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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Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge in Illinois
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

As you drive US 50 across Illinois, west of Carlyle you’ll cross four bridges that have unused twins right beside them. I told the whole story here, but in short they’re left over after a project to widen US 50 to four lanes was abandoned.

That’s my friend Michael there, balancing on the railing to make his photograph while I made mine of him.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge in Illinois

An abandoned, never used bridge.

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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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