Road Trips

A survey of US 36 in western Indiana

Let’s wrap up my October, 2006, road trip in west-central Indiana.

I headed north out of Bridgeton on Bridgeton Road, which led straight to Rockville and US 36, the road I would take back to Indianapolis. Even with the scant research I did before the trip, I knew there were several old alignments of this road.

Parke County did a very nice job of signing old alignments of US 36. The first one I encountered was just outside Rockville by Billie Creek Village, a history museum. It ran south of current US 36, as the map shows.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

Old 36 Road, as this alignment is signed, is very narrow. I imagine the alignment is very old and has not been used as US 36 in many decades. I encountered a car and a truck within the first quarter mile, and it was a tight squeeze. When I passed the truck, I wasn’t sure we’d both fit, so I edged my passenger-side tires onto the grass.

US 36 at Billie Creek

I didn’t know that an 1895 covered bridge was still in use along the route! I had never driven on a covered bridge before. Every other one I’d ever seen had been limited to foot traffic. It gave me spooky chills to drive on it since I was trusting 111-year-old wood, rather than good old steel and concrete, to hold my 2,700-pound car. With quiet strength, the old bridge stoically did its job.

US 36 at Billie Creek

I find this alignment curious because I saw no evidence that it ever flowed into the current roadbed. Here’s where it ends at US 36 about a mile down the road.

US 36 at Billie Creek

The next old alignment I looked for runs through Raccoon Lake. Here’s the map. Notice how the old road, from west to east, runs slightly north of current US 36, then crosses it, and then ends at the lake and picks up on the other side before flowing back into current US 36. The US Army Corps of Engineers built Raccoon Lake between 1956 and 1960 as a flood-control project. They built a new segment of US 36 straight-as-a-stick across the new lake, and just buried the old road underwater.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

Somehow, I missed the western end of this alignment. I realized it when I saw a sign for Hollandsburg. I took the next left, CR 870 E, and drove north on it to the alignment, which was signed as Old 36. I drove west, hoping to find the beginning of the alignment. But without warning, the road dead-ended. The map above doesn’t show it, but something, maybe a creek, bisects the road.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

This photo shows the barricade at the end of the road, and the mound on which the road is built on the other side. I didn’t bother driving around to find the other side; maybe next time.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

I stepped back to take a picture of current US 36 to the south — straight into the sun, unfortunately. It’s hard to see, but the asphalt road was coated in a fine gravel here.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

I turned around and drove west. After a couple hundred yards, the gravel ended. As this photo shows, old US 36 here was cut into the scenery. Driving this narrow road made me feel like I was a part of the land. In contrast, driving the elevated US 36 gave me a broad and stirring view of the scenery.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

Old US 36 forms an S of sorts as it crosses current US 36. A friend who works in civil engineering tells me that when an old road is rerouted, the old road is usually curved to cross the new road at 90-degree angles for safety. This photo shows this crossing pointing westbound.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

It was exciting to follow this segment of road eastward to its end at the lake. The road is used as a boat ramp today. The road actually curves to the left just before it reaches the water; the boat ramps were built on the right. A co-worker who grew up in this area told me that in the winter, the Army Corps of Engineers lowers the lake by about 20 feet, and you can see a bit of the road that is normally underwater.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

Looking back westbound from the end of the road, old US 36 is pretty.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

I drove back to US 36, found the eastern end of this old alignment, and spent quite some time driving around trying to find where the alignment ended at the lake on the other side. It would have helped if I had remembered to bring the map I had printed; without it, I was chasing wild geese. This failed search used up a lot of my time, and I started wanting to get home. I was so irritated with myself that I forgot to take a photo of the eastern end of this alignment.

I drove past a couple old alignments in Putnam County — one little one around the town of Bainbridge, and a larger, more interesting one that I knew I couldn’t find without my forgotten map. But I had spent more time on the trip than I planned and was growing tired, so it was just as well. I knew I’d revisit US 36 another day and explore it thoroughly.

When US 36 enters Danville in Hendricks County, it becomes a major artery and loses all of its charm. When I visit friends in this area, I usually ask about back roads to their houses so I can avoid US 36, which gets mighty congested. US 36 was rerouted and widened to four lanes on the east side of Danville. This map shows both alignments where they split as you head east out of Danville, and where they rejoin again west of the town of Avon.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Landsat/Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

I was pooped, so I made just a couple quick photos at either end. Here’s the west end, where old US 36 (Main St.) splits from current US 36.

Old US 36 at US 36

Here’s what east emd looks like. Now that I think of it, I should have driven back up to where old 36 curves south and taken a photo showing how old 36 and current 36 line up.

This photo, taken in Avon, is typical of any drive I’ve made, day or night, along US 36 in Avon. I am always looking at someone else’s exhaust pipe. It seems like I never quite make it to the speed limit, either. It seems like most things in Avon dump out onto US 36. What’s the charm of living in Avon if every trip involves slow-moving traffic on the town’s only artery?

US 36 in Avon

After I made this trip, I learned that US 36’s original 1927 route began in Downtown Indianapolis and headed west from there. Another day I’ll make a proper US 36 trip, starting at Downtown, driving all the old alignments I can find, and ending no sooner than the Illinois border.

I headed home from here, tired but satisfied from a day’s exploration.

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10 thoughts on “A survey of US 36 in western Indiana

  1. Muncie’s prairie creek reservoir features a flooded county road used as a boat ramp. I never really thought about that being a common thing until today.

    A quick google shows that raccoon lake’s average depth is 24 feet. Next time you drag out a diving bell to go across the old alignment, be sure to invite me along, or at least live stream it somewhere.

    • I’ve heard that they lower the water level in Raccoon Lake every winter and you can see some of the old road out there. One of these years I must go see for myself!!

  2. Dan Cluley says:

    Michigan has a small number of covered bridges, but I think the only one I have driven on was last year when I was visiting near Birmingham AL. The Horton Mill Bridge was built in the ’30s so is definitely newer than Billie Creek, but it is 200 feet long, not real straight or flat & 70 feet above the river. Also I was driving the car I had just bought an hour earlier so definitely a bit of an adventure.

  3. Definitely one of the more interesting routes you’ve covered, especially with the lake intrusion!
    I grew up in an area with a Rte 36, a town called Dansville, and one called Avon. Out of curiosity, is ‘your’ Avon pronounced with a long ‘A’ like in England?

  4. Kurt Ingham says:

    I love ‘contemporary archaeology’ -stuff that isn’t that old but might be on the verge of being forgotten. Great story!

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