Road Trips

Goodbye to the bridge that kindled my love of bridges

I fell in love with bridges because of this bridge.

Public domain image by Wikipedia user Nyttend

In 1987 I was a junior in college and I had a girlfriend at Indiana University. My buddy Doug also had a girlfriend at IU — and he had a car. He generously let me ride along every time he drove to Bloomington.

Terre Haute and Bloomington are connected by State Road 46. It rolls and winds gently through the countryside. It’s truly a lovely drive; make it if you’re ever out that way.

I never paid any attention to bridges until Doug and I started making this trip. Just west of tiny Bowling Green, State Road 46 crosses the Eel River. Starting in 1933, it did so over this two-span Parker through truss bridge.

Passing through this bridge became a quiet highlight of the trip. I probably never mentioned it to Doug. I came to enjoy the shadows the sun cast through the overhead trusses as we passed.

I came to enjoy other truss bridges in my travels. Soon I was curious about other kinds of bridges. My inner bridgefan had been awakened.

A regular inspection in 2011 found some failed gusset plates, critical to the bridge’s safety. They were repaired in a one-month closure. Then in 2012 more structural problems were found, leading to a three-month closure for repairs. But the Indiana Department of Transportation could see that this bridge would soon need either a thorough restoration — or replacement.

I’ll cut to the chase: INDOT chose replacement. People who lived near the bridge wanted it restored. They rightly pointed out that this bridge was on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to its association with settlement and economic development in the county. Their arguments only delayed the inevitable. In 2019, this old bridge was removed, and this bridge was built.

Replacement SR 46 bridge near Bowling Green

It’s been years since I had been out this way. Since moving to Indianapolis in the mid 1990s, I had little call to drive the road between Bloomington and Terre Haute! But in August I met one of my sons at a state park near his home for a long hike. Because of COVID-19, we hadn’t seen each other in at least six months. We were long overdue. That state park is on State Road 46.

After our hike, my son needed to be on his way. I had a couple hours to kill, so I plotted a long drive and went on my way. My first destination was this bridge. I knew not seeing the old truss bridge would be challenging. Fortunately, SR 46 is just as charming a drive today as ever. Enjoying the drive took some of the sting out when I came upon the new bridge.

I’ve lamented modern bridges before: they stir no hearts. Their utilitarian design probably makes them less expensive to build and maintain. As a taxpayer, I appreciate that. Also, when this one has outlived its useful life, nobody will protest its demolition and replacement.

I’ll say this much in praise of the new bridge: it’s plenty wide. The old bridge’s deck was just 23.6 feet wide. Encountering an oncoming semi in there always felt like an uncomfortably close encounter! Actually, those semis are a big part of what make old truss bridges like these obsolete. Trucks just weren’t as big and heavy when these bridges were built. Today’s semis simply wore these bridges out faster. The new bridge offers no eye candy, but it is stout enough to take on any vehicle the modern era can throw at it.

Because of the bridge’s historic status, all is not lost. It was dismantled and will be relocated to a park near Nashville, Indiana, where it will serve as 2 single-span pedestrian bridges. When I hear that this project is complete, I’ll make a trip to see — and experience this old bridge once again.

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Road Trips

State Road 340, an original alignment of US 40/National Road in Clay County, Indiana

In my early road trips I focused heavily on the road and its alignments, and hardly at all on the built environment along the road. When I made my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, I took almost no photographs of anything that wasn’t road! It took me a few years to realize I should photograph the cities and towns, as well as the buildings and homes in the rural areas.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

When we reached Brazil, a town in Clay County, we drove right through it, stopping only when we reached State Road 340 at the town’s west edge. This is the most obvious and accessible segment of old US 40 and the National Road in the state. It begins on the west side of Brazil and ends at the Clay/Vigo county line.

Not surprisingly, Indiana 340 is the straight shot off the US 40 roadbed; to stay on 40, you have to bear left. (Since 2006, this intersection was heavily redesigned, and now you must turn right here to follow SR 340.) Here’s the beginning of SR 340, westbound.

SR 340 (former US 40)

Here’s the eastern end of SR 340 facing eastbound. The newer alignment of US 40 was built in 1939 as part of a bigger project to widen the road to four lanes across the state. I don’t know why a new alignment was built here, rather than four-laning the original alignment.

SR 340 (former US 40)

The road is really pleasant to drive — it’s fairly straight, but it rolls a bit, so cruising at speed feels good. Unfortunately, there was no good place to pull off so I could photograph it and show you.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

SR 340 is as close to the original two-lane US 40 experience as you’ll get in Indiana. The surroundings become more rural the farther away you get from Brazil until finally the road meets US 40 again.

As the photo shows, the western terminus of SR 340 is on the same line as the westbound lanes of US 40. SR 340 is also signed as the Historic National Road.

SR 340 (former US 40)

Looking back eastward on SR 340, the Marathon station looks like an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, we both got something to drink here.

SR 340 (former US 40)

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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Bridge over Cagle Mill Lake

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake
Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom
2008

This beautiful open-spandrel concrete-arch bridge is out in the middle of nowhere, in Owen County, Indiana. It carries State Road 42 over Cagles Mill Lake (also known as Cataract Lake), which was created in 1953 as the state’s first flood-control reservoir. Mill Creek was dammed at Cagles Mill, creating the reservoir.

I visited this bridge and made this photograph in 2008 when I toured State Road 42 from end to end. I was still new to my road-trip hobby, and at the time I stopped for every bridge to see if I could clamber down the bank to find what kind of bridge it was, and photograph it.

It was sheer joy to discover what beauty lie beneath the deck, which is the only part motorists get to see as they pass over. In this case, my joy was doubled as a restoration had clearly recently been completed. Everything looked fresh and new.

According to bridgehunter.com, this bridge was built in 1951, two years before the dam was built to create the lake. State Road 42 was moved from a more northerly route to cross this new bridge. I’ve studied Google Maps and think I might see where the new route diverges from the old east of the bridge. But I can’t figure out anything else about the old route, which certainly went right through where the lake is now. If you’d like to try to figure it out yourself, click here to see the bridge’s location on Google Maps.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

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