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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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 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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Road Trips

The National Road and US 40 at the Indiana/Illinois line

I’ve written extensively about the National Road, especially in Indiana and Illinois. See everything I’ve written here. As I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois here. Here’s the first of them, about the many changes at the Indiana/Illinois state line. I’ve updated and expanded it. This is based on recent research and a bunch of visits: one in 2006, two in 2007, one in 2009, and one in 2014.

The National Road and US 40 have changed dramatically at the Indiana-Illinois state line thanks to repeated improvements in this corridor. I’m going to try to explain the changes and show the various alignments. It gets confusing, so strap in.

The Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index (IHAPI) at the Indiana Geological Survey shows these roads’ progression. Click any of these maps to make them larger. This first image is from 1946, showing the original two-lane US 40 running from upper right in Indiana to lower left in Illinois. The thick white line at about the ¼ mark from the left is the state line.

Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index image

In about 1949, in Indiana the road was moved slightly north and improved to four divided lanes. On the Illinois side, sometime during the 1950s the original road was abandoned and a new two-lane alignment built immediately to the north. This 1958 aerial images shows it all. In the bottom left corner of this image, you can see a trace of the original National Road alignment just below the new US 40.

Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index image

I-70 was built here in the mid-late 1960s. About a mile and half of it on either side of the state line was built directly onto the US 40/National Road alignment. This 1966 aerial image shows I-70 under construction. When I-70 was finished, US 40 was routed onto it for about three miles. Also under construction here is a two-lane road that connects US 40 in Indiana to what would shortly become old US 40 in Illinois.

Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index image

Finally, this is what the scene looks like today. Click this map to make it larger. I’ve widened the view a bit to show the interplay between US 40 and I-70, placing the state line near the middle. In 2011, US 40 was rerouted onto I-70 to bypass Terre Haute, placing the 1949 alignment of US 40 here under county maintenance. Notice especially Illiana Drive, which branches off W. National Dr. in Indiana and flows into the old alignment of US 40 in Illinois.

Bing Maps, 2021

From a road trip I made in 2009, here’s what the original National Road/US 40 alignment looks like in Indiana. This is a westbound photo. This bridge over Clear Creek was built in 1919.

Old US 40 near Toad Hop

Shortly past that bridge is the last opportunity to turn off the original alignment before it ends. This is the last 200 feet of the original National Road in Indiana. The 1949 alignment of US 40 is about 200 feet to the north (right) of here, and I-70 is about 200 feet to the south (left). The turnoff is immediately to the right of where I stood to make this photo, and it connects right to Illiana Drive. If you squint, you can see it on the map above.

Old US 40 near Toad Hop

If you make that turn and cross the 1949 alignment of US 40, Illiana Drive curves hard to the left and heads toward Illinois. While this road was never the National Road or US 40, the Indiana National Road Historic Byway was routed along it by necessity. You can see a National Road guide sign just beyond the speed limit sign in this 2006 photo.

Toward Illinois on old US 40

Shortly you come upon the Illinois state line. On my 2006 visit, I drove into Illinois a little bit and found US 40 shields on this section of road, even though US 40 was officially routed onto I-70. On this visit in 2007, the US 40 shields were gone. I’ve heard, but can’t confirm, that Illinois maintains this road and counts it as part of US 40. Beyond this curve, Illiana Drive flows into the 1950s alignment of US 40.

Into Illinois

This was the day of the annual Ride Across Indiana (RAIN), a bicycle tour across Indiana that follows US 40 all the way. This was the starting line, just inside Illinois. That’s my friend Dawn standing near my car; she’s been a frequent road-trip companion for many years.

RAIN

Shortly after you curve onto the 1950s alignment of US 40, you can see the original alignment standing abandoned alongside. In this aerial image, two roads are marked E US Highway 40. The lower segment is the original National Road alignment.

Bing Maps 2021

This eastbound view shows the road as it emerges from the woods. 2014 photo.

Abandoned brick road

If you walk into those woods, the old roadbed is largely still there. The bricks are just an inch or so into the soil, and you can easily reach them by clearing soil away with your foot. 2007 photo.

Abandoned National Road

As you emerge from the woods you see that the road had a noticeable grade. That’s my car at the top. 2007 photo.

Abandoned National Road

On one of my 2007 visits, turning my car around there I accidentally backed it off the access road and got it stuck. A woman who lived nearby came out to help, as did a passing motorist. My friend Dawn was with me too. We ended up lifting the front end of the car and pushing it back into the ditch, right onto the brick National Road. It must have been 50 years since anyone had driven on those bricks! I backed my car up to get a good running start and then made a break for it up the hill. The bottom of my car scraped the lip at the top of the hill as it went over, but no fluids or parts trailed behind me so I hoped all was well.

Abandoned National Road

The woman asked why we were out on that hot morning. When we pointed excitedly and said, “We’re driving the National Road all the way to Vandalia!” she said, “Oh, that.” I suppose if the National Road runs through your front yard, you take it for granted. She did mention that the neighbor from whom she and her husband bought their property had helped build the brick road, watched US 40 go in ten yards to the north, and lived long enough to watch I-70 start to be built on what used to be some of his land. The neighbor told her that when US 40 was built, all the bridges and culverts along the National Road were torn out. That meant no long drives on the brick.

Incredibly, some years ago I found a set of photographs showing this road being built, in about 1925! Here’s one; you can see more in this article. Notice that this road is a shallow U-shaped concrete pad with a layer of sand laid in, and then the bricks laid on.

Building the Illinois National Road

This diagram from a 1923 report of the Illinois Department of Highways shows this construction. I wonder why Illinois bothered with the bricks; why not just pour a concrete slab and be done with it? But these were experimental days in highway construction, and highway engineers were figuring out what worked best. It didn’t take long for road-builders to give up on brick. I’d say that after about 1925, nobody was building brick highways anymore.

Looking west from Dunlap Road, you get a better sense of the brick road (despite the equipment stored on it). 2007 photo.

Abandoned National Road

This road is in poor condition here. I brought my friend Michael along to see it on the second 2007 visit and we walked this segment until it ended, near where I-70 intersects. Here he is standing on it, in a place where most of the bricks have been removed to reveal the concrete pad below.

Abandoned National Road

On the 2007 trip with Michael, we found an intact bridge on the old road. It would probably be more accurately characterized as a box culvert. I’m pretty sure this culvert spans Hawks Creek. Unfortunately, I’m not 100% sure thanks to my poor note-taking. But given where these photos fall in order the day I made them, if I’m off, it’s not by far. This eastbound photo shows the road, bricks removed, ending abruptly.

Abandoned National Road

The place where the road used to be continues, rather obviously.

Abandoned National Road

Here’s the culvert. It’s an odd affair: the culvert is topped with earth, which is topped with a concrete slab.

Abandoned National Road culvert

This is a sizeable culvert. Here you can see my friend Michael having a closer look at it.

Abandoned National Road culvert

At the I-70 intersection, US 40 exits I-70 and follows the 1950s alignment. But large sections of this brick road continue to appear all the way to Marshall, about 5½ miles away, and then from the other side of Marshall about another 5½ miles, almost to Martinsville.

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