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.
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!
This is the cutest house in my old neighborhood. It’s so cute compared to the other basic brick and frame ranch houses on every street that you wonder how it got built there.
Yet for as long as I lived there, it received care that was indifferent at best. At present it appears to be abandoned, with gutters full of crud, that decorative front-door shutter hanging loose, and a lawn that has turned to weeds and hasn’t been cut in weeks.
As you may infer from the tenses I’m using in this post, I’ve completed my move and now live in Zionsville. I’m happy the move is complete, and I’m thrilled to get to see my wife every single day.
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.
It’s surprising how fast a golf course deteriorates when it gets minimal maintenance.
That my home has a golf view is happenstance; my house came first by 20 years. But the course was built as a community with large homes much more expensive than mine. Imagine those homeowners’ shock early this year when they learned that the golf course had gone into receivership. (I wasn’t exactly thrilled to learn of it either.) A bank owns it now, but the course is not operating.
It’s fascinating to watch the course deteriorate. The bank regularly sends someone to cut the grass, but a golf course needs a lot more work than that to continue to look and perform like a golf course. As spring arrived, at first you could still make out the distinctive features of the fairways and greens. But nature was starting to have its way.
I haven’t golfed in 25 years, but many of my friends do. They tell me that they find other area courses to be more interesting, but they liked this course’s low green fees. They often mention that maintenance here is so-so at best. Last season, even that so-so maintenance fell off. In the view from my back yard, the rough became very rough and even bare in spots. Fallen tree branches were not being picked up. The cable barrier that kept carts on the path was not being repaired when it broke. I wondered what was up. Now we all know.
These three trees just behind my property are a frequent subject when I test new-to-me old cameras. You can see that there was still some contrast between the fairway and the rough earlier this spring. Black-and-white film really brings it out.
Today it’s very hard to tell fairway from rough. Greens are even hard to distinguish now. Whoever buys this course, if anyone ever does, will have a lot of work to do to make the course fit for golf again. I shot this from the 14th tee; this is the fairway I see from my back yard.
Before this season, I’d stepped over my fence onto the course only a few times, and always to maintain my property. I’ve been curious to walk the course as the families who live in this golf community often do, but I’ve felt sure that wasn’t allowed. This season, curiosity has sent me over the fence a handful of times to explore. I’ve walked only the back nine, the part on which I live. The 14th hole is in the worst shape, with fallen trees blocking the cart path in a few places.
The ponds have all scummed over.
A distinctive feature of this course is that the back and front nine are separated by a heavily traveled road. You’d never know it while driving through, but golfers play through by using a tunnel under the road. This photo doesn’t show it well, but this tunnel is tall enough for me to stand up in, and should be easily tall enough for a cart to drive under.
Despite the decay, it’s easy to see how attractive this course is. It provides lovely views for homeowners along it.
Of course I hope someone buys and operates this course. But I worry that this area has more golf courses than it can support, and this one failing is a natural consequence.
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.