Old US 50 in Illinois

Abandoned US 50 in Illinois
Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom
2009

A long section of US 50 stands abandoned to the current US 50 alignment in central Illinois. The state planned at one time to build a four-lane US 50 here, but the plans were scuttled after the new lanes were built. So they just routed the whole road along the new lanes and left the old ones behind.

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Photography, Road Trips

Photo: Abandoned US 50 in Illinois

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History, Road Trips

Driving the narrow concrete road

On my Illinois National Road trip this year, I found a nine-foot-wide section of the old road near Martinsville. I estimated that it had been built between 1909 and 1916.

9-foot-wide concrete road

My research found that Illinois built other one-lane concrete highways, but I had no idea where. Another roadfan, a fellow named Rich Dinkela, found one: Old State Route 127 near Greenville. He made an extensive video in which he drives as much of it as he can. The video also shows a few abandoned bridges and a short brick (he calls it cobblestone) section. He begins to drive the narrow concrete at about eight minutes in.

If you’re wondering how this old concrete has survived in such good shape for so long, consider that 10 to 15 years after it was poured, the highway was rebuilt along a less curvy alignment. This old road has gotten only light duty for 90 years.

I’d love to drive the old concrete myself sometime. Greenville is about three hours from my home, making this a potential day trip.

Rich primarily covers Route 66’s old alignments. He shares dozens of videos from the mother road on the rest of his YouTube channel.

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Road Trips

The end of the National Road

The plan was to build the National Road all the way to the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Unfortunately, money ran out about 70 miles to the east at Vandalia, Illinois, and that was that. I don’t know where construction stopped in Vandalia, but for me the National Road experience ends at the old Illinois statehouse. If the National Road didn’t actually pass by here, it would have if it had kept going west.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

Founded in 1819, Vandalia served as the Illinois capital starting in 1820. This building served as statehouse only briefly. None other than Abraham Lincoln, then serving in the state legislature, led a caucus to move the state capital up to Springfield. The existing capitol building wasn’t well loved, so during the legislature’s recess in 1836, it was torn down and this one was built hurriedly on the same spot. It was hoped that the legislature would enjoy the new building so much they wouldn’t relocate the capital. Alas, Springfield became the new capital in 1837.

Fast forward to 1912. An early coast-to-coast auto trail known as the National Old Trails Road was routed mostly along the National Road in its six states. In 1928, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed Madonna of the Trail statues on the route in each of the National Old Trails Road’s 12 states, honoring the pioneer mothers who helped expand the United States westward. Vandalia got the Illinois Madonna, and it stands on a corner of the statehouse grounds.

Madonna of the Trail

The statue looks to have had some restoration since I last visited it, in 2007, as it is much browner now. See some of the other Madonnas of the Trail along the National Road here.

Madonna of the Trail

We were fortunate to have arrived at the old statehouse an hour before tours ended for the day. This is the main east-west hallway on the first floor.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

The legislature and the Supreme Court operated from this building. Here’s the Supreme Court bench, or at least a reasonable stand-in for it, as much of the original furniture was lost.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

My notes are poor, but I’m pretty sure that this is the House chamber and the next photo is the Senate chamber. There’s a chance it could be the other way around, though.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

The light in this room was challenging. I shared a photo of the entire room in this post.

Illinois Statehouse at Vandalia

Vandalians were pretty unhappy with young Mr. Lincoln for his role in moving the capital up to Springfield. But at some point they got over it, because they placed a statue of him across the street. It makes for a good photo, one in which you can almost imagine him pausing for a short rest before going in to do the state’s business.

Young Lincoln before the Illinois statehouse at Vandalia

Thanks for riding along on my Illinois National Road trip. I’ve written about the National Road extensively over the years. See everything I’ve written here.

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Road Trips

A confluence of roads near Vandalia

The bonanza of abandoned old pavement along the Illinois National Road dries up just before Montrose, a little town just east of Effingham. Thence west, US 40 almost entirely follows the same alignment of the road from when Illinois paved it in concrete in the 1920s. From a postcard, here’s what that concrete looked like when it was new.

IL_NR_Vandalia_RPPC

Almost all of that road is covered with asphalt today – almost. A little of this concrete is visible where US 40 and I-70 intersect east of Vandalia. This remarkable confluence of roads includes not only the original US 40 alignment, but a newer alignment of US 40 that bypassed Vandalia. Much of that bypass later became I-70.

Imagery and map data © 2014 Google.

Imagery and map data © 2014 Google.

This 1920s concrete road was built 18 feet wide, where the old abandoned brick and concrete road well east of here was just 16 feet wide. But in this photo you can see concrete strips added on either side to widen it by a few extra feet. Notice also that the original middle portion of the road has no expansion joints, and so it cracked. The 1920s was a time of learning in roadbuilding, and later concrete roads all had expansion joints. This is an eastbound photo from the east end of the concrete alignment.

Abandoned National Road and US 40

EB from W end

I turned around in the same place to take this westbound photo. Notice the curved strip added on the north side of the road to let traffic flow into the later alignment of US 40, which bears right. The concrete alignment picks up dead ahead.

Abandoned National Road and US 40

WB from W end

What an awkward intersection these two old roads must have created when they were still in use.

Confluence of alignments

WB from W end

Here’s an eastbound photo of where the original US 40 alignment ends at I-70.

Abandoned National Road and US 40

EB from E end

I’ve seen topographic maps from 1969 and 1977 of this area. In the 1969 map, I-70 was nowhere in sight. In the 1977 map, this entire configuration existed. So the old concrete road was in use through sometime during the 1970s, and the time when I-70 merged onto US 40 here lasted a few years at most.

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Drunken road striping

West of Effingham, Illinois, US 40 makes a wide curve and passes over a railroad track. An earlier alignment of the road was left behind when the overpass was built.

Drunken road striping

Here’s what all of this looks like from the air.

Imagery and map data © 2014 Google.

Imagery and map data © 2014 Google.

Humorously, on the ground this alignment looks like this. I can hear the chatter at the highway maintenance garage now: “I know! Let’s get drunk and go stripe some road!”

Drunken road striping

There are a couple houses on this little stretch of road. I wonder what the owners think of the hilarity at the end of their front yards.

Drunken road striping

It’s a time-honored tradition in road realigning to just bury an old alignment under a mound of dirt to build the new alignment.

Drunken road striping

All of these photos are from two visits I made here in 2007.

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Are there two alignments of the National Road in Effingham, Illinois?

We drove right on through Effingham on our May trek across Illinois on the National Road. We had lingered in Clark and Cumberland Counties, and I really wanted to get to the end of the National Road in Vandalia before we ran out of daylight.

But I did explore the National Road through Effingham in 2007, and am sharing photos from that visit here. The road runs alongside a railroad track as it enters town. The signed National Road alignment forks away just as you enter town. US 40 veers away from the tracks shortly thereafter on its way to downtown.

National Road exit right

The signs have you follow Jefferson St. to Third St., where you turn left and then shortly right again onto US 40. Jefferson St. runs through a residential area.

Effingham National Road

As I look at a map of Effingham, I wonder whether the National Road originally hugged the railroad tracks all the way through town. A road signed National Ave., a common name for old National Road aligmnents, parallels the tracks in several discontinuous segments. See the map below; click it to see it larger. The signed National Road alignment is highlighted green to where it merges with current US 40. The suspected alignment is highlighted in blue.

EffinghamNR

Imagery and map data © 2014 Google.

Isn’t it interesting how US 40 enters and exits Effingham along the tracks, and there are bits and pieces of National Ave. along the tracks through town? One section of National Ave. is closed to through traffic and appears to be used as an access road for an industrial area.

Quasi-abandoned National Road

I walked past the barrier for a look.

Quasi-abandoned National Road

This street sign suggests that perhaps this road was once through.

Quasi-abandoned National Road

A bit further west, where the road is open to traffic, it passes underneath US 45.

Suspected old NR alignment

I wonder if any records exist to prove or disprove my theory.

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