When I moved to Terre Haute in 1985, the bridge that carried US 40 over the Wabash River into West Terre Haute was in sorry shape. It had served since 1905 and had been rehabilitated in 1973. But by the late 1980s it again needed a great deal of work. This postcard, which carries a 1912 postmark, shows it in sturdier times.
This unusual seven-span bridge had a central plate-girder section that carried vehicular traffic, with Pratt deck truss spans on either side for pedestrians. The pedestrian spans were closed by the time I lived in Terre Haute, presumably because deterioration had made them unsafe.
This bridge replaced a wooden covered bridge that was built in 1865. I’ll bet it was the longest covered bridge in the state while it was in operation.
But back to the unusual deck-girder/deck-truss bridge. Rather than restoring it yet again, the state chose to replace it with not one, but two new bridges, one eastbound and one westbound. The bridges were named for two Terre Haute natives, singer/songwriter and comedic actor Paul Dresser (westbound) and journalist and author Theodore Dreiser (eastbound). Dresser and Dreiser were brothers; Dresser changed his last name. Dresser wrote one of the most popular songs of the 19th century, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” making his bridge over the Wabash River a touching tribute. The Dresser and Dreiser bridges opened in 1992, and the old bridge was demolished.
Notice the separation of these two bridges. Since the 1970s, US 40 had been realigned a couple of times through downtown Terre Haute, and these two bridges merely met US 40 where it was. Here’s how the two bridges cross the Wabash River.
US 40 and the National Road used to go straight through downtown Terre Haute, where it met the 1905 bridge and the 1865 bridge before it. This 1973 topographical map shows the route; it’s the red line across the middle of the image.
By the time I moved to Terre Haute, US 40 had been rerouted downtown. Westbound, when it reached US 41 (Third Street), the original path was no longer through. You turned north on US 41 for one block to Cherry Street, when you turned west again and followed a curve onto the 1905 bridge. Eastbound, after coming off the bridge a curve led to Ohio Street, one block south of the National Road. US 40 followed Ohio Street for several blocks before turning north and then east again onto the National Road. This 1989 topographical map shows the configuration.
From a 2009 visit to Terre Haute, here’s the Vigo County Courthouse, at the corner of the National Road and US 41. By this time US 40 had been rerouted again westbound to turn north at Ninth Street and then west one block later at Cherry Street.
The grassy area in the lower right is where the National Road used to go.
Let’s wrap up my October, 2006, road trip in west-central Indiana.
I headed north out of Bridgeton on Bridgeton Road, which led straight to Rockville and US 36, the road I would take back to Indianapolis. Even with the scant research I did before the trip, I knew there were several old alignments of this road.
Parke County did a very nice job of signing old alignments of US 36. The first one I encountered was just outside Rockville by Billie Creek Village, a history museum. It ran south of current US 36, as the map shows.
Old 36 Road, as this alignment is signed, is very narrow. I imagine the alignment is very old and has not been used as US 36 in many decades. I encountered a car and a truck within the first quarter mile, and it was a tight squeeze. When I passed the truck, I wasn’t sure we’d both fit, so I edged my passenger-side tires onto the grass.
I didn’t know that an 1895 covered bridge was still in use along the route! I had never driven on a covered bridge before. Every other one I’d ever seen had been limited to foot traffic. It gave me spooky chills to drive on it since I was trusting 111-year-old wood, rather than good old steel and concrete, to hold my 2,700-pound car. With quiet strength, the old bridge stoically did its job.
I find this alignment curious because I saw no evidence that it ever flowed into the current roadbed. Here’s where it ends at US 36 about a mile down the road.
The next old alignment I looked for runs through Raccoon Lake. Here’s the map. Notice how the old road, from west to east, runs slightly north of current US 36, then crosses it, and then ends at the lake and picks up on the other side before flowing back into current US 36. The US Army Corps of Engineers built Raccoon Lake between 1956 and 1960 as a flood-control project. They built a new segment of US 36 straight-as-a-stick across the new lake, and just buried the old road underwater.
Somehow, I missed the western end of this alignment. I realized it when I saw a sign for Hollandsburg. I took the next left, CR 870 E, and drove north on it to the alignment, which was signed as Old 36. I drove west, hoping to find the beginning of the alignment. But without warning, the road dead-ended. The map above doesn’t show it, but something, maybe a creek, bisects the road.
This photo shows the barricade at the end of the road, and the mound on which the road is built on the other side. I didn’t bother driving around to find the other side; maybe next time.
I stepped back to take a picture of current US 36 to the south — straight into the sun, unfortunately. It’s hard to see, but the asphalt road was coated in a fine gravel here.
I turned around and drove west. After a couple hundred yards, the gravel ended. As this photo shows, old US 36 here was cut into the scenery. Driving this narrow road made me feel like I was a part of the land. In contrast, driving the elevated US 36 gave me a broad and stirring view of the scenery.
Old US 36 forms an S of sorts as it crosses current US 36. A friend who works in civil engineering tells me that when an old road is rerouted, the old road is usually curved to cross the new road at 90-degree angles for safety. This photo shows this crossing pointing westbound.
It was exciting to follow this segment of road eastward to its end at the lake. The road is used as a boat ramp today. The road actually curves to the left just before it reaches the water; the boat ramps were built on the right. A co-worker who grew up in this area told me that in the winter, the Army Corps of Engineers lowers the lake by about 20 feet, and you can see a bit of the road that is normally underwater.
Looking back westbound from the end of the road, old US 36 is pretty.
I drove back to US 36, found the eastern end of this old alignment, and spent quite some time driving around trying to find where the alignment ended at the lake on the other side. It would have helped if I had remembered to bring the map I had printed; without it, I was chasing wild geese. This failed search used up a lot of my time, and I started wanting to get home. I was so irritated with myself that I forgot to take a photo of the eastern end of this alignment.
I drove past a couple old alignments in Putnam County — one little one around the town of Bainbridge, and a larger, more interesting one that I knew I couldn’t find without my forgotten map. But I had spent more time on the trip than I planned and was growing tired, so it was just as well. I knew I’d revisit US 36 another day and explore it thoroughly.
When US 36 enters Danville in Hendricks County, it becomes a major artery and loses all of its charm. When I visit friends in this area, I usually ask about back roads to their houses so I can avoid US 36, which gets mighty congested. US 36 was rerouted and widened to four lanes on the east side of Danville. This map shows both alignments where they split as you head east out of Danville, and where they rejoin again west of the town of Avon.
I was pooped, so I made just a couple quick photos at either end. Here’s the west end, where old US 36 (Main St.) splits from current US 36.
Here’s what east emd looks like. Now that I think of it, I should have driven back up to where old 36 curves south and taken a photo showing how old 36 and current 36 line up.
This photo, taken in Avon, is typical of any drive I’ve made, day or night, along US 36 in Avon. I am always looking at someone else’s exhaust pipe. It seems like I never quite make it to the speed limit, either. It seems like most things in Avon dump out onto US 36. What’s the charm of living in Avon if every trip involves slow-moving traffic on the town’s only artery?
After I made this trip, I learned that US 36’s original 1927 route began in Downtown Indianapolis and headed west from there. Another day I’ll make a proper US 36 trip, starting at Downtown, driving all the old alignments I can find, and ending no sooner than the Illinois border.
I headed home from here, tired but satisfied from a day’s exploration.
Let’s return to my October, 2006 road trip in west-central Indiana.
When I lived in Terre Haute in the late 1980s and early 1990s, whenever I wanted to get away for awhile and be alone, I used to drive up into neighboring Parke County, to Bridgeton. The old covered bridge there was a great place to find some peace.
The Bridgeton bridge was built in 1868 and carried traffic until 1967. It’s one of 31 covered bridges in Parke County. Every October the county holds a big festival to its covered bridges, and Bridgeton is one of the most popular stops.
In 2005 an arsonist destroyed the bridge. This page shows photographs of the smoldering remains. Funds were raised and the bridge was rebuilt in time for the 2006 Covered Bridge Festival. This page has some good photos of the bridge under construction.
Because Bridgeton is a place I go to be alone, I avoid it during the Festival as it is packed with people. But the Festival had just ended on the late October day I made this road trip, and so I detoured to see the new bridge. I turned left off US 41 onto a country road and then, just as I did during my Terre Haute years, I drove around until I found the homemade signs pointing to Bridgeton. I’d forgotten how the Bridgeton Road winds for quite some time before abruptly entering the town and just as abruptly coming upon the bridge.
This photo is from Bridgeton Road northbound. Notice how the road is rerouted from the covered bridge to a modern bridge; the covered bridge hasn’t carried anything more than tourist foot traffic since 1967.
The old bridge’s seeming permanence was comforting to me. I was simultaneously sad and excited to see the new bridge — sad to lose an old friend, but excited to see how so many people cared so much to rebuild so quickly, using the same curved Burr arch truss design of the original bridge. On this sunny day, the bridge was bright inside, and construction was visible in detail. The builders did a tremendous job.
The bridge is most often photographed from the north to show the little waterfall.
The neighboring Bridgeton Mill was operating then and, as far as I know, continues to operate.
I felt as though my old friend had never left. Satisfied, I followed that country road north past the 10 O’Clock Line, which marked the boundary of an Indian land sale to the US in 1809, toward Rockville. There I would pick up US 36 and make my way home.
I’d like to say that I visit Bridgeton frequently. I still love visiting, but my time goes to other things. The last time I visited was in 2013 on a date with the woman who would become my wife. Here’s a photo I made of the bridge that day.
Next: scenes from old alignments of US 36 I encountered on my way home.
I’ve written about Bridgeton before, in more of a memoir form, here.
Here’s an oxymoron: “new covered bridge.” Yet here this one is. It was built in 2000 as a replica of an 1832 bridge that once stood here.
You’ll find it just west of Greenup, Illinois on the original alignment of US 40 and the National Road. It spans the Embarras (EM-ba-raw) River. That original covered bridge washed out in 1865. A steel replacement, I believe a Whipple truss, constructed in 1875 washed out in 1912. A girder bridge was completed in 1920 and served until flooding damaged a pier in 1996, rendering the bridge unsafe.
By this time, US 40 had long been rerouted around Greenup to the south. This crossing no longer carried a significant amount of traffic — 225 vehicles a day, at last count. The county got a grant to build this bridge as a tourist attraction.
Indiana is famous for its wooden covered bridges. 98 still stand. Most were built in the mid-to-late 1800s, although some were built into the 1900s, to about 1912. One was built in 2006, after the original was burned in an arson fire. This one, in Roann in Wabash County, was built in 1872.
42 of Indiana’s covered bridges are in Parke and Putnam Counties, which neighbor each other in west central Indiana. You’ll find the rest sprinkled around the state.
The majority are not open to vehicular traffic. This one in Roann is. It creaks and pops as you drive over it, but it holds your car up just fine.
The wooden trusses inside the bridge do the work of managing the load. The wooden sides and roof are there to protect the trusses from the weather, so they last longer.
Cross this bridge at a walk Kodak Monitor Six-20 Anastigmat Special Kodak Gold 200 (expired) 2013
I won’t soon forget the day I made this photograph. Margaret and I were still dating, and I took her to Bridgeton to see the bridge.
Bridgeton had always been a private place for me, a place I go when life has knocked me around hard and I need to reconnect with the good in the world. At first it was because the people of Bridgeton had kept the original 1868 bridge in good repair. Later it was because after arson destroyed that bridge, those same people rallied to build a new bridge.
It was this day I shared this little piece of my heart with her. Funny it felt that way, because some years before I told the world about Bridgeton on this blog here.
It was a truly lovely day. Margaret packed a light picnic lunch, which we shared on a grassy area alongside the bridge. She asked a passerby to photograph us with another film camera I had along. I can’t find that photograph!
If you’re wondering why this photo on Kodak Gold 200 is in black and white, it’s because Dwayne’s processed it in black-and-white chemicals by mistake. On this photo, at least, it worked out fine.