Road Trips

Abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana

This was the moment I became hooked on following the old roads. Online maps showed a little bit of bypassed pavement here, but I didn’t know an abandoned bridge was in there, too — and holy cow, was it ever cool! Here’s what it looks like from the air.

Image © 2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2020 Google.

(Notice the clearing in the upper right of the image. That’s Iron’s Cemetery, a 19th-century burial ground well hidden from view. Read about it here.)

The map shows a gray area at the eastern end of this segment that turns out to be a landing of sorts. We pulled onto it, but didn’t see any road we could drive on. We parked and got out to look. We found a tiny opening in the wooded area that led to the roadbed. In this photo, which shows US 40 westbound at left, the opening is about on the horizontal centerline, about one-third of the way from the right edge.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

Here’s what that opening looks like, close up.

Abandoned US 40

Inside, we found a heavily overgrown road that was cracked and, in some places, buckled. The bridge appeared almost immediately, and it, too, was heavily overgrown, as this photo shows. When I first looked at this photo, I had to look twice to see the bridge’s concrete guardrails.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

This was incredibly exciting. I had no idea that old road infrastructure could be abandoned like this! I’ve been back a number of times, since this isn’t terribly far from home. It’s easier to see the deck in the winter months when the vegetation has died back. The next two photos are from March, 2013.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Trees are growing through the deck. Concrete-arch bridges are often filled with soil. (I once documented the demolition of a concrete-arch bridge built around the same time as this one; click here to see the soil under the deck.) As the deck cracks and crumbles, plants can take root. Also: note the Posted No Trespassing sign. Oops. That wasn’t there on any prior visit. I stay off this bridge now when I visit it. A good road tripper respects private property.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

This bridge is mere feet away from the twin bridges built in about 1940 when US 40 was widened to four lanes here. My educated guess is this bridge was built between 1920 and 1925. I don’t know why the state built two new bridges and abandoned this one, rather than using this one for the new westbound lanes and building a single new bridge alongside it for the eastbound lanes. Guessing, by 1940 standard highway travel lanes were wider than in the early 1920s, rendering this narrow old bridge functionally obsolete.

US 40 bridge in Plainfield IN from abandoned US 40 bridge

I revisited this spot in 2009 and made this photo of the abandoned bridge from the 1940 bridge. When you drive by, it can be hard to spot.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

The pavement looked like concrete, but it contained large stone chips. I’ve never seen chipped stone used in pavement before.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

The road was passable only on foot because it had become so overgrown. I am amazed by how nature slowly reclaims road that is not maintained.

As a kid, I saw a TV movie where the United States was wiped out by nuclear bombs, but years later a few people who survived came out from underground to see if the land was habitable. They found a lot of things intact and untouched, including roads, which they promptly drove on. Where’d they get the gasoline?

I’ll bet that in another 20 or 30 years, it’ll be hard to tell that there ever was a road in here.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

I turned around to look back. This is what happens to a neglected roadway, dystopian movies be damned.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

The wooded area cleared out and the road passed in front of a house. The front of the house is parallel with the old road, which suggests that the house was built when this alignment was still in use. As the photo shows, the road disappears before it meets US 40, but is in perfect alignment with its westbound lanes.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

If my guess of 1920-1925 is correct for this bridge’s construction, it predates US 40. Indiana established its network of state highways in 1917, when the National Road became Main Market Highway No. 3. There were some legal challenges to the state’s authority to do this (some details here). Long story short, the state overcame the challenges and in 1919 this became State Road 3. It wasn’t until the creation of the US highway system in 1926 that this became US 40.

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.

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Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

Abandoned US 40 bridge
Nikon N8008, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor
Kodak Tri-X 400
2017

I’ve often wondered what leads to a bridge being abandoned. Was it too expensive to tear it out? Won’t it become a safety hazard for curious explorers?

I don’t know for sure when this bridge was built, but my past research points to 1920-25. It carried US 40 over the west fork of White Lick Creek, just west of Plainfield, Indiana. It served until only about 1940, when US 40 was upgraded to four lanes here. Two new bridges were built, one for each direction of traffic. This bridge was left behind.

The current westbound bridge is only a few feet away. It’s only in the winter months, when the trees are bare and the vegetation has died back, that you can see this old bridge from the road as you drive by.

I love it when serendipity happens. I scheduled this post to go live today weeks ago. Later, I started moving my 2006 road trip along this section of the National Road and US 40 to the blog, which I started sharing this week. My post about the day I first encountered this bridge posts next week.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Abandoned US 40 bridge

An abandoned bridge near Plainfield, IN, that used to carry US 40.

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