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.
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.
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.
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.