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.
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.
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 Inexplicably, in 1998 Congress repealed part of that act that provided a mechanism for appointing commissioners.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The advice some of you gave me in this post helped me get decent black-and-white scans from my Canon CanoScan 9000F Mark II and its bundled ScanGear software. I used the same advice to scan a little more color film.
I made these photos last fall with my Olympus XA2 on Agfa Vista 200. Roberts Camera in Indianapolis processed and scanned them. Their scans are 3130 pixels on the long side. I used ScanGear to scan them at 4800 dpi with all built-in image enhancement turned off, resulting in scans of between 6750 and 6800 pixels on the long side. I resized my scans to 1200 pixels long to upload them here.
I edited scans from both sources as best I could in Photoshop, including adding unsharp masking to the ScanGear scans.
My first test was of this shot of old US 52 and a great abandoned neon sign near my home. It shows considerable vignetting, which I believe is endemic to the camera. While I like the depth of blue in the sky, I don’t like how mottled it is. I tried various Photoshop settings and tools to smooth it out but wasn’t happy with any of the results. I wonder if the film profiles and multi-exposure scanning in Silverfast would resolve these challenges.
The Roberts scan captured more turquoise in a perfectly smooth sky. The Wrecks sign shows far better definition and detail. I suppose the Roberts scan might have a touch of green caste to it. Roberts also reduced the vignetting. I prefer the Roberts scan.
The CanoScan/ScanGear scan of this abandoned farm co-op building shows the same mottled deep blue sky, but plenty of great detail in the corrugated walls. This building is all that’s left of the onetime town of Traders Point, Indiana, by the way. See 1950s film footage of this town, including a brief look at this co-op building, here.
Here’s a crop of the image at 100%. It could be sharper, but it’s fully usable.
In the Roberts scan the colors aren’t as vibrant, and the sky is again more turquoise. In retrospect, I could have helped this photo by reducing exposure a little in Photoshop.
From here on out, the winner isn’t as clear between the Roberts and ScanGear scans. This ScanGear scan from downtown Indianapolis shows a scene that’s changed, as the Hard Rock Cafe has since closed and its signs are gone.
The Roberts scan looks like it got more exposure than my scan. My scan highlights the vignetting the XA2’s lens tends to deliver.
These arches are around the corner from the previous scene. Here’s my scan.
Here’s the Roberts scan. Each has its charms; I can’t call one better than the other.
Still downtown in Indianapolis, I shot this outdoor cafe scene. The day was drizzly and chilly and so not ideal for outdoor dining.
Here’s the Roberts scan. I like my scan’s blue umbrella and the overall color temperature better.
Finally, here’s a forlorn building. My scan gives its gray painted brick a bit of a blue caste.
The Roberts scan is more of a straight gray. Like all of the Roberts scans, it got a touch more exposure. Either scan is good enough for my purposes, but I believe I slightly prefer my CanoScan/ScanGear scan.
I believe I’ve figured out a good base 35mm scanning technique and can refine it from here. Perhaps I can get a little more sharpness, a little better color. I do have to solve that terrible mottling problem, though; the two scans with blue sky in them aren’t that great.
Next, I’ll try scanning some medium-format negatives with the CanoScan and ScanGear. This is perhaps the most important test, as my goal is to shoot my lovely TLRs and my simple box cameras more often, and process and scan the film myself.
Here’s my friend Michael standing on the railing of a bridge built to carry US 50 that was never used.
Three such bridges were built, actually. A new section of US 50 was built from Carlyle, Illinois, west for about 22 miles. It was intended to carry four lanes of traffic, divided, but only two lanes were built along most of this span. However, twin bridges were built everywhere US 50 crossed a stream. In each case, only the northern bridge of each pair has ever carried traffic. The southern bridge was simply left to molder.
This might be the remains of the place where my father was born, and lived until he was 4. I don’t know for sure, and neither did Dad when we stood here that summer day in 2012.
When we visited his hometown of Handley, West Virginia, together in 1990, the building still stood. I remember it being painted yellow. But Dad couldn’t find the building on this visit to town, and he just had to guess that this was probably it.
When I was a child my dad sat on the edge of his chair one night as a news report showed a house on fire — the one where he had lived as a teen with his dad. I remember Dad’s face, grave, grief-stricken.
Dad seemed dispassionate as we stood before this ruin. Perhaps he had cultivated a level of stoicism to cope with so much loss.
I used to write up every road trip I took in meticulous detail. I thought these old highways were interesting, and I figured others might think so too. I even thought that perhaps my documentary work might prove important one day.
At first I shared my trip reports on my old HTML site, which is still available here. I gave that up in 2012 to focus entirely on this blog.
I still love the old roads. I just don’t feel compelled to document them anymore. You can see it in how I approach my road trips on this blog. No longer do I comprehensively document each trip from end to end. Instead, I share the interesting sights I see in my travels, especially when I get good photographs of them.
But when I’m on the old road I still look for the abandoned segments, even if I don’t always share them with you. This one is just north of Martinsville, Indiana, on the old Dixie Highway and State Road 37. A road signed “Old State Road 37” is just ahead; it goes directly to downtown Martinsville. The modern SR 37 expressway is 500 feet to the left; typical of such roads, it bypasses the town.