On the bridge

Interurban overpass
Minolta XG-1, MD Rokkor-X 45mm f/2
Fujicolor 200

Electric trains called interurbans could take you to many Indiana cities in the early 20th century. At their peak, 111 traction companies operated more then 3,000 cars along 2,100 track miles. 68 of Indiana’s 92 counties were served by at least one line.

Most Indiana interurbans had shut down by 1950 as the automobile took over. Remarkably, one interurban still serves, carrying passengers between South Bend and Chicago.

Some interurban infrastructure remains, like this bridge. You’ll find it today on the campus of Newfields, formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Below once ran the Terre Haute, Indianapolis & Eastern Traction Company’s line from Indianapolis to Lafayette, which was abandoned in the 1930s. You can see more views of this bridge on bridgehunter.com here.

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Film Photography

single frame: Interurban overpass

A bridge over an abandoned interurban line in Indianapolis.

Road Trips

Old US 40/National Road alignment in Putnam County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana. The first old alignment as you head west from Indianapolis doesn’t come until you reach Putnam County. You’ll find it about a mile and a half west of US 231. If you reach Putnamville, you’ve missed it.

But first, a curiosity. Just before you reach this old alignment, you’ll find this odd strip of concrete by the side of the road. There’s another on the other side of the road. They used to be part of a truck weigh station. Today, posted signs warn drivers t stay off them.

Pull-off strip

The Historic National Road sign in the photo above points the way to this old alignment. It’s a little confusing to find if you’re following the road signs. On this 2006 image from Windows Live Maps, it’s marked as E CR 550 S. If you check Google Maps today, it’s marked as W CR 570 S. But the sign on the corner reads 35 E. And the sign where this alignment returns to US 40 says 25 W.

Many Indiana counties mark their roads based on distance from a centerline. A road marked N 200 W runs east-west 2 miles west of the east-west centerline, and north of the north-south centerline. A road marked E 500 S runs north-south 5 miles south of the north-south centerline, and east of the east-west centerline. This makes it easy for police, fire, and ambulance to find a location in an emergency. Old highway alignments like this one sometimes challenge this system a little.

Here’s where old US 40 branches off from the current highway on its east end.

Old US 40 alignment

Shortly after entering this old alignment, you cross Deer Creek over this bridge. It was built in 1925, before the US highway system. A state highway system existed; this was State Road 3. The bridge was peaceful. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere — even though US 40 was 100 yards to our south, all we heard were the birds and the breeze. While the road was clearly maintained and used, we encountered no traffic while we explored it. We walked the bridge’s length and lingered here for a while.

Old US 40 alignment

On this 2006 road trip I shot film, and had to choose my subjects carefully so I wouldn’t run out of film before I finshed my trip. When I returned in 2009 I photographed this area more extensively with my new digital camera. Here’s a close-up of the bridge railing. This bridge’s deck is only 20 feet wide, very narrow by modern standards.

Old US 40

Before this bridge was built, an iron truss bridge carried National Road traffic across Deer Creek. I told its story here. This 1891 bridge still had lots of life in it, so it was floated along the stream and installed around the corner on S CR 25 E. Here’s a photo of it from 2010. That’s my road-trip friend Dawn getting ready to walk onto the deck.

Cooper Iron Bridge

I had heard that the old bridge crossed Deer Creek lay south of the 1925 bridge. On a December day in 2011 I happened to be driving US 40 back from Terre Haute and decided to follow this old alignment to see whether I could find evidence of the old bridge crossing. It’s always easier to find old road evidence when the leaves are off the trees. Glory be, I found it: the approach from the west, and the old stone abutment. I wrote about this in more detail here.

National Road path

Back to my 2009 photos. This old alignment is covered in asphalt east of the bridge, but west of the bridge the asphalt ends and the original 1920s concrete pavement emerges.

Former NR/US 40 alignment

Notice the expansion joints in this concrete: the one that runs down the center, and the lateral joints every so many feet. Expansion joints were a new idea in Indiana highway construction at about this time. Earlier concrete highways were just a continuous ribbon of concrete, and therefore cracked considerably as the concrete warmed in the summer and froze in the winter.

Former NR/US 40 alignment

And finally, back to my only other 2006 photo of this alignment, as it ends. The turnoff to US 40 was added when the new road was built in about 1941. The old concrete highway was truncated here.

Old US 40 alignment

Old alignments like this one are left behind largely to serve houses and businesses that remain when a new road is built nearby. These old alignments get little maintenance due to getting little traffic. That’s allowed this old concrete to look this fresh since being left behind.

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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Under the bridge at Crown Hill

Deer under the bridge at Crown Hill Cemetery
Canon PowerShot S95

I’ve known my friend Debbie longer than anyone I am still in contact with — we met when we were in the fifth grade, in 1977. We’ve passed out of each others’ lives a few times, sometimes for many, many years. But when we reconnect we fall right back into our friendship.

She came to visit one overcast summer day in 2011 and since we both like cemeteries I took her to Crown Hill, the sprawling burial ground in northwest Indianapolis. The cemetery lies on both sides of 38th St., a major east-west artery.

This bridge carries 38th St. over a road that connects the two sides of Crown Hill. I’ll bet most drivers on 38th St. don’t know the bridge is there.

While Debbie and I were looking at grave markers here, she noticed this family of deer headed toward us under the bridge. I was able to bring my camera up to capture them before they ran away.

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single frame: Deer under the bridge at Crown Hill Cemetery

Deer under the bridge at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis

Covered bridge west of Greenup

Cumberland County Covered Bridge
Canon PowerShot S95

Here’s an oxymoron: “new covered bridge.” Yet here this one is. It was built in 2000 as a replica of an 1832 bridge that once stood here.

You’ll find it just west of Greenup, Illinois on the original alignment of US 40 and the National Road. It spans the Embarras (EM-ba-raw) River. That original covered bridge washed out in 1865. A steel replacement, I believe a Whipple truss, constructed in 1875 washed out in 1912. A girder bridge was completed in 1920 and served until flooding damaged a pier in 1996, rendering the bridge unsafe.

By this time, US 40 had long been rerouted around Greenup to the south. This crossing no longer carried a significant amount of traffic — 225 vehicles a day, at last count. The county got a grant to build this bridge as a tourist attraction.

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Road Trips

single frame: Cumberland County Covered Bridge

A new-ish (2000) covered bridge in Greenup, Illinois.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

Abandoned US 40 bridge
Nikon N8008, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor
Kodak Tri-X 400

I’ve often wondered what leads to a bridge being abandoned. Was it too expensive to tear it out? Won’t it become a safety hazard for curious explorers?

I don’t know for sure when this bridge was built, but my past research points to 1920-25. It carried US 40 over the west fork of White Lick Creek, just west of Plainfield, Indiana. It served until only about 1940, when US 40 was upgraded to four lanes here. Two new bridges were built, one for each direction of traffic. This bridge was left behind.

The current westbound bridge is only a few feet away. It’s only in the winter months, when the trees are bare and the vegetation has died back, that you can see this old bridge from the road as you drive by.

I love it when serendipity happens. I scheduled this post to go live today weeks ago. Later, I started moving my 2006 road trip along this section of the National Road and US 40 to the blog, which I started sharing this week. My post about the day I first encountered this bridge posts next week.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Abandoned US 40 bridge

An abandoned bridge near Plainfield, IN, that used to carry US 40.

Bridge at IMA

Bowstring truss bridge at Newfields
Olympus Stylus
Kodak Gold 200 (expired)

This bridge spans the Indianapolis Central Canal on the grounds of Newfields, also known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

It was built in 1873 to span Sugar Creek near Crawfordsville in Montgomery County. It was a two-span bridge. When the bridge was replaced, one span went elsewhere in Montgomery County and this span went unused. After many years, it was moved here and restored.

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Film Photography, Preservation

single frame: Bowstring truss bridge at Newfields

This bridge from 1873 got a new life at Newfields in Indianapolis.