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 country-road alignment of US 50 that led away from Loogotee almost immediately crosses into Daviess County.
If you didn’t know the history, you’d think this had always been just an old farm road. Google Maps does label it both CR 100 S and Old US 50. I love it when Google Maps does that.
Soon the current alignment of US 50 met the old alignment and continued as the modern two-lane highway it is.
US 50 has a colorful history in terms of realignments across southwestern Indiana. I-64 was originally going to be built along the US 150 corridor from Louisville to about Shoals, where it would pick up US 50 on its way to Illinois. But lobbying got I-64 built farther south, passing closer to Evansville. That didn’t stop the desire for a major highway through this part of Indiana, so the current expressway was built westward from Washington. Of course it bypasses every town along the way, leaving juicy bits of old road behind. There are actually two old alignments of US 50 in Washington. This map shows them both – the original alignment in red (as best as I can figure, anyway) and the second alignment in blue. You can see current US 50 swing wide to the south of town. (I was close on the original US 50 alignment in downtown Washington – the westbound road actually turned north directly onto Front Street, several blocks west of where I show it turning in red.)
Both alignments begin at Washington’s east end. Here’s a stub of the old highway, photographed eastbound.
On my westbound journey, I drove only US 50’s second alignment, which passes by this great root beer stand at the intersection of State Road 257.
While I was out photographing the sign, a teenaged girl came out to take my order. How could I resist? The root beer is apparently brewed on the premises.
Old US 50 doesn’t go through downtown Washington but rather skirts across the south side of town. The original alignment cut right through downtown, though. At any rate, past the root beer stand there wasn’t much to see. Soon the road exited Washington and became very lonely.
Signs begin pointing motorists back to US 50 and then begin warning that the road ends ahead. And they meant it.
I stopped and walked out past the Do Not Enter signs to take this photograph. I’m sure there’s more road underneath the brush, and I was very curious to explore. But I was also wearing shorts and wasn’t at all excited about wading through all of this with my legs exposed. Critters? Poison ivy? No thanks.
If I could have wound the clock back 20 years, this is what I would have found in there.
Yep, a three-span Parker through truss bridge.
According to the Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), from which I got these photos, this bridge was built in 1930 and met its doom in 1990. This bridge had a twin that stood less than a half mile to the west, just inside Knox County. It, too, is gone, although the US 50 expressway goes right over the spot where it stood. You might think the old bridges could have been kept and new bridges built in the oncoming lanes, but these bridges’ 20-foot-wide decks probably doomed them. Consider that Interstate standards call for bridges to be a whopping 37½ feet wide – two 12-foot lanes, a ten-foot outer shoulder, and a 3½-foot inner shoulder. Two semis entering this bridge at the same time would find it a tight fit!
I did follow US 50’s first alignment in Washington, but I did it after continuing along the second alignment into Knox County and reaching the Illinois state line. I turned around from there and followed the first alignment back to Washington. Photographs of the Knox County portion of that alignment are in the next, final section.
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