Revisiting Bedford, on the Dixie Highway in Indiana

I’ve been driving Indiana’s old roads for so many years now that road trips regularly take me through places I’ve been before, where one old road meets another. Two years ago I explored US 50 across Indiana – and what an old-alignment-rich trip it was. When US 50 reaches Bedford, it runs briefly with the old Dixie Highway, the subject of my exploration this year. The two old roads merge for a short while before diverging again, and they leave behind quite a puzzling trail of inconclusive old-alignment evidence. I wrote about it in detail then (read about it here), but cutting to the chase, the red line on this map shows where I think these roads used to go.

Imagery ©2012 DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, IndianaMap Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2012 Google.

That the old-road evidence along the red path is so faded suggests that the road was realigned here probably more than 100 years ago. The imagery available on Google Maps shows a faint two-track path through the field south of modern US 50. Two utility poles stand along it, which is a very good clue. But the best clue is two piers standing in the White River that used to hold up a bridge. You can see the piers from a boat ramp immediately south of modern US 50/State Road 37.


When I was here two years ago, I got an even closer shot of one of the piers.

Old bridge pier

Given how narrow these piers are, I’ll bet that the bridge they carried was narrow, too. Could it have been a wooden covered bridge? That’d be my guess. But I’ve researched it as far as Google will take me, and that well is dry.

I’ve found evidence of bridges gone by on the National Road and the Michigan Road, too.

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30 responses to “Revisiting Bedford, on the Dixie Highway in Indiana”

  1. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    Fascinating stuff! I think you’ve got pretty stuff to go on. I can’t imagine that the lineup between the road in the field and the end of Washington Avenue is just coincidental. You can even see some faint evidence of the line in the field southwest of the river bend of Leatherwood Creek. Did you notice the other lost bridge, the one across Leatherwood Creek at that point? Someone photographed it and posted it in Panoramia, and there’s a hot spot for it on the GoogleMap view. It’s an old iron bridge right where the Dixie Highway brushes up against the creek. It must have once connected Sand Pit Road to the Dixie Highway, but was abandoned when the other access was closed. That might suggest its closure was more recent.

    Go to GoogleMap, hold-click the little orange figure, and you’ll see a blue dot appear in the creek bend. Drop the guy on that and you’ll see the bridge. It looks to me like it was build sometime between about 1890 and 1920. (Or, well, you could just load this in your browser’s address field :),+Indiana,+United+States&hl=en&ll=38.824951,-86.50829&spn=0.004706,0.008841&sll=43.723475,-79.439392&sspn=0.554778,1.131592&oq=bedford+indi&hnear=Bedford,+Lawrence,+Indiana,+United+States&t=h&z=17&layer=c&cbll=38.824951,-86.50829&cbp=12,0,,0,0&photoid=po-64314143)

    1. Jim Avatar

      LP, I did know that the bridge was there — but when I saw the Panoramio photo I let out an involuntary “Oh wow!!” That is one sweet little bridge. I’ve seen little truss bridges all over the state but never one with quite this profile. I would love to go see it. Dang you, now it’s going to be distracting me here at work all day! And I can see just how I’d get out to see this bridge, and the two-track road with the utility poles on it that I think is the DH’s old path.

    2. Jim Avatar

      Ooh, ooh, knows about it! It’s the 1927 Frank Owen bridge.

      It is a polygonal Warren pony truss! That it was built that late is verrrrry interesting. It suggests that the path through the field was used that late. 1927 was the first year of Indiana’s modern highway numbering scheme (and the US numbered highway system to boot), meaning that the path may have carried SR 37!

      Ooh, ooh, and I just found a 1986 topo map at that shows a line where the two-track is and it connects to this bridge — maybe it was in use even that late?,P18_SCALE,P18_MAP_NAME:IN%2C%25%2C

      Dang you! Dang you to heck! I have to make software today!!!

      1. Neil Avatar

        The link to the 1986 map has moved, Jim. You’ll need to update this link at some point.

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Thanks Neil! It’s available on this page now.


        2. Jim Grey Avatar

          Let’s try this TinyURL instead:

    3. Jim Avatar

      Wheeeee, and now I’ve found some county maps of Lawrence County, which contains Bedford, from 1909 and 1936. The 1909 map is more about rural mail delivery routes but does show what would become the DH and SR 37 along the path I have suspected:

      And dig the general shape of SR 37 south of Bedford on the 1936 map!

      It’s all there, baby! That path was the DH, and it was in use as late as the mid 1930s! Puzzle solved!

      1. Lone Primate Avatar
        Lone Primate

        The vicarious thrill of discovery. I want an adventure like this! :)

        1. Jim Avatar

          In Toronto, you have no end of new alignments, but they seem to like obliterating the old. Come to Indiana someday and I’ll show you around!

  2. Mark Avatar

    nice road archeology!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks! It’s an obscure hobby, but I like it.

  3. Rush Rox Avatar

    For quick topos, I like to use, but you are probably already aware of it.

    I remember the last time you posted about this location. It really sparked my curiosity and I, too, spent a great deal of time scratching and clawing about the internet looking for clues. I wish I had discovered those Lawrence County maps then. Great job, Jim. Like Lone Primate, I also felt the alignment of the tracks through the field and the road leaving town was not just a coincidence. Occam’s razor wins again.

    (Ahhh, what a wondrous affliction is roadgeekiness, an excquisite fusion of satisfaction and suffering.)

    1. Jim Avatar

      But the suffering hurts sooooo good. I love it when a puzzler like this hangs out there, and then after quite some time I find — or even better, stumble into — the missing piece and the whole picture comes into view. It’s better than my birthday and Christmas combined!

      I don’t know how roadgeeks did any of this before the Internet. And I swear, Occam must have been a roadgeek too.

  4. ryoko861 Avatar

    Very cool! Love finding out about stuff like this!

    1. Jim Avatar

      For me, the fun is in figuring it out!

  5. Adam Avatar

    Jim I’ve been reading your road posts for quite a while now. They are great, and have ignited an interest myself because of it. Thanks for all the posts, and keep up the good work!

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’m so glad you delurked to say so. I hope my blog continues to be interesting to you!

  6. Bernie Kasper Avatar

    You are the Sherlock Holmes of lost Indiana Highways !!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Thanks Bernie! Maybe I should start smoking a pipe, I’d look more authentic!

  7. Roadtrip-'62 - Don Milne Avatar

    Beautiful piece of road archaeology! Amazing how many different sources you have to call upon to discover something like that. I’m inspired to be more creative in finding the locations of routes in 1962.

    1. Jim Avatar

      There are plenty of resources available — old topos, sometimes old aerial imagery, old road guides, old filling station maps. It’s usually not too hard to get a good theory about where the road used to go!

  8. Tim Avatar

    Hey Jim, I’m a Bedford native…I’ll start questioning the old folk I know around here, because I’m near obsessed with finding out what kind of bridge this was. The piers look an awful lot like the ones on the Williams covered bridge further down the river…Are you the Jim that put the entry for this on Bridgehunter? (I’m thinking so, haha)

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’m sure a postcard of that bridge exists somewhere. Postcards are often the best and most available photographic record of such things. And yes, I’m the same Jim from Bridgehunter!

      1. Tim Avatar

        Check this 1938 aerial photo of this location out, Jim:

        It shows 37/50 going along the same alignment, over the former iron 2-lane bridge that used to exist, and Wash. Ave continuing south over the little pony truss bridge onto old sandpit road. The black lines designate the modern roadways. Now I’m somewhat wondering if that actually was a rail bridge, which all the people I’ve talked to so far seem to think it was. Not impossible, with the CSX rail line running nearby. I still do think it *could* be a road bridge, though.

        1. Jim Avatar

          Tim, thank you very much for that great historic aerial! It clears up a lot of details. I still think, though, that an even older alignment of the road used a bridge on those abandoned piers. Notice how a road begins on the west bank of that river, right where the bridge would have crossed. And I see no evidence of a railbed anywhere on the line extending from either side of where that bridge once was.

  9. Neil Avatar

    This whole discussion is just completely fascinating! Jim, you’re amazing in the depth to which you go in your research, and you have a terrifically involved readership. I am so pleased that I tumbled upon your blog a while back. Reading your entries and comments just lets the rest of the world dissolve away. Thank you and all!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Neil! I love to dig down, and I do have a few really excellent commenters here!

  10. Jeremy Lance Avatar

    What puzzles me is the road that is labeled “Old State Hwy 37” and “Old U.S. 50” that runs from the current 4 lane just west of the bridge by the Chevrolet dealership back to the 4 lane just north of the US 50/IN 37 split.If it was indeed part of the old highway, did it make a 90 degree turn just west of the bridge? It doesn’t make sense that it would run that way. I don’t see any ghost alignments in that area. Is it possibly just mislabeled?

  11. M.C. Avatar

    This may be of interest.

    It contains short write ups for various Lawrence County maps as well as links to the maps themselves online (where available), covering a time span from before the old bridge was built (a ferry was in use then) to after it was abandoned. You can figure out a lot about the bridge as well as various alignments of the Dixie Highway, SR 37, and US50 from these maps.

    The 1935 Oolitic Quadrangle topo is particularly interesting as it shows both the old bridge and its replacement. You can really see how sharp the curve was after you crossed the old bridge onto what is now Old Turnpike Road. The 1879 Atlas of Lawrence County is also a nice view of what the road looked like when the bridge was fairly new.

    Those old piers are one of my favorite sights when I find myself in that area.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      What an awesome resource!!!! Thank you for sharing it. Man, that’s going to be a deeeep rabbit hole. And I’m going all the way down it.

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