My son graduated from Purdue and then landed a job in Bloomington, home to Purdue’s arch-rival, Indiana University. So far, he’s not taken too much flak for his educational pedigree! I visited him a couple weeks ago and we strolled around campus as we talked. I had my Pentax K10D along with its 18-55mm zoom lens.
In 1988 I had a girlfriend at IU. Laura and I remain friends to this day. Sometimes she’d come to see me at Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute and sometimes I’d visit her at IU. We walked campus a lot because it didn’t cost anything; neither of us had much money. It’s remarkable to me how after more than 30 years IU feels exactly like it did then, but I recognize almost nothing.
My son and I stepped off campus proper to walk some of the neighborhood directly to the north. I was drawn to its brick streets and the architecture of the houses. Many of these houses contain university departments today.
Kirkwood Avenue is the heart of the off-campus student experience. It’s remarkable to me how many places on it are still there since the 1980s, like Nick’s below. I remember well having beers at Kilroy’s and the Irish Lion back in the day, and pizza at Mother Bear’s. They’re all still open.
We’re still dealing with COVID-19, of course, and campus was crowded. So my son and I masked up for our walk.
I was just talking to a friend the other day, a fellow with young children who admitted that he doesn’t enjoy his children as babies. I was the same way. I loved them, but I didn’t start to enjoy them until they were mobile and verbal. The older they became, the more I enjoyed them. The middle- and high-school years were my favorite. What I wouldn’t do to have just one more year of high school with my sons! But that ship has sailed. I’m fortunate that my sons are happy that when their old dad wants to come see them. They always make time for me.
The Von Lee Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL 2020
This may look like a former movie theater, but only this entrance remains. Behind it is new construction.
This theater opened as the Ritz in 1928, and was renamed the Von Lee in 1948. It’s a half block from the vast Indiana University campus, on a street that most students consider to be Bloomington’s main drag.
In 1988 I saw at least one movie here, maybe two. I had a girlfriend at IU and we could walk here easily from her dorm. I remember the auditorium being cramped. But we didn’t think much of such things then. Enough old theaters still operated that it was just how it was sometimes. Newly built theaters offered only three or four screens then. The mega multiplex was several years into the future yet.
You’d think that a university town would have been able to find a community use for an old theater. Well, they did. The Indiana Theater stands a few blocks down this same street. It fell into disuse just like the Von Lee did, but it found fortune in being reused as a performing arts center in 1995. I suppose a town Bloomington’s size can support but one such venue. The Von Lee’s auditorium was demolished in about 2006.
A couple weeks ago I drove to Bloomington to see my son, who lives there. When I headed home, I followed the Dixie Highway, old State Road 37, as far as it would take me. Since SR 37 had been upgraded to become I-69, which removed all of the turnoffs to the old alignments, I wasn’t sure what I would find. I was pleased that the old road took me almost to Martinsville. Here’s its route, which now includes some new-terrain road.
For about 14 miles, Old 37 and the Dixie follow a winding path nowhere near the new Interstate. But for the next four miles or so, until it ends, the old road parallels I-69 and acts as its frontage road.
Within those first 14 miles, the old road is just as it always was: lightly traveled and lush. I’ve written about this segment before, here and here.
I had this road entirely to myself this Friday afternoon. On past trips I’ve encountered bicyclists out here; not this time.
This long segment used to exit onto State Road 37, but Interstates are limited access by their nature. Here’s how it exited onto SR 37 northbound when I first visited it in 2007.
Today, the old road curves the other way into a brand new frontage road.
Shortly the frontage road meets the next old alignment of Old SR 37 and the Dixie Highway. When I last wrote about it, here, I said that an old bridge had been left in place after a new bridge was built alongside it. I got to see the old bridge. It was saved because its qualities put it on the state’s Select list of bridges, which prevents it from being demolished without the state jumping through a whole bunch of hoops. It looks to me like some repairs have been done to it to stabilize it. But it is open now only to pedestrians.
This southbound photograph from the new bridge shows that the old road has been significantly upgraded. Notice how wide it is, compared to the old road on the right.
The new road ends about 2½ miles later, where the older, narrower pavement resumes. Shortly the road dead ends at this old bridge.
I was happy to find this bridge still here, as I’d heard a rumor that it had been removed. But I’m still saddened that it’s closed to traffic after failing an inspection in 2015. Here it is the last time I got to drive on it, which was in 2012. Read more about this bridge here.
The old highway north of the bridge has been removed, however. What a strange sight.
I’ve heard that this bridge will be repurposed as a pedestrian bridge. I’ve studied the I-69 plan map for this area and it looks like there’s no plan to continue the frontage road from here.
Here’s one final look at this old bridge from the north.
Until I-69 is built around Martinsville, it’s easy enough to return to SR 37: back up from here to the first side road, follow it east until it Ts, turn left, then follow that road until it reaches SR 37.
Let’s finish my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Bloomington.
The last segment of Old State Road 37 I encountered on this trip begins 500 yards south of the Hacker Creek segment but lasts for 15 miles, going all the way to Bloomington. If you blink, you’ll miss the entrance.
This is such a lovely, winding drive. I recommend it highly. SR 37 has been upgraded to Interstate standards and is now I-69, which means you can no longer turn off the highway directly onto this road. As I write this, I hear that the northern part of this segment is closed. But the plans I’ve seen for I-69 say that when construction is done, this will flow into a frontage road. To reach it, you should be able to get off I-69 a little north of here at Liberty Church Road, drive east to Hacker Creek Road, and turn south onto the frontage road.
In 2007, I couldn’t find a safe way to photograph the beginning of this alignment so I drove in and photographed it facing northbound.
This stretch was recently paved, with highway striping down the middle but no striping on the edges. This segment quickly became wooded and shaded. The road curved, rose, and fell gently through the woods. The steepest hill I encountered made my car strain a little bit in fifth gear, but otherwise the drive was easy and pleasant. I felt like I was way out in the country, and since there was very little traffic I felt alone with the road. My windows were all down, the sun was warm, and the air was cool. I slowed down and enjoyed a perfect Sunday drive. I imagined people driving this stretch when it was still the state highway. I wondered if the trees were as thick then, and if a drive down this road was just as much a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
When I stopped to take this northbound photo, a fellow in a truck stopped to ask if I needed any help. I just said “Thank you, no;” how could I explain what I was doing?
1.8 miles into this segment, a sign announced, “End County Maintenance.” The fresh pavement and the gravel edge ended, but the older surface was in pretty good shape overall, with occasional rumbly patches. Striping even ended for a while, and then stopped and started the rest of the way to Bloomington. Down the road, a short segment was freshly paved again. At about 9.5 miles, I entered a clearing gorgeous with a ridge of trees, and widely spaced houses began to appear.
Current SR 37 is famous for the limestone and siltstone visible along the roadside, souvenirs of where road builders cut through the terrain. I remember being impressed by it the first time I traveled SR 37 in 1983. Old SR 37, of course, lacks these dramatic displays because it follows the terrain. At just past 10 miles down this segment, I did find one short stretch where rock was visible in the hill on the west side of the road. This photo shows that stretch northbound. It also shows the condition of the pavement beyond the “End County Maintenance” sign.
Shortly south of here, two old alignments of SR 37 intersect, as the map shows. I guess this makes the road I was on “Old Old State Road 37.”
I drove through the intersection heading southbound to take this northbound photo. The lady driving the car signaling left stopped to ask me if I needed help. Maybe the folks around Bloomington are just especially helpful.
Sadly, this is where my camera’s battery died. I had hoped to photograph the road all the way into downtown Bloomington, ending on the town square. Here, the original alignment of SR 37 intersects with a later alignment of SR 37, one that was bypassed again some years later.
As the last bit of this segment of the original SR 37 alignment entered Bloomington, the road surface switched from asphalt to concrete. The speed limit dropped to 20 miles per hour as it passed a park loaded with people. The road is signed College Ave., but it turned to the left and intersected with College Ave. where it merges with Walnut St. on Bloomington’s north side.
If you turn left onto Walnut St. you are on the newer old alignment of SR 37. It’s more modern than the older segment, with smooth pavement and passing lanes where the hill is steep. A few miles north of here, it goes over a little iron truss bridge and merges into current SR 37 northbound.
I drove current State Road 37 home. It’s a pretty drive, especially through Monroe and Morgan Counties, with the limestone and siltstone, and the grand ridges of trees, calling for your attention as you go. But it lacks the intimacy and the peace of the old road.
In mid-April of 2007 I was driving home on State Road 37 after visiting an old friend in Bloomington. It had been years since I’d traveled that road. Just south of Martinsville, I saw what looked like a strip of abandoned concrete road, weeds growing through the cracks, on the edge of some farmer’s field. I found my way to that road segment and followed it; it ended shortly to the south at State Road 37 again. A sure sign of an old alignment!
At home I went online and traced the highway on maps. Not only did I find that little abandoned section, but I saw that the road was rich with segments of not one, but two old alignments of State Road 37. I began planning a road trip.
Bloomington, like all other important Indiana cities, would want direct, good quality routes to the state’s capital to conduct business and government. They had it as early as 1822, when Indiana authorized the Paoli State Road. I don’t know whether this road was cobbled out of existing roads or was a new road. I do know that as the 1800s continued, the old State Roads were privatized or turned over to the counties through which they passed. But interest in good roads surged in the early automobile era of the early 1900s. In about 1915 this road became part of the Dixie Highway, a network of roads connecting Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to Miami, Florida.
The automobile drove Indiana back into the State Road business in 1917. It took this section of the Dixie Highway over in about 1923, calling it State Road 22. Then in 1926, as part of a renumbering of all State Roads, it became State Road 37.
In those days roads had to flow with the terrain, winding, rising, falling. As technology improved, road builders became able to cut through the earth. As Hoosiers increasingly relied on motor transport, the original narrow, winding roads became insufficient. So Indiana improved its important roads, straightening them, making them bypass small towns, and widening them to make them safer and allow speedier passage. As of 2007, State Road 37 is almost Interstate quality — straight, smooth, and speedy.
Notice how State Road 37’s path changed twice between Martinsville and Bloomington, as these three map excerpts show.
First, the road was straightened, smoothed, and moved to bypass Martinsville, Hindustan, and Dolan. Next, it was moved to bypass Bloomington. Somewhere in there it was expanded to four wide lanes with big shoulders. State Road 37 has become a superhighway. In the years to come, it will be upgraded to Interstate standards and given its new name, I-69, which the 2005 map predicts. (That was in 2006. By 2020, SR 37 between Bloomington and Martinsville has been upgraded to full Interstate standards and is signed I-69. The section from Martinsville to Indianapolis is being upgraded too.)
Did you notice that the old road still runs through Martinsville, Hindustan, and Dolan? The 1970 map shows it clearly; the 2005 map not so much. But it’s still there. When you drive down current State Road 37, you have to look carefully for the signs or you’ll miss them. But they’re there, and they say, “Old St Rd 37.”
On Sunday, 13 May 2007, I drove as much of the original alignments of State Road 37 between Indianapolis and Bloomington that I could find. This is an epic road trip with lots of photos and stories. I’ll be sharing it all in several posts to come.
This 2007 road trip is now a time capsule, perhaps even a historic record. The old alignments I will show you are now far harder to access because you can no longer turn off SR 37 onto them. I will also show you some pavement around 100 years old that was removed thanks to Interstate construction.
Graham Hotel, Bloomington Pentax K10D, 28-80mm F3.5-4.7 SMC Pentax-FA 2017
While Dawn and I were on our road trip in October, we stopped in Bloomington for lunch. Walking around the square looking for a good restaurant, I photographed this lovely building. This appears to be the common angle at which the building has been photographed since 1929, when it was completed. If you search for it on Google, you’ll find postcards going back decades of the building in just this orientation.