Let’s return to my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana. The first old alignment as you head west from Indianapolis doesn’t come until you reach Putnam County. You’ll find it about a mile and a half west of US 231. If you reach Putnamville, you’ve missed it.
But first, a curiosity. Just before you reach this old alignment, you’ll find this odd strip of concrete by the side of the road. There’s another on the other side of the road. They used to be part of a truck weigh station. Today, posted signs warn drivers t stay off them.
The Historic National Road sign in the photo above points the way to this old alignment. It’s a little confusing to find if you’re following the road signs. On this 2006 image from Windows Live Maps, it’s marked as E CR 550 S. If you check Google Maps today, it’s marked as W CR 570 S. But the sign on the corner reads 35 E. And the sign where this alignment returns to US 40 says 25 W.
Many Indiana counties mark their roads based on distance from a centerline. A road marked N 200 W runs east-west 2 miles west of the east-west centerline, and north of the north-south centerline. A road marked E 500 S runs north-south 5 miles south of the north-south centerline, and east of the east-west centerline. This makes it easy for police, fire, and ambulance to find a location in an emergency. Old highway alignments like this one sometimes challenge this system a little.
Here’s where old US 40 branches off from the current highway on its east end.
Shortly after entering this old alignment, you cross Deer Creek over this bridge. It was built in 1925, before the US highway system. A state highway system existed; this was State Road 3. The bridge was peaceful. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere — even though US 40 was 100 yards to our south, all we heard were the birds and the breeze. While the road was clearly maintained and used, we encountered no traffic while we explored it. We walked the bridge’s length and lingered here for a while.
On this 2006 road trip I shot film, and had to choose my subjects carefully so I wouldn’t run out of film before I finshed my trip. When I returned in 2009 I photographed this area more extensively with my new digital camera. Here’s a close-up of the bridge railing. This bridge’s deck is only 20 feet wide, very narrow by modern standards.
Before this bridge was built, an iron truss bridge carried National Road traffic across Deer Creek. I told its story here. This 1891 bridge still had lots of life in it, so it was floated along the stream and installed around the corner on S CR 25 E. Here’s a photo of it from 2010. That’s my road-trip friend Dawn getting ready to walk onto the deck.
I had heard that the old bridge crossed Deer Creek lay south of the 1925 bridge. On a December day in 2011 I happened to be driving US 40 back from Terre Haute and decided to follow this old alignment to see whether I could find evidence of the old bridge crossing. It’s always easier to find old road evidence when the leaves are off the trees. Glory be, I found it: the approach from the west, and the old stone abutment. I wrote about this in more detail here.
Back to my 2009 photos. This old alignment is covered in asphalt east of the bridge, but west of the bridge the asphalt ends and the original 1920s concrete pavement emerges.
Notice the expansion joints in this concrete: the one that runs down the center, and the lateral joints every so many feet. Expansion joints were a new idea in Indiana highway construction at about this time. Earlier concrete highways were just a continuous ribbon of concrete, and therefore cracked considerably as the concrete warmed in the summer and froze in the winter.
And finally, back to my only other 2006 photo of this alignment, as it ends. The turnoff to US 40 was added when the new road was built in about 1941. The old concrete highway was truncated here.
Old alignments like this one are left behind largely to serve houses and businesses that remain when a new road is built nearby. These old alignments get little maintenance due to getting little traffic. That’s allowed this old concrete to look this fresh since being left behind.
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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