Road Trips

A survey of US 36 in western Indiana

Let’s wrap up my October, 2006, road trip in west-central Indiana.

I headed north out of Bridgeton on Bridgeton Road, which led straight to Rockville and US 36, the road I would take back to Indianapolis. Even with the scant research I did before the trip, I knew there were several old alignments of this road.

Parke County did a very nice job of signing old alignments of US 36. The first one I encountered was just outside Rockville by Billie Creek Village, a history museum. It ran south of current US 36, as the map shows.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

Old 36 Road, as this alignment is signed, is very narrow. I imagine the alignment is very old and has not been used as US 36 in many decades. I encountered a car and a truck within the first quarter mile, and it was a tight squeeze. When I passed the truck, I wasn’t sure we’d both fit, so I edged my passenger-side tires onto the grass.

US 36 at Billie Creek

I didn’t know that an 1895 covered bridge was still in use along the route! I had never driven on a covered bridge before. Every other one I’d ever seen had been limited to foot traffic. It gave me spooky chills to drive on it since I was trusting 111-year-old wood, rather than good old steel and concrete, to hold my 2,700-pound car. With quiet strength, the old bridge stoically did its job.

US 36 at Billie Creek

I find this alignment curious because I saw no evidence that it ever flowed into the current roadbed. Here’s where it ends at US 36 about a mile down the road.

US 36 at Billie Creek

The next old alignment I looked for runs through Raccoon Lake. Here’s the map. Notice how the old road, from west to east, runs slightly north of current US 36, then crosses it, and then ends at the lake and picks up on the other side before flowing back into current US 36. The US Army Corps of Engineers built Raccoon Lake between 1956 and 1960 as a flood-control project. They built a new segment of US 36 straight-as-a-stick across the new lake, and just buried the old road underwater.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

Somehow, I missed the western end of this alignment. I realized it when I saw a sign for Hollandsburg. I took the next left, CR 870 E, and drove north on it to the alignment, which was signed as Old 36. I drove west, hoping to find the beginning of the alignment. But without warning, the road dead-ended. The map above doesn’t show it, but something, maybe a creek, bisects the road.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

This photo shows the barricade at the end of the road, and the mound on which the road is built on the other side. I didn’t bother driving around to find the other side; maybe next time.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

I stepped back to take a picture of current US 36 to the south — straight into the sun, unfortunately. It’s hard to see, but the asphalt road was coated in a fine gravel here.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

I turned around and drove west. After a couple hundred yards, the gravel ended. As this photo shows, old US 36 here was cut into the scenery. Driving this narrow road made me feel like I was a part of the land. In contrast, driving the elevated US 36 gave me a broad and stirring view of the scenery.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

Old US 36 forms an S of sorts as it crosses current US 36. A friend who works in civil engineering tells me that when an old road is rerouted, the old road is usually curved to cross the new road at 90-degree angles for safety. This photo shows this crossing pointing westbound.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

It was exciting to follow this segment of road eastward to its end at the lake. The road is used as a boat ramp today. The road actually curves to the left just before it reaches the water; the boat ramps were built on the right. A co-worker who grew up in this area told me that in the winter, the Army Corps of Engineers lowers the lake by about 20 feet, and you can see a bit of the road that is normally underwater.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

Looking back westbound from the end of the road, old US 36 is pretty.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

I drove back to US 36, found the eastern end of this old alignment, and spent quite some time driving around trying to find where the alignment ended at the lake on the other side. It would have helped if I had remembered to bring the map I had printed; without it, I was chasing wild geese. This failed search used up a lot of my time, and I started wanting to get home. I was so irritated with myself that I forgot to take a photo of the eastern end of this alignment.

I drove past a couple old alignments in Putnam County — one little one around the town of Bainbridge, and a larger, more interesting one that I knew I couldn’t find without my forgotten map. But I had spent more time on the trip than I planned and was growing tired, so it was just as well. I knew I’d revisit US 36 another day and explore it thoroughly.

When US 36 enters Danville in Hendricks County, it becomes a major artery and loses all of its charm. When I visit friends in this area, I usually ask about back roads to their houses so I can avoid US 36, which gets mighty congested. US 36 was rerouted and widened to four lanes on the east side of Danville. This map shows both alignments where they split as you head east out of Danville, and where they rejoin again west of the town of Avon.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Landsat/Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

I was pooped, so I made just a couple quick photos at either end. Here’s the west end, where old US 36 (Main St.) splits from current US 36.

Old US 36 at US 36

Here’s what east emd looks like. Now that I think of it, I should have driven back up to where old 36 curves south and taken a photo showing how old 36 and current 36 line up.

This photo, taken in Avon, is typical of any drive I’ve made, day or night, along US 36 in Avon. I am always looking at someone else’s exhaust pipe. It seems like I never quite make it to the speed limit, either. It seems like most things in Avon dump out onto US 36. What’s the charm of living in Avon if every trip involves slow-moving traffic on the town’s only artery?

US 36 in Avon

After I made this trip, I learned that US 36’s original 1927 route began in Downtown Indianapolis and headed west from there. Another day I’ll make a proper US 36 trip, starting at Downtown, driving all the old alignments I can find, and ending no sooner than the Illinois border.

I headed home from here, tired but satisfied from a day’s exploration.

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Road Trips

The covered bridge at Bridgeton, Indiana

Let’s return to my October, 2006 road trip in west-central Indiana.

When I lived in Terre Haute in the late 1980s and early 1990s, whenever I wanted to get away for awhile and be alone, I used to drive up into neighboring Parke County, to Bridgeton. The old covered bridge there was a great place to find some peace.

Bridgeton bridge in 1900. Sourced from Wikipedia.

The Bridgeton bridge was built in 1868 and carried traffic until 1967. It’s one of 31 covered bridges in Parke County. Every October the county holds a big festival to its covered bridges, and Bridgeton is one of the most popular stops.

Bridgeton bridge in the 1980s. Adrian Ross photo sourced from bridgehunter.com.

In 2005 an arsonist destroyed the bridge. This page shows photographs of the smoldering remains. Funds were raised and the bridge was rebuilt in time for the 2006 Covered Bridge Festival. This page has some good photos of the bridge under construction.

Because Bridgeton is a place I go to be alone, I avoid it during the Festival as it is packed with people. But the Festival had just ended on the late October day I made this road trip, and so I detoured to see the new bridge. I turned left off US 41 onto a country road and then, just as I did during my Terre Haute years, I drove around until I found the homemade signs pointing to Bridgeton. I’d forgotten how the Bridgeton Road winds for quite some time before abruptly entering the town and just as abruptly coming upon the bridge.

This photo is from Bridgeton Road northbound. Notice how the road is rerouted from the covered bridge to a modern bridge; the covered bridge hasn’t carried anything more than tourist foot traffic since 1967.

Bridgeton

The old bridge’s seeming permanence was comforting to me. I was simultaneously sad and excited to see the new bridge — sad to lose an old friend, but excited to see how so many people cared so much to rebuild so quickly, using the same curved Burr arch truss design of the original bridge. On this sunny day, the bridge was bright inside, and construction was visible in detail. The builders did a tremendous job.

Bridgeton

The bridge is most often photographed from the north to show the little waterfall.

Bridgeton

The neighboring Bridgeton Mill was operating then and, as far as I know, continues to operate.

Bridgeton

I felt as though my old friend had never left. Satisfied, I followed that country road north past the 10 O’Clock Line, which marked the boundary of an Indian land sale to the US in 1809, toward Rockville. There I would pick up US 36 and make my way home.

10 O'Clock Line sign

I’d like to say that I visit Bridgeton frequently. I still love visiting, but my time goes to other things. The last time I visited was in 2013 on a date with the woman who would become my wife. Here’s a photo I made of the bridge that day.

Bridgeton bridge

Next: scenes from old alignments of US 36 I encountered on my way home.

I’ve written about Bridgeton before, in more of a memoir form, here.

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COVID-19, Film Photography

An abandoned bridge and a forgotten cemetery

We were just two weeks into stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought I was adapting okay, but as that second week drew to a close I felt myself going a little stir crazy. I felt a strong need to get away for a while. But where could I go?

My wife suggested I just take a long drive. “If you’re in your car, there’s nobody to infect you and you can’t infect anybody.” Brilliant. So that Saturday afternoon that’s just what I did.

I don’t like to drive aimlessly. I need to have a destination. So I chose one: the abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana, and the Civil War-era cemetery hidden near it. It’s about 40 minutes from home, giving me a good long drive there and back. I’ve never encountered another soul there anytime I’ve visited, so it would be a safe place to go. My Pentax ME Super was loaded with Kodak T-Max 400 at the time so I brought it along. The wonderful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens was attached.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

The bare-tree months are my favorite time to visit this bridge because it’s so visible. In the middle of summer this is mighty overgrown. You can’t even see the bridge from modern US 40 then. But at this time of year it’s easy to see.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

This bridge was built in 1923. It doesn’t look too bad for having gotten zero maintenance since it was abandoned, which was sometime between 1939 and 1941.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

Iron’s Cemetery is just northeast of the bridge. Little spring flowers grew all along the path leading to it.

At Iron's Cemetery

Inside the cemetery, you can see the other side of the bridge. At least you can during the bare-tree months.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Except for the sound of an occasional passing car, the only sound here is the wind. It was lovely to be out in the world in a peaceful place.

At Iron's Cemetery

There are always lots of interesting details to photograph in an old cemetery. Gravestone letterforms of the 1800s fascinate me. They have such style!

At Iron's Cemetery

Unfortunately, many of the markers here are in poor condition. Some of them are broken and lying on the ground.

At Iron's Cemetery

I hate to see any old cemetery in this condition. It’s funny — I won’t be buried in one when I’m gone, it seems like a waste of good ground. Cremate me and scatter my remains to the wind. But for those who did choose burial, good heavens, provide for the maintenance of those graves!

At Iron's Cemetery

But enough of that maudlin stuff. It helped me regain my internal footing to make this trip. I lingered here well past I stopped finding photographic inspiration, just to enjoy the quiet and the outdoors. Then I got into my car and drove back home.

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Road Trips

There's a place actually called Toad Hop on Indiana's National Road

When I was in college in Terre Haute, I had a friend who worked for a crappy little radio station. He invited me to come visit him one day while he was on the air. He gave me directions: “Take I-70 to the Darwin Road exit, then turn left on Old US 40. Then look for our tower and just follow the roads until you get to it.” What? “Yeah, the station’s out in Toad Hop, and the roads aren’t marked back there.” Toad Hop? What’s that? “That’s just what this area is called. And by the way, if you get lost, don’t stop to ask directions, because the locals aren’t too friendly.”

Toad Hop is west of West Terre Haute, which is across the Wabash River from Terre Haute. Even though Toad Hop was not the most welcoming place when I first visited, I remembered that my friend mentioned that “Old US 40” ran through it. So on our 2006 Indiana National Road trip, Dawn and I were off to Toad Hop.

Imagery ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

Before we got there, just after we crossed the Wabash River and entered West Terre Haute, we encountered what looked like an old alignment of US 40 since it kept going straight where US 40 curved. You can see it in the upper right of the map above. That road was even made of concrete then, though it has since been paved over with asphalt.

This road is signed Paris Ave. as it leads to Paris, Illinois. I have wondered for years whether the National Road/US 40 originally followed Paris Road to the crossroad on the west side of town, Bennett Lane. Did it then follow Bennett south, curving to cross a now-missing bridge over Sugar Creek and flow right into Old US 40 leading to Toad Hop?

It’s not impossible that the National Road/US 40 always followed West Terre Haute’s main street, National Ave. It would have curved just east of Sugar Creek to cross that now-missing bridge and then continue on Old US 40.

Whichever way it ran, it ran that way until 1949 when the new four-lane alignment was built. It carried US 40 until 2011, when US 40 was rerouted along I-70 from east of Terre Haute to just inside Illinois.

To reach this segment, we turned left off National Avenue onto Darwin Road. We drove east in hopes of seeing where that bridge had been, but the road was lined with houses and trailers. The area looked no friendlier than it did when I was last there umpteen years before. To be safe, we took pictures from the Darwin Road intersection. This photo shows old US 40 eastbound from there, aiming right at that alleged bridge.

Old US 40 through Toad Hop

Here’s the westbound outlook. We didn’t know then when the four-lane US 40 was built, but we wondered, as this road looked awfully narrow.

Old US 40 through Toad Hop

We drove along this alignment almost as far as it went. We crossed a small bridge along the way that we did not photograph that day. I came back in 2009 to photograph it; here it is. It was built in 1919.

Old US 40 near Toad Hop

Except for the overgrown grass, this gives you a very good idea of what a major US highway looked like in the 1920s. The bridge itself is a concrete arch design.

Old US 40 near Toad Hop

Back to 2006, soon we could see we were about to run out of road. We wanted to drive all the way to the end, but there were several homes here and we would have been awfully conspicuous. So I made this through-the-windshield photo and we turned around.

Old US 40 through Toad Hop

The road ends because I-70 and National Ave. come together here. Check it out:

Imagery ©2020 Indiana Map Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

I-70 follows the original National Road alignment for about a mile into Illinois. It then veers away from the National Road alignment, and old US 40/the National Road emerges from the woods as a brick road! Illinois built a more modern US 40 alongside it and abandoned the older road. Read more about it here.

We doubled back and crossed over to Illiana Dr. on the other side of National Ave. We could see on the map that this road becomes US 40 in Illinois, so we felt confident that we were on the right track. As soon as we crossed over US 40 and made that left, we were immediately rewarded to see a Historic National Road sign.

Toward Illinois on old US 40

It seems likely that this road was built at the same time as this segment of National Ave. (which used to be US 40 until US 40 was rerouted from the east side of Terre Haute to follow I-70). There needed to be some way to connect back to US 40 inside Illinois. The photo below looks from Indiana into Illinois.

Illinois line on US 40

This old US 40 alignment moved into Illinois as so many roads do — with a change in pavement. The speed limit also increased, from 35 MPH in Indiana to 55 MPH in Illinois. We wondered why the same road merited 20 extra miles per hour in Illinois. We drove into Illinois a little ways and found our answer — the road is signed US 40. This is curious, since US 40 is also multiplexed with I 70 just to the south.

Illinois line on US 40

This photo looks from Illinois into Indiana. The words “Start Race” are painted in orange on the pavement on the Illinois side where the Indiana pavement begins. My friend Michael explained that on the same day, the Ride Across Indiana (RAIN) started from that point and toured 161 miles of US 40 and the National Road all the way to the Ohio state line. This explained all the bicycles we saw heading eastbound on US 40 when we were west of Plainfield!

With this, our tour of the National Road in western Indiana ended. Little did we know, until we picked up from here a year later, how exciting the road would be in Illinois because of the abandoned brick highway there.

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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Chicago Skyway Bridge

Driving across the Chicago Skyway Bridge
Olympus XA
Kodak T-Max 400
2020

I barely slept the last night we were in Chicago. So I handed my car keys to Margaret. It gave me this lovely opportunity to photograph the Chicago Skyway Bridge while we were crossing it.

This bridge, built in 1958, carries the Chicago Skyway, also known as I-90, across the Calumet River. At the end of the Skyway, eastbound, is Indiana. This is a toll bridge, but thanks to my EZPass transponder I have no idea what the charge is. I just add some money to my account before we go and let the EZPass pay the toll.

It was midmorning Monday. Traffic was light. For a moment, it looked like we had this busy bridge all to ourselves.

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Film Photography

single frame: Driving across the Chicago Skyway Bridge

A through-the-windshield shot of the Chicago Skyway Bridge.

Image
Photography

The Jefferson Boulevard bridge in South Bend

For weeks now I’ve been sharing my photos of bridges in my Tuesday/Thursday “single frame” series. I’ve wanted to share one of the beautiful Jefferson Boulevard bridge in my hometown of South Bend. But I couldn’t choose just one. So I’m sharing a bunch of photographs of it in this post, to wrap up the series.

Jefferson Blvd. Bridge, South Bend
Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Fujicolor 200, 2012

The Jefferson Boulevard bridge was built in 1906, carrying one of downtown South Bend’s main east-west streets across the St. Joseph River and forming a gateway with the east side of South Bend.

Jefferson Blvd. Bridge, South Bend
Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Fujicolor 200, 2012

You can walk right under two of this bridge’s arches on a pedestrian trail that runs along both sides of the river.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

When you do, you can see the telltale signs of the formwork that held this bridge’s concrete in place while it cured.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

MIT-trained South Bend city engineer Alonzo Hammond designed this bridge. He used a cutting-edge construction technique known as the Melan arch, in which solid steel arch ribs, rather than iron rebar, were used inside the concrete.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

490 feet long with four spans, with a deck 51.8 feet wide, it handled a twin-track street railway as well as vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Today the streetcar tracks are long gone. Hammond’s bridge easily handles two lanes of traffic in each direction, bracketed by sidewalks.

Jefferson Blvd. bridge from Howard Park
Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF, Ferrania P30 Alpha, 2018

Hammond configured the east approach of the bridge to complement recent improvements in Howard Park. which is on the right in the photos above and below. I made the photo below from a onetime railroad trestle now used by pedestrians on the river trail system.

Jefferson St. Bridge, South Bend
Yashica Electro 35 GSN, Fujicolor 200, 2012

I’ve photographed this bridge more than any other. I enjoy its design and its setting. Every time I’m downtown in South Bend with a camera, I wind up around the bridge looking for a new angle.

Jefferson Blvd. bridge
Minolta SR-T 101, 50mm f/1.7 MC Rokkor PF, Ferrania P30 Alpha, 2018

But mostly, I like to shoot the bridge up close to consider its delightful details.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

Sometimes the morning or afternoon light plays beautifully on its sides.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

I made this photo from the LaSalle Street bridge one block to the north. It shows the orange di Suvero sculpture and shallow man-made waterfalls. It also shows part of Island Park on the right.

Jefferson St. bridge
Kodak EasyShare Z730, 2009

I made a similar photograph the first time I shot this bridge, on a downtown photo walk in 1988. At that time, the bridge was a dull brownish gray. It underwent a restoration in 2003-4 that strengthened it to serve another generation, and brought it to its current creamy hue.

Jefferson Blvd. bridge, South Bend, 1988
Kodak VR35 K40, Kodak color film, 1988

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