Road Trips

US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, 2006

I’m going to start sharing my very first road trip, on July 15, 2006, down US 40 and the National Road from Indianapolis to the Illinois state line. I’m bringing this content over from my Roads pages on my old HTML site, which I will eventually shut down.

I traveled US 40 from Indianapolis to Terre Haute for the first time in 1984. I was a senior in high school, and my parents were taking me to visit Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. I didn’t know the road’s important history then and I hadn’t even begun to become a roadfan. I remember only two things about the road, and both of them were near Terre Haute. First, as you crested the last hill before Rose-Hulman, a red, round 84 Lumber sign seemed to rise out of the hill like the morning sun. It was kind of disorienting, really. Second, the clock on the bright yellow Clabber Girl Baking Powder billboard had stopped.

The 84 Lumber sign peeking through the trees; the Clabber Girl billboard beyond it

I ended up attending Rose-Hulman and became friends with a fellow who liked to take me on late-night drives on obscure highways and country roads to see where they led. I began to wonder why roads turned out as they did. For example, why did State Road 42 have two ninety-degree turns at the Vigo-Clay county line? Since every journey out of Rose-Hulman started with US 40, I became interested in it, too. I asked a classmate from nearby Brazil why US 40 through his hometown was called National Ave.; he said that was the road’s “old name.” I learned that locals considered the intersection of 7th Street and Wabash Avenue, where US 41 used to intersect with US 40, to be not only the crossroads of America, but the crossroads Eric Clapton sang of with Cream. And then somebody told me that State Road 340 between Brazil and the Vigo County line was an old alignment of US 40. I started to become fascinated.

Clabber Girl
The Clabber Girl billboard, the clock working this time

2006 was the 200th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson authorizing a National Road. It would be 30 years before it reached Indiana, and another 90 years before it became part of the US numbered highway system. The original road through Indiana was a narrow path made largely of dirt and sometimes chipped stone or macadam. It is now a paved highway, four lanes through most of the state.

My friend Dawn and I discovered our mutual interest in roads and US 40 in particular, and after learning that we were in that anniversary year we both started talking about traveling the road in western Indiana and looking for old alignments. Dawn has lived her whole life near US 40 between Plainfield and Brazil, and I spent nine years living in Terre Haute where I traveled the road between Brazil and Illinois. Between us, we thought we knew the road. As we researched, we discovered many old alignments of  US 40 and the National Road, always under our noses but beyond our detection. We decided we had to make the trip and explore these alignments.

At the Clay-Vigo Line
You’ll see these signs pointing the way all across Indiana’s National Road

On July 15, 2006, we drove west from the intersection of Washington and Meridian Streets in Indianapolis and, several hours later, crossed the Illinois border. Along the way, we saw many old alignments of US 40 and the National Road ranging from unusable to maintained state highway. We followed any road marked with a Historic National Road marker, any road marked National Avenue or National Road, and roads the Indiana National Road Association identified on (a now long-ago version of) their Web site as being old National Road segments.

I took photos as we went, which I will share and describe in a number of posts to come.

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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National Road and US 40 bridges at Blaine, OH

Two bridges at Blaine
Canon PowerShot S95
2011

One bridge was built in 1826, the other in 1932. One guess which is which!

Both bridges carry the National Road/US 40 over Wheeling Creek near Blaine in Belmont County, Ohio. It’s just five miles from the Ohio River, the border with West Virginia.

The lower bridge came first. It’s the oldest standing bridge in Ohio, and is the longest of the few remaining S bridges in the state. Notice its “S” curvature? This was done in the name of economy: it’s less expensive to build and maintain a bridge that’s perpendicular to the creek it crosses. They merely curved the approaches to meet the road.

This was just fine in the days of horses and buggies with their slow speeds. As automobiles took over, it became a hazard. Drivers had to slow way down to negotiate the S. Some didn’t slow down in time.

Moreover, west of this bridge lay a very steep hill. It was challenging for cars of the day to climb. I’m sure pedestrians and horses didn’t much enjoy the climb either!

The upper bridge made travel easier on three counts: it eliminated the S, it offered a wider deck (38.1 feet vs. 26.9 feet), and it created a gentler rise to the top of the hill.

I know of four other S bridges on the National Road: one in Pennsylvania (here) and three in Ohio (two here, the third here). That last one was still open to traffic when I visited it in 2011, and I drove over it. By 2013 it, too, was closed (here).

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: Two bridges at Blaine

Two bridges on the National Road/US 40 in Blaine, Ohio.

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As the last of the Shakers left their central-Kentucky village — or died — in the early 1900s, their village fell into private hands and became known as Shakertown. Some buildings were given new uses, others were left to rot.

The same kind of determination and hard work the Shakers put into building their village went into restoring it. Some buildings were beyond saving, and some were already gone, but those that remain are a living look back into this religious sect and its way of life. Read a little bit about their history here.

Stone house
House
House
Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill
Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill
Houses
Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill
House
House

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Preservation

The simple architecture of Shaker Village

A photo tour of Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in central Kentucky, focusing on the many buildings that still stand there.

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Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill

Early evening at Shaker Village
Pentax K10D, 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 SMC Pentax-DA AL
2019

Margaret and I get away four times a year for a long weekend, usually in March, June, September, and December. Margaret started a new job recently and its demands will sadly keep us from our usual December visit to Chicago. To compensate we made two trips this summer, one to her hometown of St. Charles, Illinois, a few weeks ago, and one to Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky over Labor Day weekend.

I’ll share more from Shaker Hill in posts to come, but in short the Shaker religious sect arrived here in 1805 and built quite a village of stone, brick, and wood frame buildings. They were innovative, building a system of running water throughout the village; the yellow buildings on the right were part of that system. They also lived communally; the stone building was one of three major houses the people lived in.

Today it’s a tourist destination with lodging on site. We stayed in a room in what had once been the East Family Wash House. The houses were named for their relative geographic location in the village, the people who lived in each house were called a family, and each family had a building in which they did their laundry. Innovatively, their laundry facility was horse powered, reducing the human manual labor of washing all those clothes and linens!

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Photography

single frame: Early evening at Shaker Village

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Preservation, Road Trips

Touring the Huddleston Farmhouse, part 2: the interior

The Huddleston FarmhouseI’ve stopped by the Huddleston Farmhouse several times on my many tours across Indiana’s National Road. In case you missed it, check out the exterior and grounds here. But I never managed to stop on a day when the house was open for a tour. When I attended the Midwest Byways Conference in August just down the road in Richmond, hwoever, Indiana Landmarks threw the doors open wide one afternoon for us attendees.

The ground floor, which used to contain three guest rooms, has been converted into an interactive educational experience about the National Road and its history. The top floor, which used to be bedrooms for the Huddleston family, is now office space for Indiana Landmarks and for the Indiana National Road Association. But the middle floor has been restored and furnished as it would have been when the Huddlestons lived here. First, the kitchen.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Just off the kitchen is this dining room.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

After dinner, the family would move to this room to spend the evening together.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

And when the Huddlestons had guests, they received them in this formal parlor.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The Huddleston Farmhouse

The upstairs was not open to tours as it is now office space for Indiana Landmarks and the Indiana National Road Association. But here’s the staircase up there anyway.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

And the house’s original configuration included no stairs to the ground floor, as those were guest rooms and accessible only from the outside. But in the restoration these stairs to those rooms were added, so that tours could visit the ground-floor National Road exhibit without having to step outside first.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

If you’d like to tour the Huddleston Farmhouse, you can make an appointment. See this page for more information.

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Preservation, Road Trips

Touring the Huddleston Farmhouse, part 1: the exterior and grounds

It’s a commanding presence on the National Road, this, the Huddleston farm. It’s in Wayne County, between the towns of Cambridge City and Mt. Auburn, on the south side of the road. You first see the big house itself, built in 1841, as you approach along what is now US 40. It is just steps away from the road.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

When John Huddleston built it, the road was much narrower and so was a little farther away from the house. But the house was still plenty close to the road so travelers wouldn’t miss it, as Huddleston opened his home as an inn for travelers. He operated it with his wife Susannah and their 11 children.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Travelers rested in the yard, on the porch, or in one of three rooms on the house’s ground floor. In those days, those rooms were accessible only from the outside. Travelers could also rent one of two kitchens, which I presume were in outbuildings.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

While travelers used the rooms on the ground floor, the Huddlestons lived in the upper two floors. A kitchen, dining room, family room, and parlor are on the middle level, and the family slept in rooms on the upper level. Later this week I’ll share photos I took of the middle level, which is arranged and decorated with period-correct furnishings.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

On the grounds you’ll find buildings that were a pump house, a smoke house, a large barn, and a small barn. The large and small barns are the two photos above. The smoke house is the photo below; it is a reproduction and the only non-original building on the property.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Below is the pump house, built over the well.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

It was just a few steps outside from the kitchen to retrieve water. That was pretty modern in 1841.

The Huddleston Farmhouse

Indiana Landmarks has owned this property since 1966 and restored it in the 1970s. The house’s brick was originally not painted, but Landmarks painted it in the restoration. I’m not sure they’d do the same today, but the standards of preservation were different in the 1970s.

Come back all week for more photos from the farm. On Thursday I’ll share photos from the interior, the middle floor, which is furnished as it might have been in the Huddlestons’ time.

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