Road Trips

Illinois US 50: Crossing the Wabash River from Indiana

In 2009, my good friend Michael and I made a rush one-day trip along all of the old US 50 alignments we could find in Illinois, starting at the Indiana/Illinois state line. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site, which I plan to deprecate. I’m moving that content to this site.

Someone I follow on Flickr loves bridges. At least, I assume he loves bridges, because every week he uploads another batch of old-bridge photos. Not long ago, he uploaded several photos of some abandoned steel truss bridges along US 50 in Illinois. I knew I had to go see.

Just a couple months before, I totaled my car as I passed from West Virginia into Ohio while exploring the National Road. It made me feel skittish about driving on the highway, I knew I needed to make another road trip as soon as I could. An Illinois US 50 trip seemed like just the thing.

Brick segments of old US 50
Brick section near the Wabash River

As you might imagine, US 50 has a long history in Illinois. Some of my roadfan buddies have shared research with me that take this road’s roots back to 1806, when a mail route and a stagecoach road was created between Vincennes, Indiana and St. Louis, Missouri, along the corridor that became US 50. One part of this corridor may have been part of a trace called the Goshen Road. In 1913, this corridor became part of the Midland Trail, an early coast-to-coast automobile road. Then it became State Route 12 and, finally, US 50 in 1926.

I knew going in that I wouldn’t be able to cover this road to my usual obsessive-compulsive level of detail – just driving to and from the Illinois state line, would consume much of my time, and I was planning to cut 2/3 of the way across Illinois. That’s a lot of ground to cover. I intended this trip to be a recon mission for an eventual return trip. (Sadly, that return trip never happened.)

This trip began in Vincennes with my dog and my good friend Michael along for the ride. We started at the center of this photo, where the bridge crosses the Wabash River. Despite the US 50 shields on the map, US 50 has bypassed Vincennes to the north for many years.

The Abraham Lincoln Bridge that connects Indiana to Illinois here was built in 1933. It’s easy to find photos of this lovely bridge on the Internet – just search on “Vincennes bridge” in Google Image Search. But all the photos are from the Indiana side. Now, perhaps for the first time on the Internet, here are photos from the Illinois side.

Lincoln Memorial Bridge

I couldn’t decide which of these two photos I liked better, so I’m sharing them both.

Lincoln Memorial Bridge

Before 1933, US 50 crossed into Illinois on a different bridge a little to the north. This 1909 postcard images shows that it had a steel arch truss portion and a wooden covered portion.

The old bridge itself was quite a contraption. At its center was a swing bridge which pivoted 90 degrees to allow boats to pass. Originally, wooden covered bridges connected the swing bridge to both shores. In researching this bridge at my favorite bridge site, bridgehunter.com, I found these postcard images that show how the bridge evolved.

In this image, a covered bridge stands on the Illinois side and a bowstring arch swing bridge stands in the middle. By this time, however, the covered bridge on the Indiana side had been replaced with two bowstring arch spans, probably on the same piers and abutments.

Finally, the Lincoln Memorial Bridge was built. The two bridges coexisted for a while. By this time the wooden covered spans had been replaced by Parker through trusses. The swing bridge had been updated with what looks to me to be two pony Warren trusses with verticals.

The blue line on the aerial image below shows where the old bridge used to be and how the road curved a bit on the Illinois side. Notice that the old road is still there.

It’s a brick road!

Brick segments of old US 50

The faint blue line on this aerial image shows the road’s path from the shore. Whoever owns the property now parks his car on old US 50! From the air, it looks like the old bridge’s approach is still there at the shoreline. I would have loved to see if doing so had not meant trespassing.

The road leading to the old bridge site on the Vincennes side is brick, too – check out the lower right quadrant of this aerial photo.

Back to the Illinois side. Here’s old US 50 westbound to where it merges with current US 50.

Brick segments of old US 50

Check out how this brick road was made to curve.

Brick segments of old US 50

Ten feet above the old brick road, along the newer Old US 50, is this memorial to Abraham Lincoln and his family as they first entered Illinois near this spot.

Lincoln memorial

Next: We pass quickly through Lawrenceville, Sumner, Olney, and Noble, to come upon three old bridges on a long abandoned section of US 50.

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Road Trips

Beautiful old bridges on Indiana State Road 42

On October 18, 2008, I explored Indiana State Road 42 from end to end. It begins southwest of Indianapolis in Mooresville and ends in Terre Haute.

As I drove west from Eminence, the road became lined with trees as it approaches Mill Creek. This photo is eastbound.

Eastbound

In 1939, the state built a steel truss bridge over Mill Creek. A similar bridge up the road made the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, but this one has not. I hope somebody in Putnam County picks up the mantle!

Steel truss bridge, Mill Creek

I thought it was standard that these bridges be painted green, but word has apparently not reached Putnam County. (This bridge completed a renovation in 2015, at which time it was painted baby blue, the new standard color for Indiana highway truss bridges.)

Steel truss bridge, Mill Creek

The view of Mill Creek is lovely. I took this photo off the south side of the bridge. But wait – what’s that in the photo’s lower left?

Steel truss bridge, Mill Creek

See it there? That neat row of cut stones?

Steel truss bridge, Mill Creek

Please consider the following:

©2008 Google Maps

Just beyond the bridge is a road that pulls away and then turns to be right in line with current SR 42 after it completes the curve west of the bridge. This fairly screams “old alignment.” Notice how the suspected old alignment, if extended southeast, would cross Mill Creek directly, instead of at a bit of an angle as it does today. In the olden days bridgebuilders’ bags of tricks were fairly limited, leading them to build bridges straight across creeks and rivers. That row of stones has to be part of an older bridge’s foundation, and the stones around it probably bits of the demolished former abutment here.

Incredibly, here’s a small photograph of the previous bridge alongside the newer one, taken at about the time the newer one was built. It was a wooden covered bridge! This would have to be an eastbound photo from the west end of these two bridges.

Courtesy bridgehunter.com

In the excitement over all this, I forgot to drive the suspected old alignment. I did, however, think to take a shot of some of the fall color just west of the bridge.

Fall on SR 42

State Road 42 skirted Cloverdale on its south edge and then the terrain became more challenging. The road stopped the 90-degree-curve nonsense and began to curve around the terrain. At Doe Creek, a narrow concrete bridge awaited.

Old concrete bridge

My experience is that bridges only as wide as the road, with concrete railings like this, were built in the 1910s and 1920s. I could see a clear path down the bank, so I walked down to see what the old girl looked like in profile. Sadly, she was a bit ungainly.

Old concrete bridge

Shortly I came upon Cagles Mill Lake, also known as Cataract Lake, one of many lakes the US Army Corps of Engineers built to control flooding. Here, SR 42 makes a brief dip into Owen County.

©2008, Google Maps

The bridge over the lake did not disappoint.

Bridge over Cagle Mill Lake

As I approached the bridge, there was a traffic signal flashing yellow, and cones everywhere. Clearly, this bridge had just been renovated, and the finishing touches were still being put on. It was built in 1951, when the lake was created.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

I’m not sure how such a minor road warrants such a major bridge, but this one is a real gem.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

I passed through the remainder of the lush lake area and into Clay County. I zipped through the little town of Poland without even slowing down because I knew another steel truss bridge awaited on the other side – but it turns out I missed an old church on the National Register of Historic Places in so doing. I guess my consolation is that the steel truss bridge over the Eel River is on the Register, too.

Steel truss bridge near Poland, IN

Have I mentioned how much I enjoy steel truss bridges? (This bridge, too, has received a coat of baby blue paint since I photographed it.)

Steel truss bridge near Poland, IN

A sure sign of autumn is how low the sun is at midafternoon.

Steel truss bridge near Poland, IN

Next: Vigo County and Terre Haute.

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Road Trips

North on the Dixie Highway from Bloomington

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.

Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway to where it ended on my September, 2020, trip. Map data ©2020 Google.

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.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

I had this road entirely to myself this Friday afternoon. On past trips I’ve encountered bicyclists out here; not this time.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

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.

Old SR 37

Today, the old road curves the other way into a brand new frontage road.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

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.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

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.

Old SR 37/Dixie Highway

The new road ends about 2½ miles later, where the older, narrower pavement resumes. Shortly the road dead ends at this old bridge.

Abandoned bridge on 37/DH

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.

Pony trusses

The old highway north of the bridge has been removed, however. What a strange sight.

Abandoned bridge on 37/DH

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.

Abandoned bridge on 37/DH

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.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Revisiting the bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

I climbed down the bank to see what kind of bridge this was. I was richly rewarded — it’s a true beauty.

Bridge over Cagle Mill Lake

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.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

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.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

The best photo of the visit is this one of the deck. I love how the road disappears into the trees.

Bridge over Cagles Mill Lake

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Photography

Historic road infrastructure on Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway in Morgan County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

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.

Abandoned SR 37

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.

Old SR 37

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.

Old SR 37
Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies USDA Farm Service. Map data ©2020 Google.

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.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies USDA Farm Service. Map data ©2020 Google.

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.

Bridge on Old SR 37

After crossing Liberty Church Road, the road is covered with asphalt (and seemed marginally wider) as it gently curves back toward current SR 37.

Old SR 37

Next: a beautiful, long old alignment that winds all the way to Bloomington.

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COVID-19, Film Photography

An abandoned bridge and a forgotten cemetery

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.

I don’t like to drive aimlessly. I need to have a destination. So I chose one: the abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana, and the Civil War-era cemetery hidden near it. It’s about 40 minutes from home, giving me a good long drive there and back. I’ve never encountered another soul there anytime I’ve visited, so it would be a safe place to go. My Pentax ME Super was loaded with Kodak T-Max 400 at the time so I brought it along. The wonderful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens was attached.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

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.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

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.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

Iron’s Cemetery is just northeast of the bridge. Little spring flowers grew all along the path leading to it.

At Iron's Cemetery

Inside the cemetery, you can see the other side of the bridge. At least you can during the bare-tree months.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

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.

At Iron's Cemetery

There are always lots of interesting details to photograph in an old cemetery. Gravestone letterforms of the 1800s fascinate me. They have such style!

At Iron's Cemetery

Unfortunately, many of the markers here are in poor condition. Some of them are broken and lying on the ground.

At Iron's Cemetery

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!

At Iron's Cemetery

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.

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