On the far east side of Plainfield, Indiana, within sight of the west border of Indianapolis, used to be an old alignment of the National Road and US 40. This is what it looked like in 2006, when I first visited. Eastbound:
Notice the orange Road Construction Ahead sign in the photo above. Ahead, the road was closed as the Ronald Reagan Parkway was being constructed. I didn’t know that the plan was to close this alignment permanently; it would not provide access to the new Parkway when that road was completed.
I further didn’t know that the plan was to remove this road entirely. Here’s the scene from my Ride Across Indiana this year. Eastbound:
I wonder why the city went to the expense of removing the road. They could have simply closed it at much lesser expense.
Pro roadgeek tip: whenever you see a line of utility poles like this, you may be looking at a place where a road used to be.
As I bicycled through Downtown Indianapolis on my way across Indiana on the National Road, I had a challenge to solve: how to get across the White River. The White River State Park and the Indianapolis Zoo were built over the original path of the National Road and US 40 there. I shared the history of this alignment, and the many bridges that used to cross the river here, in this post.
In the map excerpt below, the National Road (Washington Street) enters and exits just above the center of the image, but curves south to skirt the park and the zoo. The bridge that once carried traffic on the original alignment still stands and is visible in the image.
If you read the post about the history of the road here, you know that the original path of the National Road here is now the walking path that passes by the NCAA Hall of Champions marked on the map excerpt above. Here’s the beginning of that path, which begins at the Eiteljorg Museum. Here, the path is part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.
It also passes by the Indiana State Museum. I remember when this museum was in the old City Hall on the other side of Downtown. That was 25 years ago, and the new museum was built shortly afterward. I still think of this building as new, even though it’s not.
The path crosses a road that leads to parking. Those are the signature Cultural Trail crosswalk markings in the road. This is about where the path becomes the White River Trail.
The White River Trail shortly crosses the Central Canal over a narrow bridge. That’s the NCAA Hall of Champions on the right. On the left, way in the distance, is the Washington Street bridge that used to carry US 40. It’s marked by the rows of lamps.
Here’s where the original National Road alignment ends at the White River. Once upon a time, there was a big covered bridge right here, on the left, at about a right angle to the riverbank.
From that spot I turned to the left to about the angle of the former covered bridge here. This was the view. My understanding is that in the covered bridge’s era, the White River was narrower than it is now, and the west bank would have been closer in.
From here, I backtracked and rode over to the Washington Street bridge, which is now open only to pedestrians.
Here’s the view from the deck, as I bicycled westward.
At the end of the bridge I faced a choice: follow the White River Trail around the zoo’s north edge, or backtrack all the way to where I started and follow current Washington Street back over the river. I chose the former because it was shorter and avoided a lot of traffic.
Shortly the trail opened up and followed the White River.
Soon the trail met the White River Parkway, a local road. I followed it south to where it intersects with Washington Street, which resumed its original path following the old National Road.
Until this point, the National Road was pretty neatly an east-west road across Indiana. From here on out, it runs west southwest all the way to Illinois.
US 40 on the east side of Indianapolis is one long string of strip malls. Traffic can be thick, and shoulders are narrow to non-existent. Also, I would encounter two major highway ramp intersections, one with Interstate 465 and another with Shadeland Avenue, a major local road. I had little desire to deal with any of it as I bicycled through on my old Schwinn.
Fortunately, Google Maps helpfully pointed out that I could detour all of it on a rail-trail created on the former Pennsylvania Railroad bed. The trail would even take me over those two highways! Sold! I picked up the trail behind a Mejier big-box store and rode it all the way to Irvington.
It started out as a pleasant, quiet ride behind the strip malls.
This is part of the National Road Heritage Trail, which, when it’s finished, will parallel the National Road across Indiana. About 68 miles are open of the 160 planned.
It’s easy to forget that you’re a quarter mile away from US 40 when you’re on the trail.
Riding across Indianapolis worried me a little. Not only is Washington Street (former US 40) not friendly to bicycles, the road leads through some sketchy neighborhoods. I was worried about encountering someone unfriendly. I thought surely the trail would be a respite from that worry. But there was an incident.
It happened about 100 yards down the trail from here. A fellow riding a recumbent bike was headed my way from the opposite direction, and he started bellowing at me, “Get out of the way! There’s a car behind you on the trail!”
I stopped and turned around, and sure enough a small white sedan was headed my way. I pulled off the trail to let them by, puzzled over why they decided driving on the trail was a good idea.
But the recumbent rider wanted to give the driver a piece of his mind. “Turn that car around! Get off the trail!” he bellowed, over and over, at top volume.
The white sedan screeched to a halt and a young man and woman got out, chests out, ready for a fight. If recumbent rider was going to yell at them, they were going to yell right back! “How in the hell are we supposed to turn around? There’s no room! GPS brought us down here! We’re from out of town!” They rightly noted that the only way out was through. Everyone started swearing.
The couple frankly looked like the kind of people who were always ready for a fight. Recumbent rider started out as sanctimonious but turned into a straight up jackass. It truly felt like someone could throw a punch, or worse, at any minute.
Notice the two-track road to the left of the trail in the photo above? It’s someone’s long driveway. I rode my bike up the little hill to the two-track, around the altercation, and then back down onto the trail.
When I got to the next crossroads, the car sped up to me on the two-track. The fellow rolled down his window and offered a quick, weak apology, but then got animated again and said, “The dude called my wife a fat bitch and pulled a knife on us!”
My BS detector went off, and it just seemed best to be as far away from this couple as I could get. I turned away and rode off. Fortunately, I never saw any more of them.
Shortly I crossed over I-465, then Shadeland. Here’s the northbound view from the trail overpass.
I got off the trail at Arlington Avenue and rode back up to Washington Street in the heart of the historic Irvington neighborhood. I continued my journey west on old US 40.
I probably should have photographed more of the abandoned motels I encountered when I bicycled across Indiana on US 40. I’m sure they will all be demolished one day. It would be good to have a record of them.
I did photograph one, just east of Dunreith in Henry County. See it on Google Maps here. It’s a sprawling property. To fit the whole thing in one photograph, I had to shoot it from a ways back.
I zoomed in on the west end of this motel for a closer look. Some abandoned motels are too far gone to ever be used again, but this motel looks pretty solid. Someone’s clearly doing the minimal maintenance necessary to keep this property together.
I wish I could have made more images, including some peering through room windows. But I have a strict no-trespassing policy when I’m on a road trip.
Here’s a post card of this motel in its heyday. It was called the Pine Manor. Thanks to Donna Tauber for sharing it with me.
I rode my old Schwinn 3-speed across Indiana for a number of reasons: to prove to myself that I could do it; to enjoy one of my favorite old roads, the National Road, at ten miles per hour; and to be able to photograph things along it that were more difficult when I’ve traveled it by car.
I’ve documented the old National Road and US 40 alignment that stretches from Dunreith to Knightstown in eastern Indiana before, here. But I made few photographs of the road itself, in large part because I drove it.
At bicycle speed, I could keep my little point-and-shoot camera in my hand and make photographs all along the way.
This is the character of US 40 westbound from the center of tiny Dunreith, right by where the original alignment begins.
The old alignment fades in about 100 feet south of US 40. You can reach the old alignment by car using some Dunreith streets. That route is well marked with National Road signs and is easy to follow. Because I was on my bike, I just rode through the grass to this spot.
The character of the old road could hardly be more different from modern US 40.
Shortly the road crosses State Road 3.
US 40 was widened in place to four lanes across most of Indiana in the 1930s and 1940s, a story I told here. Six former alignments of the original road were left behind.
Four of them are in Putnam County, all short. Three of them still wear concrete pavement poured in the 1920s when Indiana first upgraded this old road. These Putnam County alignments were bypassed to straighten what had been a quite curvy road.
Another former alignment is in Clay County, and it remains a state highway. State Road 340 stretches from the west end of Brazil to the Vigo County line. I assume that it was not possible for some reason to widen the road here, and so a brand new four-lane road was built to its south.
I’m only guessing at why this Dunreith-to-Knightstown alignment was left behind, but I’d say it’s because of the Pennsylvania Railroad intersection in Raysville, just east of Knightstown. Widening this road to four lanes would have involved rebuilding the PRR overpass. I’ll bet the solution was to build a new road that skirted the rail line.
It’s fortunate for us fans of old roads that alignments like this sometimes get left behind. They’re a historic record that shows the road’s original character. The only thing that would make this more authentic would be if old pavement were present — this was likely improved to be a concrete road in the 1920s. But I’m sure that pavement suffered the ravages of time and traffic. The people who live along this road probably very much appreciate this fresh, smooth asphalt.
This road has a rural character. You mostly pass farm fields and associated buildings until you reach Raysville.
This is the east edge of Raysville. A number of houses are here, all set back off the National Road.
This is the old PRR bridge on the west edge of Raysville. The rail line was abandoned some time ago, and this portion of it has been converted into a rail trail. I didn’t know about the trail when I was here, or I might have ridden some of it, too, to be able to look down on the National Road from this bridge.
This looks to be a very solidly built bridge.
Shortly past the bridge, this road curves to meet current US 40. I made this photo from US 40 looking at Old National Road eastbound. Originally, Old National Road didn’t curve here; it went straight over a bridge that’s no longer present, right into Knightstown.
It began in the 1950s as the Kaiden Motel, in the small US 40 community of Philadelphia, four miles west of downtown Greenfield. It wasn’t very different from any number of other motels on US 40, or anywhere, really: a spray of small brick buildings, two rooms each, arranged in a semi-circle around a central restaurant and gas station.
I-70 was built to parallel US 40 across Indiana in the 1960s and 1970s, and as it opened, traffic on US 40 dried up. It spelled death to most businesses that depended on US 40’s heavy traffic, including the motels. As you drive US 40 across the state today, you’ll find many hotels simply abandoned and decayed. A few have continued as budget motels, often with weekly rates.
The Kaiden didn’t survive, and was left to slowly rot. But in 2012, a couple bought the property and restored it for use as small apartments.
Here’s that onetime restaurant and gas station. The gas pumps stood between the pillars, under the awning.
It’s a gorgeous restoration. Just look at all the details the owners paid attention to.
There are six of these two-unit cottages, plus a small house, in this semi-circle. Behind these units are a few more units; you can see part of one of them in this photo. Google Maps satellite view shows three more back there.
I believe that at one time, the center part of these cottages was covered parking for cars. Notice how the brick is slightly different in the center section, and how two of the windows have siding under them rather than brick. Those windows were probably where the entry doors were, originally. It wasn’t uncommon for motels of this style to enclose covered parking areas to enlarge the rooms.
Completing the panorama, here is the east end of the court. Notice how the rightmost building appears to be three units rather than two; the covered parking area was converted into a unit of its own, rather than used to enlarge the other two units.
As I bicycled into Philadelphia on my Ride Across Indiana, I braked hard when I came upon the Village Apartments and, as you can see, photographed it extensively from US 40’s shoulder. This is a stunning restoration. I’m curious to see what the apartments look like inside!