Road Trips

Illinois US 50: Heading back to Indiana and finding some never-used bridges along the route

This is the fourth and final installment of my report from a 2009 road trip along the oldest alignments I could find of US 50 across a good chunk of Illinois.

In Carlyle, current US 50 follows the yellow path on the aerial image below. Where the current road turns north, the old alignment of US 50 continues straight. Howevero, the old stagecoach road that formed the US 50 corridor sweeps from there to the northwest.

Sadly, the new alignment interrupted the old stage route, labeled “Old State Rd” on the map below. Overpasses were built for other roads; why not for this historic road?

The stage road eventually curves back to the south. The drivable portion if the stage road ends about 15 miles west of Carlyle, but you can see bits and pieces of its remnants in aerial images. Check out this 1000-foot section of the old road that lies in a farmer’s field! It lines up pretty well with where US 50 curves in this image, suggesting that there US 50 resumes the old stage road’s route.

We drove old US 50 through Beckemeyer, Breese, Aviston, and Trenton, to where current US 50 meets old US 50. Current US 50 continues westward on the original US 50 alignment.

At this point we were starting to wear out from our long day. I wanted to get my friend Michael back to Terre Haute, where he lived, and me back to Indianapolis, where I lived, before we ran out of daylight. So we turned onto current US 50 and headed back east.

Current US 50 is interesting here in that all the signs point to it having been intended to be an expressway – four divided lanes. Overpasses are wide enough to accommodate two more lanes, but that’s not the most telling sign. Remarkably, and mind-bogglingly, wherever a bridge was needed, two were built alongside each other. In each case, one is used, the other has stood unused since it was built in probably the early 1970s. Here’s an aerial view of the eastmost of these twin bridges.

It crosses Beaver Creek. You can walk through the tall grass and stand right on it.

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

Which, of course, we did.

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

Michael has good balance. I tried standing up there briefly, but felt unsteady.

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

There is more to see along US 50 in Illinois. We passed several old motels, some abandoned, some still in business with great neon signs out front. I would have liked to stop and photograph more segments of the old concrete road that parallels current US 50 in many places. I would have liked to drive the entire unfinished expressway west of Carlyle and explored the other three never-used bridges. And I would especially have liked to follow the old stage road west of Carlyle.

But it was time to head home. I was tired, and so was my dog. That’s her tired face.

Sleepy

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Road Trips

On the Dandy Trail in Indianapolis: Abandoned bridge in what is now Eagle Creek Park

Along what was the Dandy Trail in what is now Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, you will find an abandoned bridge. It’s hard to reach on foot. Jayson Rigsby recently contacted me to say he made photographs of it on a recent kayaking trip along Eagle Creek.

The Dandy Trail was a 1920s pleasure-drive loop in what was then the country surrounding Indianapolis. I’ve written many times about the Dandy Trail and have driven about half of it; read all about it here. Since the Dandy Trail’s heyday, Indianapolis expanded greatly, and now most of the land around the old Dandy Trail has been heavily developed.

Eagle Creek cuts across northwest Indianapolis and intersects the Dandy Trail near where the town of Traders Point used to be. Read Traders Point’s story here. In short, frequent flooding of Eagle Creek in this area led to a flood-control project in 1967 that created Eagle Creek Reservoir, which led to the creation of an enormous city park surrounding it. It also led to the demolition of almost every building in Traders Point, as it was thought the flood-control work would permanently flood the town. That didn’t happen and Traders Point was destroyed in vain.

Here’s an aerial image of Eagle Creek Park. I’ve pointed out the bridge’s location, and have roughly drawn in the now lost portion of the Dandy Trail. The lost road’s north end empties out into what was Traders Point.

2021 aerial image courtesy MapIndy

Zooming in for a closer look, you can clearly see the bridge. It’s at about the vertical center, and a little left of horizontal center.

2021 aerial image courtesy MapIndy

It’s interesting to me that no trace remains of the Dandy Trail as it led to and away from this bridge. Here’s an aerial image from 1956 that shows the bridge and the road.

1956 aerial image courtesy MapIndy

Jayson first made this image of the bridge from the air, from just west of the bridge.

Jayson Rigsby photo

Then he got into his kayak and rowed in for a closer look. This is the north end and west side of the bridge. This bridge appears to have a pony girder truss design. The Central States Bridge Company of Indianapolis specialized in those, so this bridge might be one of theirs.

Jayson Rigsby photo

Here’s a closer look at the north end of the bridge.

Jayson Rigsby photo

This is the west side of the bridge.

Jayson Rigsby photo

I have heard that at some times of the year this bridge is submerged. I’m happy Jayson kayaked out to this bridge and gave me permission to share his photos.

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Then and now: Abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana

My first ever trip to explore an old road was on July 15, 2006. My friend Dawn and I drove the National Road and US 40 from downtown Indianapolis to the Illinois state line.

Even though I had researched the trip beforehand and knew this abandoned bridge was there, as a road-trip newbie I was still blown away by the sight of it. My experience with this bridge was so exciting that it has propelled me to explore the old roads to this day.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield
Olympus Stylus Epic 80, Fujicolor 200, 2006

I’ve visited this bridge at least a dozen times since then. Almost every time I am out this way, I stop and make at least one photograph. It’s amazing to me how intact this bridge has remained over the last 15 years.

Abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield
Canon PowerShot S95, 2021

This bridge was built in 1923, but served only until 1940 when the modern four-lane US 40 was built alongside it. It’s been abandoned for 80 years now!

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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Road Trips

Me on abandoned US 50 in Illinois

As I’ve been moving my road-trip reports from my old site to this blog, I’ve looked back through my photographs.

Sometimes I brought a friend along on these trips. I loved sharing my odd hobby with others! When I explored US 50 in Illinois in 2009, I invited my longtime friend Michael along. He lives in Terre Haute, which was on the way.

Michael made a couple photos of me as we explored the road, shots with lots of context. They help me remember that very good day and my time with my friend.

I frequently brought my dear, departed Gracie along on road trips. She loved to go! We’re standing on the original alignment of US 50 where it enters Illinois after crossing the Wabash River from Indiana. The property owner was using part of the brick road as a patio for his home!

Here I am on an abandoned bridge, one of three in a row on a long abandoned section of US 50 that runs right alongside current US 50. I’m using my Kodak EasyShare Z730 to photograph the current US 50 bridge.

I started making road trips both to scratch a curiosity itch and to distract myself from the pain of my divorce and ongoing difficulties raising children with an acrimonious ex. These trips were a tonic. They were always better when I shared them.

My road tripping started to fall off about five years ago. I’d met Margaret, the woman I’d marry. I focused my time on her and on getting my old house ready for sale. It needed a lot of work inside and out. And then Margaret and I married, and I moved into her house, and we’ve had one incredible challenge after another in our family since then. Last year, for the first time, I made no road trips at all. Given COVID-19 and family priorities, I’m not sure I’ll make any road trips this year, either.

There are still roads I want to explore! I’ve long wanted to drive the many old alignments of State Road 67 between Indianapolis and Vincennes. I want to drive the National Road in eastern Ohio again — so many great old alignments with original brick and concrete pavement! I’d like to drive the Lincoln Highway across northern Indiana. And I want to search for old and abandoned alignments, especially with original pavement, anywhere they are to be found in Indiana.

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COVID-19, Film Photography

An abandoned bridge and a forgotten cemetery

We were just two weeks into stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought I was adapting okay, but as that second week drew to a close I felt myself going a little stir crazy. I felt a strong need to get away for a while. But where could I go?

My wife suggested I just take a long drive. “If you’re in your car, there’s nobody to infect you and you can’t infect anybody.” Brilliant. So that Saturday afternoon that’s just what I did.

I don’t like to drive aimlessly. I need to have a destination. So I chose one: the abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana, and the Civil War-era cemetery hidden near it. It’s about 40 minutes from home, giving me a good long drive there and back. I’ve never encountered another soul there anytime I’ve visited, so it would be a safe place to go. My Pentax ME Super was loaded with Kodak T-Max 400 at the time so I brought it along. The wonderful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens was attached.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

The bare-tree months are my favorite time to visit this bridge because it’s so visible. In the middle of summer this is mighty overgrown. You can’t even see the bridge from modern US 40 then. But at this time of year it’s easy to see.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

This bridge was built in 1923. It doesn’t look too bad for having gotten zero maintenance since it was abandoned, which was sometime between 1939 and 1941.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

Iron’s Cemetery is just northeast of the bridge. Little spring flowers grew all along the path leading to it.

At Iron's Cemetery

Inside the cemetery, you can see the other side of the bridge. At least you can during the bare-tree months.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Except for the sound of an occasional passing car, the only sound here is the wind. It was lovely to be out in the world in a peaceful place.

At Iron's Cemetery

There are always lots of interesting details to photograph in an old cemetery. Gravestone letterforms of the 1800s fascinate me. They have such style!

At Iron's Cemetery

Unfortunately, many of the markers here are in poor condition. Some of them are broken and lying on the ground.

At Iron's Cemetery

I hate to see any old cemetery in this condition. It’s funny — I won’t be buried in one when I’m gone, it seems like a waste of good ground. Cremate me and scatter my remains to the wind. But for those who did choose burial, good heavens, provide for the maintenance of those graves!

At Iron's Cemetery

But enough of that maudlin stuff. It helped me regain my internal footing to make this trip. I lingered here well past I stopped finding photographic inspiration, just to enjoy the quiet and the outdoors. Then I got into my car and drove back home.

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