Road Trips

Illinois US 50: A surprise suspension bridge in Carlyle

This is the third installment of my report from a 2009 road trip along the oldest alignments I could find of US 50 across a good chunk of Illinois.

After we left Clay City we kept to current US 50 as we headed west. Once again we could see an earlier concrete alignment paralleling the current road immediately to the south.

I’ve heard that there were plans for I-64 to follow the US 50 corridor, and, later, plans for a US 50 expressway from St. Louis to Vincennes, neither of which came to be. The theory goes that Illinois built a new US 50 mostly alongside the old, and planned later to rebuild the old road to modern standards, to be ready for I-64 when it was designated. Unfortunately, I-64 ended up on a much more southerly alignment in Illinois. This is why these abandoned US 50 alignments still exist.

When US 50 approaches Flora, then the old highway pulls away to the south to pass through town while the current highway bypasses it to the north. I’ve marked the old road’s path through town in blue on this map.

The old and new roads merge northwest of Xenia. They stay merged until Carlyle, about 40 miles west.

Just east of Carlyle, the old stagecoach road diverges a bit from US 50’s path. About 3/4 of the way across the map image below, the stage road used to veer north of US 50, cross the Kaskaskia River, and follow Fairfax St.

The stage road is used as a park entrance today, leading to a suspension bridge built in 1859. It’s named after Major General William Dean, a Carlyle native who served during the Korean War.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

The old bridge wasn’t designed to carry automobiles, but was used to carry them for some years anyway. Here’s a photo of a section of the bridge after a truck fell through the deck! A new bridge was built nearby in 1932, and this bridge was closed. In 1936, the then-abandoned and deteriorating bridge was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record; here’s its page at the Library of Congress’s Web site. These photos were taken as part of that work.

When the Vincennes-St. Louis mail route was founded, travelers had to ford the Kaskaskia River here. Then a “mud bridge” was built, but it lasted only through 1830. Travelers had to ford the river again until this bridge was built in 1859. After the bridge closed, it was left to rot until the 1950s when it was restored. Today, it’s a pedestrian bridge.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

The current deck is much narrower than the original deck.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

The previous photos are westbound; this photo is eastbound.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

This photo was taken facing southeast.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

The old stage route followed Fairfax St. through town and then angled northeast out of town. It appears below as the road south of “New Route 50” on the map’s left edge. US 50 used to follow Franklin St. all the way through town, but in the early 1970s was rerouted north along State Route 127 and then west along a new alignment.

Next: Remnants of the old stagecoach road west of Carlyle, and beginning a return trip to Indiana on modern US 50 — with some never-used bridges along the way.

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