National Road and US 40 bridges over the Wabash River in Terre Haute, Indiana

When I moved to Terre Haute in 1985, the bridge that carried US 40 over the Wabash River into West Terre Haute was in sorry shape. It had served since 1905 and had been rehabilitated in 1973. But by the late 1980s it again needed a great deal of work. This postcard, which carries a 1912 postmark, shows it in sturdier times.

This unusual seven-span bridge had a central plate-girder section that carried vehicular traffic, with Pratt deck truss spans on either side for pedestrians. The pedestrian spans were closed by the time I lived in Terre Haute, presumably because deterioration had made them unsafe.

This bridge replaced a wooden covered bridge that was built in 1865. I’ll bet it was the longest covered bridge in the state while it was in operation.

But back to the unusual deck-girder/deck-truss bridge. Rather than restoring it yet again, the state chose to replace it with not one, but two new bridges, one eastbound and one westbound. The bridges were named for two Terre Haute natives, singer/songwriter and comedic actor Paul Dresser (westbound) and journalist and author Theodore Dreiser (eastbound). Dresser and Dreiser were brothers; Dresser changed his last name. Dresser wrote one of the most popular songs of the 19th century, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” making his bridge over the Wabash River a touching tribute. The Dresser and Dreiser bridges opened in 1992, and the old bridge was demolished.

Terre Haute Tribune-Star photo

Notice the separation of these two bridges. Since the 1970s, US 40 had been realigned a couple of times through downtown Terre Haute, and these two bridges merely met US 40 where it was. Here’s how the two bridges cross the Wabash River.

Map image ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

US 40 and the National Road used to go straight through downtown Terre Haute, where it met the 1905 bridge and the 1865 bridge before it. This 1973 topographical map shows the route; it’s the red line across the middle of the image.

By the time I moved to Terre Haute, US 40 had been rerouted downtown. Westbound, when it reached US 41 (Third Street), the original path was no longer through. You turned north on US 41 for one block to Cherry Street, when you turned west again and followed a curve onto the 1905 bridge. Eastbound, after coming off the bridge a curve led to Ohio Street, one block south of the National Road. US 40 followed Ohio Street for several blocks before turning north and then east again onto the National Road. This 1989 topographical map shows the configuration.

From a 2009 visit to Terre Haute, here’s the Vigo County Courthouse, at the corner of the National Road and US 41. By this time US 40 had been rerouted again westbound to turn north at Ninth Street and then west one block later at Cherry Street.

Vigo County Courthouse

The grassy area in the lower right is where the National Road used to go.

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16 responses to “National Road and US 40 bridges over the Wabash River in Terre Haute, Indiana”

  1. Michael Avatar

    In all these years I had never noticed the roads on the west side of the river made a heart. Any ideas what those roads were for?

    I also assumed the courthouse monument had been there longer than the 70s.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve always wondered what the heart-shaped road was about too. I’ve never been on them so I just don’t know what they’re for!

      1. Michael Avatar

        The north one is on Misco property but you can drive on the south one. It is sort of a park-like area now.

        I guess the courthouse monument could have been there longer. I was thinking it was a bit further north, but it was on the SW corner.

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    You know Jim, I Love these entries the best…perfect for guys like me that like to drive around and look at stuff…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m happy you enjoy them! I’ve got a lot of road trip posts queued up for this summer.

  3. Marc Beebe Avatar

    I’m sure the new bridges are better structurally, but they lack style. Arguably bridges don’t need style. I lament its passing from utilitarian items just the same. There was a time when anything, no matter how basic it was, had some degree of decoration. Not anymore. It’s as if there is some law against it now.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Bridgefans call these new bridges UCEBs: ugly concrete eyesore bridges. But they’re cheap and durable, so they will continue to be built.

      I’ve touched on this before:

  4. tcshideler Avatar

    This would have helped me six weeks or so ago when we were talking about the interurban that crossed here. Great information.

    Also, that courthouse is fickle to photograph. Not quite enough distance available to get a good head-on shot. I left Terre Haute disgruntled that day!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This is a MADDENING courthouse to try to photograph head on! I’ve never had a lens wide enough to manage it. This is the best photo I’ve made of it — cutting off the cupola.

      Vigo County Courthouse

  5. Darts and Letters Avatar
    Darts and Letters

    I love those old postcards!!!! I’ve collected a lot of them over the years, they just do not make them so beautiful and interesting that way, anymore. Do yours have any writing or postmarks on the back? Either way is always fine by me, I almost prefer them with postmarks. It’s stunning how good a shape you can find these when it’s obvious they traveled a few hundred miles or more in an old mail truck (and bag) back in the day).

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      In my small collection of postcards, many of them did have writing and postmarks on the back. I prefer them that way because then I have a pretty good idea when the postcard was printed.

      I scanned all of my postcards recently and then sent them all to a collector I know. I realized that I hadn’t looked at the cards in several years and probably didn’t need to keep owning them.

  6. basil berchekas jr Avatar
    basil berchekas jr

    Have you ever done a blog or photos of Indiana 63? It parallels US 41 on the west a number of miles…Indiana 63 is s state route and US 41 is a federal route…I was wondering why US 41 wasn’t four-laned instead of Indiana 63? That way heavy through traffic (i.e., trucks) say from Evansville to Hammond wouldn’t have to be ‘told”, as it were, to leave 41 for 63? Just wondered, Jim. I have no clue.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Basil, back in the 90s I lived three blocks from where SR 63 and US 41 split on Terre Haute’s north side. Even then I wondered why the state didn’t move the US 41 designation to SR 63, especially since the two roads converged again 63 miles to the north. But regardless of designation, the state maintains both roads.

  7. basil berchekas jr Avatar
    basil berchekas jr

    This is a good point. I know people in Rockville told me that truckers know to use 63, and the concrete pavement on 41 being in slabs is like “bouncing” while driving. I’ve noticed asphalt is a smoother ride, at least to me. I may be wrong, though.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      41 north of Terre Haute has some really twisty spots that must be quite treacherous in bad weather. No reason for a long haul trucker to even try it!

  8. basil berchekas jr Avatar
    basil berchekas jr

    EXACTLY, Jim!

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