Let’s return now to my 2007 road trip along US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana.

While driving US 36 a few months ago, my kids in the back seat as we came home from a Spring Break trip, I saw an Old 36 Rd sign I hadn’t seen on earlier trips. I turned in — and immediately went sharply downhill on a gravel road that ended quickly in a couple dirt driveways. It was pretty tight back there and it took considerable care to turn around and get out! My kids were so busy playing their Nintendo DSes that they never noticed the bumpy detour.

When I came home, I looked it up online, and decided I must have tried to take this segment of road:

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

I entered what the map shows as the short dead-end road at far right. I made the above map screen shot in 2020; in 2007, online maps showed this segment connecting with the rest of the road. But it didn’t, and it hadn’t in a very long time.

This old alignment is about 1¼ miles west of tiny Bellmore, which is about a mile west of the end of the Raccoon Lake alignment.

Here’s a photo of the entrance to this segment. If you squint, you can see the Old 36 Rd sign. Notice how the road drops off immediately.

Old US 36

I took a picture down this narrow gravel road. This used to be US 36?

Old US 36

The satellite map showed 500 E as a crossroad along this alleged alignment, so I drove to it and headed north until I encountered what was, even there, signed Old 36 Rd. I drove east to see if I could make the connection. The road was barely one car wide. Soon I came upon this scene warning that a bridge ahead was out. Not pictured is the “Private Property Keep Out” sign nailed to a nearby tree that kept me from exploring farther.

Old US 36

I had quite a time turning my little car around in here, fearing that I’d put one end of my car off the side of the road and get stuck. If you decide to explore this segment and drive something larger than my Toyota Matrix, or don’t have four-wheel-drive, I recommend parking back at the crossroads and walking back here. Here’s what the road looked like leading away from here. Back here, the road was more dirt than gravel.

Old US 36

I drove back the way I came, crossing 500E. The road widened a little bit and became more gravel than dirt. Somebody was keeping the grass cut back here.

Old US 36

As I drove this segment, I thought it so incredible that this could have been US 36 that I doubted it. But my research shows that, indeed, this was the highway. My 1928 Indiana State Highway Commission map shows that US 36 was paved from Indianapolis to Danville, but was gravel west of there. That map even calls out Bellmore just above the broken line that represents gravel US 36. My 1937 Rand McNally (Standard Oil) Indiana highway map shows US 36 as a first-class paved road from Indianapolis to Illinois. So sometime within those nine years, the state paved US 36. If this is truly old US 36, then the state chose to build a straighter alignment nearby and decommission this stretch.

Can you imagine seeing an old cutout US 36 shield along the road above? It seems absurd! Yet I’m certain that it seemed perfectly natural to drivers 75 years ago.

Old 36 Rd ended 1.7 miles from the Bridge Out sign. The reason I had never seen an Old 36 Rd sign to match the one at the other end of this segment is because Old 36 Rd ends at another county road, which connects to US 36. See the map below. There’s no evidence that the old road continued past this county road; rather, it looks like that county road could once have been old US 36. Maybe the north-south road used to end at old US 36, but at some point became important enough to be paved, and was extended to US 36 by co-opting that last bit of old US 36.

Old US 36

Looking south from this intersection, US 36 is about a tenth of a mile away. If you want to find this segment, look for that little brown shack, which you can easily see from US 36.

Old US 36

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7 responses to “Gravel alignment of US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in Parke County, Indiana”

  1. brandib1977 Avatar

    I found myself in a similar predicament once, trying to turn around on a narrow road. My car at the time was small and turned on a dime but I still wasn’t sure. My solution was to back out- close to a quarter mile until the road widened enough to turn. Not ideal or smart but better than getting hung up on a road less traveled.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I actually did back my car off a road once and get it hung up. Fortunately, there was enough room to back all the way down, and race back up over the hump and back onto the road.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Oh my! We adventurers do get ourselves into some scrapes!

  2. retrocrank Avatar

    very interesting section of road. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were segments that are now gone and washed into the surrounding landscape, for example at the west end the road might have continued straight along the land contour; on the east end it’s not hard to imagine the original alignment climbing up to those trees on the south side etc… I’ve seen this kind of thing in several places with county roads where I’ve lived in Ohio – old maps show a road, but now none is there to be seen – but sometimes one is lucky and finds remnants of a culvert or bridge abutment as witness.
    What was that brown shack? odd location and architecture for a spring house, and it looks almost like WPA/CCC.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s on private property so I can’t see for sure, but I believe the sections leading up to the former bridge on either side are gone. I have no idea what the brown house was about!

  3. TR Avatar

    Interesting that the powerlines maintain the alignment of 36 as they go straight west from Seip Road…along the east-west portion of the dual driveway…through a cleared path in the woods…to CR 500E…while the highway deviated from the alignment to wiggle around through the forest and over Cumberland Creek.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I just went looking for them on the map and I see what you mean. They just put them straight through and let the road go where it wanted.

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