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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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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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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Road Trips

The Wabash River bridge at New Harmony

New Harmony is a small village in Indiana’s southwesternmost county, right on the Wabash River. It’s surprisingly remote. You won’t pass through it on your way to anywhere else — especially since the bridge to Illinois was closed.

Closed: New Harmony bridge

Opened in 1930, the Harmony Way Bridge was built by a private concern and later managed, by no less than a 1941 act of Congress, by the White County (Illinois) Bridge Commission, to which three commissioners were appointed. Inexplicably, in 1998 Congress repealed part of that act that provided a mechanism for appointing commissioners. When the last commissioner resigned or died, there would be nobody to manage the bridge.

Closed: New Harmony bridge

I got to drive over this bridge once each way, in 2006, when I took my sons on a Spring Break tour of interesting and historic Indiana sites. We meant to spend a day in New Harmony, which has a fascinating history, but it rained hard when we got there with no end in sight. We drove around New Harmony in a few minutes. I decided we’d see if anything interesting was on the Illinois side of the Wabash. Naught but farm fields, for miles.

Closed: New Harmony bridge

It cost two dollars to find that out — this was a toll bridge, a dollar each way. The funds paid for regular operations with a little left over. But bridge maintenance costs serious money, and over time serious structural problems formed that the bridge commission couldn’t afford to fix. Indiana and Illinois officials closed the bridge permanently in May of 2012.

Closed: New Harmony bridge

The bridge carried about 900 vehicles a day, mostly farm vehicles and vehicles related to the farm service industry, plus some Illinois residents who worked in nearby Evansville, Indiana. Today to reach New Harmony from Illinois you have to drive up to Interstate 64 and then 14 miles down to this little town, or down to a bridge just west of the town of Mt. Vernon and then 22 miles back up.

Indiana SR 66 eastbound

The Welcome to Indiana sign by the closed bridge sure seems superfluous.

Some efforts have been made to reopen the bridge, but so far none have succeeded. While we visited New Harmony we saw posters for a proposal to reopen it for pedestrian use and as an outdoor event center. But the Federal law governing the bridge blocks action. The House of Representatives has passed H.R. 6793 (text here) repealing the 1941 act, creating the New Harmony Bridge Bi-State Commission, and transferring control of the bridge to the new commission. Here’s hoping the Senate takes it up and passes it as well.

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