. Lone Primate says:

    I loves me some old alignments!

    Amen! :D

    I love that video of you driving up. I’ll betcha that was taken with the S80… I recognize that high pitched ambient whine. :)

    Say, if you’re doing Ohio this year, any chance you’ll get to the Ohio River opposite Kentucky and visit the site where the Silver Bridge fell in 1967? I’ve always wanted to visit the spot, and try to picture it… apparently it’s changed a lot. It’s at Point Pleasant, which I believe is where Ulysses S. Grant was from.

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    • Oh man, Silver Bridge! My NR trip across OH won’t take me by there. But my dad, my brother, and I are planning a trip to Dad’s childhood home in West (by God) Virginia, and Point Pleasant is the traditional crossing point. I haven’t been in 20 years! The question is – can I convince everyone else in the car that we need to stop so I can get photos?

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      • Lone Primate says:

        Interesting! I always wondered if it were just a quirk of the S80s. I guess it was a little more characteristic of Canon P&Ss from the mid-decade. My friend P-Doug and I used our G9 and S80 (respectively) to video a train passing over them, and when I composited them into a single movie, I selected the G9’s audio track rather than the S80’s for that reason.

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    • The Ohio River has many pleasant points and two Point Pleasants. One is a small Ohio village, not terribly far from Cincinnati, where Grant was born. The other is a more substantial town in West Virginia where the Silver Bridge once stood and the Mothman once flew. Both are worth a visit.

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      • My dad’s family is all from West Virginia, down the road a piece from Charleston. They all moved to northern Indiana in the 1950s looking for work. When they return “home” to visit, they always cross into WV at Point Pleasant.

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  2. Nancy [ Roe ] Stewart says:

    Jim — Iam looking forward to your travels this summer. I am reading some of the older reports and enjoyed the ones showing old bridges and cemeteries. Have always found walking in an old country cemetery very relaxing. Enjoy those country roads, small towns, wonderful old buildings and hopefully time that moves a little slower for a while!! When we go to visit my family way down in the little towns in southern Illinois they all seem to talk slower and take life a little slower — I really enjoy it. Enjoy your travels this summer and we will tag along with you!!

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    • Nancy, I’m delighted that you’ll be along for the ride in this way! I like to stroll through a country cemetery, too. It’s sad how many of them seem to be forgotten.

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  3. ryoko861 says:

    There are some old remnants of the old Rt. 6 through the Poconos in PA. I love that kind of stuff!

    Looking forward to your adventure!

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    • Old road remnants make me happy! Today my sons and I took a long hike in this Tennessee state park we’re staying in, and part of the trail involved a bridge on what used to be US 127. Very cool!

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  4. versakay says:

    Some time ago I wrote a small post about the journey being its own destination, of course it was an euphimism for life.
    The curve south, of the I 70, is awindfall for us. It interests me how nature patiently goes about reclaiming for itself,, the territory abandoned by civilization.

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    • I’m a pretty driven person, very goal-oriented. One thing I really enjoy about my road trips is that I lay that aside and enjoy every moment as it unfolds. I am working on staying in the present moment even when I’m not on the road, for it helps me stand on the Earth with greater peace.

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