In 2012, I drove a section of the Dixie Highway from the Illinois state line to Indianapolis along the corridor that is now US 136. Iā€™m bringing that trip report here from my old Roads site.

The Dixie Highway enters Indiana from Illinois along US 136 at the extreme northern end of Vermillion County, which is tall and narrow. It’s all of 2.3 miles wide here! The road quickly enters Fountain County.

Courtesy The Indiana Album

Several old alignments lurk as the Dixie nears the Wabash River at Covington. It’s pretty common for an old road to have many previous alignments near where it crosses a river. First, the terrain in the river valley can be challenging, and as road construction techniques improved, old alignments along the path of least resistance could be improved to smoother and safer rights of way. Second, a succession of bridges likely carried traffic over the river, each at a slightly different place. Such appears to be the case where the Dixie reaches the Wabash.

On the map below, I believe the green line to be the oldest surviving alignment, although at its east end (marked with the question mark) I can’t tell from evidence on the ground how it flowed to the wooden covered bridge that crossed the Wabash at about the same place as the red line does. The red line is the next alignment, which carried a 1916 steel truss bridge. The current bridge was built in 1978.

Remnants remain along both the green and the red lines. Here’s where the green line begins at its west end.

Possible old alignment

I’m not sure now why I didn’t explore more of the old algnments here, but I didn’t. My next stop was on the other side of the Wabash, to look at the 1916 alignment. Here’s an eastbound shot. There’s nothing back here; I was surprised local officials didn’t block this at its eastern end.

Old alignment at Wabash River

A guardrail eventually blocks access, though the pavement continues westbound to the river.

Old alignment at Wabash River

An old-style guardrail lines the south side of the road.

Old alignment at Wabash River

I don’t know when the covered bridge was built, but apparently it burned in a fire. A ferry carried traffic across the river until a new bridge could be built.

Courtesy bridgehunter.com

A more modern six-span iron Pennsylvania through truss bridge was built on the same spot. It opened in 1915, and was completed in 1916.

Courtesy bridgehunter.com

Consider that the Dixie Highway was organized in 1914, and that losing this bridge must have been quite a hindrance to this section of the newly formed highway, which stretched to Chicago.

The 1916 bridge was narrow, which was typical of the time. It’s surprising that it was used through 1978, as it had to be quite harrowing to meet an oncoming semi on it. I always wish, of course, that old bridges can be rehabilitated and used for one-way traffic, with a newer bridge carrying traffic the other way. Alas, this structure has now been lost for more than 30 years.

Next: Covington and two small towns in Fountain County.

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Comments

10 responses to “The Dixie Highway in western Indiana: Crossing the Wabash River”

  1. Warren W Jenkins Avatar
    Warren W Jenkins

    This is great material from a place that looks like it would be well worth a return trip when the leaves are gone. The Historic aerials 1955 aerial shows a now-abandoned rail line at the west end of this area with the green line alignment replaced by a bridge on the red line alignment.
    Recently, I led 5 other members of the Western Maryland Railway Historical Society on a combined National Road/WMRY exploration in Washington County, MD., east of Hancock. Not only did we find a previously undocumented NR milestone east of Licking Creek (MP89), we were able to trace a 3-mile section where the NR had been moved for the railroad in 1904, and 60 years later, the rail line was moved to make room for the current I-70. Old pics and track charts from the WMRHS archives were of great aid with this. In that 60-year period, the NR had been relocated at least twice to eliminate grade crossings and an pre-WWI overhead bridge. We hope to develop an article for one of our publications from this research.
    We were also able to explore a graveyard possibly dating back to the building of the adjacent C&O Canal..

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      “When the leaves are gone” is always a good idea when road tripping because of all you can see that is normally hidden.

      I’m thrilled to hear that an undocumented NR milestone was found!

  2. Lennart Nenne Karlsson Avatar
    Lennart Nenne Karlsson

    Hello Jim.
    I have read your blogs about the national and state roads and find them very interesting. There is something I am wondering about: you write about the paving of the roads with bricks. I have Elton Johns record “Yellow brick road” and I have seen the film “The wizard of Oz” and I thought bricks on the road was some kind of fantasy. But obviously there are roads in USA that are paved with bricks. Now I wonder if the bricks are of similar kind that is used on house building – i. e. burned clay?
    I live in Sweden and I don’t think there has been any kind of bricks used on the roads. But in the early days when the gravel roads should be improved they were paved with small stones shaped in cubes in the size of ca 8-10 cm. called small street stones, but in swedish. The problem with this was that it was polished by th time and very slippery when raining. The solution was to lay asphalt over the stone paving. This kind of stones were also used on city squares and sidewalks on city streets.
    Best regards Lennart

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Hi Lennart – From 1900 to about 1935, in the US we experimented with various hard surfaces for roads, including bricks. These are indeed clay bricks, but they are vitrified — fired at much higher temperatures to make them non-porous, so they won’t disintegrate in the ground.

      Much like your street stones, bricks can become quite slick from use. It’s one reason that brick pavement fell out of favor. I gather that it is also harder to plow snow off brick roads, although I don’t pretend to understand how that’s so.

      In the US, lots of brick streets and roads have been covered with asphalt. The main street in my hometown of South Bend was paved in brick through about the early 1970s, when a layer of asphalt was laid right on top.

      1. Lennart Nenne Karlsson Avatar
        Lennart Nenne Karlsson

        Thank you very much Jim. I think it’s very interesting to read your blog, especially when i t is about old roads. So you are from South Bend – there are relatives to me living there, but I have no longer contact with them since my grandmother died. Best regards

  3. […] The Dixie Highway in western Indiana: Crossing the Wabash River ā€” Down the Road […]

  4. Mark Sloan Avatar
    Mark Sloan

    I worked for Indiana Bell and in 1978 before the bridge was replaced worked as a lineman and splicer. There is still Aerial cable hanging on poles on the west side down the bank from the abandoned road you mentioned. That is why it’s still accessible, and it also leads to a pumping station that needs access to.
    I spent a LOT of time working on those big cables and used to be very familiar with every inch of it all the way to Perrysville.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ah HAH. Now it makes sense! Thanks for filling in this gap.

  5. Roger Avatar
    Roger

    Rehabbing old bridges for one-way traffic, with a new bridge carrying the other way, is actually fairly common. This has happened in Winona MN and LaCrosse WI over the Mississippi River, and in Uvalde TX on US-90, a major highway. Likely a number of other places too. It is always a happy thing to see, and I wish it would be done more often.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The last truss bridge in Indianapolis was twinned with a common steel stringer bridge. I’m so happy they did that.

      https://blog.jimgrey.net/2013/01/18/its-always-a-good-day-when-i-get-to-drive-across-the-astronaut-david-wolf-bridge/

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