Road Trips

Twisty highways in southern Indiana

Most of Indiana is flat. Flaaaaaaaaat. Ice-age glaciers covered the northern three-quarters of the state. Where the glaciers stopped, the terrain starts to get interesting. The closer to the Ohio River you get, the hillier Indiana gets.

A college friend introduced me to the pleasure of driving country roads, especially late at night. He and I used to go out after midnight and explore until we ran low on gas. He took me home with him one weekend, to his parents’ home in Crawford County. It’s one of Indiana’s southernmost counties, and it’s largely taken up by the Harrison-Crawford State Forest and the Hoosier National Forest. He took me out to see “the forestry,” as he called it, and we drove some delightful roads cut into the rock as the land sloped toward the Ohio River, dense forest surrounding us. The roads were full of curves and hills, including blind curves at the tops of hills and the bottoms of hollows. He navigated them all confidently, expertly, and at high speed, which regularly took my breath away. He told me he didn’t drive as aggressively as he normally did, because he didn’t want to frighten me! I vowed to return one day and drive them myself.

It took me nearly 20 years to keep that vow. Over Labor Day weekend in 2006, I drove south from Indianapolis on a loop that included Crawford County and the state highways my friend showed me there.

I brought my camera, an Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 (review here), and one roll of Fujicolor 200. I should have brought five rolls! Recently I found the photos in my archive, freshened them all up in Photoshop, and am resharing this great solitary road trip with you here.

As I researched roads to include on this trip, I found a Web site for bikers that said that State Road 45 would “make a man out of you.” That was all I needed to hear; it was on my list. I drove its length. It is at its best in Brown and Monroe Counties — a wonderful curvy, hilly road for the 20 miles to Bloomington. Narrow and shoulderless, this road demands your full attention and is a handful in spots. These pictures are taken in Brown County west of Trevlac. This photo points eastbound.

IN SR 45 in Yellowwood State Forest

In Brown County, SR 45 passes between the Morgan-Monroe and Yellowwood State Forests, which makes the road seem secluded. Except for some bicyclists and a pickup truck, I had the road to myself. It was warm, and my windows were down. The sunshine broke through the trees and left its patterns on the asphalt. The breeze rustled through the trees and the birds sang. It was just me and my car, a little red Toyota Matrix, which you can see in the distance. It was a so-so handler; if I didn’t slow down for the curves the body leaned hard and the tires squealed. Its 5-speed transmission added a little fun, at least.

IN SR 45 in Yellowwood State Forest

In Monroe County, the woods disappear and civilization slowly returns as country homesteads line the road. The twists and hills remain, however, and are every bit as much fun. But as SR 45 meets Bloomington, the road loses all its charm. On the other side of Bloomington the road widens and thin shoulders appear. It meanders with the rolling terrain for about 25 miles. It’s a pleasant drive, but it won’t quicken your pulse. All pleasure disappears when SR 45 multiplexes with SR 58. The road is straight and flat the last nine miles or so to US 231. I took US 231 south to Loogootee, where it meets US 150.

US 150 near Shoals IN

From Loogootee to about Shoals, US 150 is multiplexed with US 50. It twists nicely in places, and is moderately hilly. Trees alternate with farms for a classic Indiana pastoral scene. The drive is pleasant, especially on a sunny day as my day was. It would make the perfect Sunday drive for two, chatting happily with each other as you glide along the curves.

US 150 near Shoals IN

After US 50 breaks away northeasterly from US 150 near Shoals, the Sunday drive is over. Wrap up your conversation with your companion, keep your hands on the wheel, and watch the road, because US 150 becomes gloriously twisty and hilly through a lovely wooded area. There aren’t many places to pull over on this segment, and so I got only one photo. Unfortunately, I bungled the shot and it’s too blurry to share.

US 150 leads straight to Paoli, which I’ve written about here. Its square is a big roundabout. I picked up SR 37 there, and followed it to SR 62, where I headed east toward Corydon, where I’d made arrangements to spend the night.

On the way I stopped in Leavenworth where, at the recommendation of a friend, I stopped for an excellent chicken dinner at The Overlook. They call it that because it overlooks the Ohio River. This photo is from a few steps east of the parking lot. I just love this photo.

Ohio River, from IN SR 62, Leavenworth, IN

From there I also took a photograph of SR 62 eastbound as it curves and descends into Leavenworth.

IN SR 62, Leavenworth, IN

My belly comfortably full, I drove on to Corydon. The first-rate curves and hills require full attention, which was tough to give because my system was wigging out over the massive sugar rush brought on by peach pie and ice cream after dinner.

Next morning, I drove back westward on SR 62, which is very curvy, hilly, and desolate all the way to just past Mariah Hill, some 50 miles away. I normally like to gape at the scenery as I drive and sing along with the radio, but to do either along this glorious road would inevitably have meant braking too late for a curve and finding my car mangled in the rock.

I stopped near the entrance to the Harrison-Crawford State Forest, 6 miles west of Corydon, to take a couple photos. The road through here was lovely, thickly wooded and cut deeply into the rock. The morning was chilly, the sky was mostly overcast, and a light mist filled the crisp air. The muted light that spilled through the trees and mist onto the roadway seemed to float ephemerally just above the asphalt.

IN SR 62 by Harrison-Crawford State Forest

SR 62 offers few places to pull over. I was glad that I could turn around and park in the pulloff area in front of somebody’s mailbox here. There were two houses by this pulloff. One was a pretty shaky looking frame house that was either unpainted or painted in that shade of gray that looks like weathered wood. But right next to it was quite a sight: a house that had caved in on itself.

Chateau Collapso

From Dale to Boonville, SR 62’s curves broaden and come less often, and the tight, enclosed feel of forest, rock, and guardrails departs for open farmland on either side. After Boonville, SR 62 straightens out entirely. Additional lanes were being laid all the way to Evansville.

I made my way down to SR 66 and headed back east. As SR 66 hugs the Ohio west of 231 and draws near to the Hoosier National Forest, the terrain becomes more rugged and the road rises and twists to meet it. This stretch of road is just as exciting as SR 62 from Corydon to Dale, with the extra excitement of hugging the Ohio River without guardrail much of the way. It’s, uh, refreshing to round a curve and see only water out the window. This photo of SR 66 near Cannelton gives a sense of just how close the water is.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

This photo is from the same spot, pointed westbound.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

Here’s another view of SR 66 near Cannelton.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

At Rocky Point, the Ohio River turns south as SR 66 goes more or less straight. About five miles later, the river swings back to the north and SR 66 hugs the river again. Up the road a bit, just past Derby, there’s nothing between you and a long drink, as this photo shows.

IN SR 66 near Cannelton IN

When SR 66 intersected with SR 62, I turned back toward Corydon. My memory says that this photo is of SR 62 westbound, where it meets and then multiplexes SR 37. Anyway, this photo shows how heavily wooded this part of the state is, and how deeply some of these roads are cut into the rock.

IN SR 62 near Sulfur

East of Corydon, SR 62 has a few moments of brilliance but otherwise becomes a fairly standard two-lane state road. At a friend’s urging, I stopped for lunch at Polly’s Freeze, a last-of-its-breed ice cream stand near Edwardsville, where I had a cheeseburger, fries, and a terrific chocolate malt.

At this point, I’d run out of film. My trip continued, though: SR 145 to French Lick, where I picked up SR 56, which merged with US 150 and brought me back to Paoli. This stretch was just as much fun this time as it was when I drove it the day before.

At Paoli, I drove the southern portion of the town-square roundabout and kept heading east on SR 56. The road is pleasant with broad curves and some long rises through Hoosier farmland. The road is wide, but has no shoulder in many places. After about five miles, the curves end and the hills begin to roll. It’s a pleasant drive. Some of the road had been freshly oiled.

Where SR 56 met SR 39, I turned onto SR 39. It’s narrow along its 14 miles with mild to moderate twists and a few really sharp curves, including several 90-degree turns where the road flowed in line with county roads. It’s clear that SR 39 was cut from farm roads. I would have loved to take photographs at many places along this excellent road, but there were no places to pull off. In hindsight, I probably could have just stopped in the road, because I never encountered another car. It was just me and the seat of my pants cruising this forgotten gem.

SR 39 flowed into SR 250, which flowed into SR 135. As SR 135 edged into Brown County and the northernmost portion of the Hoosier National Forest, motorcycles were everywhere as it’s a popular biker destination. And no wonder — the late-afternoon sunshine spilled richly through the trees’ branches as the road dipped and swung and climbed for about 13 miles to the tiny town of Story. It made me wish I had a motorcycle. Boxed in by motorcycles with few places to pull over, again I could not take photographs of this lovely and challenging stretch of road. I’ll have to plan differently next time.

Beyond Story, the curves and hills become less intense, but the drive no less lovely, until SR 135 intersects with SR 46 near Nashville. It multiplexes with SR 46 for a few miles and then heads north again as it goes through Nashville. North of Nashville to Bean Blossom, SR 135 curves a little bit here and there, but north of Bean Blossom it’s just a simple country two-lane highway all the way to Greenwood, and then a city-grade highway into Indianapolis; the same stretch of highway on which I began my trip.

After making this trip, I learned that the first people to settle Indiana did so just north of the Ohio River among the very hills I drove that weekend. These people included young Abraham Lincoln and his family. What difficult country to tame!

I originally wrote this trip report here, on my old HTML site. Someday I’ll deprecate that site, as I publish only on this blog now. I didn’t want to lose this post, so I copied it over here and edited it for length.

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Pony trusses

Pony trusses on the Dixie Highway
Canon PowerShot S95
2012

This bridge is a sad case. Due to deterioration, it closed to all traffic in 2015.

This road was part of the 1914 Dixie Highway and, later, State Road 37, southeast of Martinsville, Indiana. This bridge came along in 1925. In the 1970s, SR 37 was upgraded to a four-lane expressway between Indianapolis and Bloomington, leaving lots of curvy old alignments behind. The new SR 37 is only about 500 feet northwest of this spot. I explored them all in a 2007 road trip; read all about it here.

This bridge is on a short old alignment that provided access to some county roads on the north edge of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest. While it was still open it got only about 500 vehicles a day. So it’s not surprising that Morgan County went lax on this bridge’s maintenance.

And now it’s closed to traffic. It’s all overgrown now; it looks like it’s been abandoned for decades. See it here.

It’s not clear what will happen to this bridge. SR 37 is in the process of being improved to become Interstate 69. Many of the nearby old alignments were or will be used as frontage roads, and have received improvements to support that. But project maps show frontage-road construction ending at the southern end of this old alignment. Will this bridge be left in place? Will it be removed?

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: Endangered pony-truss bridge on the Dixie Highway

Pony-truss bridge on old SR 37 south of Martinsville.

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Preservation

Being rebuilt: the destroyed 1892 Holliday Road bridge

I’m blown away that it’s happening: the 1892 Pratt through truss bridge on Holliday Road in southeastern Boone County, Indiana, is being rebuilt.

Mark Finch photo

Last we looked in on this bridge, it had just been destroyed by a tractor towing a farm implement too wide for the bridge.

Boone County Sheriff’s Office photo

I’m hearing reports that despite this level of destruction, a surprising amount of the original steel was able to be reused.

Also known as the O’Neal Bridge, it underwent a significant restoration once before, from 2006 to 2009. Here’s a photo I made of it in 2011.

The bridge on Holliday Road

This bridge is on a little-traveled gravel road in a lightly populated part of the county, so it’s hardly a critical transportation link. But as one of just three surviving steel truss bridges in the county, it’s wonderful to see it given one more chance to serve.

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Road Trips

It’s always a good day when I get to drive across the Astronaut David Wolf Bridge!

I originally published this post in 2013. This year I started a job in a building right by this bridge, so I drive over it frequently. It made me want to dust this post off and share it again.

It is the last steel truss bridge in Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana, and it’s named after one of Indy’s most famous sons, Astronaut David Wolf. And I love to drive over it!

DavidWolf
David Wolf

The Astronaut. David Wolf was born and raised in Indianapolis, got his undergraduate degree at Purdue University, and earned a medical degree from Indiana University. He then became a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force. Soon he joined the Johnson Space Center in Houston and later the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where was selected to become an astronaut. He’s since spent more than 168 days in space.

True story: My first wife was a photographer in the Indiana Air National Guard when I met her, and had a framed, autographed head shot of David Wolf. The inscription read something like, “To the best photographer I know.” She took the photograph! (That’s not her photograph at right.)

The Bridge. It is a two-span riveted Parker through truss bridge with Warren pony approach trusses on either end. The Indiana State Highway Commission built it in 1941 to carry State Road 100; back then, this was way out in the sticks. But since then the city sprawled out this far, and later the state relinquished the road and the bridge to the city. Remarkably, the city has stepped up to maintain this bridge (it hasn’t with other former highway bridges, such as this one). When it widened the road to four lanes in the late 1980s, it built a new neighboring bridge to carry westbound traffic and routed eastbound traffic over the old trusses. The city carefully restored this bridge in 2008. It carries more than 40,000 cars across the White River every day!

Because this bridge is so long (547.8 feet) and is tightly hemmed in by strip malls on all sides, it is difficult to photograph. I’ve never found a place to stand were I can fit the whole thing inside my lens. Here’s the western Parker truss.

The Astronaut David Wolf Bridge

The Drive. This bridge and I both live in the same township, and it’s between me and major shopping, so I’m out this way frequently enough. It always lifts my spirits to drive over it. I love watching it come into view and then experiencing the truss shadows as I drive through them. Here, experience it with me!

Is it silly of me that every time I drive over this great bridge, I exclaim, “It’s always a good day when I get to drive across the Astronaut David Wolf Bridge!”? Never mind, don’t tell me. I’m cool with being silly.

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History

Adding the Michigan Road to the modern Indiana highway system

It was very late to the party: the last segment of the old Michigan Road to be added to Indiana’s modern state highway system.

MR_map
The Michigan Road, highlighted in blue. Map © 2008 Google.

The state of Indiana built the Michigan Road during the 1830s to connect Madison on the Ohio River to Michigan City on Lake Michigan via the new state capital in Indianapolis.

Indiana built other roads at about the same time, but none like the Michigan Road. Its right-of-way was enormous at 100 feet wide; the road itself used the central third. Even though the road was barely a dirt path at first, it was arguably the grandest road in Indiana. It was a major commerce route that opened deeply wooded northern Indiana to settlers.

The railroad’s rise in the late 1800s led the Michigan Road and all other major roads into disuse and disrepair. But around the turn of the 20th century, the bicycle and the automobile made good roads a priority. Indiana responded in 1917 with its State Highway Commission, which laid a fledgling network of highways over existing major routes and began to improve them, in turn from dirt to gravel to brick or concrete, and eventually to asphalt.

The State Highway Commission numbered just five State Roads in its first year. You might be surprised to learn that the Michigan Road was not among them.

Not in its entirety, at least. State Roads were laid out along portions of the Michigan Road in northern Indiana: from about Rolling Prairie east to South Bend, and then from South Bend south to Rochester.

The east-west segment was part of State Road 2, which followed the 1913 Lincoln Highway, a coast-to-coast auto trail established through the work of entrepreneur Carl Fisher. The north-south section was part of State Road 1, which continued south from Rochester along a new road that passed through Peru and Kokomo on its way to Indianpolis and, ultimately, the Ohio River across from Louisville.

Plymouth Pilot-News, March 27, 1919

Naturally, all major Indiana cities wanted a good, direct road leading to the state capital, and towns in between wanted to be on those roads. A road would lead from South Bend to Indianapolis. Logansport wanted to be on that route. You have to wonder why the state chose State Road 1 through Peru and Kokomo over the Michigan Road through Logansport. The Michigan Road’s generous right-of-way would certainly ease future improvements. Perhaps the state wanted to provide good-road access to two towns rather than just one. Perhaps Peru and Kokomo had a more effective lobby.

Officials in Logansport went down fighting, agitating for the state to hard-surface the Michigan Road rather than State Road 1 south from Plymouth, as the inset 1919 newspaper article reports. They even claimed — incorrectly — that the Michigan Road was a little shorter.

Alas, State Road 1 was paved.

Indiana expanded its State Road system to more than 50 roads by 1926, adding most of the Michigan Road in the process. The portion from Madison to Indianapolis became State Road 6. The portion from Indianapolis to Logansport became State Road 15.

(By the way, State Road 15 continued northwest from Logansport through Winamac and La Porte to Michigan City, fulfilling the Michigan Road’s mission in much more direct fashion. The indirect route through South Bend had been a compromise — one South Bend certainly enjoyed — to avoid the Kankakee Marsh in northwest Indiana. In the 1830s, no road could be built there. A series of ditches built in the late 1800s through about 1917 drained the marsh, and then by 1922 the river itself was dredged. The direct route finally could be, and was, built. It is US 35 today.)

But the portion of the Michigan Road from Logansport to Rochester remained off the grid.

Ply_Roch_Logan_Peru
Maps courtesy Indiana University Libraries

The U.S. route system we know today was established in 1927. Several State Roads became U.S. highways. Indiana renumbered its State Roads to eliminate numbers the same as the new U.S. routes and to tame what had become a messy numbering scheme. The Michigan Road from Madison to Logansport became State Road 29 (except for a rural segment south of Napoleon in Ripley County, which the highway bypassed to loop in nearby Osgood and Versailles). Old State Road 1, including the Michigan Road from South Bend to Rochester, became US 31. The Michigan Road from South Bend to Michigan City became part of US 20.

Also in 1927, the State Highway Commission decided to build a State Road from Lafayette to Warsaw. To be named State Road 25, it would pass through Logansport and Rochester. At last, this segment of the Michigan Road would join the state highway system! It was added first, in 1928; the rest of State Road 25 was added in stages over the next few years. The state highway map segments above tell the story. In 1923, the Michigan Road didn’t appear between Rochester and Logansport. In 1927 a dotted line appeared to show that the road was approved to be added to the system. In 1928, the thick black line shows that the road was not only added, but hard surfaced, except for a small portion near Fulton. The broken line there and elsewhere on the map indicates a gravel road.

State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) heading northeast from Logansport
State Road 25 (the Michigan Road) in northeastern Logansport, heading toward Rochester

Logansport got its wish nine years too late, as by that time US 31 had become the dominant route to Indianapolis. Not that it mattered much in the long run — US 31 might have boosted Kokomo’s and Peru’s prosperity for a time, but US 31 was rerouted around both towns in the 1970s and traffic through these towns slowed to a trickle. All three towns experienced serious decline toward the end of the 20th century, for reasons bigger than rerouted highways. None is noticeably better off than the others today.

See an index of everything I’ve written about the Michigan Road here.

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Photography

Revisiting the Canon PowerShot S80

At the encouragement of fellow blogger Dan James I got my Canon PowerShot S80 out and have been shooting it. This 2005 camera is positively ancient as digital cameras go, but it still works and delivers fine shapness and color in its eight-megapixel images. It’s been frightfully cold so I haven’t been out shooting much, but now that it’s March it should start warming up.

The S80 was a gift from a reader. (Lone Primate, are you still out there?) It became my chief road-trip camera, such as on a trip exploring all the old bridges of Putnam County, Indiana, in 2010. (Read about that trip here and here.)

Hibbs Ford Bridge
Hibbs Ford Bridge, Putnam County, Indiana.

I also used the S80 as I explored US 50 across Indiana in 2010. It’s a spectacular road.

View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana
View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana.

If you ever get a chance to drive Indiana’s US 50, do. It’s lined with charming little towns with plenty of great old architecture.

Hillforest
Hillforest, Aurora, Indiana.

This wooden bridge was on US 50’s original alignment in Jennings County, Indiana. It’s been demolished in a road realignment. Never delay taking a road trip — what’s here today might not be tomorrow!

Wooden bridge
Wooden bridge on Base Road, Jennings County, Indiana.

I made this quick shot in my hometown of South Bend while there on business one afternoon.

Ready to Strike
At South Bend’s Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument.

When each of my sons turned 13 I took them on the train to Chicago, just son and father, for a weekend of sightseeing. My older son and I explored Millennium Park one foggy morning.

The Bean
The Bean, Chicago.

The S80 whetted my appetite for a high-quality compact digital camera. Canon had recently released the S80’s successor, the S90, which they shortly updated as the S95. That’s the camera I went for in late 2010; my S80 days were brief in comparison to all the years I’ve used the S95. But when I charged the S80’s battery and inserted it, the camera fired right up. Let’s see what it can do.

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