Road Trips

Illinois US 50: Crossing the Wabash River from Indiana

In 2009, my good friend Michael and I made a rush one-day trip along all of the old US 50 alignments we could find in Illinois, starting at the Indiana/Illinois state line. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site, which I plan to deprecate. I’m moving that content to this site.

Someone I follow on Flickr loves bridges. At least, I assume he loves bridges, because every week he uploads another batch of old-bridge photos. Not long ago, he uploaded several photos of some abandoned steel truss bridges along US 50 in Illinois. I knew I had to go see.

Just a couple months before, I totaled my car as I passed from West Virginia into Ohio while exploring the National Road. It made me feel skittish about driving on the highway, I knew I needed to make another road trip as soon as I could. An Illinois US 50 trip seemed like just the thing.

Brick segments of old US 50
Brick section near the Wabash River

As you might imagine, US 50 has a long history in Illinois. Some of my roadfan buddies have shared research with me that take this road’s roots back to 1806, when a mail route and a stagecoach road was created between Vincennes, Indiana and St. Louis, Missouri, along the corridor that became US 50. One part of this corridor may have been part of a trace called the Goshen Road. In 1913, this corridor became part of the Midland Trail, an early coast-to-coast automobile road. Then it became State Route 12 and, finally, US 50 in 1926.

I knew going in that I wouldn’t be able to cover this road to my usual obsessive-compulsive level of detail – just driving to and from the Illinois state line, would consume much of my time, and I was planning to cut 2/3 of the way across Illinois. That’s a lot of ground to cover. I intended this trip to be a recon mission for an eventual return trip. (Sadly, that return trip never happened.)

This trip began in Vincennes with my dog and my good friend Michael along for the ride. We started at the center of this photo, where the bridge crosses the Wabash River. Despite the US 50 shields on the map, US 50 has bypassed Vincennes to the north for many years.

The Abraham Lincoln Bridge that connects Indiana to Illinois here was built in 1933. It’s easy to find photos of this lovely bridge on the Internet – just search on “Vincennes bridge” in Google Image Search. But all the photos are from the Indiana side. Now, perhaps for the first time on the Internet, here are photos from the Illinois side.

Lincoln Memorial Bridge

I couldn’t decide which of these two photos I liked better, so I’m sharing them both.

Lincoln Memorial Bridge

Before 1933, US 50 crossed into Illinois on a different bridge a little to the north. This 1909 postcard images shows that it had a steel arch truss portion and a wooden covered portion.

The old bridge itself was quite a contraption. At its center was a swing bridge which pivoted 90 degrees to allow boats to pass. Originally, wooden covered bridges connected the swing bridge to both shores. In researching this bridge at my favorite bridge site, bridgehunter.com, I found these postcard images that show how the bridge evolved.

In this image, a covered bridge stands on the Illinois side and a bowstring arch swing bridge stands in the middle. By this time, however, the covered bridge on the Indiana side had been replaced with two bowstring arch spans, probably on the same piers and abutments.

Finally, the Lincoln Memorial Bridge was built. The two bridges coexisted for a while. By this time the wooden covered spans had been replaced by Parker through trusses. The swing bridge had been updated with what looks to me to be two pony Warren trusses with verticals.

The blue line on the aerial image below shows where the old bridge used to be and how the road curved a bit on the Illinois side. Notice that the old road is still there.

It’s a brick road!

Brick segments of old US 50

The faint blue line on this aerial image shows the road’s path from the shore. Whoever owns the property now parks his car on old US 50! From the air, it looks like the old bridge’s approach is still there at the shoreline. I would have loved to see if doing so had not meant trespassing.

The road leading to the old bridge site on the Vincennes side is brick, too – check out the lower right quadrant of this aerial photo.

Back to the Illinois side. Here’s old US 50 westbound to where it merges with current US 50.

Brick segments of old US 50

Check out how this brick road was made to curve.

Brick segments of old US 50

Ten feet above the old brick road, along the newer Old US 50, is this memorial to Abraham Lincoln and his family as they first entered Illinois near this spot.

Lincoln memorial

Next: We pass quickly through Lawrenceville, Sumner, Olney, and Noble, to come upon three old bridges on a long abandoned section of US 50.

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8 thoughts on “Illinois US 50: Crossing the Wabash River from Indiana

  1. Roger Meade says:

    What struck me right away was the city on the Indiana side and complete lack of development opposite Vincennes in Illinois. Since Vincennes is on the outside of the curve in the river, I would guess that is slightly higher ground, while the Illinois side is subject to occasional flooding, thus only good for farming.

    • You’re probably right. I drove the gravel/dirt road right along the river to get the bridge shots, and I recall there being a traffic sign on it warning of flooding.

  2. Tony Dillon says:

    I have a couple of these postcards in my collection. Information has been non-existent so far as to the building of the original covered bridge. An event obviously occurred to warrant the replacement on the Indiana side with bowstring spans. They are easily identifiable as being Massillon Bridge Company’s unique “trussed” arches. Although the current bridge has it’s undeniable beauty, it still can’t hold a candle to the mostly shrouded history of the old bridge. Thank you as always Jim for taking us on a journey with you!

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