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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Road Trips

The most exciting abandoned road I’ve ever found

Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

A few hundred yards after reaching the dead end of the previous segment of Old State Road 37, I picked up another segment at 700N.

Tracing north from where 700N intersects Old SR 37, past where the road goes through a trailer park, a ridge exists where the road used to go. Notice how it would have curved to flow into the 800N segment.

Looking at that ridge on the map as I researched this trip, I hoped for a juicy abandoned section of this road. I was not disappointed.

Here’s where 700N curves to become Old SR 37 southbound. Notice the path that continues northbound.

Old SR 37

The trailer park was just north of here on Old SR 37, but to access it you have to follow the curve and then drive through the parking lot (where my little red car is parked) to get back on Old SR 37. The trailer park is less than a quarter mile up the road.

Old SR 37

As I drove into the unusually tidy trailer park, a mound of dirt blocked my way. A branch stretched low across the road.

A mound of dirt

I started to get excited — how long would this abandoned stretch be? At first, it looked like the road ended a couple hundred feet ahead.

Abandoned Old SR 37

But as I walked near, I saw that this was where a bridge had once been, and that the road continued on the other side. Fortunately, the creek bank and the creek itself were shallow, and people had placed all sorts of objects in and over the creek to aid roadfans like me in their adventures, so I picked my way across.

Bridge out - Abandoned Old SR 37

As I came up the bank, I saw the concrete road pad with three layers of asphalt on it, a couch dragged out into the middle of the road, and then the road stretching out for a long way before me. Woohoo! I climbed up the bank.

Abandoned SR 37

The abandoned couch was a sad, sad affair. It looked deliberately placed, perfectly perpendicular to the road’s edge.

Abandoned SR 37

The northbound sight from there was glorious overgrown abandoned road as far as the eye could see. What I thought was a ridge on the map was really old road obscured by trees. I am always astonished that without human intervention, roads eventually look like this:

Abandoned SR 37

I couldn’t tell exactly how far I walked along this segment from where I left my car — I guessed about a half mile — making it the longest abandoned road segment I’ve ever seen. Notice how large the trees are beyond where the old road was cut off. This stretch hasn’t been a road in many, many years, at least since 1970, since my 1970 map shows the road along its current alignment.

Abandoned SR 37

The closer I got to the end, the more I could hear cars. At the end, I turned east and saw cars speeding by through the brush and trees. I was probably 30 feet from current SR 37.

State Road 37 from abandoned SR 37

That walk absolutely exhilarated me! It wasn’t until I was halfway back that it occurred to me that people from the trailer park probably used this secluded spot for illicit activities, and that it might not actually be safe to be in there.

Next: more of this old alignment, and the time the police came and chased me away.

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You know I love old gas stations. It’s always a pleasure when I find one.

I most commonly find them on old alignments of highways, but I suppose that’s because I frequent those kinds of roads. But many of them remain in cities and towns off the main roads, as well, such as this one on South Street in downtown Lafayette, Indiana.

Standard Oil

This is a “Red Crown” Standard Oil station, built in about 1927. Standard Oil built lots of these through the late 1920s and into the 1930s, mostly in the Midwest. Maybe a couple of dozen of them remain; this page shows several.

Standard Oil

While this one still operated as a Standard station, it was known as Jonesy’s. It closed during the 1980s and was threatened with demolition. The city library, which is next door, used it as a storage building for a time until local businessman Don Stein rescued it and got it restored. It is said that more than 40 layers of paint were removed from the inside walls to finally reveal the glazed brick. Also, the roof had fallen and was replaced with “new original stock” red tiles that Standard Oil remarkably still had in storage.

Standard Oil

The building was a petroliana museum for a while, but was later used as a stationary advertisement of sorts for the city of Lafayette. It’s not clear what the building’s use is now. As I researched this station, I found photos from not long ago that show details that are now missing, such as “Jonesey’s” lettering over the door, a “Standard Oil Products” sign over the plate window, and “WASHING” lettering over the left garage bay. At least the letters pictured above remain intact.

If you’d like to see some of the other vintage gas stations I’ve found, check out all of my posts tagged Gas Stations.

Pentax ME, 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A, Fujicolor 200 (at EI 100)

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Film Photography, Road Trips

Standard Oil Red Crown station in Lafayette, Indiana

A circa 1927 gas station still stands, unused, in Lafayette, Indiana.

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Road Trips

Photos of abandoned roads

I have been dreaming of abandoned roads.

Abandoned

While my road-trip hobby isn’t as active as it was a few years ago, I still enjoy it and normally make time for a couple day trips during the good-weather months each year. But home projects and moving have kept me home so far this year. Fortunately, in a couple weeks my old friend Dawn and I will make our annual road trip. Usually annual, anyway — we couldn’t sync our schedules to make a trip last year. So we’re way overdue!

Abandoned SR 37

I know just where I want to go: State Road 37 between Indianapolis and Bloomington. Its original alignment, which winds all around the current four-lane SR 37 expressway, was once the Dixie Highway. I’ve driven it before, in one of my earliest road trips (documented on my old site here). There are several wonderful abandoned segments, like the one above. I found it just south of Martinsville.

But it might not still be there. SR 37 is being converted into Interstate 69, and a giant interchange is being built here. While I don’t buck progress, I do lament the probable loss of the short ribbon of concrete road here that likely dates to around 1920. It’s quasi-abandoned: it exists to serve one solitary house, but receives no obvious maintenance.

Old SR 37

I want to know whether this concrete survives. But time’s a wasting: since I-69 is by nature a limited-access road, when it is complete all the turnoffs to these old alignments will be removed. The only way to reach them will be via back roads, forever complicating exploring the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington. Now is the time to go.

Here are some of my other favorite abandoned roads.

A bridge was removed on US 50 near Washington in western Indiana, abandoning a short section of the old highway. Here’s where that abandoned section ends, just east of the removed bridge.

Old US 50

Just east of Rockville in western Indiana, the Army Corps of Engineers submerged a section of US 36 in a flood-control project that created Raccoon Lake. The westbound old highway ends at a mound of dirt and brush. It continues beyond to eventually sink into the water.

Abandoned US 36

The National Road and US 40 in Illinois has been a frequent subject here because the current alignment of this road was built alongside the old, and the old was left to rot. Here’s the old concrete road, probably poured in the 1920s, busy doing nothing east of Martinsville, IL.

Basketball on the road

Longtime readers might remember that I wrote about this segment before: the central concrete section is from the early-mid 1910s, and the two flanking sections were added about a decade later. Happily, that 1920s improvement rerouted the road around a dangerous railroad crossing, abandoning a section of this nine-foot-wide highway. It’s now a farm’s long driveway.

9-foot-wide concrete road

A good portion of this abandoned road is paved with bricks, and if you’re brave you can still drive some of it. This is west of Marshall, IL.

Brick National Road west of Marshall, IL

Not far from there, near Livingston, IL, nature has reclaimed the old brick road.

Abandoned National Road

Bridges sometimes go abandoned as well. Here’s one on old US 50 near Clay City, IL.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Little Wabash River

And here’s one on US 40 near Plainfield, IN.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

That bridge leads to the first abandoned road segment I ever found. This photo is from my first-ever road trip, which was in July of 2006.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

Lest you think all of my abandoned-road activity is in Indiana and Illinois, here’s a segment of abandoned US 127 in Tennessee my sons and I came upon while hiking through Cumberland Mountain State Park.

Abandoned US 127

And here’s an abandoned section of old Route 66 near Doolittle, MO. You’ll find the crumbling John’s Modern Cabins here.

Abandoned 66

Sometimes an abandoned road lurks in plain sight. This concrete was poured in northwest Indianpolis in the mid-1920s and became the first alignment of US 52 here. But by the mid 1930s the road had been straightened and widened here, abandoning this little segment. In later years it was reused to provide access to some commercial buildings that got built.

Abandoned Lafayette Road

I can’t leave out the Michigan Road, of course. Its best-known abandoned alignment is Sycamore Row, about ten miles south of Logansport.

Sycamore Row

Here’s hoping that in a couple weeks I’ll have some brand new abandoned-road photos to share!

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Abandoned

Abandoned Dixie Highway
Canon PowerShot S95
2012

A limestone (I think) pit was dug north of Oolitic, a small town in southern Indiana. It obliterated a section of the old Dixie Highway (and former State Road 37). A gate blocks the way long before this; such is the condition of the road beyond the gate.

Photography, Road Trips

Photo: Abandoned Dixie Highway in southern Indiana

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Road Trips

Where cars no longer go

We all have our hobbies. Some people follow pro football, some run, some make lovely quilts, some fish, some solve the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle. I like to explore abandoned roads. Yeah, that’s a great conversation starter at parties.

I’m not sure where this vigor comes from. All I know is that the first time I found a stretch of forgotten asphalt was the coolest thing I’d ever experienced. Here’s a photo from that hot day in the summer of 2006, of a bridge over White Lick Creek on former US 40 west of Plainfield, Indiana.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

A new bridge was built when the highway was straightened and widened to four lanes about 80 years ago. The old bridge was bypassed, and it is well hidden by trees and brush today. For 70 years, vehicles have zoomed by on four divided lanes of US 40 a hundred feet away while nature has slowly reclaimed this space. Here’s a photo I got of this bridge a few years ago in late winter, while the trees were still bare.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

It’s also common for bridges to be removed when a road is abandoned. Here’s a shot of abandoned State Road 37 between Indianapolis and Bloomington. About five miles of the road were rerouted to bypass a little town, and this short segment was cut off. In this photo, I’ve climbed down the creek bank, tried not to get wet as I picked my way across the creek, and climbed up the other side to see where the road starts again. Notice the thick concrete pad! Also notice the old couch sitting in the road ahead.

Abandoned SR 37

Sometimes, an abandoned road is plain to see. As you drive down US 40 in eastern Illinois, an old brick road runs alongside. It was US 40 until the 1950s. Illinois never bothered to tear it out, and in some places you can still drive on it! This photo is of a short segment not far west of the Indiana state line.

Abandoned brick road

I’ve learned a couple things while out on the abandoned pavement. First, it’s a good idea to explore with a friend. Many abandoned roadways are well hidden from view and make a great place for people to do things they don’t want the world, including you, to see. There’s greater safety in numbers. Second, look for “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs, and heed them. I didn’t notice one once, and got to experience being chased away by the police. Better a cop than an angry dog, I suppose, but either way I’m too old for that kind of excitement.

I’ve felt kind of lonely in my abandoned-road bliss. Hoping to find some kindred souls, I recently fired up Flickr and typed “abandoned road” in the Search box. To my delight, images by the hundreds of forgotten asphalt, cement, brick, and dirt filled my monitor. So I created a group and invited them all to join. Well, all those who have geotagged their photos, anyway, because someday I may wish to visit all those roads in person, and I’ll need to know exactly where they are! If this sounds exciting to you, too, I invite you to add your geotagged abandoned-road photos to the Flickr Abandoned Roads group!

I first shared this post when the blog was very young. I’ve updated it with fresh photos today.

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