Road Trips

US 50 in Martin County, Indiana

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.

I visited Shoals twice as I explored US 50 this summer – at the end of the second leg  and at the beginning of the third leg. My old maps and road guides plot a very different path for US 50 than it follows today – the blue route on this map. Old US 50 actually continued south on what is now Spout Springs Road until it reached what is now State Road 550. It then followed SR 550 for several miles before returning to US 50’s current path.

(I have since learned that I missed a segment of Old US 50 that lies just a bit east of here. This map excerpt, courtesy Richard Simpson, shows it. You’ll find it labeled Red School Road today.)

Entering Shoals, we first spied Bo-Mac’s ice cream stand.

Shoals, Indiana

It sure was a busy day at Bo-Mac’s!

Shoals, Indiana

When we reached downtown Shoals, we found we had stumbled upon the town’s annual Catfish Festival. Main St. was full of vendors and people having fun.

Catfish Festival

I purposed to follow the old and new alignments of US 50 between Shoals and Loogootee (pronounced lo GOAD ee). I actually started in Loogootee and headed east on current US 50 to Shoals, and then followed old US 50 back to Loogootee.

This wasn’t my first time on this patch of road. I had a great time zooming through this twisty stretch during a 2006 road trip and wanted to drive it again. Here’s a photo I took from there in 2006.

US 150 near Shoals IN

I photographed the road from about the same place this time, too.

Scenes from US 50

For Hoosiers who grew up where the glaciers flattened everything, pretty much the northern half to two-thirds of the state, straight roads cut through level farmland. But roadbuilders of old had to go over or around southern Indana’s hills. It had to be much harder work than their northern Indiana counterparts experienced, but it sure led to fun drives like this stretch of US 50. It also led to some great views, such as this one at a little pulloff called Overlook Park.

View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana

I had more trouble finding Jug Rock, a natural rock formation in Shoals not far from the bridge over the east fork of the White River. It’s all sandstone and is the largest “table rock” formation east of the Mississippi. It stands feet from the road, but downhill a bit and in a thick woods so it’s hard to see. It’s also not well marked. I missed the itty bitty sign and tiny pulloff three times and almost gave up looking for it!

Jug Rock

US 50 was busy this Saturday. As I waited for traffic to pass so I could get back into my car, I snapped this shot that shows the road’s character here.

Scenes from US 50

Then I returned to Shoals to follow US 50’s old alignment, which didn’t cross the White River but instead headed south out of town. US 50 changed quite a bit from Shoals west to about Montgomery from 1927, when it was first signed in Indiana, to about 1932. Here’s an excerpt from a 1927 Indiana State Highway Commission map, which shows US 50’s north-south orientation through Shoals and its path along what is now SR 550 to Loogootee, plus a more southerly alignment leading away from Loogootee.

This excerpt from the 1932 Indiana State Highway Commission map shows US 50 on its modern east-west alignment through Shoals and into Loogootee, and a straighter path out of Loogootee that goes through Montgomery rather than bypassing it.

From the intersection of US 50 and Old US 50 (Main St.) in Shoals, here’s the old Main St. alignment facing north (eastbound).

Shoals, Indiana

From the same spot, here’s the old alignment facing south (westbound). Main Street Ts into Spout Springs Road on the south side of town, and Old US 50 follows that road.

Shoals, Indiana

Shortly the road crosses Beaver Creek via this 1962 bridge.

Bridge on Spout Springs Road

This large rock formation is just south of the bridge.

Rock formation on Spout Springs Road

It is covered in faded graffiti.

Rock formation on Spout Springs Road

This is a typical scene along Spout Springs Road.

Spout Springs Road

Soon the road Ts into State Road 550; US 50 once made the right turn here to head west toward Loogootee.

State Road 550

It’s a little twisty but otherwise is a typical rural Indiana highway.

State Road 550

Soon SR 550 reaches Loogootee. As you can see, current US 50 comes in directly from the east.

When I made this trip, I erroneously thought old US 50 followed what is now US 231 south and then headed west on County Road 100 S. Richard Simpson’s excellent maps of US 50’s original routing shows this path. Courtesy Richard Simpson.

I have to think that since this road ceased to be US 50 in the early 1930s, that this is the width of that highway in those days. Its narrowness boggles my mind.

Old US 50

Next: US 50 in Daviess County.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Lawrence County, Indiana

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.

Lawrence County must be proud of its old-road heritage, because it signs Old US 50 as Old US 50.

Old US 50

The road snakes around quite a bit in Lawrence County.

Old US 50

This is my favorite shot from along this old alignment — a winding, sun-dappled old road.

Old US 50

We soon came upon a bridge with a steel deck. It’s a pretty recent replacement for an older bridge, but I think steel decks are cool.

Old US 50

All too soon, this great old alignment came to an end. Back on modern US 50, we came upon this great motel sign.

Plaza Motel

It stands before this motel, which still operates.

Plaza Motel

Just before we came to Bedford, we followed another old alignment. I marked it on this map in blue. It wasn’t very picturesque, so we didn’t stop.

And then came Bedford. In 1926, US 50 entered from the east on 16th Street. When it reached downtown, it turned south on Washington Avenue.

This is the Lawrence County Courthouse, on the town square. I made this photo from 15th Street, which carries US 50 westbound through downtown today.

Lawrence County Courthouse

This is 16th Street from the southwest corner of the town square. Through downtown, 16th Street carries US 50 eastbound.

Bedford, Indiana

I really liked this garage on 16th St. The sign says it’s been here since 1927, one year after US 50 was established.

Garage

Bedford has done well for itself, thanks in no small measure to being at the crossroads of US 50 and State Road 37. These major highways attract heavy through traffic, so much so that they have been realigned in and around Bedford several times. But once upon a time, back when US 50 was still Original State Road 4 and State Road 37 was Original State Road 22 (and before that the Dixie Highway), these roads converged in downtown Bedford and followed the same path southwest out of town. This image shows how these roads leave town today, with numbers next to various old-road remnants. I believe it shows remnants of at least three former alignments, but I can’t confidently stitch them all together. I do know that the 1926 path of US 50 turned after 1 below to cross the river on the same alignment as US 50 today.

1: Washington St. once carried Original SR 4 and Original SR 22. Perhaps they diverged here; who knows. But today both roads dead end; the right road is private property.

Road split

2: If you study the aerial image closely, you can see a two-track road that is on the same line as the left fork of Washington St. I believe I see two utility poles along it, which is a good sign. I can’t explain the little abandoned pony truss bridge that crosses the creek where it bends. It’s near the bottom of the image below.

3: I think the old road continued through what is now a farm field. I detect a faint line across the field where the road would have gone. Then it would have curved to cross the White River. Remarkably, two piers from the old bridge remain. They’re plainly visible from the air.

You can also see them from the current US 50 bridge. There wasn’t a good place to stop there, but my travel companion noticed a nearby boat ramp road. We waded into inch-deep mud and were eaten alive by mosquitoes to bring you this shot of one pier.

Old bridge pier

4: A narrow gravel road begins just where drivers would have come off the bridge. It is signed something like “Old Highway Road” on the ground, but it’s perpendicular to the former bridge. The gravel road ends at Old US 50 and Old SR 37, which assumes the gravel road’s line at that point. So before this point, the road labeled Old US 50 and Old SR 37 must be a newer old alignment. Old SR 37 is the road on the left.

Old US 50 veers right

My 1916 Automobile Blue Book sends drivers down the road on the left to the next town, Mitchell. Then it has the driver follow a road that later became State Road 60 west to where it merges with modern US 50. In contrast, my 1924 ABB sends drivers down the right fork in the photo above. Modern US 50 soon rejoins its path. This resolves one piece of this puzzle – US 50′s path west from here to where it meets SR 60 about 10 miles away was built sometime between 1916 and 1924. (I have since learned that in 1926, US 50 followed the road on the left. I haven’t been able to find when US 50 was rerouted over the road to the right.)

US 50 passes through the Hoosier National Forest before leaving Lawrence County. There were a few possible old alignments along the way, including one through the tiny town of Huron. We drove it, but it wasn’t interesting enough to photograph.

Next: US 50 in Martin County.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Jackson County, Indiana

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.

The second leg of my trip down Indiana’s US 50 got off to a bumpy start. As I parked in Seymour, where this trip began, I accidentally locked my keys in my car. They lay on the driver’s seat.

Fortunately, I had a friend along, and he noticed a hardware store across the street. “Let’s go buy a wood dowel there,” he said. “Your window is open a smidge – you can stick the dowel through the window and press the unlock button on your keyfob.” 58 cents later I was using the dowel to turn the fob over and press its Unlock button. Success!

I’ve had more daunting adventures on road trips, such as being chased off by the police and backing my car off a road, beaching it. Oh, and wrecking my car. Shudder. So this wasn’t all that bad in comparison. But without my friend’s quick thinking, I would have ended up calling a locksmith and paying way more than 58 cents to get into my car.

My 1924 Automobile Blue Book directed the driver to enter Seymour on Tipton St., which is modern US 50, but turn north on Chestnut St. and then west on 2nd St. (Richard Simpson’s excellent article on US 50’s original route includes this map, which shows how the road entered and exited Seymour.)

We walked a few of the downtown blocks along this route.

US 50 in Seymour, Indiana

The most interesting and surprising find was this sign just off Chestnut St. at St. Louis Ave.

Paris Style

The rest of the original route through Seymour was plenty colorful.

Lacey

There are plenty of great old buildings downtown.

I was taken by the chimney on this house at 2nd and Walnut.

Eye Care for All Ages

My Automobile Blue Book had us follow 2nd St. to the edge of town, where it makes a sharp left and crosses a railroad track, crosses US 50, and follows a couple county roads briefly before rejoining US 50. But backing up a bit, this is US 50’s current alignment through Seymour.

US 50 in Seymour, Indiana

Just outside Seymour, next to a field, we found this historical marker.

Indian Treaty Corner historic marker

The next town is Brownstown.

Brownstown is full of great neon.

US 50 in Brownstown

If you’re surprised that Brownstown Flowers and Gifts has been around since 1890, you may be even more surprised to learn that Zabel’s Furniture has been around since 1879.

US 50 in Brownstown

Brock’s is a real Johnny-come-lately to Brownstown, having come along in 1952.

US 50 in Brownstown

The Knights of Pythias building stands in the next block, right across from the Jackson County Courthouse. The building itself isn’t remarkable, but this weathered neon sign sure caught my attention.

Knights of Pythias building

Remarkably, the Knights of Pythias still meet here. I’m used to seeing fraternal-order buildings used for other things or standing vacant.

Knights of Pythias building

There seems to be an idiom of Indiana county seats – a courthouse stands at the center and brick buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s face it on at least one side. Brownstown is no exception.

My travel companion wondered why Brownstown became the county seat when Seymour is so much bigger; I guessed that Seymour outgrew Brownstown long after the county seat was named. I’ve since learned that Brownstown is Jackson County’s second county seat. The first was Vallonia (the next stop on our trip). The county seat moved to Brownstown shortly after it was founded in 1816. Upstart Seymour didn’t come into being until 1852.

US 50 in Brownstown

Regardless, I was taken with the Jackson County Courthouse. It’s not that it is unusually beautiful, but that the many trees surrounding it made for excellent shooting. I took a lot of photos from the grounds.

Jackson County Courthouse

Does your county’s courthouse have a tank on its grounds?

Tankity tank tank

Where modern US 50 turns left a block past the courthouse, old US 50 continues straight and shortly merges with State Road 135. The original alignment follows SR 135 through Vallonia to SR 235, then SR 235 to Medora, then a series of delightful country roads. Most old road alignments I’ve found have been brief, lasting less than a mile. I’ve encountered a handful that have lasted a few miles, such as the 5-mile old alignment I missed between Aurora and Dillsboro earlier on US 50. But just check out this old alignment of Indiana’s US 50!

That’s almost 21 miles of old-alignmenty goodness! We hit the mother lode! And so off we went. Our first stop along the Mother of All Old Alignments was Vallonia. State Road 135 (old US 50) bypasses it today, but at one time this highway went right through town.

The French settled this land in the late 1700s. The settlers and area Indians didn’t get on too well, and by 1810 hostilities had broken out. Governor William Henry Harrison ordered a fort be built at Vallonia to protect the settlers. He sent two companies of Indiana Rangers here during the War of 1812; several skirmishes happened here during the war. Not that you could tell it today. This is one seriously sleepy town. We saw not a soul as we walked its main street.

People still live in Vallonia, of course. Some of them go to church here, at the Vallonia United Methodist Church. It was founded in 1858; this building was completed in 1906.

Vallonia United Methodist Church

We thought the church might be the only non-residential building in Vallonia until we rounded the curve and found its faded business district. This is the only building that looked like it might still contain a business.

Vallonia, Indiana

Was this once the Blue Bird Cafe?

Cafe Beer

There’s more to downtown Vallonia, of course.

Vallonia, Indiana

Plenty of dilapidated buildings line old US 50. This one may have been an automobile repair garage, by the looks of the triple doors on the right.

Vallonia, Indiana

This building is being overrun by ivy.

Vallonia, Indiana

The jewel of Vallonia is the Joe Jackson Hotel, built in 1914. I haven’t been able to find out anything about Joe Jackson, but his hotel was apparently the finest in Jackson County (which is named for President Andrew Jackson, not old Joe).

Joe Jackson Hotel

Another sign of life is Fort Vallonia. It’s not the original fort; that’s long gone. This one was built in 1969. Ever since, the fort has hosted Fort Vallonia Days, a festival every October that attracts 30,000 people.

Fort Vallonia

I guess maybe Vallonia isn’t so sleepy after all!

Fort Vallonia Garrison House

Just south of Vallonia, SR 235 begins at a T intersection with SR 135. My old maps and road guides said to follow SR 235, and so we did, looking for Medora. Before we got there, we came upon the Medora Covered Bridge on an old alignment of the road. Indiana is well known for its covered bridges – 98 still stand across the state. The largest and most famous concentration of them is in Parke County. You can spend many enjoyable hours driving around Indiana seeing them all; you can still drive across a few of them.

But seldom do you get to see one, um, undressed.

Medora Covered Bridge

That’s because this bridge is undergoing restoration. It was built in 1875 by J. J. Daniels, one of the leading covered bridge builders in the state. With three spans, at 431 feet, 10 inches, it is the longest covered bridge in the United States.

Medora Covered Bridge

Those curved beams in the bridge identify it as a Burr arch truss bridge. Engineers disagree about whether the arch bears the load and the Howe truss (the vertical and angled beams) provide stability or vice-versa. But one thing’s for sure – combining the arch with the Howe truss gives a stronger bridge than either alone.

Medora Covered Bridge

Can you imagine how dark this bridge must be when its roof is complete and the sides are attached? Given that and my general nervousness about driving on wooden bridges, I’m very happy that this bridge was retired from service in 1972. (This photo shows the bridge while it was still in service.) I’ll drive over the modern UCEB (ugly concrete eyesore bridge) next to it, thank you. But I’m eager to return after the restoration is complete so I can walk it end to end. (I did. Check it out here.)

Next we came upon tiny Medora.

This is most of its downtown.

Medora, Indiana

I think it says a lot about such a little town when its watering hole calls itself legendary!

Medora, Indiana

I like how, except for the blue paint, this building seems to be in original condition.

Medora, Indiana

SR 235 continues straight through Medora, but to follow Old US 50, you have to turn left onto CR 350 S. This little liquor store is the last business on the way out of town.

Medora, Indiana

And then we were out in the country. Look at how narrow this road is. It hasn’t been US 50 in a long, long time.

Old US 50

The old road had some rough spots.

Old US 50

Next: US 50 in Lawrence County.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Jennings County, Indiana

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.

After missing the abandoned bridge in Ripley County, I had to take consolation in the beauty of the road and its surroundings just over the line in Jennings County.

US 50 in Ripley County

I aimed to follow US 50’s original alignments as much as possible. My old Automobile Blue Books claim, as best as I can tell, that the route highlighted in blue below was Old State Road 4’s path between the small towns of Nebraska and Butlerville. Since Old 4 was resigned as US 50 when the US route system came into being, this was probably the path US 50 first followed here. Can you imagine putting up with all those 90-degree turns on a major highway today?

(I guessed wrong. From Richard Simpson’s excellent article about US 50’s 1926 route, here’s his map of the original alignment.)

When I arrived in Butlerville along this path, I came across two abandoned school buildings right next to each other. This is the Butlerville (Elementary, I presume) School, built in 1922. The bushes out front aren’t all that overgrown and the grass is cut, suggesting that someone is minimally maintaining the property.

Butlerville School

And this is the Butlerville High School, built in 1904. (Readers have let me know that this building’s roof has caved in, and the building’s days are numbered.)

Butlerville High School

I assume that the school consolidation that ran so rampant in Indiana after about 1950 claimed these two schools. It’s sad that they sit derelict, but they’re not alone; many once-proud schools across Indiana have been left to molder.

My ABBs described a route to the next town, North Vernon, that I couldn’t figure out. I’m pretty sure it involves a segment of road that is no longer labeled on Google Maps but shows up in a farmer’s field just the same, and a bridge that not only no longer exists, but there’s no trace of one ever having existed. Whee. (Richard Simpson successfully found the original 1926 route. Here’s his map of it.)

I gave up and just followed current US 50 to North Vernon.

Indiana, like most states, began improving its roads in the early part of the 20th century and has never stopped. You’d think that every highway in the state would have been improved to perfection by now! But the thirst for wider, straighter, and faster roads seems never to be slaked. In a few cases, towns on major highways that were bypassed with expressways 50 years ago are set to be rebypassed with freeways.

And so it’s refreshing to this old roadgeek when a US highway still passes through a town, especially a town with a well-preserved old downtown. Such is the case with US 50 when it reaches North Vernon, a small city in southeastern Indiana. This eastbound photo is of an intersection where US 50 makes a right turn on its way out of town.

US 50 in North Vernon

As you make that corner from the other direction, you pass by a brick street on your right, on which stands this theater.

Park Theater

I was drawn to this attractive building but puzzled over the name atop its facade. It didn’t take much Internet sleuthing to find out about the Improved Order of Red Men, the nation’s oldest fraternal organization.

US 50 in North Vernon

North Vernon offers a sturdy downtown with many viable businesses. A lot of small Indiana cities wish they could be North Vernon.

US 50 in North Vernon

This library, so typical of those I’ve seen all over the state, stands a couple blocks away.

North Vernon library

I love it when I come into a town or small city and find it to be quite alive and well as I did with North Vernon on this rainy afternoon. People were coming and going from the shops along US 50 and enough cars passed by that I had to wait several minutes at this corner before I could take this unobstructed eastbound photograph.

US 50 in North Vernon

I enjoyed my brief walk through this classic Indiana downtown, but I wondered as I photographed it how North Vernon had managed to go unbypassed. I didn’t know until I came home and started researching for this post that the Indiana Department of Transportation is studying several routes that will finally take US 50 around North Vernon. One day this street will be Old US 50. (That bypass is now complete. It bypasses North Vernon to the north.)

You might think I’d lament this bypassing, but I accept it as the way of the world. I’m just glad I visited with my camera while the highway still passes through town. I visit lots of towns through which highways once passed and I wonder what they were like when they got all of the highway’s traffic. It’s satisfying to have experienced North Vernon while US 50 still passed through it. I’m sure I’ll visit again one day after the bypass is built and remember when I took this photo of the US 50 shield while it still stood along the road.

US 50 in North Vernon

Old and new US 50 diverge about four miles west of North Vernon. (At least it did in 2009, when I made this trip. The completed US 50 bypass significantly changed the road configuration here.)

The old road makes a beeline for tiny Hayden while current 50 swings south a bit along a railroad track and bypasses the tiny town. On Google Maps, the shadow over the tracks tells of a bridge, but neither my 1916 nor 1924 Automobile Blue Books mention it. I figured that this had been an at-grade crossing during those years and that the bridge came later. But when I got there, I was shocked to find a kind of bridge generally not built later.

Wooden bridge

That’s right – a wooden bridge. Now, I’ve seen plenty of wooden covered bridges in my travels, but never an uncovered wooden bridge.

Sometimes I think that nobody likes to maintain old bridges. My old road guides frequently call out iron, concrete, and wooden bridges along routes because they were good landmarks, but I seldom expect to find them still standing. Even though a well-designed and -maintained bridge can stand strong for well over a hundred years, it’s often easier to get money to replace a worn-out bridge than to keep it up in the first place. So it’s always a real pleasure to find an old bridge still serving.

Wooden bridge

I didn’t immediately drive over this bridge. though. You see, wooden bridges make me nervous! I have a hard time believing that timbers are going to hold up my car. Now, I went to engineering school. I generally understand how all of a bridge’s structural elements work together to bear its loads. I know that a bridge is designed with a certain maximum load in mind. I also know that my car weighs about 2,500 pounds, a mere 25% of the bridge’s posted five-ton load rating. But something irrational inside me doesn’t want to buy all of that. A wooden bridge seems inherently fragile to me. I could put some serious hurt on this structure with a chain saw; try it on a steel or concrete bridge and you’ll need a new saw! My usual nervousness was not helped when I noticed the missing plank. Actually, at that moment I said out loud, “Heck no, there’s no way I’m driving over that thing.” So I parked and headed out to photograph this old girl, intending to follow modern US 50 to the next town when I was done.

Wooden bridge

I was further discouraged to find wooden piers supporting the deck. But as I walked around the structure snapping photographs, several heavy farm trucks drove over it. They slowed down only slightly – clearly, the drivers did not share my fear. The bridge popped and rumbled every time, making me think of a giant popping extra jumbo popcorn. Despite the racket, the bridge stood firm, with neither a shimmy nor a shake. My confidence was buoyed. So when my photographic desires had been satisfied, I climbed back into my car and drove over the bridge. I proceeded slowly, my stomach clenching all the way. But I made it over.

Wooden bridge

(Sadly, as part of the US 50 bypass project, this bridge was removed.)

And then the old road stretched out before me.

The old road

And then I came upon tiny Hayden.

Almost immediately, I came upon this restored gas station. If you didn’t know that the country road leading in and out of Hayden was once the highway, you might be surprised to find this gas station in a little country town in the sticks.

Gas station in Hayden

Whoever restored this station placed these Sinclair pumps here, but who knows what brand of gas it originally sold.

Sinclair

From here, the original US 50 followed County Road 700 West south out of town, crossed the tracks, and turned west onto current US 50.

Next: US 50 in Jackson County.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Ripley County, Indiana

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.

As US 50 passes into Ripley County, it becomes wooded and a little twisty.

US 50 in Ripley County

It’s a fun drive. This is also the original 1926 alignment of the road.

US 50 in Ripley County

Soon the road enters Versailles, which is pronounced verSALES. (I did not know when I made this trip that the original alignment of US 50 here came in from the east on the current alignment, but then turned north on the road just east of Laughery Creek, and then took the first left. There the Busching Covered Bridge, which still stands, carried US 50 over the creek. This road is County Road 25 South today. US 50 continued on this road to Perry Street in Versailles, and then west on Perry Street.)

This is where US 50 intersects with US 421, which is the “auto trails” alignment of the Michigan Road. You’d think that this would be the heart of a bustling downtown, but Versailles built its downtown just north of here. It made sense at the time, as the major north-south road wasn’t US 421 or the Michigan Road, but a plank road that followed Adams St. north out of town. That route was bisected when the lake north of town was created by the Army Corps of Engineers.

US 50 in Versailles

US 421 and US 50 briefly run concurrently in Versailles.

US 50 in Versailles

West of Versailles, US 50 intersects the Michigan Road’s original alignment. At a quick glance, you’d never guess you were crossing a historically significant road.

US 50 at the Michigan Road

If you look to your left, though, you might notice this historical marker. It could use a little TLC.

US 50 at the Michigan Road

Update: On a visit to this spot in early 2022, I found that the marker had at last gotten that TLC!

Michigan Road marker at US 50

Since my 2008 Michigan Road trip, Ripley County erected this marker on this corner, as well.

US 50 at the Michigan Road

Shortly the road comes upon tiny Holton. Or, should I say, the road bypasses tiny Holton. (I did not know when I made this trip how the original US 50 alignment rejoined the current alignment. I do now; it’s outlined in red on the map excerpt below.)

Imagery ©2022 CNES / Airbus, IndianaMap Framework Data, Landsat / Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA/FPAC/GEO. Map data ©2022 Google.

Here’s where the two roads diverge.

Holton

The 1916 Automobile Blue Book talks about crossing a bridge at 61.6 miles. When I trace the route and count the miles, there’s a bridge on modern US 50 at that point. But Google Maps shows something else just south of the current bridge – an older, abandoned bridge! I was pressed for time and had not done full research before I made my recent trip along this portion of US 50. I didn’t know about this bridge and so missed the opportunity to photograph it! Fortunately, a bridgefan passed through here before me, photographed the bridge, and shared his findings at bridgehunter.com. Here’s the bridge from the air. See it there, just below the current bridge?

Next: US 50 in Jennings County.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Dearborn County, Indiana

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.

I usually photograph state lines on my road trips. As I began to explore US 50 across Indiana I was hoping to capture a Welcome to Indiana sign as the road crossed in from Ohio. What I found was far better than any old sign.

1838 Indiana-Ohio boundary marker

This sandstone monument is right on the state line. Back in 1837 there was some doubt as to where the line actually lay near the Ohio River, so Indiana and Ohio jointly ordered a new survey. The line freshly reestablished, the states had this monument created and placed on the line along this road that one day would become US 50, but was probably known as the Louisville Pike then.

Even though this column is round, words are engraved on all four “sides.” The state names are engraved to face the appropriate directions.

1838 Indiana-Ohio boundary marker
1838 Indiana-Ohio boundary marker

The north side tells that the column was “Erected Nov. 27th, 1838.” The south side tells the column’s story: “State Line as resurveyed under a joint resolution passed by Indiana on the 27th January and by Ohio on the 10th March 1837.”

1838 Indiana-Ohio boundary marker
1838 Indiana-Ohio boundary marker

It was challenging to find any information about this column on the Internet. The lone site I found with any info about it has since gone down. But it said that that in 2001, the monument was found uprooted, which is pretty remarkable when you consider that it is nine feet tall and weighs 5,000 pounds.

Here, then, is how US 50 enters Indiana from Ohio.

US 50 WB at Ohio-Indiana line

The stretch of road just inside Indiana is a wealth of great old signs. First, I came across this neon beauty in front of a liquor store.

Whiskey Cold Beer To Go

And then this motel, which was for sale.

Wishing Well Motel

And then I came upon Beers Auto Sales, and I had hit the mother lode.

Beers Auto Sales

Apparently, the owner likes signs.

GE Appliances
Hudson
Sign Collage
Beers Auto Sales

The first town I entered was Lawrenceburg, but finding no parking I just kept going. Aurora was next. US 50 once entered town on Georgia Street, continued onto Main Street, and turned right onto 4th Street. I’m pretty sure it bore left at the fork to continue on Conwell Street.

An old friend of mine, a New Jersey girl, has family in Aurora, Indiana. We became friends while she was a student at Indiana University, and she used to spend some of her breaks in Aurora. Her time there always centered and relaxed her, or at least that’s how it always seemed to me. She described it as a charming small town, the kind where everybody knows everybody else. She was often recognized on the street simply because of her family resemblance.

Aurora, Indiana

Aurora was settled in 1796, making it one of Indiana’s oldest towns. It grew rapidly as a busy port town and, later, a railroad stop. Cincinnati and Louisville became the major commerce hubs, however. Aurora’s slowed growth had a happy side effect in that so many of its downtown buildings were not torn down and replaced in the name of progress. And so my friend was right; Aurora is charming and relaxing. But she never told me about one major detail – the bridge.

George Street Bridge

You know I love old bridges! I write about them nearly every time I come upon one. This Whipple truss iron bridge was built in 1887. That was long before anybody conceived of a network of numbered highways crisscrossing the nation, but it was a good enough bridge on an important enough road that US 50 (and its predecessor, original State Road 4) were routed onto it. US 50 was realigned around Aurora in 1950, but this bridge carried State Road 56 until 1972. It’s still a busy bridge – I wanted to stand on its deck to take some photographs, but in twenty minutes of waiting there was never a time when cars weren’t crossing it.

So I gave up and walked along Aurora’s Main Street.

Main St., Aurora, Indiana

I also checked out Aurora’s business district, which appeared to be concentrated on 2nd Street. I am always tickled by buildings that prominently feature a person’s name, such as the John Neff building. Neff’s Shoe Store operates on the ground floor.

JOHN NEFF.

Downtowns in so many Indiana towns of Aurora’s size are either dead or given over to antique stores. But Aurora’s downtown is still vital. Joining Neff’s Shoes on 2nd Street are a florist, an embroiderer, a seller of educational materials, a pizzeria, a furniture store, and a Mexican restaurant (at which I ate lunch). The pizzeria is in the building at left below, and the educational materials store is in the former Aurora State Bank building at right.

Aurora, Indiana

Along Main St. I found a steakhouse and this pub.

Aurora, Indiana

And there was a bicycle shop and this former service station. It clearly hasn’t been restored; it looks like the building is used as a repair shop today. If I had to guess, I’d say this is a former Gulf station. Check out this photo of another Gulf station from the same period – the details are the same.

Old service station

I also found the First Presbyterian Church building on Main St. “Found” is actually a bit strong of a word, as it was impossible to miss as I crossed the bridge into town. It was built in two stages, the first completed in 1850 and the second in 1855.

First Presbyterian Church

The church provided one great photo opportunity after another.

First Presbyterian Church

There were so many details to capture.

First Presbyterian Church

The church is at 4th and Main. Old State Road 4 may or may not have turned right here; while US 50 passed through town, it turned right at 3rd St. Yet I continued straight up the hill, for I caught a glimpse of this grand old dame at its crown.

Hillforest

This is Hillforest, built by one of Aurora’s prominent citizens in 1855. It is a museum today; you can tour it six afternoons a week, nine months of the year. In front of Hillforest remain some of the town’s original stone gutters.

Aurora, Indiana

As I walked back to my car, one of Aurora’s fine, friendly citizens came out to greet me. The nick out of his left ear suggests to me that he’s a street cat that a local vet rendered incapable of making copies.

Aurora, Indiana

Before I make any road trip, I do a fair amount of preparation using my old maps and road guides. I trace their routes against Google Maps and figure out almost turn by turn the route I will take. I was pressed for time and had not done full research before I made this trip, but I did know of at least one old US 50 alignment leading out of Aurora.

What passed for highways in the 20th century’s first few decades would surprise you. They were usually cobbled together from existing local and farm roads, so they were often unpaved and routinely followed meandering paths or were full of 90-degree turns around property boundaries. As more people bought cars, they wanted their highways paved and straightened, and states obliged. Indiana in particular seems to have started improving its highways in the early 1920s and built a full head of new-highway steam during the 1930s. Very often, these improvements left the highways’ old alignments behind.

Sometimes Google Maps reveals road segments that curve around the modern road. Here, as four-lane US 50 leaves Aurora, it is bracketed by Indiana Ave. and Trester Hill Rd. I’ve drawn a green line showing how the former flows right into the latter. I’ll lay money on this being US 50’s previous routing. I wonder if Gnawbone Road was an even earlier part of this old road.

This photo looks across US 50 to show where Conwell St. curves to become Indiana Ave.

Aurora, Indiana

In my rush I also missed a great possible old alignment, an even older path than Indiana Ave. and Trester Hill Rd.  My 1924 Automobile Blue Book, a thick tome of turn-by-turn directions across the Midwest, sends the driver down US 50’s current corridor, but my 1916 ABB very clearly sends the driver down Lower Dillsboro Rd., a winding drive through the country.

Because the US route system began in 1926, and my 1924 ABB specifies US 50’s current corridor, Lower Dillsboro Rd. was never US 50. But US 50 was originally signed along old State Road 4, which came into being in 1917 when Indiana formed its first numbered highway system. I’d need a 1917 (or maybe 1918) ABB to know for sure whether old State Road 4 had an older alignment that ran along Lower Dillsboro Rd., but my gut says it did. Remember how I said that the first numbered highways ran along existing roads? Dillsboro is the next town west of Aurora; it sure makes sense that Indiana signed its highway along the existing road to Dillsboro!

Even the oldest roads were sometimes improved. At 4.8 miles west of downtown Aurora, the 1916 ABB cautions the driver: “Caution for sharp right and left turns across small bridge.” I traced the route to 4.8 miles and found this:

Do you see the old bridge there just above the center of the image? It is now part of somebody’s driveway. Lower Dillsboro Rd. now sweeps smoothly by. Can you see the traces of the original route?

I followed current US 50 towards Dillsboro. As happens so often, US 50 once passed through this town, but now bypasses it.

Tip: Whenever you see a road curve off like this, it may be an old alignment.

Dillsboro

As also happens so often, when a highway bypasses a town, the town declines. Dillsboro’s history stretches back to 1830.

Dillsboro

US 50 turned right here, in the middle of town.

Dillsboro

I was pleased to find this old service station still in business. Those pumps have got to date to the 1970s. They’re marked “full service,” a real throwback.

Dillsboro

Old US 50 curves back to meet US 50 west of town, but leaves this long stub of the old highway behind.

Dillsboro

Just before the road took me out of Dearborn County, I spied this crumbling abandoned segment alongside the current highway. It appears to be used mostly to park cars.

Abandoned US 50

Next: US 50 in Ripley County, Indiana.

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