Road Trips

State Road 340, an original alignment of US 40/National Road in Clay County, Indiana

In my early road trips I focused heavily on the road and its alignments, and hardly at all on the built environment along the road. When I made my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, I took almost no photographs of anything that wasn’t road! It took me a few years to realize I should photograph the cities and towns, as well as the buildings and homes in the rural areas.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

When we reached Brazil, a town in Clay County, we drove right through it, stopping only when we reached State Road 340 at the town’s west edge. This is the most obvious and accessible segment of old US 40 and the National Road in the state. It begins on the west side of Brazil and ends at the Clay/Vigo county line.

Not surprisingly, Indiana 340 is the straight shot off the US 40 roadbed; to stay on 40, you have to bear left. (Since 2006, this intersection was heavily redesigned, and now you must turn right here to follow SR 340.) Here’s the beginning of SR 340, westbound.

SR 340 (former US 40)

Here’s the eastern end of SR 340 facing eastbound. The newer alignment of US 40 was built in 1939 as part of a bigger project to widen the road to four lanes across the state. I don’t know why a new alignment was built here, rather than four-laning the original alignment.

SR 340 (former US 40)

The road is really pleasant to drive — it’s fairly straight, but it rolls a bit, so cruising at speed feels good. Unfortunately, there was no good place to pull off so I could photograph it and show you.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

SR 340 is as close to the original two-lane US 40 experience as you’ll get in Indiana. The surroundings become more rural the farther away you get from Brazil until finally the road meets US 40 again.

As the photo shows, the western terminus of SR 340 is on the same line as the westbound lanes of US 40. SR 340 is also signed as the Historic National Road.

SR 340 (former US 40)

Looking back eastward on SR 340, the Marathon station looks like an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, we both got something to drink here.

SR 340 (former US 40)

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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Road Trips

Return I will to old Brazil (on the National Road in Indiana)

Before you read this, click Play on this video. If you get caught up watching the animation, which is pretty cool, then play it again before you read the rest of this post and let it provide a soundtrack!

In 1986 I first visited Brazil, Indiana, about which that song was not written but about which I always think when I hear it. A college friend was raised there and he and I sometimes drove to town; I forget why. I wondered aloud one day about why the main drag was named National Avenue, and he replied, “It’s the name of an old highway, older than US 40.” That’s the first time I remember thinking the question that has spurred my roadsleuthing and road trips ever since: “I wonder where it used to go?”

Now I know, of course; it was the National Road and it stretched east to Cumberland and Baltimore in Maryland, and west to Vandalia in Illinois. And today it is US 40.

I’ve been through Brazil a bunch of times, and have even passed through on road trips with camera in hand, but never stopped to photograph it. I wish I had not delayed, as there used to be a Grey’s Auto Parts on the west end of town. I would have liked to have a photo of the sign. I always wondered if there was any relation, but it’s gone now, and so there’s nobody left to ask.

I don’t have anything eloquent or insightful to say about Brazil, but I did get some good photographs, so I’m going to write about them.

The Clay County courthouse was built in Brazil in 1914. The town itself was founded in 1866, although its roots go back to at least 1840.

Clay County Courthouse

Does your county’s courthouse have an F-86 fighter jet on its lawn?

F-86 on grounds of Clay County Courthouse

When a town booms and booms again, old buildings get torn down to make way for new as prosperity continues. When a town booms but once, in its early days, its old buildings remain and are adapted to many uses their builders did not foresee. Brazil fits into the latter category.

I don’t know for sure, but I’m probably not going too far out on a limb to say that this building used to house The Brazil Times newspaper.

Times Building, Brazil, IN

This building is a hodgepodge of misguided remodelings.

Brazil, IN

Some of Brazil’s downtown buildings have at least been tastefully redone.

Brazil, IN

This is the most original-looking building I saw in town.

Brazil, IN

This is the 1909 D. H. Davis building, and it’s for sale. You can own it for a mere $45,000.

1909 DH Davis building, Brazil, IN

Harris Bank donated the 1901 Brazil Trust Co. building to the Indiana National Road Association, which hopes to sell it for $45,000.

The Brazil Trust Co.

I remembered from my 1980s visits that Brazil had a number of brick streets, so I stepped off the National Road briefly in search of one. I didn’t have to look for very long.

Brazil, IN

There’s plenty more to see in Brazil, but my time was running short. I made for the west edge of town where State Road 340 begins. At 5½ miles, it is the longest two-lane alignment of old US 40 and the National Road in Indiana. A four-lane US 40 was built in 1939 parallel to this alignment about 1000 feet to the south. I wonder what made it impossible to widen the original alignment.

Brazil, IN

I’ve driven this road any number of times with a camera in the car, but I only ever get photos at its ends, like this one. The road gets just enough traffic, and is narrow enough in all the most scenic spots, that there’s never a good opportunity pull my car over!

Brazil, IN

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

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