A couple weeks ago I drove to Bloomington to see my son, who lives there. When I headed home, I followed the Dixie Highway, old State Road 37, as far as it would take me. Since SR 37 had been upgraded to become I-69, which removed all of the turnoffs to the old alignments, I wasn’t sure what I would find. I was pleased that the old road took me almost to Martinsville. Here’s its route, which now includes some new-terrain road.
For about 14 miles, Old 37 and the Dixie follow a winding path nowhere near the new Interstate. But for the next four miles or so, until it ends, the old road parallels I-69 and acts as its frontage road.
Within those first 14 miles, the old road is just as it always was: lightly traveled and lush. I’ve written about this segment before, here and here.
I had this road entirely to myself this Friday afternoon. On past trips I’ve encountered bicyclists out here; not this time.
This long segment used to exit onto State Road 37, but Interstates are limited access by their nature. Here’s how it exited onto SR 37 northbound when I first visited it in 2007.
Today, the old road curves the other way into a brand new frontage road.
Shortly the frontage road meets the next old alignment of Old SR 37 and the Dixie Highway. When I last wrote about it, here, I said that an old bridge had been left in place after a new bridge was built alongside it. I got to see the old bridge. It was saved because its qualities put it on the state’s Select list of bridges, which prevents it from being demolished without the state jumping through a whole bunch of hoops. It looks to me like some repairs have been done to it to stabilize it. But it is open now only to pedestrians.
This southbound photograph from the new bridge shows that the old road has been significantly upgraded. Notice how wide it is, compared to the old road on the right.
The new road ends about 2½ miles later, where the older, narrower pavement resumes. Shortly the road dead ends at this old bridge.
I was happy to find this bridge still here, as I’d heard a rumor that it had been removed. But I’m still saddened that it’s closed to traffic after failing an inspection in 2015. Here it is the last time I got to drive on it, which was in 2012. Read more about this bridge here.
The old highway north of the bridge has been removed, however. What a strange sight.
I’ve heard that this bridge will be repurposed as a pedestrian bridge. I’ve studied the I-69 plan map for this area and it looks like there’s no plan to continue the frontage road from here.
Here’s one final look at this old bridge from the north.
Until I-69 is built around Martinsville, it’s easy enough to return to SR 37: back up from here to the first side road, follow it east until it Ts, turn left, then follow that road until it reaches SR 37.
I climbed down the bank to see what kind of bridge this was. I was richly rewarded — it’s a true beauty.
That was in 2008 when I toured Indiana’s State Road 42, which stretches from near Indianapolis at Mooresville to Terre Haute. Along the way the road reaches Cagles Mill Lake, an Army Corps of Engineers flood-control project. This bridge was built in 1951 to span the lake, and SR 42 was realigned to cross the bridge. Upon my visit, it had been freshly renovated. It looked like new!
In the years since I stopped clambering down banks to see the undersides of bridges. Perhaps after seeing enough bridges I stopped being surprised and delighted by them. I’m sure that as I’ve gotten older I have become more risk averse — climbing down a steep bank can be hazardous! But after I visited the new SR 46 bridge near Bowling Green, I knew I wanted to see the Cagles Mill Lake bridge again, up close and personal. It wasn’t too far away.
It was like old times when I clambered down the bank to photograph this bridge. I had my Nikon F2AS along with a 35-105mm zoom lens attached. This unwieldy kit did not make it any easier to get into position.
I made one shot at 35mm and another at or near maximum zoom. Neither of these photos turned out as well as I hoped. When I visited last time, the bank was clear except for large rocks placed to retard erosion. This time, the rocks were still there, but so was a considerable amount of brush that made it hard to get a good angle on the bridge. A lot of brush can grow in 12 years! I’m also not pleased with the exposure in either of these photos. But at least I got them.
The best photo of the visit is this one of the deck. I love how the road disappears into the trees.
Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.
This is the segment of old road I spied from current State Road 37 that led me to make this road trip. It turned out to contain two historic pieces of road infrastructure.
The road is signed as Hacker Creek Road at its north end. Its abandoned north tip was visible from current State Road 37. This is the abandoned segment of road I saw while driving home from Bloomington a few weeks before I made this trip, and which sparked my interest in this road. The bridge over Hacker Creek was removed, orphaning this segment. This northbound photo is taken from south of the creek.
Stepping back a bit, still facing northbound, Hacker Creek Road ends before this abandoned alignment with a guardrail and a faded Stop sign. One house is on this stretch of road north of Liberty Church Road, and its driveway is at the end of the road at the right.
Facing southbound from that spot, the narrow road is concrete as far as the eye can see, and it lacks the 2-foot extensions on either side that were common north of Martinsville. What this road also lacks is expansion joints. That’s what makes this road segment distinctive. My research and experience says that Indiana laid its first concrete highways in the early 1920s but didn’t start adding expansion joints until after about 1925. When this road was built, it was a continuous concrete ribbon. With Indiana’s freeze/thaw cycles, the concrete cracked into this pattern.
Sadly, this stretch of concrete is no more. When I-69 was completed here, an exit was built at Liberty Church Road. This map segment shows what happened to that strip of continuous concrete — it was replaced by an offramp. And sadly, south of Liberty Church Road this road was paved over with asphalt long ago.
I wish they could have saved this strip of concrete, as very little continuous concrete highway remains in Indiana. I know of only one other segment, on US 40 in Putnam County, Indiana. I show a photo of it deep in this post.
There is consolation, however. A 1935 concrete-arch bridge on this alignment was bypassed, and the old bridge left in place. The bridge was closed in 2013 because it failed inspection.
But because the bridge was judged as Select on the state bridge inventory, it’s eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and as such can’t be destroyed without a lot of pesky paperwork and approvals. So a new bridge was built, the road realigned to it, and the old bridge and road left in place. In 2007, however, I drove right over it.
After crossing Liberty Church Road, the road is covered with asphalt (and seemed marginally wider) as it gently curves back toward current SR 37.
Next: a beautiful, long old alignment that winds all the way to Bloomington.
We were just two weeks into stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought I was adapting okay, but as that second week drew to a close I felt myself going a little stir crazy. I felt a strong need to get away for a while. But where could I go?
My wife suggested I just take a long drive. “If you’re in your car, there’s nobody to infect you and you can’t infect anybody.” Brilliant. So that Saturday afternoon that’s just what I did.
The bare-tree months are my favorite time to visit this bridge because it’s so visible. In the middle of summer this is mighty overgrown. You can’t even see the bridge from modern US 40 then. But at this time of year it’s easy to see.
This bridge was built in 1923. It doesn’t look too bad for having gotten zero maintenance since it was abandoned, which was sometime between 1939 and 1941.
Iron’s Cemetery is just northeast of the bridge. Little spring flowers grew all along the path leading to it.
Inside the cemetery, you can see the other side of the bridge. At least you can during the bare-tree months.
Except for the sound of an occasional passing car, the only sound here is the wind. It was lovely to be out in the world in a peaceful place.
There are always lots of interesting details to photograph in an old cemetery. Gravestone letterforms of the 1800s fascinate me. They have such style!
Unfortunately, many of the markers here are in poor condition. Some of them are broken and lying on the ground.
I hate to see any old cemetery in this condition. It’s funny — I won’t be buried in one when I’m gone, it seems like a waste of good ground. Cremate me and scatter my remains to the wind. But for those who did choose burial, good heavens, provide for the maintenance of those graves!
But enough of that maudlin stuff. It helped me regain my internal footing to make this trip. I lingered here well past I stopped finding photographic inspiration, just to enjoy the quiet and the outdoors. Then I got into my car and drove back home.
When I was in college in Terre Haute, I had a friend who worked for a crappy little radio station. He invited me to come visit him one day while he was on the air. He gave me directions: “Take I-70 to the Darwin Road exit, then turn left on Old US 40. Then look for our tower and just follow the roads until you get to it.” What? “Yeah, the station’s out in Toad Hop, and the roads aren’t marked back there.” Toad Hop? What’s that? “That’s just what this area is called. And by the way, if you get lost, don’t stop to ask directions, because the locals aren’t too friendly.”
Toad Hop is west of West Terre Haute, which is across the Wabash River from Terre Haute. Even though Toad Hop was not the most welcoming place when I first visited, I remembered that my friend mentioned that “Old US 40” ran through it. So on our 2006 Indiana National Road trip, Dawn and I were off to Toad Hop.
Before we got there, just after we crossed the Wabash River and entered West Terre Haute, we encountered what looked like an old alignment of US 40 since it kept going straight where US 40 curved. You can see it in the upper right of the map above. That road was even made of concrete then, though it has since been paved over with asphalt.
This road is signed Paris Ave. as it leads to Paris, Illinois. I have wondered for years whether the National Road/US 40 originally followed Paris Road to the crossroad on the west side of town, Bennett Lane. Did it then follow Bennett south, curving to cross a now-missing bridge over Sugar Creek and flow right into Old US 40 leading to Toad Hop?
It’s not impossible that the National Road/US 40 always followed West Terre Haute’s main street, National Ave. It would have curved just east of Sugar Creek to cross that now-missing bridge and then continue on Old US 40.
Whichever way it ran, it ran that way until 1949 when the new four-lane alignment was built. It carried US 40 until 2011, when US 40 was rerouted along I-70 from east of Terre Haute to just inside Illinois.
To reach this segment, we turned left off National Avenue onto Darwin Road. We drove east in hopes of seeing where that bridge had been, but the road was lined with houses and trailers. The area looked no friendlier than it did when I was last there umpteen years before. To be safe, we took pictures from the Darwin Road intersection. This photo shows old US 40 eastbound from there, aiming right at that alleged bridge.
Here’s the westbound outlook. We didn’t know then when the four-lane US 40 was built, but we wondered, as this road looked awfully narrow.
We drove along this alignment almost as far as it went. We crossed a small bridge along the way that we did not photograph that day. I came back in 2009 to photograph it; here it is. It was built in 1919.
Except for the overgrown grass, this gives you a very good idea of what a major US highway looked like in the 1920s. The bridge itself is a concrete arch design.
Back to 2006, soon we could see we were about to run out of road. We wanted to drive all the way to the end, but there were several homes here and we would have been awfully conspicuous. So I made this through-the-windshield photo and we turned around.
The road ends because I-70 and National Ave. come together here. Check it out:
I-70 follows the original National Road alignment for about a mile into Illinois. It then veers away from the National Road alignment, and old US 40/the National Road emerges from the woods as a brick road! Illinois built a more modern US 40 alongside it and abandoned the older road. Read more about it here.
We doubled back and crossed over to Illiana Dr. on the other side of National Ave. We could see on the map that this road becomes US 40 in Illinois, so we felt confident that we were on the right track. As soon as we crossed over US 40 and made that left, we were immediately rewarded to see a Historic National Road sign.
It seems likely that this road was built at the same time as this segment of National Ave. (which used to be US 40 until US 40 was rerouted from the east side of Terre Haute to follow I-70). There needed to be some way to connect back to US 40 inside Illinois. The photo below looks from Indiana into Illinois.
This old US 40 alignment moved into Illinois as so many roads do — with a change in pavement. The speed limit also increased, from 35 MPH in Indiana to 55 MPH in Illinois. We wondered why the same road merited 20 extra miles per hour in Illinois. We drove into Illinois a little ways and found our answer — the road is signed US 40. This is curious, since US 40 is also multiplexed with I 70 just to the south.
This photo looks from Illinois into Indiana. The words “Start Race” are painted in orange on the pavement on the Illinois side where the Indiana pavement begins. My friend Michael explained that on the same day, the Ride Across Indiana (RAIN) started from that point and toured 161 miles of US 40 and the National Road all the way to the Ohio state line. This explained all the bicycles we saw heading eastbound on US 40 when we were west of Plainfield!
With this, our tour of the National Road in western Indiana ended. Little did we know, until we picked up from here a year later, how exciting the road would be in Illinois because of the abandoned brick highway there.
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.
For weeks now I’ve been sharing my photos of bridges in my Tuesday/Thursday “single frame” series. I’ve wanted to share one of the beautiful Jefferson Boulevard bridge in my hometown of South Bend. But I couldn’t choose just one. So I’m sharing a bunch of photographs of it in this post, to wrap up the series.
The Jefferson Boulevard bridge was built in 1906, carrying one of downtown South Bend’s main east-west streets across the St. Joseph River and forming a gateway with the east side of South Bend.
You can walk right under two of this bridge’s arches on a pedestrian trail that runs along both sides of the river.
When you do, you can see the telltale signs of the formwork that held this bridge’s concrete in place while it cured.
MIT-trained South Bend city engineer Alonzo Hammond designed this bridge. He used a cutting-edge construction technique known as the Melan arch, in which solid steel arch ribs, rather than iron rebar, were used inside the concrete.
490 feet long with four spans, with a deck 51.8 feet wide, it handled a twin-track street railway as well as vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Today the streetcar tracks are long gone. Hammond’s bridge easily handles two lanes of traffic in each direction, bracketed by sidewalks.
Hammond configured the east approach of the bridge to complement recent improvements in Howard Park. which is on the right in the photos above and below. I made the photo below from a onetime railroad trestle now used by pedestrians on the river trail system.
I’ve photographed this bridge more than any other. I enjoy its design and its setting. Every time I’m downtown in South Bend with a camera, I wind up around the bridge looking for a new angle.
But mostly, I like to shoot the bridge up close to consider its delightful details.
Sometimes the morning or afternoon light plays beautifully on its sides.
I made this photo from the LaSalle Street bridge one block to the north. It shows the orange di Suvero sculpture and shallow man-made waterfalls. It also shows part of Island Park on the right.
I made a similar photograph the first time I shot this bridge, on a downtown photo walk in 1988. At that time, the bridge was a dull brownish gray. It underwent a restoration in 2003-4 that strengthened it to serve another generation, and brought it to its current creamy hue.