The last stone-arch bridge still in use on the Illinois National Road

Stone arch bridge

The historic marker says that this bridge was completed between 1834 and 1837, making it both the oldest surviving bridge, and the only stone bridge, still in use on the National Road in Illinois. You’ll find it on the National Road just west of Marshall. US 40 bypasses Marshall but rejoins the National Road’s path just west of here.

Stone arch bridge in Marshall

This is as elemental as it gets in the bridge-building craft. The first stone-arch bridges were built more than 3,000 years ago following this formula of stone precisely cut and fitted together without mortar. Pressure holds this bridge together – the keystone pushes the neighboring cut stones down and outward, creating rigidity and strength that lasts the centuries.

Stone arch bridge in Marshall

In constructing a stone-arch bridge, a falsework is built first, a timber structure that creates the arch’s shape. The stones are laid against the falsework until the arch is complete and can stand on its own. Really, the arch is the bridge. The stones laid around the arch’s ends form retaining walls. Dirt is heaped over the arch and is held back by the walls so that a road surface can be built on top.

Stone arch bridge in Marshall

But enough about bridge engineering; on to bridge aesthetics. Even though this is a particularly functional stone-arch bridge, it’s still plenty charming. I’ve ranted on this blog before about how modern steel-girder bridges have all the charm of a punch in the mouth. But with either kind of bridge, you don’t know what lurks below as you drive over it. You have to follow your curiosity and make a little time to stop and check. My travel companion and I did, and spent an enjoyable half hour exploring and taking in this structure that is pushing 180 years old.

By the way, I have heard of one other stone-arch bridge on the Illinois National Road. It’s just east of Marshall and west of Livingston on an abandoned segment of the 1920s brick road. It’s deep in a wooded area, and to reach it you would need to walk a long way past a very large No Trespassing sign. The old brick road isn’t even visible in there anymore, although peering past that foreboding sign you can see the road’s pathway as trees aren’t growing through it. I’ve seen a photo of the bridge and it looks to be intact, though smaller than this one.

Other stone-arch bridges exist on the National Road in other states: here, here, here, here.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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10 responses to “The last stone-arch bridge still in use on the Illinois National Road”

  1. Carole Grey Avatar
    Carole Grey

    Your engineering info is wonderful so please keep including it. What a charming old fellow. We sure wish him many more years.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks! It’s fun to do the research to write that kind of info. This bridge looks unchanged from photos I took of it in 2007, so clearly it is weathering the years well and should easily be around for many decades more.

  2. Eric Avatar

    I couldn’t agree more. One of the few big things I miss about the East Coast is the stone bridges. They mostly don’t exist out west. Sure, we’ve got some lovely old concrete ones, but what I wouldn’t give for a mid 1800s stone arch!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      They’re few and far between here in the Midwest. I remember the National Road in Maryland well — and all the stone bridges everywhere.

      1. Eric Avatar

        Maryland is filthy with stone bridges. Love it.

  3. Ward Fogelsanger Avatar
    Ward Fogelsanger

    Seems like there was another stone arch visible between Clark Center and Marshall. Eastbound you went down a hill on new 40 and off to the right you could see the old road and on the south side was a relatively new house and behind it you could see the old old road going behind the house on it’s south side and I think there was a stone arch bridge there. Last time I was on that road and I looked the trees had grown up and I am not sure if the house was still there. I have looked at the satellite photos and haven’t been able to pick out the spot but you can see a couple of places where there were ” new” alignments of the “old” 40 built.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I always figured the 1920s road abandoned some even older dirt alignments and possibly some bridges. I have searched Google Earth looking for traces of the old old road, but have had no luck.

  4. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    “It’s deep in a wooded area, and to reach it you would need to walk a long way past a very large No Trespassing sign.”

    …Or wade downstream. ;)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      That is sooooooo not something I’d do!

  5. Dave Avatar

    Beautiful old bridge; built to last centuries!

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