US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, 2006

I’m going to start sharing my very first road trip, on July 15, 2006, down US 40 and the National Road from Indianapolis to the Illinois state line. I’m bringing this content over from my Roads pages on my old HTML site, which I will eventually shut down.

I traveled US 40 from Indianapolis to Terre Haute for the first time in 1984. I was a senior in high school, and my parents were taking me to visit Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. I didn’t know the road’s important history then and I hadn’t even begun to become a roadfan. I remember only two things about the road, and both of them were near Terre Haute. First, as you crested the last hill before Rose-Hulman, a red, round 84 Lumber sign seemed to rise out of the hill like the morning sun. It was kind of disorienting, really. Second, the clock on the bright yellow Clabber Girl Baking Powder billboard had stopped.

The 84 Lumber sign peeking through the trees; the Clabber Girl billboard beyond it

I ended up attending Rose-Hulman and became friends with a fellow who liked to take me on late-night drives on obscure highways and country roads to see where they led. I began to wonder why roads turned out as they did. For example, why did State Road 42 have two ninety-degree turns at the Vigo-Clay county line? Since every journey out of Rose-Hulman started with US 40, I became interested in it, too. I asked a classmate from nearby Brazil why US 40 through his hometown was called National Ave.; he said that was the road’s “old name.” I learned that locals considered the intersection of 7th Street and Wabash Avenue, where US 41 used to intersect with US 40, to be not only the crossroads of America, but the crossroads Eric Clapton sang of with Cream. And then somebody told me that State Road 340 between Brazil and the Vigo County line was an old alignment of US 40. I started to become fascinated.

Clabber Girl
The Clabber Girl billboard, the clock working this time

2006 was the 200th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson authorizing a National Road. It would be 30 years before it reached Indiana, and another 90 years before it became part of the US numbered highway system. The original road through Indiana was a narrow path made largely of dirt and sometimes chipped stone or macadam. It is now a paved highway, four lanes through most of the state.

My friend Dawn and I discovered our mutual interest in roads and US 40 in particular, and after learning that we were in that anniversary year we both started talking about traveling the road in western Indiana and looking for old alignments. Dawn has lived her whole life near US 40 between Plainfield and Brazil, and I spent nine years living in Terre Haute where I traveled the road between Brazil and Illinois. Between us, we thought we knew the road. As we researched, we discovered many old alignments of  US 40 and the National Road, always under our noses but beyond our detection. We decided we had to make the trip and explore these alignments.

At the Clay-Vigo Line
You’ll see these signs pointing the way all across Indiana’s National Road

On July 15, 2006, we drove west from the intersection of Washington and Meridian Streets in Indianapolis and, several hours later, crossed the Illinois border. Along the way, we saw many old alignments of US 40 and the National Road ranging from unusable to maintained state highway. We followed any road marked with a Historic National Road marker, any road marked National Avenue or National Road, and roads the Indiana National Road Association identified on (a now long-ago version of) their Web site as being old National Road segments.

I took photos as we went, which I will share and describe in a number of posts to come.

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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9 responses to “US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, 2006”

  1. J P Avatar

    I guess I had never thought about the western terminus of the National Road, and never knew that Vandailia, IL was it. I suppose that was the western edge of the country then?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The Mississippi River was, more or less. The National Road was to go to St. Louis, but they ran out of funds at Vandalia. In Illinois, the National Road Byway is signed all the way to StL. US 40 was more or less the original surveyed path all the way.

  2. Ward Fogelsanger Avatar
    Ward Fogelsanger

    I believe Illinois wanted the National Road to cross the Mississippi at Alton, Missouri wanted St. Louis. I believe both routes were surveyed but as you said no Federal money came after the road reached Vandalia. If you look at the map you’ll see Illinois rte 140 split at Greenville and go to Alton so both “alignments” eventually were built with state funds…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Fascinating. Thanks for filling in this bit of history!

  3. Jim Avatar

    The Crossroad that Clapton sang of (Robert Johnson originally) is located at the intersection of 49 and 61 in Clarksdale Mississippi.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well blow me down! Guess the lore I heard when I lived in Terre Haute just wasn’t true.

    2. Jim Avatar

      …typo, 41 and 69. :)

      Interestingly, there is Jim Gray road not too far south of there.

  4. analogphotobug Avatar

    We frequent US 40 here in Colorado. In fact the route for I-70 through the Rockies follows US 40 (or has been built over it in places).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      40 and 70 parallel and overlap each other in a lot of places! Some in Ohio, some in Illinois, too. It’s a little hard to make out but this photo is from west of St. Clairsville, OH, where the old US 40 ends unceremoniously where I-70 curves into lay over the old US 40 alignment.

      Dead end

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