Road Trips

Abandoned bridge on Old State Road 37 in Morgan County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington. Normally I’m just copying text and photos from my old road-trip site, but this time I have some new things to say.

After experiencing the exciting abandoned segment of Old State Road 37 north of Waverly, I got back into my car and drove the length of this segment as it crossed into Morgan County. It was paved and in good shape. I had it all to myself as it swayed gently through the countryside. I passed through the tiny town of Waverly on the way, but it didn’t interrupt the pleasure of this drive.

Old SR 37
Windows Live Local map, 2007

At the other end of this segment, the road curved to intersect with current SR 37, as the map shows. But a ridge is visible that extends from the old road. Spoiler alert: it’s abandoned road, and there’s an old bridge in there.

In 2020, SR 37 is becoming Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and Bloomington. It means widening the road, building exits, and closing all roads that currently intersect.

The section between Bloomington and about Martinsville is done. Work is just now beginning on the final section, from Martinsville to Indianapolis. When I made a trip to Bloomington in early March 2020, trees were being cleared the whole way.

About halfway to Martinsville, near the town of Waverly, I spotted it: an abandoned bridge, about 100 feet away. Trees had been reduced to stumps all around it, exposing it.

I know that bridge. I discovered it when I toured State Road 37’s old alignments in 2007. This bridge was on an abandoned part of the old alignment that ran through Waverly.

Here’s where the abandoned part of the old alignment begins, as it looked in 2007.

Old SR 37

I drove in.

Abandoned Old SR 37

I was surprised to find the bridge in there! It was heavily overgrown.

Abandoned bridge

I didn’t have anything to go on but the railing to date this bridge. That railing is typical of Indiana highway bridges from the 1920s and 1930s.

Abandoned bridge

Because modern SR 37 was close by, the predominant sound was of traffic. This old bridge was probably briefly visible to those who whizzed by, if they knew to look for it. I’ll bet hardly anybody knew it was there.

SR 37 from Old SR 37

The abandoned alignment ended shortly past the bridge. Notice the dirt path off its end, and the paved entrance/exit to SR 37 on the left. This led to someone’s house.

Abandoned Old SR 37

I’m betting it was whoever lived in that house who called the cops on me.

I had just finished making these photographs and was about to get back into my car when I saw the “Private Property, Keep Out” sign. Now, I heed “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs when I go exploring. I don’t want any trouble, and I empathize with property owners not wanting strangers traipsing around on their land. But this sign faced the road. You wouldn’t see it unless you stopped next to it and looked right at it, as I did.

I hoped that it meant only that the land behind it was private property. But when the police car arrived and hovered anxiously, I realized that this was not the case. The property owner probably called the cops on me. I turned around and hightailed it out of there. Fortunately, the officer let me be chased off.

I don’t know, but I imagine, that this relic of a highway era gone by will be demolished so that I-69 can be built.

Next: a short segment of the original alignment in Morgan County just north of Martinsville.

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Road Trips

Leftover bridge on stub of Old State Road 37 near the Indianapolis city limits

Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

Today, SR 37 flows around Indianapolis on I-465 to an exit on the Southwestside a mile or two west of old 37. But after just four miles the new road assumes SR 37’s original alignment. Old SR 37, as Bluff Road, passes through several neighborhoods and crosses Stop 11 Road, a fairly major Southside road. But just south of there, Bluff Road curves, becomes Wicker Road, and intersects with SR 37. A short dead-end segment of Bluff Road continues, as this map shows.

This southbound photo shows where Bluff Road curves. Notice the old edge of the road, which appears as a filled crack and runs south from the lower right side of the photo, past the white line, and across the double-yellow line.

Near the Johnson County Line

This old segment ends where current SR 37 curves into the old alignment’s path. The oncoming cars in the distance once would have come right through where I was standing.

State Road 37

This segment of Bluff Road lacked wide shoulders, except where the bridge crossed. Most bridges I encountered on this trip were little wider than the road, while this one had wide shoulders. Did the road here once have shoulders as wide as the bridge’s, or was the bridge wide in anticipation of expansion? I imagine this segment is typical of the old highway, except perhaps for striping it probably had then.

State Road 37

Most bridges on old SR 37 had closed concrete barriers; this one had arched openings two by two. I’ve not seen another like it in Indiana. According to bridgehunter.com, this bridge was built in 1954. I wonder what kind of bridge was here before.

Bridge railing detail

Just behind the column at the far left of the photo was a worn survey marker. I couldn’t make out all the words but it said “State Highway Commission of Indiana Survey” and mentioned “above sea level.”

Survey marker

Next: a tiny scrap of the original alignment just to the south of here, in northern Johnson County.

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Road Trips

National Road and US 40 bridges over the Wabash River in Terre Haute, Indiana

When I moved to Terre Haute in 1985, the bridge that carried US 40 over the Wabash River into West Terre Haute was in sorry shape. It had served since 1905 and had been rehabilitated in 1973. But by the late 1980s it again needed a great deal of work. This postcard, which carries a 1912 postmark, shows it in sturdier times.

This unusual seven-span bridge had a central plate-girder section that carried vehicular traffic, with Pratt deck truss spans on either side for pedestrians. The pedestrian spans were closed by the time I lived in Terre Haute, presumably because deterioration had made them unsafe.

This bridge replaced a wooden covered bridge that was built in 1865. I’ll bet it was the longest covered bridge in the state while it was in operation.

But back to the unusual deck-girder/deck-truss bridge. Rather than restoring it yet again, the state chose to replace it with not one, but two new bridges, one eastbound and one westbound. The bridges were named for two Terre Haute natives, singer/songwriter and comedic actor Paul Dresser (westbound) and journalist and author Theodore Dreiser (eastbound). Dresser and Dreiser were brothers; Dresser changed his last name. Dresser wrote one of the most popular songs of the 19th century, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” making his bridge over the Wabash River a touching tribute. The Dresser and Dreiser bridges opened in 1992, and the old bridge was demolished.

Terre Haute Tribune-Star photo

Notice the separation of these two bridges. Since the 1970s, US 40 had been realigned a couple of times through downtown Terre Haute, and these two bridges merely met US 40 where it was. Here’s how the two bridges cross the Wabash River.

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

US 40 and the National Road used to go straight through downtown Terre Haute, where it met the 1905 bridge and the 1865 bridge before it. This 1973 topographical map shows the route; it’s the red line across the middle of the image.

By the time I moved to Terre Haute, US 40 had been rerouted downtown. Westbound, when it reached US 41 (Third Street), the original path was no longer through. You turned north on US 41 for one block to Cherry Street, when you turned west again and followed a curve onto the 1905 bridge. Eastbound, after coming off the bridge a curve led to Ohio Street, one block south of the National Road. US 40 followed Ohio Street for several blocks before turning north and then east again onto the National Road. This 1989 topographical map shows the configuration.

From a 2009 visit to Terre Haute, here’s the Vigo County Courthouse, at the corner of the National Road and US 41. By this time US 40 had been rerouted again westbound to turn north at Ninth Street and then west one block later at Cherry Street.

Vigo County Courthouse

The grassy area in the lower right is where the National Road used to go.

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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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