Road Trips

US 50 in Indiana: Introduction

On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois.

US 50 in North Vernon

As that road-trip season began, I couldn’t choose from among a number of interesting Indiana roads I had yet to explore. But then I received an email from the owner of the Elias Conwell house, which stands on the Michigan Road in Napoleon. From her I learned a few things about Mr. Conwell, including that he was a prominent businessman in the Ohio River town of Aurora. When I looked into it, I found a street in Aurora bearing his name that might have been US 50 at one time. That did it; US 50 it would be.

I made my first US 50 road trip in June from the Ohio state line west to Seymour, my second in July from Seymour to Shoals, and my last in August from Shoals to Vincennes and the Illinois state line.

US 50 is one of the original US highways from 1926. Like all highways with numbers that end in zero, it originally stretched across the nation, from Ocean City, Maryland to Sacramento, California. It was extended to San Francisco in the 1930s, making it a coast-to-coast road. But then in the 1970s, the road was truncated to West Sacramento as Interstates overtook the old road west of there.

Across most of the nation, US 50 has roots in roads much older than 1926. In Indiana, US 50 began as a series of auto trails and local roads. In 1917, Indiana stitched many such roads statewide into its first numbered highway system. When US 50 came to life in 1926, it was signed along the entire length of original Indiana State Road 4 from the Ohio line west to Shoals, and along the portion of original Indiana State Road 5 from Shoals west to the Illinois line. Indiana’s State Road system was entirely renumbered in 1926 with the advent of the US highway system.

Like so many highways, US 50 has been straightened and widened in some places and outright moved in others, leaving behind a wealth of old alignments. But even with all my old maps and road guides, I found it challenging to trace US 50′s original route in some places. But where I was able to find the old road, I found plenty of great things to see.

Dillsboro

Since I made this trip, the late Richard Simpson traced all of US 50’s 1926 route across Indiana onto screen shots of Google Maps. It highlights some alignments I missed, which I will call out as I share this trip report.

I shared a lot of this road trip on this blog in 2010, but not all of it. Each Friday for the next eight weeks I’m bringing over my comprehensive, county-by-county road trip report from my old Roads site on jimgrey.net.

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Road Trips

Driving Indiana State Road 236

In late July of 2009, I took my sons to Turkey Run State Park in west-central Indiana for some hiking. That was one of our favorite places to spend a day. I wrote about that day here.

Turkey Run is on State Road 47 at US 41. On the way home, I drove south on 41 a little bit so that I could drive the length of State Road 236. I’d been on parts of it before and it made me eager to follow it from end to end.

When I made this trip, I didn’t know that there was another segment of SR 236 in Hamilton County, a 60-mile drive from the eastern end of this SR 236 segment. It’s weird how Indiana creates discontinuous segments of some of their minor highways. Anyway, I drove the entire western segment of SR 236!

I never wrote a comprehensive report on this trip, so I’m doing that now.

Indiana State Road 236

SR 236 runs a skosh over 40 miles. It’s western end is just west of Marshall and it then heads east through Guion (GUY-un), Milligan, and Roachdale. When it reaches US 231, it follows that north-south road briefly before heading east again through Barnard and North Salem. There it turns southeasterly to where it ends just outside Danville.

I’ve outlined this segment of SR 236 below on a screen shot of Google Maps. I included the Illinois/Indiana state line and the western edge of Indianapolis so you can see the road in context.

Map data ©2022 Google

Above I showed SR 236 eastbound from its western end. Here’s that western end, at US 41.

Indiana State Road 236

SR 236 is a long, narrow two-laner, a minor highway. A drive on SR 236 is interrupted only by a stop sign at US 231. This is the archetypical SR 236 scene.

Indiana State Road 236

SR 236 wasn’t part of the initial wave of signed Indiana state roads. On the 1932 state highway map the portion from US 231 (which was then SR 43) to near Danville was shown as a proposed addition. The next map I have access to is from 1945; the US 231-Danville section shows up there as SR 136. On the 1950 map the road is finally extended back to US 41, but this portion appears to follow a slightly different path, meeting US 41 at a slightly more southerly point and almost immediately making two hard turns to the current path. West of Milligan it hooks north to run through Rusellville and then back south to the current path. Just east of what’s now US 231 it hooks south and meets US 231 at a more southerly point than currently.

In 1950, US 136 was routed along what had been State Road 34 from Indianapolis through Crawfordsville to the Illinois state line. Indiana doesn’t allow State Roads to have the same number as US highways, so it renumbered SR 136 to SR 236.

During these years, SR 236 was a dirt road from US 41 to current US 231, and a gravel road from there to Danville. By 1960, the western section had been realigned to its current path. From US 41 to Guion it was a gravel road. From there to just east of Milligan it was an “intermediate type” road meaning it could have been oiled or even paved in wood chips! From there to current US 31 it was hard surfaced, either asphalt or concrete. The rest of the way it was a gravel road. This kind of thing was still common then as the state worked to improve State Roads to hard surfaces all around the state. By 1970 the entire route was hard-surfaced.

Back to the road trip. SR 236 shortly makes a hard right and enters Marshall, where it passes under this impressive arch.

Marshall, IN

It then immediately turns left and continues eastward.

Marshall, IN

As I passed through the towns on this road, most of the rest of them didn’t compel me to stop.

Indiana State Road 236

In North Salem, there was enough of a “there” there that I did stop and make several photos.

North Salem, IN

North Salem is a fairly old town in Indiana, having been laid out in 1835. But it never grew large, with a population of just over 500 today.

North Salem, IN

The building above was an Odd Fellows lodge, and the building below was a Masonic lodge. You see buildings like these in pretty much every Indiana town.

North Salem, IN

As the road exits North Salem it makes a curve to begin its southeasterly journey toward Danville.

North Salem, IN

Here’s where SR 236 ends at SR 39, just north of Danville.

Indiana State Road 236

Here’s that same end looking westbound. Notice that the road curves to meet SR 39 at a right angle.

Indiana State Road 236

I feel certain that SR 236 used to form a fork with SR 39. Notice how the edge of the field in the lower right of this map snippet follows the line of SR 236.

Imagery ©2022 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA/FPAC/GEO. Map data ©2022 Google.

It may also be that at one point SR 236 was signed with SR 39 from here to Danville. I’ve not been able to find any authority to prove or disprove that. In my lifetime it’s been Indiana’s habit to eliminate concurrencies like that except when strictly necessary.

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Photographs, Preservation

8 Odd Fellows buildings in Indiana

Washington at Addison
Indianapolis, Olympus XA, Kosmo Foto Mono
Downtown Richmond
Richmond, Canon PowerShot S95
Centerville
Centerville, Canon PowerShot S95
North Salem, IN
North Salem, Kodak EasyShare Z730
Odd Fellows Building, Eminence
Eminence, Kodak EasyShare Z730
IOOF, Roann
Roann, Yashica Lynx 14e, Kodak T-Max 400
IOOF Thorntown
Thorntown, Kodak No. 2 Brownie, Model F, Kodak Verichrome Pan (x 6/82)
IOOF
Rolling Prairie, Kodak EasyShare Z730

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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Picturesque barns along the National Road and US 40 in Indiana

As a city boy, old barns don’t draw me in as much as old houses do. But I noticed and photographed these barns as I bicycled across Indiana.

This dilapidated barn is on an original alignment of the National Road west of Dunreith.

National Road west of Dunreith

I stopped to rest near this barn in Henry County.

Henry County on US 40

In Hendricks County, this is the barn that accompanies the gorgeous Rising Hall home that I’ve featured on this blog before.

Rising Hall on US 40

This old barn is right up against the road in Putnam County.

Old barn on US 40, Putnam Co.

This barn is part of Kastle View Farms, a Hoosier Heritage Homestead, meaning it has been in the same family for more than 100 years.

Kastle View Farm on US 40, Putnam Co.

Advertising was once commonly painted onto barns. Part of an advertisement remains on this barn in Putnam County near Putnamville.

Barn

This striking green barn is in Clay County.

Green barn, Clay Co., US 40

Here’s another view of the green barn.

Green barn, Clay Co., US 40

Finally, near Cloverland in Clay County stands this old barn that looks like it may have been used as a store at some point.

Barn in Cloverland

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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Preservation, Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Grand old houses along Indiana’s National Road

One reason I wanted to bicycle across Indiana was because when I drive it in my car, I whiz by things too fast to notice them. Even when I do notice them, frequently there’s no place to put the car so I can stop and photograph it. A bicycle stows neatly on even the narrowest shoulder.

The National Road is one of Indiana’s oldest roads, originally built in the 1830s. It opened travel into what was then considered the West from the East. As such, people settled on it. A number of homes from the 1800s still stand on the National Road all the way across Indiana. Here are a bunch of them. Each photo is geotagged on Flickr; click the photo to see it there and to access Flickr’s map.

You’ll find this beauty just west of Richmond.

Old house, US 40, west of Richmond

This house is across the street and slightly west of the one above.

Old house, US 40, west of Richmond

This house, a former inn, is on the east side of Centerville.

The Mansion House, Centerville

These two old brick houses are in the same block as the house above.

Centerville
Centerville

This large frame house is on the west edge of Centerville.

Centerville

I found this sturdy brick house in East Germantown, in Wayne County.

Brick house, US 40

This incredible beauty is on the east side of Cambridge City.

Cambridge City

This is the Huddleston Farmhouse, which I toured some years ago and blogged about here and here. Those shutters need some maintenance.

Huddleston Farmhouse

This looks like two adjacent structures to me. They’re commercial businesses now, but I’ll bet they were originally residences. They’re in Dublin.

Dublin, IN

This house is also in Dublin. It looks newer than any of the others I’ve shared so far, late 1800s or even very early 1900s.

Dublin, IN

This old house is at the main crossroads in Lewisville.

Lewisville

You’ll find this house on the original National Road alignment west of Dunreith.

National Road west of Dunreith

I’m no architectural expert but I’ve learned some things over the years that help me date houses. I’m stymied by this one — could be anywhere from 1850 to 1920. It’s in Knightstown.

Knightstown

This beauty is also in Knightstown.

Knightstown

As is this one.

Knightstown

This stylish frame house stands west of Charlottesville in Hancock County. All the times I’ve driven the National Road across Indiana, and I’ve never noticed this house before. Bicycling my way across helped me see it.

Old house, Hancock County

Many interesting old houses face the road in Greenfield, but this one looks the oldest to me.

Greenfield

There’s a dot on the National Road map called Philadelphia, and you’ll find this house there.

Old house, US 40

This grand house in Indianapolis’s Irvington neighborhood has been adapted into a church. It’s not actually right on the National Road, but it’s incredibly visible from it.

Irvington on old US 40

We’re now on the west side Indiana’s National Road, in Plainfield.

Old house, Plainfield

This one is also in Plainfield.

Old house Plainfield IN

This house is west of Plainfield and serves as the main building on a golf course. It’s just east of the abandoned US 40 bridge.

Old house on US 40 W of Plainfield

This is Rising Hall, right on the Hendricks/Putnam County line. I will likely write a longer post about this house alone.

Rising Hall on US 40

This house stands alone on the road in Putnam County.

Old house on US 40, Putnam Co.

This is the McKinley House, which stands near Harmony in Clay County. I’ll certainly do a Then and Now post about it, as I photographed it many years ago when it wore a different paint scheme.

The McKinley House

This appears to be among the newer homes in this collection, but I like it. It’s on State Road 340, the original alignment of the National Road, near Cloverland.

Old house on SR 340

These are the interesting old houses that I photographed. I’m sure I missed some, including several in Vigo County that I didn’t photograph because it was raining. I’ll have to go back and get them another day!

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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Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

The story behind my ride across Indiana

The idea for my Ride Across Indiana was sparked on July 7, 2007. That day my longtime friend Dawn and I followed the National Road across Illinois, starting at the Indiana state line. There we found this:

RAIN
The RAIN ride had started at this point a couple hours before we reached it this day in 2007

Looking it up later, I discovered that this is the Bloomington Bicycle Club’s annual Ride Across Indiana (RAIN), a one-day ride of about 160 miles from the Illinois line to the Ohio line on US 40. (So it was then; now they start at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College near West Terre Haute and end in Richmond.) If memory serves, we had seen hordes of bicyclists in US 40’s eastbound lanes as we traveled west to get to this spot, and wondered what it was all about.

Bicycling is my thing

I have always loved to ride my bicycle! But I’m not a serious, competitive cyclist, as the RAIN riders very much appeared to be. I rode for pleasure, to feel the sun in my face and the wind in my hair. (I began my riding days in the 1970s and 1980s, when nobody wore helmets.) The idea of riding across Indiana was compelling, but I couldn’t fathom being in the condition necessary to ride 160 miles in a day, or to be willing to afford an expensive, serious bicycle.

Bikes
My friend Brian’s bicycle (front) and mine (back) in 1982

I’m unathletic and clumsy. I don’t much enjoy sports, and thanks in part to a mild impairment that robs me of three-dimensional vision, was never any good at them. But at age 7, on the day my father bought me a used Schwinn I got on and rode it like I was born to be on the seat. It’s the only physical activity I ever took to easily. Until I went away to college, I went everywhere on my bicycle. In my early teens I bought a new 3 speed at a sporting-goods store. It and I were a perfect fit. I put thousands of miles on that bike in the ten years or so I owned it.

The idea of the RAIN ride reawakened my desire to ride. I owned a good bicycle then, a hybrid with knobby tires. I rode it sometimes but didn’t love it. I preferred a 3 speed’s upright riding position and big, padded, springy seat. I couldn’t find a new 3 speed anywhere, so I searched Craigslist for a used one. Soon I found the 1986 Schwinn Collegiate that I still ride. I paid $60 for it, and invested about $100 in a tuneup to bring it into good riding condition.

I still didn’t ride all that much. Life was far too full, and besides, where I lived then afforded no places to ride that weren’t choked with car traffic. But my Schwinn was always there, ready to go.

Planning the trip

The idea to ride across Indiana was rekindled a few years ago when a good friend told me that he was planning to walk across Scotland that year with a group of colleagues. He wondered if I had any audacious ideas like that. “I’ve always wanted to ride my bicycle all the way across Indiana on US 40,” I said. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but it came to mind immediately.

But I wouldn’t do the ride in one day, I said. I’d want to break it up into multiple days, maybe over a week’s time. I want to really see US 40, the old National Road. I’d toured it by car several times, but I was sure I’d whizzed by several things I didn’t even notice. There were also things along the road that I wanted to stop and see, but there was no place to put the car. On a bicycle, I’d be going slowly enough to see everything and could park anywhere.

Moreover, I’m a middle-aged man now in middling physical condition. I don’t believe I could ever be ready for a 160-mile one-day ride.

Bike by the barn
My 1986 Schwinn on a country road near my home this spring, soybeans just beginning to grow

I moved from Indianapolis to Zionsville four years ago, and then in 2020 the pandemic hit. Thanks to emotional eating and a slowed middle-age metabolism, I was packing on pounds. I started riding again as a way of managing my weight. I was working from home, which gave me some time back because I wasn’t commuting. Moreover, if I rode over my lunch hour and came back sweaty, nobody cared because we were all on Zoom. My suburban home is a few minutes’ ride from little-traveled country roads among the corn and soybean fields, which made for carefree riding, my favorite kind.

It hit me this year that working from home gave me the time and ability to train for this bucket-list ride. I mentioned the idea to Margaret, who was unequivocal: “You need to do this!” So I began training. All year I’ve been taking longer and longer rides to build up my chops. As I did that, I found a comfortable pace and learned my limits, which told me that I should break up the ride into about four days of 30-40 miles each. Fortunately, there were accommodations and restaurants along the route at about those intervals.

A plan started to come together. I bought the gear I’d need for the ride, booked the hotels and Airbnbs, and trained. I chose the week before Labor Day for the trip, and hoped the weather would cooperate. I didn’t want to ride in the rain as my brakes are poor when wet. Unfortunately, as my start date approached the forecast called for thunderstorms my first two days. I pushed the ride out to avoid the rain. It wasn’t any fun at all to re-figure-out the whole ride, especially when availability of accommodations forced me to change the route from west-east to east-west. But I did it.

Despite all of this training and preparation, I told nobody outside my family about this goal, because I wasn’t sure enough that I would do it. What if this much riding was too hard on my middle-aged body? What if the Schwinn wasn’t the right bike for the job? New bikes are hard to come by these days. What if bad weather wiped the whole trip out? It wasn’t until mid August, just a couple weeks before the trip, that I decided the risk of scrubbing the mission had become low enough that I was willing to tell anyone I was going to do it.

Flamingo Motel
In front of my room at the Flamingo Motel in Dunreith, Weds., Sept 1, 2021

Riding the ride

I knew the ride would be physically demanding, but I thought I’d still want to stop to photograph absolutely everything that interested me. I stopped a lot, but it was mostly to rest. Especially in the afternoons, as fatigue and soreness increasingly caught up with me, I just wanted to get to where I was going so I could be off the saddle and rest!

Here was my route:

  • The first day I rode from my hotel less than a half mile from the Ohio state line, east to Dunreith, 33 miles. There was one short old alignment at the very beginning of my ride, but otherwise the route followed the four-lane US 40. I had a flat tire at the very end of that old alignment, which was frustrating and time-draining. I rode through two of my favorite National Road towns, Centerville and Cambridge City. I was tired by the end of the first day, and my back was sore, but I was in good spirits.
  • The second day I rode from Dunreith to Downtown Indianapolis, 39 miles. Again, the day began with an old alignment, the original route of the road all the way to Knightstown, about 4.5 miles away. It’s a lovely stretch of quiet country road. Otherwise, I rode on the four-lane US 40, which passed mostly through open farm country. I arrived in Downtown Indianapolis a little more tired than the day before, but in good enough spirits to meet my brother and his girlfriend for drinks.
  • The third day I rode from Downtown Indianapolis to Cloverdale, a town a few miles off US 40. This was my longest day, at 44 miles. It was also my hardest day — it took me 8.5 hours to reach my destination, a full two hours longer than any other day on the trip. Not only was this the hilliest day of the trip, but also, I struggled with poor energy all afternoon. I think the drinks the night before, plus poor food choices all day (including an insufficient lunch and a sugar-bomb sundae at a Dairy Queen in Plainfield), messed me up. I was incredibly relieved when this day was over. At least I got to ride over the Washington Street bridge in Indianapolis, which used to carry US 40 but has been pedestrian-only for at least 30 years now.
  • The fourth day I rode from Cloverdale to Terre Haute, 36.5 miles. My original plan was to ride all the way to the Illinois line, which would have added 18 miles to the day — 9 miles to the state line and 9 miles back. I knew I didn’t have that in me. So I shortened the route to the Vigo County Courthouse where the National Road met US 41. But then it rained all afternoon. Not only were my brakes useless, but my handlebar grips were slippery. In the interest of safety I cut the day short, and rode straight to my friend Michael’s house, in town. But it was a day of good spirits and energy, and I got to see several old alignments of the road, including three in Putnam County and one long one in Clay County.
IMG_7089
Woodside Drive, a 1930s alignment of US 40 in Richmond

Despite not photographing things as extensively as I wanted to, I made more than 500 photographs along the way. I’ll share images and stories in the weeks to come.

Lessons learned

My bicycle, a 1986 Schwinn Collegiate 3 speed, is heavy. If I had this trip to do over again, I’d rather do it on a much lighter bicycle. However, I would still want an upright riding position. A bent-over position would be too hard on my back.

On some hills, I would have killed to have a granny gear, that is, a gear with a very high ratio. Going up some of the hills, even first gear wasn’t low enough and I really strained. I would have pedaled a lot more using a granny gear but it would have been less strain.

When you’re having a hard time, there’s nothing to do but keep going. You will eventually arrive at your destination.

Pleasures can come at unexpected times. Do your best to not be so focused on the ride that you miss the good things by the roadside.

I should have skipped the drinks in Indianapolis on the evening of the second day, and eaten better on the third day.

Now that I’ve done this, I’m pleased to have done it, but I need never do anything like it again.

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