After exploring the Midwest’s old highways for the past seven years, this is the most important thing I’ve learned: See it now.
The roadway’s built environment changes with time, and artifacts of the past disappear. It’s the natural order of things.
These buildings in Crawfordsville houses Cornett’s Furniture. When I made my Dixie Highway trips last year, I looked forward to reaching Crawfordsville so I could finally photograph the great neon sign on the building on the left. “Wait,” I hear you say, “what neon sign?” Exactly. It’s gone, and I was very disappointed.
Not long ago while looking for a photo in my archive, I was excited to find I had photographed the sign a couple years before. I’d simply forgotten about it.
While driving the old National Road in western Indiana in 2009, I finally photographed the Kleptz Bar neon sign in Seelyville, just east of Terre Haute. It’s on the left in the photo below; the sign on the right is relatively recent. During the years I lived in this area, the Kleptz Bar sign was a beacon in the night. About a month after I photographed it, it was taken down and has not returned. Every time I drive through the area after twilight, I miss seeing it glow.
Finally, recently I found an old map from the early days of the national route system that showed an older US 40 alignment through West Terre Haute. It’s outlined in blue below; the road labeled National Ave. was the first realignment. (US 40 now follows I-70, which is south of town.) I’ve always wondered if this might be an older alignment; finding that old map confirmed it for me. When I lived in Terre Haute in the 1980s, part of this alignment was paved in concrete. Because it was once part of US 40, that concrete was probably poured in the 1920s. I really wanted to get out there and see it again!
But first I looked at it in Google Street View — and found that the old concrete had been covered with asphalt. That’s a real shame, because any concrete road from the 1920s is historic and needs to be considered for preservation.
This has me thinking of several other places I need to visit before they’re gone, too.
I’ve found 1910s-1920s concrete on the National Road in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.