Over Memorial Day weekend in 2011, my dog Gracie and I explored the National Road all the way across Ohio. That road is now US 40 in most places. I’m bringing the long trip report over from my old Roads site.
I-70 and the National Road cling to each other for 18 miles between Morristown and Old Washington in eastern Ohio. Sometimes the two roads parallel each other closely; other times, they’re the same road. On this map, the blue line is the National Road. (Thanks to fellow National Road fan Christopher Busta-Peck for creating it; go here to see it on Google Maps.) As you can see, it’s often hard to tell where the National Road stops and I-70 begins.
I followed as much of the old road as still exists. Overall it was a pleasant drive, for where the forlorn National Road remains, it is peaceful. I encountered not a single soul as I explored these miles. The National Road passes into Guernsey County at Fairview, where it is known as County Highway 967 and Waymor Road. That’s westbound Waymor Road at the beginning of this article.
Maybe a mile west of Fairview, the National Road’s path was destroyed by I-70. A series of rough county roads serve as a detour, albeit a wide one. In the map excerpt below, the National Road hugs I-70 as it enters from the east and exits to the west, but is gone in the middle.
West of the detour, the National Road is County Road 690 or Bridgewater Road. About four miles east of Old Washington I came upon the only S bridge on the entire National Road that you can still drive. US 40 bypassed it somewhere along the line, and later I-70 bypassed them both. Out here, old US 40 is Bridgewater Road.
Here’s the bridge on the ground. Check out that graceful S shape.
Here’s the bridge from the west. A plaque above the keystone reads, “1828 1936 In memory of the pioneers who built this S bridge – The Ohio Society Daughters of the American Revolution.” This bridge was built in 1828.
As I researched this bridge, I discovered that a photographer for the Historic American Engineering Record favored the same angle. The record at the Library of Congress suggests that this photo was taken after 1933, but the plaque from 1936 isn’t present. So this photo is very likely from between those years, and my guess is that it still carried US 40 then.
S bridges were built this way to allow a road that didn’t naturally approach a river or creek at right angles to cross it that way. It was less costly to build and maintain a bridge that crossed a river or creek squarely. This photo shows the southeast curve of the bridge.
My research also revealed that this bridge is in poor shape and needs considerable work to restore it to full stability. But still, it was great to be able to drive over this bridge.
In 2013, about two years after I made this trip, this bridge was permanently closed to traffic. Read about it here. At this bridge’s 2018 inspection, the most recent one as I write this paragraph, the bridge was judged to be in Poor condition, with its substructure in particular in Serious condition. The National Park Service is said to have declared this bridge to be deteriorating and unstable.
I understand that the construction of I-70 led to the demolition of other S bridges in the area. I have read that the S bridge in this postcard was one of the unlucky ones.
Notice that the caption says it was in Bridgewater, Ohio – given that I’m on Bridgewater Road, this bridge must have been nearby, but I can’t find the first hint of a town called Bridgewater. Did I-70 take both the bridge and the town? Perhaps an Ohio expert will read this and chime in.
My longtime friend Dawn and I resumed our annual road-trip tradition on October 1 as we explored the oldest alignments of State Road 67 southwest from Indianapolis, working our way to its endpoint at Vincennes. We made it about two-thirds of the way before it got late and we grew tired. I’ll share highlights from the trip here and there, and will write up the entire trip properly for my Friday road trips series in due time.
State Road 67 brushes past Martinsville just beyond its eastern boundary. About a half mile south of where you turn left to head into Martinsville, an old alignment of SR 67 splits off on your right.
About a mile from there southbound SR 67 crosses this terrific old bridge over Lamb’s Creek.
Built in 1893 by the Wrought Iron Bridge Co. of Canton, OH, this is a Pratt through truss design. As I researched this bridge, I found its page at the Historic American Engineering Record and was amused to find that a long-ago photographer parked his car in about the same place as me for his similar image.
Based on damage I see in this photograph, the HAER photographer visited here before this bridge’s restoration, which was probably in the 2004-2006 timeframe based on the best information I can find.
I’m trying to recall how many Pratt bridges I’ve seen with cables for its diagonal members. I’m used to the diagonals being girders just like the framing of the truss here. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Pratt bridge where diagonals cross like an X at the center.
Here’s a view of those cables.
This is a pin-connected bridge. Here’s where several of the members come together overhead.
Builder’s plates on either end are in terrific condition.
The old highway continues its southwestward journey beyond the bridge. This narrow road is typical of the highways Indiana built in the 1920s. It’s probably 14 or 16 feet wide.
On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois. I wrote about that trip on my old Roads site, but now I’m bringing that material to this blog.
US 50 has had three major alignments in Knox County. The first ran considerably north of US 50’s current path. (From a 1927 Indiana State Highway Commission map.)
Then US 50 was moved south to what I believe was mostly a new-terrain road (but don’t cite me on it). It was a much straighter and smoother path at any rate. US 50 still follows this path, at least until it gets to Vincennes, which it now bypasses. That’s the third alignment of which I speak.
When the US 50 expressway was built, it bypassed tiny Wheatland.
I turned off US 50 on the first available side road as I drove westbound. This was the eastbound scene on old US 50, near where it dead ends.
Here’s the scene westbound from there.
I passed through Wheatland, of which there is not much, and soon the end of the road was in view.
I made my way to Vincennes. Can you imagine Revolutionary War soldiers marching down US 50 to save Vincennes, Indiana? They did. Well, sort of.
Vincennes was founded in 1732. You just don’t find European settlements any older than that in Indiana. And it’s not like the French, the first Europeans to settle here, came up with the idea on their own; the area had been populated for thousands of years by American Indians. So it was the Indians first and then the French, and then the British took control in 1763, and finally the Americans took Vincennes in 1778 during a Revolutionary War campaign.
It’s no mistake people settled here; it’s where an ancient buffalo migration route met the Wabash River. What buffalo had tramped smooth, man liked to follow, and so the Buffalo Trace was the most major road in what would become Indiana. American troops in that Revolutionary War campaign followed it to Vincennes. It became an important settlement route, leading Indiana Territory governor William Henry Harrison to order it improved in 1804 and the new state government to order it improved again in the 1830s (at about the same time the Michigan Road was built). Young Abraham Lincoln and his family, in their journey out of Indiana, joined the Buffalo Trace to reach Vincennes and cross the Wabash River into Illinois. In the early 20th century, the first alignment of US 150 from New Albany to Vincennes was laid more or less along the Buffalo Trace’s corridor. US 150 has, of course, been straightened, widened, and outright moved many times since then and bears little resemblance to the Buffalo Trace’s original path. But since this segment of US 150 is the Buffalo Trace’s direct descendant, efforts are underway to honor it as a National Scenic Byway. US 50 is part of this story because it joins US 150 from the east at Shoals.
The modern US 50 expressway barely touches Vincennes, but the old road splits off east of town and makes a beeline for downtown.
Where the old road splits off, the scene is typical rural Indiana. Dig that crazy single center stripe. It seems to be colloquial to Knox County roads.
Inside Vincennes, I found one remaining nod to this road’s former glory – this US 50 sign. I puzzled over the white/gray/black scheme on this sign – I’d never seen anything like it, not even in old road photographs. So I visited the AARoads forum, which is the largest concentration of road-sign fans on the Internet. I posted this photo and asked about it. Consensus is that the white portion around the shield faded from black, and that the gray shield would look white if the black border hadn’t faded. After browsing the AARoads Shield Gallery for a while, I decided that this sign dates to the 1960s, maybe as early as 1961. If I’d been standing out in the weather for more than 40 years, I’d look pretty faded, too.
Plenty of great old homes stand on Old US 50 as it makes its way to downtown Vincennes. This is a great example.
The old road also passes by at least one old neon sign and a few former service stations converted to various purposes. And then it reaches Main Street, where it hangs a right on its way to the Wabash River. But before it gets there, it passes by five blocks of downtown lined with great old buildings, some of which date to the middle and late 1800s. Many buildings appear to be in good original condition or restored.
The Pantheon Theatre at 5th and Main looks solid from the outside, but signs on the windows seek donations to have the interior restored.
This corner is covered in Vitrolite, a type of glass paneling.
I snapped a lot of photos on Main Street, with my dog in tow on the leash. It seemed like everywhere I looked, there was a great old building dripping with character.
I imagine this building, which hearkens to Greek times, was once a bank.
Shortly my dog and I reached the end of Main Street.
Main Street and old US 50 in Vincennes ends at the Wabash River today, but until the early 1930s a bridge over the Wabash River connected Vincennes to Illinois. I found brick pavement (dating probably to the 1920s) in the last block leading up to the river. A bridge used to cross the river here; it is long gone. I covered that bridge at length in this article.
The next alignment of US 50 crossed the Wabash over the Lincoln Memorial Bridge, which still stands.
At the end of this bridge in Illinois, a great monument stands commemorating the crossing of young Abraham Lincoln and his family into Illinois. If you stop to see the monument, you can see that the old highway leading away from where the old bridge once stood remains on the Illinois side as well. It, too, is brick. (I wrote about that road here.)
The Lincoln Memorial Bridge is about my favorite bridge in Indiana, and the Indians carved into the columns at its entrance are no small part of why.
Here’s the view as the bridge takes you into Illinois.
I regret not walking across this bridge into Illinois. But I felt a little pressed for time, and I still had the original alignment of US 50 to follow back to Washington. I made my way back the way I came. At about where I found the old US 50 sign, I turned off Old US 50 and made a couple turns to reach Old Wheatland Road – Old Old US 50. This is the route I followed, which is my best guess at the route in the 1927 map segment I showed at the top of this page. The overall shape is right, but it’s possible I didn’t get a couple details right. (I did get a couple turns wrong, in Washington. Otherwise, this is correct.)
In no time flat, I was back in the country.
After I posted these photos to my Flickr space, a fellow who follows me there and who grew up in Vincennes confirmed for me that this was US 50’s original route.
After a bit more than eight miles, Old Wheatland Road reached State Road 550. Actually, it’s pretty clear that SR 550 follows Old Wheatland Road from this point.
SR 550 passes through Wheatland, but Old Old US 50 turns left onto Green St., which becomes CR SE 700 S. Soon enough, Old Old US 50 comes upon this beautiful old bridge that spans the White River.
I can’t decide whether my favorite part of this trip was the super long old alignment in Jackson and Lawrence Counties or this alignment that spans Knox and Daviess Counties. But I do know for sure that my time on this bridge was the most peaceful on any part of this trip.
This three-span Pratt through truss bridge was built in 1909 and rehabilitated, including replacing its original wooden deck with a steel deck, in 2006.
It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
I spent a lot of time on this bridge and never encountered another car. Several houses stand (on stilts) next to this bridge and I felt a little jealous of the families who live in them, as they get to enjoy both that peace and this bridge every day.
Really, this whole drive was peaceful and quiet. It was a warm, still day, so I had been driving with all my windows down. Country scents of crops and livestock wafted in and out of my car, and drivers of the few trucks I encountered all waved as we passed.
I kept enjoying these things as I pushed on from here to Washington, where my summertime exploration of US 50 came to an end. And I have Elias Conwell to thank.
This was the scene in Paoli, the seat of justice in Orange County, Indiana, on Christmas Day in 2015.
I thought this beautiful bridge, built in 1880, was a goner. But the people of Paoli wouldn’t have it — they saw to it that the bridge was rescued. The trucking company (or probably its insurance company) paid the entire $700,000 bill. Margaret and I drove through Paoli in July and stopped to photograph it. This photo was taken from about the same place as the photo above.
Height-limit bars were installed several feet before the bridge on both ends. Now a too-large vehicle will hit these bars rather than the bridge. It’s a nice touch that they are in a similar style as the bridge.
This is the fourth and final installment of my report from a 2009 road trip along the oldest alignments I could find of US 50 across a good chunk of Illinois.
In Carlyle, current US 50 follows the yellow path on the aerial image below. Where the current road turns north, the old alignment of US 50 continues straight. Howevero, the old stagecoach road that formed the US 50 corridor sweeps from there to the northwest.
Sadly, the new alignment interrupted the old stage route, labeled “Old State Rd” on the map below. Overpasses were built for other roads; why not for this historic road?
The stage road eventually curves back to the south. The drivable portion if the stage road ends about 15 miles west of Carlyle, but you can see bits and pieces of its remnants in aerial images. Check out this 1000-foot section of the old road that lies in a farmer’s field! It lines up pretty well with where US 50 curves in this image, suggesting that there US 50 resumes the old stage road’s route.
We drove old US 50 through Beckemeyer, Breese, Aviston, and Trenton, to where current US 50 meets old US 50. Current US 50 continues westward on the original US 50 alignment.
At this point we were starting to wear out from our long day. I wanted to get my friend Michael back to Terre Haute, where he lived, and me back to Indianapolis, where I lived, before we ran out of daylight. So we turned onto current US 50 and headed back east.
Current US 50 is interesting here in that all the signs point to it having been intended to be an expressway – four divided lanes. Overpasses are wide enough to accommodate two more lanes, but that’s not the most telling sign. Remarkably, and mind-bogglingly, wherever a bridge was needed, two were built alongside each other. In each case, one is used, the other has stood unused since it was built in probably the early 1970s. Here’s an aerial view of the eastmost of these twin bridges.
It crosses Beaver Creek. You can walk through the tall grass and stand right on it.
Which, of course, we did.
Michael has good balance. I tried standing up there briefly, but felt unsteady.
There is more to see along US 50 in Illinois. We passed several old motels, some abandoned, some still in business with great neon signs out front. I would have liked to stop and photograph more segments of the old concrete road that parallels current US 50 in many places. I would have liked to drive the entire unfinished expressway west of Carlyle and explored the other three never-used bridges. And I would especially have liked to follow the old stage road west of Carlyle.
But it was time to head home. I was tired, and so was my dog. That’s her tired face.