As you follow the old Michigan Road just as it passes into Ripley County from the south, you’ll encounter this one-lane stone-arch bridge. Built in 1913, it’s known by many names: Shepard Bridge, or Nobles Ford Bridge, or County Bridge #38.
The view was unobstructed on a visit I made here ten years ago:
This bridge is in a fascinating place, marked on the map with the orange star.
To its west is the vast Jefferson Proving Ground. The U.S. Army took the land, displacing many farms and towns, in 1941 to build this munitions-testing ground. The Army blew up ammunition and bombs here! The majority of it no longer serves that purpose and is today a wildlife refuge.
To its east is US 421. The Michigan Road’s oldest alignment follows the road labeled Old Michigan Road. But with the rise of the automobile in the early 20th century, the Michigan Road became an early auto trail. So that it could pass through bustling Versailles and Osgood, the auto trail was routed along what is now US 421 from here about 22 miles north to the little town of Napoleon. The two alignments come back together there.
This rerouting happened after the Shepard Bridge was built. It had the effect of saving it from eventual demolition. If this alignment had become US 421, this bridge would have been replaced with a bridge designed to handle modern highway traffic.
It was unusual for a stone-arch bridge to be built in 1913. The stone-arch era is heavily consigned to the 19th century. By the early 20th century, bridges of iron, steel, and reinforced concrete had become much more common.
Ripley County is unusually rich in stone-arch bridges, with at least 12 still open to vehicular traffic. A few of them are inside Jefferson Proving Ground and thus carry limited traffic. The ones for which I’m able to find data were built after 1880. The Shepard Bridge is the newest of them.
The Michigan Road borders Jefferson Proving Ground here. You can see a bit of the chain-link fence that surrounds JPG just over the rise in the bridge deck.
This bridge has had some work done on it that appears intended to stabilize it. On an autumn day in 2008, after a long drought, I drove by and noticed the creek was dry. So I walked under the bridge to have a look. The stones appear to be in no more than fair condition. I imagine the brown stuff is some sort of cement intended to keep stones in place.
Concrete was poured where the arches meet the creek bed — on Oct. 1, 1997, as you can see. I’m sure this stabilizes the bridge a little.
The concrete is poured such that the upstream end forms a point, so that debris is more likely to flow around and not get hung up. This 2008 photo shows it:
With the destruction of the Middletown Bridge in Shelby County, this is the last stone-arch bridge on the Michigan Road. I know of a large stone culvert on this alignment just south of Napoleon, as well.
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.
Today it carries only pedestrians in White River State Park in Indianapolis. But this seven-span concrete-arch bridge was built in 1916 to carry the National Road across the White River. It was the latest of several bridges that carried the National Road and US 40 here.
It opened a year before Indiana formed the State Highway Commission, which would become the Indiana Department of Transportation. In 1917 that body formed a small network of highways out of existing major roads. The National Road was one, bearing the name “Main Market Highway No. 3,” or, later, State Road 3. In 1926, with the creation of the national highway system, it became US 40.
And so it remained until the mid-1980s, when a new bridge was built to the south and US 40 was routed onto it. The old bridge and the land on either side of it would become White River State Park. The first park attraction was the Indianapolis Zoo, which opened west of the bridge in 1988. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art opened next, in 1989. An IMAX theater followed in 1996, and the Indiana State Museum in 2002. The NCAA relocated its headquarters to the park in 1999. These two map excerpts, courtesy MapIndy, show the area before (in 1979) and after (in 2017).
Here’s a view of the park from the JW Marriott hotel, which abuts it. The 1916 bridge is at far left, and the NCAA complex at right. But notice the tree-lined walking path that borders the NCAA buildings? Remarkably, it is the original alignment of the National Road.
Here’s a ground-level view that shows it.
This 1852 map of Indianapolis, part of a larger Indiana map I found at the Library of Congress, shows this alignment clearly. It’s always less expensive to build and maintain a bridge built perpendicular to a river’s banks, and that’s almost certainly why the road angles slightly north here.
The bridge here was a wooden covered bridge. The only images I can find of it are drawings; this is the best of them, from History of Indianapolis and Marion County, Indiana, by B. R. Sulgrove, published 1884 (available here).
Remarkably, I find later maps showing two bridges here, one on the original alignment and one on the later. Below are two snippets of maps of this site, the first from an 1889 atlas and the second from 1903 by Rand McNally. I wonder whether the upper bridge carried westbound traffic and the lower bridge eastbound.
But I was puzzled. It is well known that the Great Flood of 1913 destroyed the bridge here — and some resources say it was the wooden covered bridge. But photographs from the day of the flood show a deck-truss bridge (a bridge with metal trusses below the bridge floor) — and only a deck-truss bridge. A second bridge, if it existed, would have been so close to this one it certainly would have made it into some of the photos! Here’s one photo of that bridge, taken an hour before it collapsed in that flood. Image courtesy The Indiana Album, Barbara Stevens Collection (viewable here).
This doesn’t look like the bridge that was eventually built, which the group thinks opened in 1904. But the article does confirm the existence of two bridges, and a plan for this new bridge to replace them both.
The 1916 bridge has clearly been the hardy one, standing firmly for more than 100 years.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
Among the Kodachrome slides that belong to my mother in law are several from a trip to Washington, DC. Guessing from a number of clues among the entire set of slides I scanned, I think they’re from about 1948. Certainly no earlier than 1947, and no later than about 1953.
Three photos probably taken from the observation deck of the Washington Monument show a very different National Mall than we experience today. The Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool, and the US Capitol and the grassy areas before it, were there. But so were a number of buildings not present today. Check it out:
The buildings on the left are a grassy area today. The buildings on the right have given way to Constitution Gardens and its pond. These buildings remind me of other buildings I’ve seen only in photographs that were built hastily as office space in support of World War II.
The Vietnam War obviously hadn’t happened yet, but it would happen, and eventually the Vietnam Veterans Memorial would be built beyond the buildings on the right. Finally, the National World War II Memorial would be built some 55 years hence, replacing the small pool before the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
Looking east toward the Capitol, you can see that most of the Smithsonian museums haven’t been built yet. More of those anonymous-looking buildings stand beyond the Smithsonian Castle at center right. That’s where the Hirshhorn Museum, the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian would eventually go.
One last Kodachrome from atop the Washington Monument shows Virginia Avenue and the Potomac River. The set of buildings in the bottom right corner is the Department of the Interior.
For almost as long as I’ve been following the old roads I’ve wanted to piece together the history of a tangle of National Road alignments at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville, in Putnam County, Indiana. Until recently I had managed to figure out only that there are three alignments here. This map shows them:
The current alignment is US 40, which was built in about 1941. The previous alignment is the yellow-red-yellow road, built in about 1923. The alignment before that is the yellow-green-yellow road. It would have been easy to assume that this was the original National Road alignment, except that by statute the National Road was supposed to be a direct route, and this is anything but direct.
Thanks to research by fellow roadfans Richard Simpson and Roger Green I’ve learned a great deal that has solved almost all of this puzzle. If, by the way, you find this stuff at all fascinating, I recommend joining Simpson’s Indiana Transportation History group on Facebook here. He shares lots of fascinating research there about Indiana roads.
Simpson found articles in the Brazil Daily Times newspaper with dates from 1912 to 1922 that told the story. From them, here’s what I now know:
When the National Road was built here sometime in the 1830s, it proceeded from the east along the yellow and then red alignment on the map, passing through Pleasant Gardens. It crossed Big Walnut Creek at about the same place the red alignment does, over a “wagon bridge,” which means it was probably a wooden covered bridge. From there, however, it crossed railroad tracks that were there then, and joined the green alignment. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912, viewable here, and an 1864 map of Putnam County viewable here.)
In 1875, that bridge washed out and was not rebuilt. At this time, National Road travelers began to follow the yellow-green-yellow route, which already existed. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912.) By then, the railroad was more prominent than any major road. It is likely that this alignment persisted because it provided access to the train stop in Reelsville.
This route had two serious challenges: first, a steep downgrade as the road headed north into Reelsville, and second, two at-grade crossings of the Vandalia Railroad, one of which was considered among the most dangerous in the state. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912.)
In 1907, funds were secured to move the Vandalia tracks here to correct a dangerous curve and eliminate the at-grade crossings, but by 1912 nothing had been done. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912.)
In 1919, about two years after Indiana created its numbered state highway system and signed the National Road as State Road 3, the State Highway Commission drew up plans to move the road to the yellow-red-yellow route. (Brazil Daily Times, May 23, 1919, viewable here.)
The contracts for this work were finally let in 1921. (Brazil Daily Times, Nov. 18, 1921, viewable in two parts here and here.)
Work finally began in 1922. (Brazil Daily Times, Jan. 5, 1922, viewable here.) From other research I’ve done I’m reasonably certain that this road was completed in 1923. This is also about the time the train stop at Reelsville closed, as the National Road once again became the more popular way to move people and goods.
In the late 1920s, a truck hit the covered bridge over the Big Walnut Creek on Reelsville Hill. Putnam County built a new bridge there in 1929, an open-spandrel concrete arch bridge. The bridge has been bypassed but remains in place. A plaque on the bridge gives the 1929 date.
As part of a project to widen US 40 to four lanes across Indiana, in about 1941 the road was realigned and rebuilt here to its current alignment. This removed part of the 1923 alignment, making it discontinuous. See this post for information about the four-lane US 40.
Here’s an excerpt from the 1864 map I mentioned above, showing the National Road crossing Big Walnut Creek west of Pleasant Garden.
The Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index has a 1939 image of this area that shows the 1923 alignment still intact. I’ve added color to the road to highlight it. Instead of crossing the railroad track like the pre-1875 alignment, it hugs its south edge.
It turns out that my many photographic visits to this area will let me take you on a visual tour of these alignments. Here’s the map again, with index numbers that will go with the photographs that follow, starting at the eastern end.
The old alignments begin here, at 1 on the map. 2009 photo.
Shortly the road reaches Pleasant Gardens, directly south of Reelsville, at 2 on the map. 2009 photo.
There’s not much here now. 2009 photo.
This is the crossroads where the 1875 alignment turned right, but the pre-1875 and the 1923 alignment continued straight. 2006 photo.
Here’s the westbound pre-1875 and 1923 road, which dead ends just beyond where it goes out of sight in this 2006 photo.
This is the road north to Reelsville, the 1875 alignment, heading down Reelsville Hill. 2006 photo.
On my first ever visit to Reelsville Hill, in 2007, a new bridge had recently opened and the 1929 bridge had been abandoned in place. (3 on the map.) By the time I made this photo, in 2009, that bridge had been restored. That’s because it was designed by Daniel Luten, who invented and patented a kind of concrete arch that was very influential in bridge design. Luten bridges are therefore considered historic. The project to build the new bridge involved significantly reducing the grade, as this side-by-side shot of the old and new bridges shows.
Here’s the restored Luten bridge in profile. 2009 photo.
Here’s the best photo I have of the bridge from before it was restored. 2006 photo.
I made a screen shot in 2006 of this aerial map segment showing the old bridge still in use and the new bridge being built alongside. Notice how the road to the old bridge curved to meet the old bridge, but the road to the new bridge would track straight onto it. This might suggest that the 1929 bridge was built alongside the old covered bridge that was here on new abutments, and the road moved to this location. But the 1929 bridge is said to have been built on the covered bridge’s abutments.
After crossing the bridge, the 1875-1923 alignment takes the first left and soon becomes a gravel road. I made this photo at about 4 on the map. 2006 photo.
Here’s more of the gravel road, from about 5 on the map. There’s no sign today that the railroad ever crossed this alignment; the tracks have been removed and the road smoothed out. 2009 photo.
The 1923 alignment was paved in concrete. Here’s where the 1875-1923 alignment meets the 1923 concrete, at 6 on the map. The concrete road from 9 on the map to here was removed at some point. I’d love to know why. 2009 photo.
The 1923 alignment was broken into two segments by the 1941 alignment. Here’s where the second segment of the 1923 alignment begins, at 7 on the map. 2006 photo.
I haven’t been back here in a long time, but when I made these photos in 2006 the road was heavily overgrown.
This is the 1923 bridge over Big Walnut Creek, at 8 on the map. 2006 photo.
Here’s where the 1923 alignment abruptly ends, at 9 on the map. It used to continue through where my little red car stands, curving off to the right to join to point 6 on the map. I’d really like to know why this segment was removed. The narrow strip of asphalt that curves to the left connects this segment to the 1941 alignment.
This eastbound shot at 10 on the map shows the 1923 concrete. 2009 photo.
Westbound from the same spot, the 1923 concrete is someone’s driveway today. I’d love to get permission to walk this segment as far as it goes. On the aerial maps it looks like it ends about 800 feet from here. 2009 photo.
There you have it: all of the National Road alignments at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville, explained and illustrated.
I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.
There’s a surprising amount to tell about Story, a tiny village in the hilliest country Indiana has to offer. It’s in Brown County, about thirteen miles southeast of Nashville along the meandering State Road 135. The old Elkinsville Road continues straight where SR 135 curves sharply; that’s where you’ll find Story.
Story is named for its founder, George Story, a physician from Ohio, who settled here in 1851 after President Millard Fillmore granted him 173 acres. He built his house (below) in about 1858. By the 1870s, Story’s medical practice, a school, and a mill had been built here, and farms surrounded this burgeoning village. Locals came to call it Storyville.
Dr. Arnold Griffitt came in 1882 to continue Story’s medical practice, at which time the village was incorporated as Story. During Griffitt’s time the first general store was built here, and a post office was located inside it. From there Story grew to include a second general store, a church, a one-room school, a grain mill, a sawmill, a slaughterhouse, and a blacksmith. Through the 1920s, Story was the most prominent settlement in this part of Brown County.
Farming had always been difficult here thanks to rocky ground, and after the Great Depression began it became largely impossible to make a living on this land. Families began abandoning their farms to find other work. Meanwhile, the State of Indiana began to buy the 16,000 acres surrounding Story that would create Brown County State Park. This outmigration caused Brown County to lose half its population by 1940.
Story tried to soldier on. The general store in particular kept operating, its 1930s-era gasoline pumps with their distinctive Standard Oil glass crowns continuing to dispense fuel. The store limped along until about 1960 when the Army Corps of Engineers built Lake Monroe southeast of Bloomington as a flood-control project. That project cut off Elkinsville Road, the direct route to Bloomington, and through traffic dried up. The store managed somehow to hang on through the mid 1970s before finally giving up.
A man named Benjamin and his wife Cynthia bought most of the town in 1978, making their residence on the store’s second floor and transforming the first floor into a restaurant. About 15 years later, Rick Hofstetter bought the whole town and added lodging to the restaurant, using the store’s second floor and most of Story’s remaining buildings.
Hofstetter still owns Story and keeps it rustic. Even when the inn is full, it is said that horses outnumber people in Story. They surely appeared to on the day we visited.
Today Story is a popular place to stop off Brown County’s beaten path, especially in the autumn. Motorcycle riders seem especially to enjoy Story, as it’s a great place to stop while enjoying SR 135’s curves and hills.
City of Mineral Water Pentax K10D, 28-80mm f/3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA 2017
Martinsville, Indiana, was once renowned for its healing waters.
It was while drilling for oil in the area in 1887 that a smelly aquifer was found. In those days, mineral waters were thought to possess healing properties.
Martinsville’s first mineral-water spa, or sanitarium as they were called then, was established in 1888. By 1930, thirteen sanitariums operated there. People from all walks of life came from around the world to Martinsville to bathe.
But the Great Depression and the closing of the Interurban line that reached Martinsville brought about the sanitariums’ decline. The last of them closed in 1971.