Road Trips

Classic motels on the National Road/US 40 in central Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is the last of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

As we entered Effingham, we missed a sign telling us to fork right to stay on the National Road. As we looked for a place to turn around, we came upon this old motel on US 40.

Effingham Motel

This motel is on current US 40. This might also be the National Road as well, despite the earlier sign directing drivers along a different path. I covered the two possible National Road alignments in Effingham in an earlier post; click here to read it.

The motel was a going concern. Apparently, the half-ton truck convention was staying here. Or perhaps the motel was next to the Dodge dealership. I can’t remember which.

Effingham Motel

Twelve miles past Effingham is Altamont. We didn’t plan to stop here, but we found an old motel still operating on the corner of Cumberland Rd. and Main St.

Altamont Motel

We parked in front of a Laundromat next door and started taking pictures. An Indian fellow came out with his young son, quite concerned, wondering why we were taking pictures of his motel. He was relieved to learn we were just tourists exploring the National Road. He told us that the motel was built in 1959, and that he never turned on the lights on the Inn sign. He gave us permission to take all the photos we wanted.

The limestone hotel looked well cared for.

Altamont Motel

The motel sign said, “American Owned.” The Indian fellow must have become a citizen to be able to claim that.

Altamont Motel

So many of these older motels become run down and dirty, but this one gets pretty good reviews online.

Altamont Motel

When we returned to my car, I discovered that I was blocking the parking spaces for the Laundromat, which I thought was closed. Two cars had managed to get around my car and park. As we approached my car, a couple came out wondering why we were taking pictures. They were disappointed to learn we were just National Road tourists out exploring. They had hoped we were investors looking for property to buy in their small town. The young man lamented how many businesses had closed in recent years and hoped someone would buy and reopen the convenience store that sat across from the motel.

About six miles later we came upon tiny St. Elmo. We passed through it as quickly as we entered it, but not without noticing its old homes. Just west of town we came upon two old motels, both in limestone, one operating and one decaying. The hotel on the north side of the road, of limestone and trimmed in turquoise, appeared to be half occupied that day.

Motel property

The owners had added a pool, but placed it out front. I can’t imagine swimming in view of a highway.

Motel property

Everything looked neat and clean.

Motel property

A little side building that looked like a diner had a sign on it saying that it would soon reopen as a restaurant.

Motel property

The motel across the street did not get this kid of attention. It looked abandoned.

Derelict motel

Past St. Elmo we soon came upon a confluence of old roads, where the National Road, US 40, and I-70 all meet. I wrote about it here.

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Road Trips

A new historic marker for Sycamore Row, on Indiana’s Michigan Road

Word reached me late last year that this historic marker at Sycamore Row had been destroyed by a car that went off the road.

Sycamore Row

Sycamore Row is an old alignment of the Michigan Road, about an hour north of Indianapolis in Carroll County. Bypassed in the 1980s by the new alignment you see at right in the photo below, the trees that line the road here make it unusually narrow. It was a hair-raising spot to encounter oncoming traffic, especially something large like a school bus or a semi. I wrote more about it, and shared some historic photos from when this alignment was still in use, here.

Sycamore Row

The text on the sign reflects a legend that some have long questioned. It was a common practice two centuries ago to use logs to create a firm road surface where the land was usually wet, as the land here is said to have been in the mid-1800s. Also, it’s not impossible that new trees could have sprouted from sycamore logs laid here. But the truth is, nobody knows for certain how the trees came to be here.

On behalf of the Historic Michigan Road Association, I reported the destroyed sign to the Indiana Historical Bureau, which manages Indiana’s historic markers. They took the opportunity to make a new sign with more information about how the Michigan Road came to exist here, and acknowledging that the sycamores’ origin is uncertain. While the old sign had the same text on both sides, the new marker tells half the story on one side, and the other half on the other side. I was pleased that the IHB chose to tell more of the story of the road itself, including touching on how the Indian people who lived on this land were pressured to give it up for the road. I was especially pleased that the IHB let the HMRA review the proposed text and offer feedback. We suggested a couple small changes, which they accepted. Here’s the new marker.

Bonnie Maxwell photo
Bonnie Maxwell photo

What’s really cool is that the IHB lists their sources for this text on their Web page for this marker (here).

Bonnie Maxwell photo

It struck me at first that this sign was posted backward, as the back side faces you as you stand at the entrance to Sycamore Row. But I’m sure that the IHB’s standards require them to post signs so that they face traffic on the adjacent road. People traveling south on the Michigan Road will see the front of this sign as they pass.

Nearly every time I drive up this way I stop to visit the sycamores. I usually have a camera with me. Here are a couple photos I made of the old marker over the years. I made this one in September, 2019, with my Yashica-12 camera on Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros film.

Sycamore Row

I made this photo in May, 2013, with a Canon A35F camera on Fujifilm Fujicolor 200 film. As part of the IHB’s program to keep markers in good condition (details here), a volunteer repainted this marker sometime between my 2013 and 2019 photos.

Sycamore Row

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Road Trips

The Green Lantern on the National Road/US 40 in Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

As we came near to Effingham we could see a tall neon sign in the distance. As we got closer, we could see that it was grand.

Green Lantern

Sadly, the building behind this sign had burned about a month earlier, on the night of June 5. It had stood since 1938, first as a bar, then as a fine dining establishment, and most recently as a roadhouse of sorts. For many years, it was the only place on US 40 for several states that was open Sunday nights, when it drew crowds from a hundred miles away.

Green Lantern

The owner pledged to rebuild, but it never happened. In 2014, the site was sold to someone who maintains it as an investment. I looked the site up on Google Maps (it’s here). The last time a Google Street View car drove by, which was in 2019, someone was selling yard sheds on this lot.

I hope this great sign was saved!

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Road Trips

Remnants of the National Road and US 40 in east central Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

As we drove out of Casey, we soon came upon where Main Street intersected with US 40.

Bing Maps 2021

This unusual intersection allowed US 40 to pass south of the National Road. We turned off Main Street before reaching US 40 to follow the short segment of National Road there, and took this photograph eastbound across US 40 to the National Road on the other side. Notice the National Road sign pointing the way. Westbound.

West of Casey

On the other side of US 40, the National Road was maintained (though covered in tar and gravel or something else not quite asphalt) and drivable for maybe a quarter mile. Westbound.

NR West of Casey

Beyond the first crossroads it petered out and seemed to end. As we drove along, we saw that the old road did continue, but was not reachable. It disappeared beyond 2350E. The utility poles did, too, which we found curious. There was another short segment at 2275E, and then suddenly we saw another segment on the south side of the road. Apparently, US 40 was built over the old road here.

We stopped to take photos of an abandoned motel at 2000E. We were a good bit away from Casey by now, and we wondered how a motel out in the sticks could prosper. Then it hit us: It didn’t.

Motel

At 1975E we found another short concrete alignment. Here it is eastbound.

NR West of Casey

And here it is westbound, heavily overgrown.

NR West of Casey

Finally, at 1950E we found this former truck garage or truck stop. Again, we were puzzled by this business’s placement so far from town.

Former truck stop?

And then the concrete National Road disappeared. We would see it only once more, briefly, on this trip.

Greenup is 10 miles west of Casey and, since there was so little concrete or brick highway to stop and see, we came upon it quickly. Unlike every other town that US 40 bypassed so far, the highway went around town on its south side. Through town, the National Road was signed as both Cumberland St. and Illinois State Road 121.

A short segment of the old road lay to the east of the turnoff. This photo shows how westbound traffic on US 40 used to flow smoothly right down this segment. Today, it’s a local road, so the guy hawking vinyl siding could not have been getting much business if that sign was his only advertising. The utility poles that disappeared a few miles back reappeared here, as this eastbound photo shows.

Into Greenup

Past the stop sign, this segment becomes Cumberland St. and State Road 121. Westbound.

Into Greenup

Greenup has a remarkable downtown, which I wrote about here. Just west of Greenup is a modern covered bridge over the Embarras River. It’s quite a sight, and I wrote about it here. Just before you reach it, you come upon this concrete-arch bridge built in 1920. This photo is eastbound.

Bridge west of Greenup

I love how good Illinois was about placing identifying plates on their highway bridges.

Bridge west of Greenup

Shortly after crossing the little concrete bridge, the covered bridge came into view. A young deer was watching us carefully as she waited for the right moment to cross the road. Westbound.

Deer at the Greenup covered bridge

Beyond the covered bridge, the original alignment of the National Road and US 40 comes to an abrupt end. Westbound.

Old US 40 west of Greenup, IL

Past Greenup, we drove through several miles of country, passing through a few tiny towns. It began a mile or so past the bridge with a short segment of the National Road. We turned left on 1375E to access it. The tar-and-gravel segment swayed a bit along its path. Utility poles, which we had not seen along the Greenup segment, reappeared just beyond that segment’s end and hugged the road here. Westbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

A big, neglected building, perhaps an old school, sat on this segment. Perhaps this segment exists just to provide access to the house; perhaps this was cheaper than building a driveway to it. The house has a cement plaque on it, but the letters were too faint to make out. It looked like someone might live here, believe it or not, and so we didn’t go closer to read the plaque.

Abandoned school on US 40 in Illinois

Beyond 1350E, the segment narrowed, swayed some more, and then disappeared. Westbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

US 40 followed the railroad here. It swings north just east of Jewett, but old US 40 and the National Road stay right with the railroad and cut through this tiny town. We took the turnoff to Cumberland Street westbound as it headed into Jewett. There was no sign of the old road behind us here.

Old US 40 leading into Jewett, IL

There wasn’t much to see in Jewett, and we quickly passed through it. We could see a crack along both sides of the asphalt where a cement widening strip would have been added years before. Where the road turned to rejoin US 40, we were surprised to see a sign pointing the way. The National Road dead-ended 20 feet later, with no sign of the old road beyond the end. Out here, it appears that the old road exists only if there is a good reason.

To 40

The map showed a short segment of the National Road that we could access at 950E. Here’s that segment eastbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

We drove west along this stretch to 900E and could see that the road ended ahead. Westbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

After we returned to US 40 and we drove on, we saw a few very short strips of what was probably the National Road to our north. These segments were just long enough to provide access to homes and farms.

We soon came upon tiny Montrose, which US 40 does not bypass. We passed a biker bar. Men were climbing on their hogs and a horde of young women, dressed in bikinis or slightly less, were scurrying around. It looked like something straight out of a B movie. I would have taken photos, but this is a family Web site. There wasn’t much to see otherwise, so we drove on.

We also didn’t stop in Teutopolis, a few miles away. US 40 did not bypass this town, either. Teutopolis was three or four times the size of Jewett or Montrose. There wasn’t much here, but the town did have a downtown with a really nice church that had a tall steeple. Unfortunately the day was getting away from us. I wanted to reach Vandalia by dinnertime, so we cruised on by.

Next: a great neon sign for a restaurant near Effingham — but no restaurant.

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Road Trips

A change in the pavement on the abandoned National Road in Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and several visits: two in 2007, one in 2009, and one in 2014.

In the early days of the US highway system, it was common for highways to frequently change pavement types. You could be driving along on concrete that suddenly gave way to gravel, which after several miles abruptly switched to brick. Road guides of the day spelled it all out. This excerpt from a 1924 road guide shows how the road surface alternated between concrete and brick along the National Road between Terre Haute, Indiana, and Effingham, Illinois.

I’m puzzled that the guide says the road is paved in concrete from the state line to Martinsville except for a small brick section in Marshall, given the abandoned brick highway that remains along most of that stretch. I also don’t know how “fine concrete” differs from plain concrete. But at least this gives you a sense of how the surface could change, and how frequently.

Just east of Martinsville, Illinois, the mid-1920s brick highway gives way to a concrete road. You’ll find it here on Google Maps, but here’s a screen shot to show how the pavement changes. Right about in the middle of the image, it’s brick on the right (east) and concrete on the left (west).

Imagery ©2021 Maxar Technologies, map data ©2021 Google.

I’m showing this to you as aerial imagery because I’ve not stopped by this spot to photograph it myself. It’s clearly in someone’s front yard. I wouldn’t want to attract their attention. But this is what the brick road looks like:

National Road

And this is what the concrete looks like:

Abandoned National Road

Notice how the concrete road is three parallel strips of concrete. The center strip is 10 feet wide and the side strips are four feet wide. I’ve written about this before (read it here), but the center section came first, probably in the early 1910s, followed by the side strips, probably in the mid-late 1920s. One section of ten-foot highway remains on private property just east of Martinsville. Here it is, westbound:

10-foot-wide concrete road

Related reading:

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Bridge over the St. Joseph River at Leeper Park

Leeper Bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2008

Of all the bridges I’ve documented, this is one of my top favorites. It carries Michigan Street, former US 31, over the St. Joseph River in South Bend. Built in 1914, its 56-foot-wide deck was unusually broad in its day. Even today it carries two lanes of traffic in each direction, which certainly helped it survive. Starting in 1917, it carried State Road 1; in 1926 it began to carry US 31. A great deal of traffic passed over this bridge over the years. Had it been able to carry only one lane of traffic in each direction, it would have been insufficient and would have been replaced long ago. Even though US 31 was rerouted onto a bypass of the city many years ago, this road remains a highway as State Road 933 today. It carries about 31,000 vehicles each day.

Bridge standards evolve over time, and today this bridge’s 56-foot-wide deck is considered intolerable for that volume of traffic. I’m sure it survives primarily because it is in fair condition overall, according to its last inspection. I hope it gets good maintenance so it can keep serving, because it’s a beautiful bridge. Many excellent views are available in Leeper Park, which hugs the south bank of the river here on both sides of the bridge.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Leeper Bridge

A beautiful concrete-arch bridge north of downtown South Bend.

Image