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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Not far from there, near Livingston, IL, nature has reclaimed the old brick road.
Bridges sometimes go abandoned as well. Here’s one on old US 50 near Clay City, IL.
And here’s one on US 40 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.
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.
And here’s an abandoned section of old Route 66 near Doolittle, MO. You’ll find the crumbling John’s Modern Cabins here.
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.
I can’t leave out the Michigan Road, of course. Its best-known abandoned alignment is Sycamore Row, about ten miles south of Logansport.
Here’s hoping that in a couple weeks I’ll have some brand new abandoned-road photos to share!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In a big way, you can drive all over the country on the Interstates and never really get to know America. They are good for covering a lot of ground in a hurry, but they tell so little about the land and the people who live on it. I drive the two-lane highways because they give me fuller experiences of the places I visit.
I admit to spending some time on I-65 and I-40 on our recent spring break trip to Tennessee, but we spent much more time off them. I loved driving through rural Kentucky and Tennessee on state and US highways as they wound through every small town. I love to follow the old alignments – paths roads used to follow before they were improved. I saw many as we drove and wanted to explore them all, but I resisted as I wanted to arrive at our destination before dinner.
One sunny afternoon we hiked ten miles through Cumberland Mountain State Park. My abandoned-alignment thirst was serendipitously slaked when the trail suddenly exited the woods and met asphalt.
This used to be US 127. It once meandered a bit through this part of Tennessee, but has since been leveled and straightened considerably.
Here’s the scene from the air, thanks to Google Maps. US 127 used to follow what is now “Old Hwy Cir” and curved into Byrds Creek Lane. Two segments of the road are not marked on the map – one past the south end of Old Hwy Cir and one past the south end of Byrds Creek Lane.
Both abandoned section involve creeks and, I’m sure, a local government that didn’t want to pay to maintain the bridges that spanned them. I’m pretty sure we were on the more southerly of the two abandoned segments. The bridge over Byrd Creek there is in dreadful shape, as this photo shows.
From the old bridge, here’s a view of the current US 127 bridge.
This abandoned road doesn’t last for long before it fades off into the woods. The hiking trail stays on it only long enough to use the derelict bridge.
A couple years ago an old bridge near my home was demolished. I visited often with my camera. Check out the photos in part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.
US 50 has a colorful history in terms of realignments across southwestern Indiana. I-64 was originally going to be built along the US 150 corridor from Louisville to about Shoals, where it would pick up US 50 on its way to Illinois. But lobbying got I-64 built farther south, passing closer to Evansville. That didn’t stop the desire for a major highway through this part of Indiana, so the current expressway was built westward from Washington. Of course it bypasses every town along the way, leaving juicy bits of old road behind.
If you’ve guessed that I’m going to show you photos of Old US 50, then you’ve come to know me well. We’ll start with Washington, Indiana. First, though, let’s look at this map of Washington, Indiana, on which I’ve marked the old alignment in blue.
Where Old US 50 meets State Road 257, I came upon this great neon sign.
It announced this root beer stand. I stopped of course. How could I resist? While I was photographing the place, a delightful young lady came out to take my order. My root beer float was delicious. Mason’s Root Beer was easy to come by during my 1970s kidhood, but has all but disappeared today.
Old US 50 doesn’t go through downtown Washington but rather skirts across the south side of town. Ordinarily that would puzzle me, but in this case I happen to know why and will share with you in an upcoming post. (Hint: It means more old alignment photos!) Beyond Washington, signs begin pointing motorists back to US 50 and then begin warning that the road ends ahead. And they mean it.
I stopped and walked out past the Do Not Enter signs to take this photograph. I’m sure there’s more road underneath the brush, and I was very curious to explore. But I was also wearing shorts and wasn’t at all excited about wading through all of this with my legs exposed. Critters? Poison ivy? No thanks.
If I could have wound the clock back 20 years, this is what I would have found in there.
According to the Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), from which I got these photos, this three-span Parker through truss bridge was built in 1930 and met its doom in 1990. This bridge had a twin that stood less than a half mile to the west. It, too, is gone, replaced in 1988 by two modern bridges on the US 50 expressway. You might think the old bridge could have been kept and a single new bridge built in the oncoming lanes, but its 20-foot-wide deck probably doomed it. Consider that Interstate standards call for bridges to be a whopping 37½ feet wide – two 12-foot lanes, a ten-foot outer shoulder, and a 3½-foot inner shoulder. Two semis entering this bridge at the same time would find it a tight fit!
Illinois planned a US 50 expressway but completed only some of it. That work abandoned three great through truss bridges; see them here.