Fishing on the Dixie Highway Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL 2020
The Dixie Highway, old State Road 37, winds its way out of Bloomington, Indiana, and into the Morgan-Monroe State Forest.
This little lake lies just south of the forest’s entrance. I like to walk to the shore and photograph the trees. But on this day, I decided not to disturb this person fishing. I captured her (I think it was a woman) in mid-cast.
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.
You’ll find brick streets still in daily use in some cities. But you won’t find any brick highways still in daily use.
I’ve not surveyed every highway in the nation. But I feel good about going out on that limb.
When you find a brick highway, it will be bypassed or abandoned.
This brick road near New Ross, Indiana, used to be part of the Dixie Highway. That was a network of roads that connected Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, with Miami. Later, Indiana routed State Road 34 over this road. At some point, probably after a new alignment of this road was built south of those railroad tracks in the upper left corner of the photo, the road became US 136.
In the photo’s foreground, notice the seam where the bricks’ pattern changes. That’s to facilitate a hard turn the road makes here so it can cross those railroad tracks at a right angle.
Eliminating this crossing is why the new highway was built. Providing access to one farm — see the fence on the right? — is why this road wasn’t abandoned.
A bridge was removed from this alignment, however. That’s why a guardrail blocks the road ahead.
See more photos of this brick road here. Map this brick road here.
Let’s finish my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Bloomington.
The last segment of Old State Road 37 I encountered on this trip begins 500 yards south of the Hacker Creek segment but lasts for 15 miles, going all the way to Bloomington. If you blink, you’ll miss the entrance.
This is such a lovely, winding drive. I recommend it highly. SR 37 has been upgraded to Interstate standards and is now I-69, which means you can no longer turn off the highway directly onto this road. As I write this, I hear that the northern part of this segment is closed. But the plans I’ve seen for I-69 say that when construction is done, this will flow into a frontage road. To reach it, you should be able to get off I-69 a little north of here at Liberty Church Road, drive east to Hacker Creek Road, and turn south onto the frontage road.
In 2007, I couldn’t find a safe way to photograph the beginning of this alignment so I drove in and photographed it facing northbound.
This stretch was recently paved, with highway striping down the middle but no striping on the edges. This segment quickly became wooded and shaded. The road curved, rose, and fell gently through the woods. The steepest hill I encountered made my car strain a little bit in fifth gear, but otherwise the drive was easy and pleasant. I felt like I was way out in the country, and since there was very little traffic I felt alone with the road. My windows were all down, the sun was warm, and the air was cool. I slowed down and enjoyed a perfect Sunday drive. I imagined people driving this stretch when it was still the state highway. I wondered if the trees were as thick then, and if a drive down this road was just as much a perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
When I stopped to take this northbound photo, a fellow in a truck stopped to ask if I needed any help. I just said “Thank you, no;” how could I explain what I was doing?
1.8 miles into this segment, a sign announced, “End County Maintenance.” The fresh pavement and the gravel edge ended, but the older surface was in pretty good shape overall, with occasional rumbly patches. Striping even ended for a while, and then stopped and started the rest of the way to Bloomington. Down the road, a short segment was freshly paved again. At about 9.5 miles, I entered a clearing gorgeous with a ridge of trees, and widely spaced houses began to appear.
Current SR 37 is famous for the limestone and siltstone visible along the roadside, souvenirs of where road builders cut through the terrain. I remember being impressed by it the first time I traveled SR 37 in 1983. Old SR 37, of course, lacks these dramatic displays because it follows the terrain. At just past 10 miles down this segment, I did find one short stretch where rock was visible in the hill on the west side of the road. This photo shows that stretch northbound. It also shows the condition of the pavement beyond the “End County Maintenance” sign.
Shortly south of here, two old alignments of SR 37 intersect, as the map shows. I guess this makes the road I was on “Old Old State Road 37.”
I drove through the intersection heading southbound to take this northbound photo. The lady driving the car signaling left stopped to ask me if I needed help. Maybe the folks around Bloomington are just especially helpful.
Sadly, this is where my camera’s battery died. I had hoped to photograph the road all the way into downtown Bloomington, ending on the town square. Here, the original alignment of SR 37 intersects with a later alignment of SR 37, one that was bypassed again some years later.
As the last bit of this segment of the original SR 37 alignment entered Bloomington, the road surface switched from asphalt to concrete. The speed limit dropped to 20 miles per hour as it passed a park loaded with people. The road is signed College Ave., but it turned to the left and intersected with College Ave. where it merges with Walnut St. on Bloomington’s north side.
If you turn left onto Walnut St. you are on the newer old alignment of SR 37. It’s more modern than the older segment, with smooth pavement and passing lanes where the hill is steep. A few miles north of here, it goes over a little iron truss bridge and merges into current SR 37 northbound.
I drove current State Road 37 home. It’s a pretty drive, especially through Monroe and Morgan Counties, with the limestone and siltstone, and the grand ridges of trees, calling for your attention as you go. But it lacks the intimacy and the peace of the old road.
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.
Let’s return to my 2007 trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.
Not a quarter mile south of the end of the Martinsville segment, the next segment of SR 37’s old alignment appeared.
This segment began quietly among a field of yellow-flowered weeds. The road seemed unusually narrow. I wondered if it widened when it met the original SR 37 roadway.
Beyond the curve, the road didn’t widen. The road lacked the two-foot “extensions” on either side I had seen since Johnson County.
Shortly I came upon this wonderful old bridge. This three-span pony truss bridge was built in 1925.
I love this bridge, and have returned to it several times since 2007. Here’s a photo I made of it in 2012.
The posted 3-ton limit was a big clue that this old bridge was not as strong as it once was.
Sadly, in 2015 this bridge failed an inspection and was closed. Here’s a photo from the last time I visited it, in 2017. I wrote about that visit here.
The I-69 plans use a lot of the old SR 37 alignments as frontage roads, but the plans don’t make clear what will happen here. I’m not optimistic about this bridge’s chances for survival.
Let’s return to 2007 now. It seems like this segment, which is about a mile long, just provides access to a couple neighborhoods to the east. The narrow pavement along this segment was smooth and even but unstriped. Soon I reached the end. Most segments of old alignments that end this way clearly complete a line with the current road or pick up on the other side of the road, at least in my experience, but that was not true with either end of this segment.
Next: A stretch of early-1920s concrete pavement in Morgan County.