Road Trips

Remnants of the National Road and US 40 in east central Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

As we drove out of Casey, we soon came upon where Main Street intersected with US 40.

Bing Maps 2021

This unusual intersection allowed US 40 to pass south of the National Road. We turned off Main Street before reaching US 40 to follow the short segment of National Road there, and took this photograph eastbound across US 40 to the National Road on the other side. Notice the National Road sign pointing the way. Westbound.

West of Casey

On the other side of US 40, the National Road was maintained (though covered in tar and gravel or something else not quite asphalt) and drivable for maybe a quarter mile. Westbound.

NR West of Casey

Beyond the first crossroads it petered out and seemed to end. As we drove along, we saw that the old road did continue, but was not reachable. It disappeared beyond 2350E. The utility poles did, too, which we found curious. There was another short segment at 2275E, and then suddenly we saw another segment on the south side of the road. Apparently, US 40 was built over the old road here.

We stopped to take photos of an abandoned motel at 2000E. We were a good bit away from Casey by now, and we wondered how a motel out in the sticks could prosper. Then it hit us: It didn’t.

Motel

At 1975E we found another short concrete alignment. Here it is eastbound.

NR West of Casey

And here it is westbound, heavily overgrown.

NR West of Casey

Finally, at 1950E we found this former truck garage or truck stop. Again, we were puzzled by this business’s placement so far from town.

Former truck stop?

And then the concrete National Road disappeared. We would see it only once more, briefly, on this trip.

Greenup is 10 miles west of Casey and, since there was so little concrete or brick highway to stop and see, we came upon it quickly. Unlike every other town that US 40 bypassed so far, the highway went around town on its south side. Through town, the National Road was signed as both Cumberland St. and Illinois State Road 121.

A short segment of the old road lay to the east of the turnoff. This photo shows how westbound traffic on US 40 used to flow smoothly right down this segment. Today, it’s a local road, so the guy hawking vinyl siding could not have been getting much business if that sign was his only advertising. The utility poles that disappeared a few miles back reappeared here, as this eastbound photo shows.

Into Greenup

Past the stop sign, this segment becomes Cumberland St. and State Road 121. Westbound.

Into Greenup

Greenup has a remarkable downtown, which I wrote about here. Just west of Greenup is a modern covered bridge over the Embarras River. It’s quite a sight, and I wrote about it here. Just before you reach it, you come upon this concrete-arch bridge built in 1920. This photo is eastbound.

Bridge west of Greenup

I love how good Illinois was about placing identifying plates on their highway bridges.

Bridge west of Greenup

Shortly after crossing the little concrete bridge, the covered bridge came into view. A young deer was watching us carefully as she waited for the right moment to cross the road. Westbound.

Deer at the Greenup covered bridge

Beyond the covered bridge, the original alignment of the National Road and US 40 comes to an abrupt end. Westbound.

Old US 40 west of Greenup, IL

Past Greenup, we drove through several miles of country, passing through a few tiny towns. It began a mile or so past the bridge with a short segment of the National Road. We turned left on 1375E to access it. The tar-and-gravel segment swayed a bit along its path. Utility poles, which we had not seen along the Greenup segment, reappeared just beyond that segment’s end and hugged the road here. Westbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

A big, neglected building, perhaps an old school, sat on this segment. Perhaps this segment exists just to provide access to the house; perhaps this was cheaper than building a driveway to it. The house has a cement plaque on it, but the letters were too faint to make out. It looked like someone might live here, believe it or not, and so we didn’t go closer to read the plaque.

Abandoned school on US 40 in Illinois

Beyond 1350E, the segment narrowed, swayed some more, and then disappeared. Westbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

US 40 followed the railroad here. It swings north just east of Jewett, but old US 40 and the National Road stay right with the railroad and cut through this tiny town. We took the turnoff to Cumberland Street westbound as it headed into Jewett. There was no sign of the old road behind us here.

Old US 40 leading into Jewett, IL

There wasn’t much to see in Jewett, and we quickly passed through it. We could see a crack along both sides of the asphalt where a cement widening strip would have been added years before. Where the road turned to rejoin US 40, we were surprised to see a sign pointing the way. The National Road dead-ended 20 feet later, with no sign of the old road beyond the end. Out here, it appears that the old road exists only if there is a good reason.

To 40

The map showed a short segment of the National Road that we could access at 950E. Here’s that segment eastbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

We drove west along this stretch to 900E and could see that the road ended ahead. Westbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

After we returned to US 40 and we drove on, we saw a few very short strips of what was probably the National Road to our north. These segments were just long enough to provide access to homes and farms.

We soon came upon tiny Montrose, which US 40 does not bypass. We passed a biker bar. Men were climbing on their hogs and a horde of young women, dressed in bikinis or slightly less, were scurrying around. It looked like something straight out of a B movie. I would have taken photos, but this is a family Web site. There wasn’t much to see otherwise, so we drove on.

We also didn’t stop in Teutopolis, a few miles away. US 40 did not bypass this town, either. Teutopolis was three or four times the size of Jewett or Montrose. There wasn’t much here, but the town did have a downtown with a really nice church that had a tall steeple. Unfortunately the day was getting away from us. I wanted to reach Vandalia by dinnertime, so we cruised on by.

Next: a great neon sign for a restaurant near Effingham — but no restaurant.

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Road Trips

The National Road and US 40 in Casey, Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

I wrote another post about Casey when I visited it again in 2014; read it here. Since then, Casey has leaned hard into having the World’s Largest of a number of crazy objects, displayed in the open on the city’s streets. Someday I’ll go back and photograph it.

So far, when we left a town on the National Road, the old road soon curved to meet US 40. That was not the case as we left Martinsville; Cumberland Road headed straight for Casey (pronounced KAY-zee). US 40 paralleled it to the north, but far enough away that we couldn’t see it.

Bing Maps 2021

WCBH, a radio station licensed to Casey, has such a powerful stick (that’s transmitter and tower in radio lingo) that it can be heard most of the way to Greencastle, Indiana, which is 70 miles east. When I was a sophomore in college, about 35 miles away in Terre Haute, they changed their format to something they called Classic Hits. They had a terrific playlist. I loved WCBH and listened to it a lot – secretly, because as general manager of my college’s radio station I felt honor bound to listen to our station. The format lasted for five years or so until the station had money troubles. A few years later, I got a call from a former radio boss who got the boss gig at the Casey station, changed its format to top 40, and wanted me to come work for him. I said, “You want me to drive where to work for you just on the weekends?” Now I know where.

I once worked with a woman who grew up in Casey. She was glad to leave the old town behind, she said, calling it dumpy and backward. But as we entered town, you could not have convinced me my old colleague was right. As we passed down Main Street, we could just make out the homes from behind the thick line of trees along the street. With only a couple exceptions, these homes, which looked like they were built in the first half of the 20th century, looked like new. Common frame homes stood next to large, grand homes in deep red brick with white trim, creating contrast. I pulled over and we walked along the street taking pictures. The trees were so lush that they blocked most good photo angles.

Casey, IL

I don’t know why I didn’t walk to the other side of the yellow house to take this photo, because the white house was imposing with its large, stone front porch, and I wish I had more of it in the image.

Casey, IL

One uncharacteristically dumpy former filling station was host to a large garage sale that day. It made me think of the old Paul McCartney song: “‘Buy, buy!’ says the sign in the shop window / ‘Why, why?’ says the junk in the yard.” Bonus points to anyone who can identify the rusty old car.

Casey, IL

Another former filling station seemed to be a museum of former filling station equipment and signs.

Casey, IL

I loved seeing the old Standard sign, an icon of my childhood not adequately replaced by the Amoco and now BP signs that have followed. I’m a little sad that the original windows on the building were replaced with those things that wouldn’t look out of place on a mobile home.

Casey, IL

Downtown Casey was tidy enough, but not as fresh and bright as downtown Marshall. Downtown began at State Route 49. This photo is the the north side of the first block west of State Route 49.

Casey, IL

A building on the southwest corner of this intersection had a few old metal signs attached to it. I liked this Gulf logo as a kid, I think because of the typeface used for “Gulf” has a fat stroke and a low centerline, and it is juxtaposed with letter spacing that brings out the weight of the individual letters. It still works for me; I can look at it for an hour, just studying the letterforms.

Casey, IL

I photographed the Odd Fellows building not just because “IOOF747” was bricked into the building, leaving a lasting reminder of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, but because it’s a crying shame that someone replaced the second-story windows with those out-of-place tiny modern sashes.

Casey, IL

Hunger was beginning to cloud our judgment, so we decided to head the rest of the way through town in hopes of finding a local tavern or lunch counter. No such luck. We’d have to get lunch somewhere down the road. But before we did, we encountered a lot of old pavement. I’ll share it next time.

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Preservation, Road Trips

The beautiful homes on Main Street in Casey, Illinois

If you ever visit Casey, Illinois, be sure to do two things: (1) pronounce it “cay-zee,” and (2) drive in from the east on Main Street. The first is to prevent embarrassing yourself should you talk to any of the locals, for the town’s name is not pronounced as it looks. The second is to enjoy the absolutely gorgeous homes that line the street, which is the old National Road.

Main Street, Casey, IL

These lovely homes and their good condition say that Casey found some prosperity in the early 20th century and either managed to keep it or found it anew more recently. That’s not to say Casey is a wealthy city. In the 2010 census, the median annual income for a household was about $37,000. That income doesn’t support purchasing any of these houses. Clearly, these are homes to some of Casey’s well-to-do families.

Main Street, Casey, IL

I tried to photograph these houses when I last visited, on a hot summer day in 2007. But the trees were fully leafed, blocking many of these houses entirely. On this early-spring day the trees only recently started to produce leaves, so my camera’s lens could see more of the houses.

Main Street, Casey, IL

Even then, I sometimes struggled to frame some of the homes. I frequently got more of a house’s side than its front, as the photos above and below show. By the way, dig the great soffits on the house below.

Main Street, Casey, IL

I made all of these photographs with my Nikon F2 and my 35-70mm f/3.3-4.5 Zoom-Nikkor lens on Fujicolor 200 film. That zoom lens let me take some of these photos from the same side of the street as the house was on, and others from across the street. My go-to lens is my 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor lens, but for these subjects I would have found myself standing in the middle of Main Street to get most of these photos. I’m not entirely sold on how saturated these colors are and kind of wish I’d put something like Portra 400 into the camera for this series.

Main Street, Casey, IL

Not that there was much traffic, had I stepped into the road to take a photo. Main Street may once have been US 40 and the National Road, but US 40 was rebuilt decades ago to bypass the town, and later I-70 was also built nearby. If you’re on Main Street in Casey, it’s because you want to be in Casey.

Main Street, Casey, IL

That’s all right with me. It leaves Casey’s lovely and quiet Main Street to those of us who follow the old paths.

If you like old-house photos, some more are here.

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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