Road Trips

An abandoned road in the woods: US 127 in central Tennessee

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.

Abandoned US 127

This used to be US 127. It once meandered a bit through this part of Tennessee, but has since been leveled and straightened considerably.

Abandoned US 127

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.

Abandoned US 127

From the old bridge, here’s a view of the current US 127 bridge.

Abandoned US 127

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.

Abandoned US 127

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.

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Road Trips

Root beer and dead ends in Washington

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.

Mason's Root Beer

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.

Mason's Root Beer

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.

Old US 50

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.

Old US 50

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.

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