Photography

The winding road to Bloomington: Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway

Let’s finish my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Bloomington.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

The last segment of Old State Road 37 I encountered on this trip begins 500 yards south of the Hacker Creek segment but lasts for 15 miles, going all the way to Bloomington. If you blink, you’ll miss the entrance.

This is such a lovely, winding drive. I recommend it highly. SR 37 has been upgraded to Interstate standards and is now I-69, which means you can no longer turn off the highway directly onto this road. As I write this, I hear that the northern part of this segment is closed. But the plans I’ve seen for I-69 say that when construction is done, this will flow into a frontage road. To reach it, you should be able to get off I-69 a little north of here at Liberty Church Road, drive east to Hacker Creek Road, and turn south onto the frontage road.

In 2007, I couldn’t find a safe way to photograph the beginning of this alignment so I drove in and photographed it facing northbound.

Old SR 37

This stretch was recently paved, with highway striping down the middle but no striping on the edges. This segment quickly became wooded and shaded. The road curved, rose, and fell gently through the woods. The steepest hill I encountered made my car strain a little bit in fifth gear, but otherwise the drive was easy and pleasant. I felt like I was way out in the country, and since there was very little traffic I felt alone with the road. My windows were all down, the sun was warm, and the air was cool. I slowed down and enjoyed a perfect Sunday drive. I imagined people driving this stretch when it was still the state highway. I wondered if the trees were as thick then, and if a drive down this road was just as much a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

When I stopped to take this northbound photo, a fellow in a truck stopped to ask if I needed any help. I just said “Thank you, no;” how could I explain what I was doing?

Old SR 37

1.8 miles into this segment, a sign announced, “End County Maintenance.” The fresh pavement and the gravel edge ended, but the older surface was in pretty good shape overall, with occasional rumbly patches. Striping even ended for a while, and then stopped and started the rest of the way to Bloomington. Down the road, a short segment was freshly paved again. At about 9.5 miles, I entered a clearing gorgeous with a ridge of trees, and widely spaced houses began to appear.

Current SR 37 is famous for the limestone and siltstone visible along the roadside, souvenirs of where road builders cut through the terrain. I remember being impressed by it the first time I traveled SR 37 in 1983. Old SR 37, of course, lacks these dramatic displays because it follows the terrain.  At just past 10 miles down this segment, I did find one short stretch where rock was visible in the hill on the west side of the road. This photo shows that stretch northbound. It also shows the condition of the pavement beyond the “End County Maintenance” sign.

Old SR 37
Windows Live Local map, 2007

Shortly south of here, two old alignments of SR 37 intersect, as the map shows. I guess this makes the road I was on “Old Old State Road 37.”

I drove through the intersection heading southbound to take this northbound photo. The lady driving the car signaling left stopped to ask me if I needed help. Maybe the folks around Bloomington are just especially helpful.

Sadly, this is where my camera’s battery died. I had hoped to photograph the road all the way into downtown Bloomington, ending on the town square. Here, the original alignment of SR 37 intersects with a later alignment of SR 37, one that was bypassed again some years later.

Old SR 37 at Old Old SR 37
Windows Live Local map, 2007

As the last bit of this segment of the original SR 37 alignment entered Bloomington, the road surface switched from asphalt to concrete. The speed limit dropped to 20 miles per hour as it passed a park loaded with people. The road is signed College Ave., but it turned to the left and intersected with College Ave. where it merges with Walnut St. on Bloomington’s north side.

If you turn left onto Walnut St. you are on the newer old alignment of SR 37. It’s more modern than the older segment, with smooth pavement and passing lanes where the hill is steep. A few miles north of here, it goes over a little iron truss bridge and merges into current SR 37 northbound.

I drove current State Road 37 home. It’s a pretty drive, especially through Monroe and Morgan Counties, with the limestone and siltstone, and the grand ridges of trees, calling for your attention as you go. But it lacks the intimacy and the peace of the old road.

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4 thoughts on “The winding road to Bloomington: Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway

  1. Having spent 8 years driving college kids to and from Bloomington I have enjoyed this series. I believe I took that northern part once to avoid construction traffic, but am not completely sure. I definitely didn’t drive the southern part but want to now.

    • After I-69 is complete, you should be able to start in Bloomington and drive up the old alignments most of the way to Martinsville, as the construction plans show that they will become frontage road, with new frontage road constructed to link them.

  2. Beautiful and peaceful now, but winding and hilly and dangerous and deadly when it was the primary route from south central Indiana to Indianapolis.

    I grew up 13 miles west of Bedford, just over the county line in Martin County (in fact, the back fence of our farm was the county line.). My Dad worked at the RCA plant in Bloomington from 1945 to 1960, se he drove S.R. 37 from Bedgord to Bloomington every day. I graduated from high school in 1955 and immediately got a job at RCA, so I rode with my Dad every day until I left to go to college in the South in the fall. You could say that old 37 was where I learned to drive. It was an excellent training route.

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