Road Trips

An autumn drive down Indiana State Road 47

I’m bringing another long-ago road trip over from my old HTML site. It was a lovely autumn drive on a series of Indiana and US highways. I was still shooting film on my road trips, using my Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80. I was also still just making photographs of the road itself. Fortunately, this time there’s plenty of lovely autumn color to be seen.

The trees were startlingly colorful in the autumn of 2006, with arresting yellows, plentiful and vibrant oranges, and hot reds in their first appearance in years. I wanted to take a road trip when fall’s colors peaked, but that came and went in one day, it seemed, and I was stuck at work that day. There was still plenty of color left the following Saturday, October 28, though, so off I went.

I chose State Road 47, US 41, and US 36 as my route. SR 47 and I go back almost 20 years, when I was experimenting with ways to drive between college in Terre Haute and home in South Bend. My route until then was I-70 to I-465 to US 31, which alternated between boring and congested. I tried a bunch of back-highway routes until I found my favorite, which involved a long stretch of SR 47. I enjoyed several beautiful autumn drives along this road as it wound through Parke County by Turkey Run State Park, and then through some unexpected curves in the farmland of Montgomery and Boone Counties. US 41 and US 36 cut through some similarly lovely terrain, would bring me back to my Indianapolis home, and fit nicely into one day, so they were in. US 41 is fairly twisty through Parke County, and I had learned from a friend that US 36 is peppered with old alignments.

State Road 47 currently stretches from US 41 to Sheridan at SR 38. It originally ran northeasterly from US 41 to Crawfordsville. The state decided it was more northerly than easterly, and so gave it an odd number. While later extensions make SR 47 clearly more an east-west road, it keeps its odd number and its “North” and “South” signage.

At one time, SR 47 extended east from Sheridan to US 31 north of Westfield. Until recently, a bent sign partially hiding behind some overgrown trees tried to proclaim the distance to Sheridan, but the numbers had badly faded in the sun. Looking forlorn but very official, it seemed certainly to be a relic from the days the road was still a state highway. I wanted to take a photo of it on this trip, but I learned a valuable lesson: don’t delay in taking photos. That old sign had been replaced with a gleaming new sign unobstructed by vegetation. Oh well.

I started at the old eastern end of SR 47. Here it is, cleverly disguised as mild-mannered 236th St. in Hamilton County, looking westbound.

Former SR 47

On Monday, back at work, someone stopped me in the break room and asked if that was me taking a picture from the median of US 31. I hid my surprise that anybody I knew actually saw me. I said yes. He was very puzzled, but I left it at that.

Old SR 47 is very narrow and flat along its five miles of farmland. It also has no shoulders. It had rained buckets the day before, making ponds out of most farm fields. That didn’t make for very picturesque scenes, and so it was hard to find a decent place to take a good photo. This photo shows one of the dry spots westbound along the route.

Former SR 47

Sheridan arrived in no time. Here’s the beginning of SR 47, westbound, in Sheridan

SR 47 at Sheridan

This eastbound photo from across the street shows SR 47’s eastern end. Every small Indiana town is required by statute to have at least one Dairy Queen, by the way.

SR 47 at Sheridan

After SR 47 passes through Sheridan’s southern edge, its lanes widen. As it passes out of Hamilton and into Boone County, the road occasionally rises and falls gently, but remains straight until it intersects with US 421, the old Michigan Road.

SR 47 at Michigan Road

After that, gentle curves begin to appear, slight bends in the road. This photo isn’t as sharp as could be. When I walk out into the middle of a highway to take a photo, I keep my ears wide open for the sound of a car coming from behind me. This day was extremely windy, and the wind drowned out the sounds of oncoming cars. Not wanting to be squashed, I took this photo (and many others this day) in a hurry.

SR 47

The next burg along the way is Thorntown, which is at the center of what was the 64,000 acre Thorntown Indian Reserve, where the Eel River Tribe of the Miamis lived. This reserve didn’t last long, just from 1818 to 1828. Thorntown gets its name from the Miami name for the place, Kawiakiungi, which means “place of thorns.”

Place of Thorns

Here’s what you see as you swing across the bridge and enter Thorntown from the east. SR 47 is just out of the picture on the left. At any moment, you expect it to start snowing, and Jimmy Stewart to come running through town shouting, “Merry Christmas you old broken-down Building and Loan!” I told a story about how, while we were still dating, my first wife got me out of a speeding ticket in Thorntown here.

Thorntown

Two miles outside Thorntown the road twists a bit through a wooded area. The road rises and falls a bit through this area as well. A sign near where I took this photo says that a town called Colfax lay five miles to the north. This photo points westbound.

SR 47

As Boone County faded into the farms of Montgomery County, the fresh pavement ended. Driving is pleasant as the road rolls. Curved and straight sections alternate. (I am amused, looking back now, to see I had not yet learned to photograph a road while standing on the centerline. First, it leads to a more balanced composition. Second, I’m somewhat less likely to be hit by a car.)

SR 47

As the road runs under I-74 and draws near to Crawfordsville, farmland is replaced with family homes. This curve showed some of the best fall colors of the trip so far.

SR 47

In Crawfordsville, SR 47 multiplexes first with SR 32 and then with US 136. As SR 47 turns south on the edge of downtown, US136 goes its own way, but US 231 multiplexes in. Outside of downtown, SR 47 turns back west, leaving US 231 to its southerly path, and finally SR 32 takes a northwesterly fork, and SR 47 is all alone again. Because of some construction on SR 47, I was detoured down US 231 to SR 234, which intersects with SR 47 8 miles west of Crawfordsville. US 231 was unremarkable, but SR 234 was interesting — narrow and gently rolling through the farmland, with a drainage trench immediately off the road’s edge making stopping for photos impossible. At one point, the road gently curved so a bridge could span something perpendicularly.

As Turkey Run nears on SR 47, the road becomes more curvy and hilly, and the scenery becomes more lovely. This eastbound photo, a few miles east of Turkey Run, shows the long shadows of the late-morning autumn sun. (If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you might remember that this photo was in my blog’s masthead for years.)

SR 47

Here’s a westbound shot from the same spot. This is a nice little hill.

SR 47

Soon SR 47 reaches Turkey Run State Park. I visited it often, even camped here, while I lived in nearby Terre Haute in the early 1990s. In the years after this trip, my sons and came here to hike or canoe about once a year until they were grown. I blogged about it a couple times, such as here and here.

Turkey Run sign

Just west of the entrance to Turkey Run, you drive past the treetops as a bridge spans a valley. A couple miles later, SR 47 ends at US 41.

SR 47

Next: I followed US 41 south most of the way to Terre Haute. US 41 is so twisty it’s hard to believe it’s an Indiana highway.

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Luten bridge

Restored Luten bridge on the National Road at Reelsville, Indiana
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

The National Road and US 40 has been moved around several times near Reelsville in Putnam County, Indiana. Big Walnut Creek flows through here. As various bridges have come and gone, sometimes the road was moved. I sorted out the whole history in this post.

I say this bridge is on the National Road. It is, in that this was an alignment of that road used from 1875 to 1923. But this is not a National Road bridge, as it was not built until 1929. By this time, the National Road had become US 40, and US 40 had been realigned to a new road a quarter mile to the south.

This bridge was designed by Daniel Luten, whose pioneering design for concrete-arch bridges is patented. That’s why this bridge was restored in place after a new bridge was built next to it (in about 2006). If you can find a place to park, you can walk out onto this old bridge.

It’s remarkable to me that this old bridge out in the country was saved. Also notice the pitch of the new bridge. Its construction eliminated a wicked hill.

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Photography

single frame: Restored Luten bridge on the National Road at Reelsville, Indiana

A restored open-spandrel concrete arch bridge in Putnam County, Indiana.

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Indiana Fried Chicken Tour

From 2011 to early 2013, a buddy of mine and I went on a mission: to find the finest fried chicken in Indiana. Thus was born the Indiana Fried Chicken Tour.

We visited restaurants famous for fried chicken across the state, though most of our stops were within shouting distance of Indianapolis. I blogged reviews of every restaurant’s chicken (and fixings) all along the way.

As I’ve been doing SEO work on the site I unearthed these old posts. I thought I’d share them again with you, because they were such fun.

Stop 1: Mississippi Belle — This soul-food restaurant on Indianapolis’s Eastside brings it out fast and hot.

Stop 2: Kountry Kitchen — Another Indianapolis soul-food restaurant, in a bit of a blighted neighborhood.

Stop 3: Kopper Kettle — We ventured just outside Indianapolis to this genteel restaurant, a throwback to a time gone by.

Stop 4: The Iron Skillet — Apparently genteel-throwback is a thing, as this Indianapolis restaurant carries a similar vibe.

Stop 5: MCL Restaurant and Bakery — This cafeteria serves all sorts of food but fried chicken is on the menu every day.

Stop 6: Marble’s Southern Cookery — Another soul-food restaurant, on the near Northwestside of Indianapolis.

Stop 7: Wagner’s Village Inn — Located in a southeast Indiana town that looks like a German postcard, this bar offered the finest chicken on the tour.

Stop 8: Hollyhock Hill — The last of the genteel-throwback restaurants, and probably my favorite. Located on the far Northside of Indianapolis.

Stop 9: Maxine’s Chicken and Waffles — Downtown in Indianapolis, Maxine’s will give you chicken without the waffles if you want.

Sadly, our tour ended after nine stops. My buddy and I had been co-workers, and when I moved on from the company, our contact dribbled out into nothing. And my doctor had me experiment with a gluten-free diet to try to solve a pesky health problem, which took fried chicken off my menu.

The Indiana Fried Chicken Tour revisited

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Road Trips

Old US 40/National Road alignment in Putnam County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana. The first old alignment as you head west from Indianapolis doesn’t come until you reach Putnam County. You’ll find it about a mile and a half west of US 231. If you reach Putnamville, you’ve missed it.

But first, a curiosity. Just before you reach this old alignment, you’ll find this odd strip of concrete by the side of the road. There’s another on the other side of the road. They used to be part of a truck weigh station. Today, posted signs warn drivers t stay off them.

Pull-off strip

The Historic National Road sign in the photo above points the way to this old alignment. It’s a little confusing to find if you’re following the road signs. On this 2006 image from Windows Live Maps, it’s marked as E CR 550 S. If you check Google Maps today, it’s marked as W CR 570 S. But the sign on the corner reads 35 E. And the sign where this alignment returns to US 40 says 25 W.

Many Indiana counties mark their roads based on distance from a centerline. A road marked N 200 W runs east-west 2 miles west of the east-west centerline, and north of the north-south centerline. A road marked E 500 S runs north-south 5 miles south of the north-south centerline, and east of the east-west centerline. This makes it easy for police, fire, and ambulance to find a location in an emergency. Old highway alignments like this one sometimes challenge this system a little.

Here’s where old US 40 branches off from the current highway on its east end.

Old US 40 alignment

Shortly after entering this old alignment, you cross Deer Creek over this bridge. It was built in 1925, before the US highway system. A state highway system existed; this was State Road 3. The bridge was peaceful. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere — even though US 40 was 100 yards to our south, all we heard were the birds and the breeze. While the road was clearly maintained and used, we encountered no traffic while we explored it. We walked the bridge’s length and lingered here for a while.

Old US 40 alignment

On this 2006 road trip I shot film, and had to choose my subjects carefully so I wouldn’t run out of film before I finshed my trip. When I returned in 2009 I photographed this area more extensively with my new digital camera. Here’s a close-up of the bridge railing. This bridge’s deck is only 20 feet wide, very narrow by modern standards.

Old US 40

Before this bridge was built, an iron truss bridge carried National Road traffic across Deer Creek. I told its story here. This 1891 bridge still had lots of life in it, so it was floated along the stream and installed around the corner on S CR 25 E. Here’s a photo of it from 2010. That’s my road-trip friend Dawn getting ready to walk onto the deck.

Cooper Iron Bridge

I had heard that the old bridge crossed Deer Creek lay south of the 1925 bridge. On a December day in 2011 I happened to be driving US 40 back from Terre Haute and decided to follow this old alignment to see whether I could find evidence of the old bridge crossing. It’s always easier to find old road evidence when the leaves are off the trees. Glory be, I found it: the approach from the west, and the old stone abutment. I wrote about this in more detail here.

National Road path

Back to my 2009 photos. This old alignment is covered in asphalt east of the bridge, but west of the bridge the asphalt ends and the original 1920s concrete pavement emerges.

Former NR/US 40 alignment

Notice the expansion joints in this concrete: the one that runs down the center, and the lateral joints every so many feet. Expansion joints were a new idea in Indiana highway construction at about this time. Earlier concrete highways were just a continuous ribbon of concrete, and therefore cracked considerably as the concrete warmed in the summer and froze in the winter.

Former NR/US 40 alignment

And finally, back to my only other 2006 photo of this alignment, as it ends. The turnoff to US 40 was added when the new road was built in about 1941. The old concrete highway was truncated here.

Old US 40 alignment

Old alignments like this one are left behind largely to serve houses and businesses that remain when a new road is built nearby. These old alignments get little maintenance due to getting little traffic. That’s allowed this old concrete to look this fresh since being left behind.

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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Road Trips

Abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana

This was the moment I became hooked on following the old roads. Online maps showed a little bit of bypassed pavement here, but I didn’t know an abandoned bridge was in there, too — and holy cow, was it ever cool! Here’s what it looks like from the air.

Image © 2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2020 Google.

(Notice the clearing in the upper right of the image. That’s Iron’s Cemetery, a 19th-century burial ground well hidden from view. Read about it here.)

The map shows a gray area at the eastern end of this segment that turns out to be a landing of sorts. We pulled onto it, but didn’t see any road we could drive on. We parked and got out to look. We found a tiny opening in the wooded area that led to the roadbed. In this photo, which shows US 40 westbound at left, the opening is about on the horizontal centerline, about one-third of the way from the right edge.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

Here’s what that opening looks like, close up.

Abandoned US 40

Inside, we found a heavily overgrown road that was cracked and, in some places, buckled. The bridge appeared almost immediately, and it, too, was heavily overgrown, as this photo shows. When I first looked at this photo, I had to look twice to see the bridge’s concrete guardrails.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

This was incredibly exciting. I had no idea that old road infrastructure could be abandoned like this! I’ve been back a number of times, since this isn’t terribly far from home. It’s easier to see the deck in the winter months when the vegetation has died back. The next two photos are from March, 2013.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Trees are growing through the deck. Concrete-arch bridges are often filled with soil. (I once documented the demolition of a concrete-arch bridge built around the same time as this one; click here to see the soil under the deck.) As the deck cracks and crumbles, plants can take root. Also: note the Posted No Trespassing sign. Oops. That wasn’t there on any prior visit. I stay off this bridge now when I visit it. A good road tripper respects private property.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

This bridge is mere feet away from the twin bridges built in about 1940 when US 40 was widened to four lanes here. My educated guess is this bridge was built between 1920 and 1925. I don’t know why the state built two new bridges and abandoned this one, rather than using this one for the new westbound lanes and building a single new bridge alongside it for the eastbound lanes. Guessing, by 1940 standard highway travel lanes were wider than in the early 1920s, rendering this narrow old bridge functionally obsolete.

US 40 bridge in Plainfield IN from abandoned US 40 bridge

I revisited this spot in 2009 and made this photo of the abandoned bridge from the 1940 bridge. When you drive by, it can be hard to spot.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

The pavement looked like concrete, but it contained large stone chips. I’ve never seen chipped stone used in pavement before.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

The road was passable only on foot because it had become so overgrown. I am amazed by how nature slowly reclaims road that is not maintained.

As a kid, I saw a TV movie where the United States was wiped out by nuclear bombs, but years later a few people who survived came out from underground to see if the land was habitable. They found a lot of things intact and untouched, including roads, which they promptly drove on. Where’d they get the gasoline?

I’ll bet that in another 20 or 30 years, it’ll be hard to tell that there ever was a road in here.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

I turned around to look back. This is what happens to a neglected roadway, dystopian movies be damned.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

The wooded area cleared out and the road passed in front of a house. The front of the house is parallel with the old road, which suggests that the house was built when this alignment was still in use. As the photo shows, the road disappears before it meets US 40, but is in perfect alignment with its westbound lanes.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

If my guess of 1920-1925 is correct for this bridge’s construction, it predates US 40. Indiana established its network of state highways in 1917, when the National Road became Main Market Highway No. 3. There were some legal challenges to the state’s authority to do this (some details here). Long story short, the state overcame the challenges and in 1919 this became State Road 3. It wasn’t until the creation of the US highway system in 1926 that this became US 40.

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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Bridge on State Road 225

The last one-lane bridge on an Indiana highway
Pentax ME, 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A
Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 (shot at 200)
2018

Indiana State Road 225 runs just four miles, from State Road 43 a few miles north of Lafayette, through the small town of Battle Ground, through Prophetstown State Park, to a road that used to be State Road 25.

This four-span Pratt through truss bridge was built in 1912, before there was any sort of state highway system here. A stoplight at either end controls traffic so nobody has to play chicken on the bridge. Given that only about 950 cars cross it every day, I’m sure the state has never been terribly motivated to build a two-lane bridge here.

But that day might need to come soon. At its last inspection, this bridge was judged to be in poor condition, its structure requiring corrective action.

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Film Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: The last one-lane bridge on an Indiana highway

A barrel shot of a one-lane bridge on Indiana State Road 225.

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