Road Trips

Illinois US 50: Heading back to Indiana and finding some never-used bridges along the route

This is the fourth and final installment of my report from a 2009 road trip along the oldest alignments I could find of US 50 across a good chunk of Illinois.

In Carlyle, current US 50 follows the yellow path on the aerial image below. Where the current road turns north, the old alignment of US 50 continues straight. Howevero, the old stagecoach road that formed the US 50 corridor sweeps from there to the northwest.

Sadly, the new alignment interrupted the old stage route, labeled “Old State Rd” on the map below. Overpasses were built for other roads; why not for this historic road?

The stage road eventually curves back to the south. The drivable portion if the stage road ends about 15 miles west of Carlyle, but you can see bits and pieces of its remnants in aerial images. Check out this 1000-foot section of the old road that lies in a farmer’s field! It lines up pretty well with where US 50 curves in this image, suggesting that there US 50 resumes the old stage road’s route.

We drove old US 50 through Beckemeyer, Breese, Aviston, and Trenton, to where current US 50 meets old US 50. Current US 50 continues westward on the original US 50 alignment.

At this point we were starting to wear out from our long day. I wanted to get my friend Michael back to Terre Haute, where he lived, and me back to Indianapolis, where I lived, before we ran out of daylight. So we turned onto current US 50 and headed back east.

Current US 50 is interesting here in that all the signs point to it having been intended to be an expressway – four divided lanes. Overpasses are wide enough to accommodate two more lanes, but that’s not the most telling sign. Remarkably, and mind-bogglingly, wherever a bridge was needed, two were built alongside each other. In each case, one is used, the other has stood unused since it was built in probably the early 1970s. Here’s an aerial view of the eastmost of these twin bridges.

It crosses Beaver Creek. You can walk through the tall grass and stand right on it.

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

Which, of course, we did.

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

Michael has good balance. I tried standing up there briefly, but felt unsteady.

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

There is more to see along US 50 in Illinois. We passed several old motels, some abandoned, some still in business with great neon signs out front. I would have liked to stop and photograph more segments of the old concrete road that parallels current US 50 in many places. I would have liked to drive the entire unfinished expressway west of Carlyle and explored the other three never-used bridges. And I would especially have liked to follow the old stage road west of Carlyle.

But it was time to head home. I was tired, and so was my dog. That’s her tired face.

Sleepy

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Road Trips

Illinois US 50: A surprise suspension bridge in Carlyle

This is the third installment of my report from a 2009 road trip along the oldest alignments I could find of US 50 across a good chunk of Illinois.

After we left Clay City we kept to current US 50 as we headed west. Once again we could see an earlier concrete alignment paralleling the current road immediately to the south.

I’ve heard that there were plans for I-64 to follow the US 50 corridor, and, later, plans for a US 50 expressway from St. Louis to Vincennes, neither of which came to be. The theory goes that Illinois built a new US 50 mostly alongside the old, and planned later to rebuild the old road to modern standards, to be ready for I-64 when it was designated. Unfortunately, I-64 ended up on a much more southerly alignment in Illinois. This is why these abandoned US 50 alignments still exist.

When US 50 approaches Flora, then the old highway pulls away to the south to pass through town while the current highway bypasses it to the north. I’ve marked the old road’s path through town in blue on this map.

The old and new roads merge northwest of Xenia. They stay merged until Carlyle, about 40 miles west.

Just east of Carlyle, the old stagecoach road diverges a bit from US 50’s path. About 3/4 of the way across the map image below, the stage road used to veer north of US 50, cross the Kaskaskia River, and follow Fairfax St.

The stage road is used as a park entrance today, leading to a suspension bridge built in 1859. It’s named after Major General William Dean, a Carlyle native who served during the Korean War.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

The old bridge wasn’t designed to carry automobiles, but was used to carry them for some years anyway. Here’s a photo of a section of the bridge after a truck fell through the deck! A new bridge was built nearby in 1932, and this bridge was closed. In 1936, the then-abandoned and deteriorating bridge was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record; here’s its page at the Library of Congress’s Web site. These photos were taken as part of that work.

When the Vincennes-St. Louis mail route was founded, travelers had to ford the Kaskaskia River here. Then a “mud bridge” was built, but it lasted only through 1830. Travelers had to ford the river again until this bridge was built in 1859. After the bridge closed, it was left to rot until the 1950s when it was restored. Today, it’s a pedestrian bridge.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

The current deck is much narrower than the original deck.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

The previous photos are westbound; this photo is eastbound.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

This photo was taken facing southeast.

1859 General Dean Suspension Bridge

The old stage route followed Fairfax St. through town and then angled northeast out of town. It appears below as the road south of “New Route 50” on the map’s left edge. US 50 used to follow Franklin St. all the way through town, but in the early 1970s was rerouted north along State Route 127 and then west along a new alignment.

Next: Remnants of the old stagecoach road west of Carlyle, and beginning a return trip to Indiana on modern US 50 — with some never-used bridges along the way.

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Road Trips

Illinois US 50: Barnstorming through east-central Illinois to find three abandoned bridges

This is the second installment of my report from a 2009 road trip along the oldest alignments I could find of US 50 across a good chunk of Illinois.

I think I’ve never seen a road with so many old alignments as US 50 in east-central Illinois, from the Indiana line to Clay City about 50 miles to the west. I’ve confirmed all sorts of roads that used to be US 50 and I strongly suspect many others.

Along the way, you pass through Lawrenceville, Bridgeport, Sumner, Claremont, Olney, and Noble. Normally I stop and document the towns along a route. Given that this was a recon mission for a later trip (that sadly never materialized), we drove straight through.

We found a stubbed-out section of old US 50 shortly after we entered Illinois. About the first mile or so of old US 50 is signed today as Illinois State Route 33. Where State Route 33 curves to the north to meet current US 50, it leaves old US 50 behind, with this section that ends where a bridge over a ditch was removed.

Old US 50 in Illinois

From the air, it looks like this.

When old US 50 reaches Lawrenceville, it becomes State Route 250. It follows that path to Sumner, where it turns north briefly and then curves back westward.

Do you notice that there are thin traces of road to the north and south of US 50 west of where it merges with SR 250? A previous iteration of US 50, paved with concrete, follows along to the south all the way to Olney. We were able to drive on those sections if we wanted to, but we were short on time and stayed on current US 50. Those sections looked very rough, and all of the bridges had been removed.

SR 250 separated from US 50 east of Olney and followed US 50’s old path through that town. Shortly it reached the little town of Noble, where it made a left, crossed some railroad tracks, and made a right before leaving town.

On the second of these turns stands this old gas station, old pumps standing quietly by.

Gas station and pumps

Just outside of Noble, SR 250 reaches current US 50. The road marked “Old IL 250” in the map below is also old US 50, and it parallels the current highway to Clay City.

We did drive this section, for it is along this old road that the three abandoned bridges lie which sparked my interest in this trip. This concrete is rougher than it looks.

Old US 50 in Illinois

The first bridge spans the Big Muddy River. This eastbound photo from the bridge’s east side shows the condition of the road here.

Old US 50 in Illinois

Here’s the bridge, which I’m told has been closed since 1994. Check out the brick railing. The shot is westbound.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Big Muddy River

Here’s a closer look at the railing. I’d never seen anything like it before, but perhaps it was once common in Illinois.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Big Muddy River

Eastbound.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Big Muddy River

Check out the hole in the deck!

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Big Muddy River

I walked out to the west end of the current US 50 bridge here to get this photo.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Big Muddy River

Little Muddy Creek and its abandoned bridge are about a half mile to the west.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Little Muddy River

This one is more overgrown than the other.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Little Muddy River

At least its deck is whole!

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Little Muddy River

Its railing, however, isn’t in great shape.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Little Muddy River

Here’s the whole bridge.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Little Muddy River

Just over a mile to the west is the Little Wabash River and its bridge.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Little Wabash River

Can you imagine two oncoming semis encountering each other on this narrow bridge?

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Little Wabash River

Here’s the whole bridge.

Abandoned US 50 bridge over Little Wabash River

The old road shortly reaches Clay City, where it stops being abandoned and starts being County Road 600 N, and then S 1st St. SE. Old US 50 curves onto Main Street and follows it through town, curving west again just before Main Street reaches current US 50.

Next: Quickly through Flora and skirting Xenia on the way to Carlyle, where a small suspension bridge was likely on the original stagecoach road that ran along the corridor of what is now US 50.

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Road Trips

Illinois US 50: Crossing the Wabash River from Indiana

In 2009, my good friend Michael and I made a rush one-day trip along all of the old US 50 alignments we could find in Illinois, starting at the Indiana/Illinois state line. I wrote about this trip on my old Roads site, which I plan to deprecate. I’m moving that content to this site.

Someone I follow on Flickr loves bridges. At least, I assume he loves bridges, because every week he uploads another batch of old-bridge photos. Not long ago, he uploaded several photos of some abandoned steel truss bridges along US 50 in Illinois. I knew I had to go see.

Just a couple months before, I totaled my car as I passed from West Virginia into Ohio while exploring the National Road. It made me feel skittish about driving on the highway, I knew I needed to make another road trip as soon as I could. An Illinois US 50 trip seemed like just the thing.

Brick segments of old US 50
Brick section near the Wabash River

As you might imagine, US 50 has a long history in Illinois. Some of my roadfan buddies have shared research with me that take this road’s roots back to 1806, when a mail route and a stagecoach road was created between Vincennes, Indiana and St. Louis, Missouri, along the corridor that became US 50. One part of this corridor may have been part of a trace called the Goshen Road. In 1913, this corridor became part of the Midland Trail, an early coast-to-coast automobile road. Then it became State Route 12 and, finally, US 50 in 1926.

I knew going in that I wouldn’t be able to cover this road to my usual obsessive-compulsive level of detail – just driving to and from the Illinois state line, would consume much of my time, and I was planning to cut 2/3 of the way across Illinois. That’s a lot of ground to cover. I intended this trip to be a recon mission for an eventual return trip. (Sadly, that return trip never happened.)

This trip began in Vincennes with my dog and my good friend Michael along for the ride. We started at the center of this photo, where the bridge crosses the Wabash River. Despite the US 50 shields on the map, US 50 has bypassed Vincennes to the north for many years.

The Abraham Lincoln Bridge that connects Indiana to Illinois here was built in 1933. It’s easy to find photos of this lovely bridge on the Internet – just search on “Vincennes bridge” in Google Image Search. But all the photos are from the Indiana side. Now, perhaps for the first time on the Internet, here are photos from the Illinois side.

Lincoln Memorial Bridge

I couldn’t decide which of these two photos I liked better, so I’m sharing them both.

Lincoln Memorial Bridge

Before 1933, US 50 crossed into Illinois on a different bridge a little to the north. This 1909 postcard images shows that it had a steel arch truss portion and a wooden covered portion.

The old bridge itself was quite a contraption. At its center was a swing bridge which pivoted 90 degrees to allow boats to pass. Originally, wooden covered bridges connected the swing bridge to both shores. In researching this bridge at my favorite bridge site, bridgehunter.com, I found these postcard images that show how the bridge evolved.

In this image, a covered bridge stands on the Illinois side and a bowstring arch swing bridge stands in the middle. By this time, however, the covered bridge on the Indiana side had been replaced with two bowstring arch spans, probably on the same piers and abutments.

Finally, the Lincoln Memorial Bridge was built. The two bridges coexisted for a while. By this time the wooden covered spans had been replaced by Parker through trusses. The swing bridge had been updated with what looks to me to be two pony Warren trusses with verticals.

The blue line on the aerial image below shows where the old bridge used to be and how the road curved a bit on the Illinois side. Notice that the old road is still there.

It’s a brick road!

Brick segments of old US 50

The faint blue line on this aerial image shows the road’s path from the shore. Whoever owns the property now parks his car on old US 50! From the air, it looks like the old bridge’s approach is still there at the shoreline. I would have loved to see if doing so had not meant trespassing.

The road leading to the old bridge site on the Vincennes side is brick, too – check out the lower right quadrant of this aerial photo.

Back to the Illinois side. Here’s old US 50 westbound to where it merges with current US 50.

Brick segments of old US 50

Check out how this brick road was made to curve.

Brick segments of old US 50

Ten feet above the old brick road, along the newer Old US 50, is this memorial to Abraham Lincoln and his family as they first entered Illinois near this spot.

Lincoln memorial

Next: We pass quickly through Lawrenceville, Sumner, Olney, and Noble, to come upon three old bridges on a long abandoned section of US 50.

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Road Trips

Classic motels on the National Road/US 40 in central Illinois

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

As we entered Effingham, we missed a sign telling us to fork right to stay on the National Road. As we looked for a place to turn around, we came upon this old motel on US 40.

Effingham Motel

This motel is on current US 40. This might also be the National Road as well, despite the earlier sign directing drivers along a different path. I covered the two possible National Road alignments in Effingham in an earlier post; click here to read it.

The motel was a going concern. Apparently, the half-ton truck convention was staying here. Or perhaps the motel was next to the Dodge dealership. I can’t remember which.

Effingham Motel

Twelve miles past Effingham is Altamont. We didn’t plan to stop here, but we found an old motel still operating on the corner of Cumberland Rd. and Main St.

Altamont Motel

We parked in front of a Laundromat next door and started taking pictures. An Indian fellow came out with his young son, quite concerned, wondering why we were taking pictures of his motel. He was relieved to learn we were just tourists exploring the National Road. He told us that the motel was built in 1959, and that he never turned on the lights on the Inn sign. He gave us permission to take all the photos we wanted.

The limestone hotel looked well cared for.

Altamont Motel

The motel sign said, “American Owned.” The Indian fellow must have become a citizen to be able to claim that.

Altamont Motel

So many of these older motels become run down and dirty, but this one gets pretty good reviews online.

Altamont Motel

When we returned to my car, I discovered that I was blocking the parking spaces for the Laundromat, which I thought was closed. Two cars had managed to get around my car and park. As we approached my car, a couple came out wondering why we were taking pictures. They were disappointed to learn we were just National Road tourists out exploring. They had hoped we were investors looking for property to buy in their small town. The young man lamented how many businesses had closed in recent years and hoped someone would buy and reopen the convenience store that sat across from the motel.

About six miles later we came upon tiny St. Elmo. We passed through it as quickly as we entered it, but not without noticing its old homes. Just west of town we came upon two old motels, both in limestone, one operating and one decaying. The hotel on the north side of the road, of limestone and trimmed in turquoise, appeared to be half occupied that day.

Motel property

The owners had added a pool, but placed it out front. I can’t imagine swimming in view of a highway.

Motel property

Everything looked neat and clean.

Motel property

A little side building that looked like a diner had a sign on it saying that it would soon reopen as a restaurant.

Motel property

The motel across the street did not get this kid of attention. It looked abandoned.

Derelict motel

Past St. Elmo we soon came upon a confluence of old roads, where the National Road, US 40, and I-70 all meet. I wrote about it here.

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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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