Road Trips

The Green Lantern on the National Road/US 40 in Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

As we came near to Effingham we could see a tall neon sign in the distance. As we got closer, we could see that it was grand.

Green Lantern

Sadly, the building behind this sign had burned about a month earlier, on the night of June 5. It had stood since 1938, first as a bar, then as a fine dining establishment, and most recently as a roadhouse of sorts. For many years, it was the only place on US 40 for several states that was open Sunday nights, when it drew crowds from a hundred miles away.

Green Lantern

The owner pledged to rebuild, but it never happened. In 2014, the site was sold to someone who maintains it as an investment. I looked the site up on Google Maps (it’s here). The last time a Google Street View car drove by, which was in 2019, someone was selling yard sheds on this lot.

I hope this great sign was saved!

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Road Trips

Remnants of the National Road and US 40 in east central Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

As we drove out of Casey, we soon came upon where Main Street intersected with US 40.

Bing Maps 2021

This unusual intersection allowed US 40 to pass south of the National Road. We turned off Main Street before reaching US 40 to follow the short segment of National Road there, and took this photograph eastbound across US 40 to the National Road on the other side. Notice the National Road sign pointing the way. Westbound.

West of Casey

On the other side of US 40, the National Road was maintained (though covered in tar and gravel or something else not quite asphalt) and drivable for maybe a quarter mile. Westbound.

NR West of Casey

Beyond the first crossroads it petered out and seemed to end. As we drove along, we saw that the old road did continue, but was not reachable. It disappeared beyond 2350E. The utility poles did, too, which we found curious. There was another short segment at 2275E, and then suddenly we saw another segment on the south side of the road. Apparently, US 40 was built over the old road here.

We stopped to take photos of an abandoned motel at 2000E. We were a good bit away from Casey by now, and we wondered how a motel out in the sticks could prosper. Then it hit us: It didn’t.

Motel

At 1975E we found another short concrete alignment. Here it is eastbound.

NR West of Casey

And here it is westbound, heavily overgrown.

NR West of Casey

Finally, at 1950E we found this former truck garage or truck stop. Again, we were puzzled by this business’s placement so far from town.

Former truck stop?

And then the concrete National Road disappeared. We would see it only once more, briefly, on this trip.

Greenup is 10 miles west of Casey and, since there was so little concrete or brick highway to stop and see, we came upon it quickly. Unlike every other town that US 40 bypassed so far, the highway went around town on its south side. Through town, the National Road was signed as both Cumberland St. and Illinois State Road 121.

A short segment of the old road lay to the east of the turnoff. This photo shows how westbound traffic on US 40 used to flow smoothly right down this segment. Today, it’s a local road, so the guy hawking vinyl siding could not have been getting much business if that sign was his only advertising. The utility poles that disappeared a few miles back reappeared here, as this eastbound photo shows.

Into Greenup

Past the stop sign, this segment becomes Cumberland St. and State Road 121. Westbound.

Into Greenup

Greenup has a remarkable downtown, which I wrote about here. Just west of Greenup is a modern covered bridge over the Embarras River. It’s quite a sight, and I wrote about it here. Just before you reach it, you come upon this concrete-arch bridge built in 1920. This photo is eastbound.

Bridge west of Greenup

I love how good Illinois was about placing identifying plates on their highway bridges.

Bridge west of Greenup

Shortly after crossing the little concrete bridge, the covered bridge came into view. A young deer was watching us carefully as she waited for the right moment to cross the road. Westbound.

Deer at the Greenup covered bridge

Beyond the covered bridge, the original alignment of the National Road and US 40 comes to an abrupt end. Westbound.

Old US 40 west of Greenup, IL

Past Greenup, we drove through several miles of country, passing through a few tiny towns. It began a mile or so past the bridge with a short segment of the National Road. We turned left on 1375E to access it. The tar-and-gravel segment swayed a bit along its path. Utility poles, which we had not seen along the Greenup segment, reappeared just beyond that segment’s end and hugged the road here. Westbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

A big, neglected building, perhaps an old school, sat on this segment. Perhaps this segment exists just to provide access to the house; perhaps this was cheaper than building a driveway to it. The house has a cement plaque on it, but the letters were too faint to make out. It looked like someone might live here, believe it or not, and so we didn’t go closer to read the plaque.

Abandoned school on US 40 in Illinois

Beyond 1350E, the segment narrowed, swayed some more, and then disappeared. Westbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

US 40 followed the railroad here. It swings north just east of Jewett, but old US 40 and the National Road stay right with the railroad and cut through this tiny town. We took the turnoff to Cumberland Street westbound as it headed into Jewett. There was no sign of the old road behind us here.

Old US 40 leading into Jewett, IL

There wasn’t much to see in Jewett, and we quickly passed through it. We could see a crack along both sides of the asphalt where a cement widening strip would have been added years before. Where the road turned to rejoin US 40, we were surprised to see a sign pointing the way. The National Road dead-ended 20 feet later, with no sign of the old road beyond the end. Out here, it appears that the old road exists only if there is a good reason.

To 40

The map showed a short segment of the National Road that we could access at 950E. Here’s that segment eastbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

We drove west along this stretch to 900E and could see that the road ended ahead. Westbound.

Old US 40 in Illinois

After we returned to US 40 and we drove on, we saw a few very short strips of what was probably the National Road to our north. These segments were just long enough to provide access to homes and farms.

We soon came upon tiny Montrose, which US 40 does not bypass. We passed a biker bar. Men were climbing on their hogs and a horde of young women, dressed in bikinis or slightly less, were scurrying around. It looked like something straight out of a B movie. I would have taken photos, but this is a family Web site. There wasn’t much to see otherwise, so we drove on.

We also didn’t stop in Teutopolis, a few miles away. US 40 did not bypass this town, either. Teutopolis was three or four times the size of Jewett or Montrose. There wasn’t much here, but the town did have a downtown with a really nice church that had a tall steeple. Unfortunately the day was getting away from us. I wanted to reach Vandalia by dinnertime, so we cruised on by.

Next: a great neon sign for a restaurant near Effingham — but no restaurant.

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Road Trips

A change in the pavement on the abandoned National Road in Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and several visits: two in 2007, one in 2009, and one in 2014.

In the early days of the US highway system, it was common for highways to frequently change pavement types. You could be driving along on concrete that suddenly gave way to gravel, which after several miles abruptly switched to brick. Road guides of the day spelled it all out. This excerpt from a 1924 road guide shows how the road surface alternated between concrete and brick along the National Road between Terre Haute, Indiana, and Effingham, Illinois.

I’m puzzled that the guide says the road is paved in concrete from the state line to Martinsville except for a small brick section in Marshall, given the abandoned brick highway that remains along most of that stretch. I also don’t know how “fine concrete” differs from plain concrete. But at least this gives you a sense of how the surface could change, and how frequently.

Just east of Martinsville, Illinois, the mid-1920s brick highway gives way to a concrete road. You’ll find it here on Google Maps, but here’s a screen shot to show how the pavement changes. Right about in the middle of the image, it’s brick on the right (east) and concrete on the left (west).

Imagery ©2021 Maxar Technologies, map data ©2021 Google.

I’m showing this to you as aerial imagery because I’ve not stopped by this spot to photograph it myself. It’s clearly in someone’s front yard. I wouldn’t want to attract their attention. But this is what the brick road looks like:

National Road

And this is what the concrete looks like:

Abandoned National Road

Notice how the concrete road is three parallel strips of concrete. The center strip is 10 feet wide and the side strips are four feet wide. I’ve written about this before (read it here), but the center section came first, probably in the early 1910s, followed by the side strips, probably in the mid-late 1920s. One section of ten-foot highway remains on private property just east of Martinsville. Here it is, westbound:

10-foot-wide concrete road

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Road Trips

The National Road and US 40 in Casey, Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

I wrote another post about Casey when I visited it again in 2014; read it here. Since then, Casey has leaned hard into having the World’s Largest of a number of crazy objects, displayed in the open on the city’s streets. Someday I’ll go back and photograph it.

So far, when we left a town on the National Road, the old road soon curved to meet US 40. That was not the case as we left Martinsville; Cumberland Road headed straight for Casey (pronounced KAY-zee). US 40 paralleled it to the north, but far enough away that we couldn’t see it.

Bing Maps 2021

WCBH, a radio station licensed to Casey, has such a powerful stick (that’s transmitter and tower in radio lingo) that it can be heard most of the way to Greencastle, Indiana, which is 70 miles east. When I was a sophomore in college, about 35 miles away in Terre Haute, they changed their format to something they called Classic Hits. They had a terrific playlist. I loved WCBH and listened to it a lot – secretly, because as general manager of my college’s radio station I felt honor bound to listen to our station. The format lasted for five years or so until the station had money troubles. A few years later, I got a call from a former radio boss who got the boss gig at the Casey station, changed its format to top 40, and wanted me to come work for him. I said, “You want me to drive where to work for you just on the weekends?” Now I know where.

I once worked with a woman who grew up in Casey. She was glad to leave the old town behind, she said, calling it dumpy and backward. But as we entered town, you could not have convinced me my old colleague was right. As we passed down Main Street, we could just make out the homes from behind the thick line of trees along the street. With only a couple exceptions, these homes, which looked like they were built in the first half of the 20th century, looked like new. Common frame homes stood next to large, grand homes in deep red brick with white trim, creating contrast. I pulled over and we walked along the street taking pictures. The trees were so lush that they blocked most good photo angles.

Casey, IL

I don’t know why I didn’t walk to the other side of the yellow house to take this photo, because the white house was imposing with its large, stone front porch, and I wish I had more of it in the image.

Casey, IL

One uncharacteristically dumpy former filling station was host to a large garage sale that day. It made me think of the old Paul McCartney song: “‘Buy, buy!’ says the sign in the shop window / ‘Why, why?’ says the junk in the yard.” Bonus points to anyone who can identify the rusty old car.

Casey, IL

Another former filling station seemed to be a museum of former filling station equipment and signs.

Casey, IL

I loved seeing the old Standard sign, an icon of my childhood not adequately replaced by the Amoco and now BP signs that have followed. I’m a little sad that the original windows on the building were replaced with those things that wouldn’t look out of place on a mobile home.

Casey, IL

Downtown Casey was tidy enough, but not as fresh and bright as downtown Marshall. Downtown began at State Route 49. This photo is the the north side of the first block west of State Route 49.

Casey, IL

A building on the southwest corner of this intersection had a few old metal signs attached to it. I liked this Gulf logo as a kid, I think because of the typeface used for “Gulf” has a fat stroke and a low centerline, and it is juxtaposed with letter spacing that brings out the weight of the individual letters. It still works for me; I can look at it for an hour, just studying the letterforms.

Casey, IL

I photographed the Odd Fellows building not just because “IOOF747” was bricked into the building, leaving a lasting reminder of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, but because it’s a crying shame that someone replaced the second-story windows with those out-of-place tiny modern sashes.

Casey, IL

Hunger was beginning to cloud our judgment, so we decided to head the rest of the way through town in hopes of finding a local tavern or lunch counter. No such luck. We’d have to get lunch somewhere down the road. But before we did, we encountered a lot of old pavement. I’ll share it next time.

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Road Trips

The National Road and US 40 in Livingston, Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and several visits: two in 2007, one in 2009, and one in 2014.

Shortly US 40 and the National Road reach Livingston, a very small town just east of Marshall. I’m not sure why the National Road Historic Byway considers the road through Livingston a spur route. All of my research indicates that the road through Livingston was the National Road.

Livingston

I wasn’t so sure of that when I first researched the road here. The aerial maps, and the labels placed on the roads, confused the heck out of me. But after looking at historic aerial imagery (the only source of which I could find is copyrighted, and would cost to be able to share here) I’m pretty sure that the original routing through Livingston and on into Marshall followed the route I added in green, to include what the map labels Hill Top Orchard Road in Livingston. The western (left) edge of this map is the eastern outskirts of Marshall. Modern US 40 disrupted the original National Road route a little here, but you can trace where it would have been easily enough. Click the map to see it larger.

Bing Maps, 2021.

The eastern end of this alignment is covered in grass. I made this eastbound photo in 2007.

Abandoned National Road

Westbound, the old road heads into the woods.

Abandoned National Road

Shortly the road emerges from the woods, bricks intact. Eastbound.

Abandoned National Road

It heads on into tiny Livingston, the bricks covered in asphalt. Westbound.

National Road, Livingston, IL

There isn’t much to show about Livingston; it’s just a handful of houses. After it passes through Livingston, the road curves to rejoin US 40. The old brick highway continues straight. Westbound.

Abandoned National Road

The bricks end on the banks of Big Creek. The bridge here was removed. On our 2007 trip, Michael and I found the road on the other side of this creek. I didn’t get a good photo of the bridge’s remnants, but Michael did. He made this eastbound photo from the creek’s west bank.

Michael A. Ray photo, used with permission

Here’s the road leading away from the creek, westbound. 2014 photo. The curve at the end is not part of the National Road; it was added to connect this segment to US 40. The National Road originally kept going straight from here.

Illinois National Road

I’m not sure why, but the roadway is covered with earth from that point. 2007 photo, westbound.

Abandoned National Road

We found a state right-of-way marker along this path, confirming for us that we were still on the National Road. Later, I found concrete consistent with the edge of the U-shaped roadbed into which the bricks were once laid.

Abandoned National Road

I found a few bricks like this one, all broken, some in the ground. Is that a date on the brick? February 12, 192x? The bricks along the road so far had all been plain-faced and in shades of red, so I wasn’t sure whether this was a road brick or not.

Abandoned National Road

Fallen trees blocked our path. We felt like we’d seen enough anyway, so we walked back to the car and drove US 40 the short distance to where the National Road crossed 40 on its way to Marshall.

Abandoned National Road

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Road Trips

The brick National Road and US 40 east of Marshall, Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and several visits: two in 2007, one in 2009, and one in 2014.

As you drive west into Illinois on US 40, it’s easy to see sections of the 1925 brick alignment of this road lying abandoned alongside it. The road varies in condition. Some of it was removed and some of it is overgrown. The bridges were all removed so people couldn’t drive the old road anymore. Despite that, you can still reach some segments with your car, as this westbound 2014 photo below shows.

Abandoned brick road

After you enter Illinois and get past where I-70 intersects with US 40, this is actually the first segment of the brick road that you see. Construction of the current US 40 in the 1950s disrupted what had been a curvy section. I’ve filled in where the brick road used to go. All that’s left here are three short segments — one at each end south of US 40, and one in the middle north of US 40. I’ve highlighted the missing road in green. Ignore where the map below shows “Old National Hwy” — it’s incorrect, except at the eastern end.

Bing Maps, 2021

This eastbound photo from 2014 shows where the middle section ends at current US 40.

Abandoned brick road

Here’s this segment westbound. This is probably the best-kept segment of this old brick road. The house at the end was, at the time, a radio studio. I got to visit the owner of this station on a trip in 2007, and he told me about the dangers of this old highway. Read the story here.

Abandoned brick road

As this road approaches Crooked Creek, which is on the left end of the map excerpt above, the road is blocked with a mound of debris. It’s mostly chunks of concrete, which I suspect was taken from the road bed here. 2007 photo. I’m only pretty sure this photo is from Crooked Creek — I didn’t do a great job of taking notes, and I’m sure I’ve inaccurately geotagged some of my photos.Westbound photo.

Abandoned National Road

The roadbed beyond leads to these two posts. I’ll bet at one time a “Bridge Out” sign was strung between them.

Abandoned National Road

We walked to Crooked Creek’s bank and looked across. We could see evidence of the bridge that once stood here. Westbound photo.

Abandoned National Road

Beyond Crooked Creek lie a couple segments of the old road still in use to access the farms they border. Eastbound photo.

Driveable brick National Road segment

On one of my 2007 trips, the Department of Transportation used a segment of the old road to store Jersey barriers. Westbound photo.

Jersey barriers on the abandoned National Road

On the 2007 trip with my friend Michael, I drove a stretch of this old brick road while he filmed it. I’m pretty sure it was in or near this area. Michael filmed me coming in from the east.

Most of our driving was on modern US 40, which gave us a strong feeling of “westbound lanes.” The road looked like it had been built to be one way westbound. We wondered if Illinois had planned to make a US 40 expressway here, with the idea to build the eastbound lanes over the old brick road. I feel sure if that were the case that when I-70 went on the drawing board, Illinois realized that a US 40 expressway made little sense as that traffic should follow I-70 instead. As a result, historic brick pavement remains.

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