On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois. I wrote about that trip on my old Roads site, but now I’m bringing that material to this blog.
The second leg of my trip down Indiana’s US 50 got off to a bumpy start. As I parked in Seymour, where this trip began, I accidentally locked my keys in my car. They lay on the driver’s seat.
Fortunately, I had a friend along, and he noticed a hardware store across the street. “Let’s go buy a wood dowel there,” he said. “Your window is open a smidge – you can stick the dowel through the window and press the unlock button on your keyfob.” 58 cents later I was using the dowel to turn the fob over and press its Unlock button. Success!
I’ve had more daunting adventures on road trips, such as being chased off by the police and backing my car off a road, beaching it. Oh, and wrecking my car. Shudder. So this wasn’t all that bad in comparison. But without my friend’s quick thinking, I would have ended up calling a locksmith and paying way more than 58 cents to get into my car.
My 1924 Automobile Blue Book directed the driver to enter Seymour on Tipton St., which is modern US 50, but turn north on Chestnut St. and then west on 2nd St. (Richard Simpson’s excellent article on US 50’s original route includes this map, which shows how the road entered and exited Seymour.)
We walked a few of the downtown blocks along this route.
The most interesting and surprising find was this sign just off Chestnut St. at St. Louis Ave.
The rest of the original route through Seymour was plenty colorful.
There are plenty of great old buildings downtown.
I was taken by the chimney on this house at 2nd and Walnut.
My Automobile Blue Book had us follow 2nd St. to the edge of town, where it makes a sharp left and crosses a railroad track, crosses US 50, and follows a couple county roads briefly before rejoining US 50. But backing up a bit, this is US 50’s current alignment through Seymour.
Just outside Seymour, next to a field, we found this historical marker.
The next town is Brownstown.
Brownstown is full of great neon.
If you’re surprised that Brownstown Flowers and Gifts has been around since 1890, you may be even more surprised to learn that Zabel’s Furniture has been around since 1879.
Brock’s is a real Johnny-come-lately to Brownstown, having come along in 1952.
The Knights of Pythias building stands in the next block, right across from the Jackson County Courthouse. The building itself isn’t remarkable, but this weathered neon sign sure caught my attention.
Remarkably, the Knights of Pythias still meet here. I’m used to seeing fraternal-order buildings used for other things or standing vacant.
There seems to be an idiom of Indiana county seats – a courthouse stands at the center and brick buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s face it on at least one side. Brownstown is no exception.
My travel companion wondered why Brownstown became the county seat when Seymour is so much bigger; I guessed that Seymour outgrew Brownstown long after the county seat was named. I’ve since learned that Brownstown is Jackson County’s second county seat. The first was Vallonia (the next stop on our trip). The county seat moved to Brownstown shortly after it was founded in 1816. Upstart Seymour didn’t come into being until 1852.
Regardless, I was taken with the Jackson County Courthouse. It’s not that it is unusually beautiful, but that the many trees surrounding it made for excellent shooting. I took a lot of photos from the grounds.
Does your county’s courthouse have a tank on its grounds?
Where modern US 50 turns left a block past the courthouse, old US 50 continues straight and shortly merges with State Road 135. The original alignment follows SR 135 through Vallonia to SR 235, then SR 235 to Medora, then a series of delightful country roads. Most old road alignments I’ve found have been brief, lasting less than a mile. I’ve encountered a handful that have lasted a few miles, such as the 5-mile old alignment I missed between Aurora and Dillsboro earlier on US 50. But just check out this old alignment of Indiana’s US 50!
That’s almost 21 miles of old-alignmenty goodness! We hit the mother lode! And so off we went. Our first stop along the Mother of All Old Alignments was Vallonia. State Road 135 (old US 50) bypasses it today, but at one time this highway went right through town.
The French settled this land in the late 1700s. The settlers and area Indians didn’t get on too well, and by 1810 hostilities had broken out. Governor William Henry Harrison ordered a fort be built at Vallonia to protect the settlers. He sent two companies of Indiana Rangers here during the War of 1812; several skirmishes happened here during the war. Not that you could tell it today. This is one seriously sleepy town. We saw not a soul as we walked its main street.
People still live in Vallonia, of course. Some of them go to church here, at the Vallonia United Methodist Church. It was founded in 1858; this building was completed in 1906.
We thought the church might be the only non-residential building in Vallonia until we rounded the curve and found its faded business district. This is the only building that looked like it might still contain a business.
Was this once the Blue Bird Cafe?
There’s more to downtown Vallonia, of course.
Plenty of dilapidated buildings line old US 50. This one may have been an automobile repair garage, by the looks of the triple doors on the right.
This building is being overrun by ivy.
The jewel of Vallonia is the Joe Jackson Hotel, built in 1914. I haven’t been able to find out anything about Joe Jackson, but his hotel was apparently the finest in Jackson County (which is named for President Andrew Jackson, not old Joe).
Another sign of life is Fort Vallonia. It’s not the original fort; that’s long gone. This one was built in 1969. Ever since, the fort has hosted Fort Vallonia Days, a festival every October that attracts 30,000 people.
I guess maybe Vallonia isn’t so sleepy after all!
Just south of Vallonia, SR 235 begins at a T intersection with SR 135. My old maps and road guides said to follow SR 235, and so we did, looking for Medora. Before we got there, we came upon the Medora Covered Bridge on an old alignment of the road. Indiana is well known for its covered bridges – 98 still stand across the state. The largest and most famous concentration of them is in Parke County. You can spend many enjoyable hours driving around Indiana seeing them all; you can still drive across a few of them.
But seldom do you get to see one, um, undressed.
That’s because this bridge is undergoing restoration. It was built in 1875 by J. J. Daniels, one of the leading covered bridge builders in the state. With three spans, at 431 feet, 10 inches, it is the longest covered bridge in the United States.
Those curved beams in the bridge identify it as a Burr arch truss bridge. Engineers disagree about whether the arch bears the load and the Howe truss (the vertical and angled beams) provide stability or vice-versa. But one thing’s for sure – combining the arch with the Howe truss gives a stronger bridge than either alone.
Can you imagine how dark this bridge must be when its roof is complete and the sides are attached? Given that and my general nervousness about driving on wooden bridges, I’m very happy that this bridge was retired from service in 1972. (This photo shows the bridge while it was still in service.) I’ll drive over the modern UCEB (ugly concrete eyesore bridge) next to it, thank you. But I’m eager to return after the restoration is complete so I can walk it end to end. (I did. Check it out here.)
Next we came upon tiny Medora.
This is most of its downtown.
I think it says a lot about such a little town when its watering hole calls itself legendary!
I like how, except for the blue paint, this building seems to be in original condition.
SR 235 continues straight through Medora, but to follow Old US 50, you have to turn left onto CR 350 S. This little liquor store is the last business on the way out of town.
And then we were out in the country. Look at how narrow this road is. It hasn’t been US 50 in a long, long time.
The old road had some rough spots.
Next: US 50 in Lawrence County.