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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Road Trips

US 40 and the National Road at Six Points near Plainfield, Indiana

Windows Live Maps image, 2006

Just beyond the Indianapolis and Marion County border, but just east of Plainfield, is the Six Points area. A two-lane segment of an old US 40 alignment runs through here. It’s maybe 600 yards long.

Heading west just past the Marion/Hendricks county line, there’s a body shop on the south side of the road as the road gently curves. We took the next left and and immediately made the first right to get onto the old road. This picture shows the old segment on the left and the current road on the far right.

Old National Road east of Plainfield

On the right you can barely see the sign for The Diner, an old Mountain View diner that had more space built onto the back. It was in its declining years. When I visited again in 2009, I found it closed when I photographed it.

The Diner

It was later moved into the City of Plainfield itself, restored, and given its original name back: the Oasis Diner. Here’s my photo from 2014, not long after it reopened. It’s quite popular today.

Oasis Diner

But back to this segment of US 40 and the National Road. When we turned around, it was clear that the broken pavement behind us was old US 40 pavement. Notice how the body shop building is parallel with the old segment, and would have been right against US 40.

Old National Road east of Plainfield

As this westbound photo shows, the road was closed for construction, so we couldn’t drive it. As best as we could tell, this road had houses on both sides. Dawn and I wondered aloud if they moved the road around these houses so they could widen it to four lanes without displacing the residents. Later I learned that the road was moved to eliminate the dangerous railroad crossing from this US highway.

Old National Road east of Plainfield

This segment was bypassed in about 1940 when US 40 was widened to four lanes. The bypass eliminated a shallow-angle (and therefore dangerous) intersection with a rail line in here. You can see a trace of the line in the map above.

What we didn’t know on the day we made this trip was that the road was closed to build the Ronald Reagan Parkway. I made this trip again in 2009 and in driving this segment westbound was deeply disappointed to find this:

Bisected National Road

I get it, this old alignment got so few cars it didn’t make sense to make an intersection here, especially when current US 40 was 200 feet away to the north. But it is unfortunate that this historic road was made discontinuous. Here’s the eastbound view from the other side of the Parkway. Since I made this photo in 2009, this has been reconfigured so that you can turn left from southbound Ronald Reagan Parkway onto Old National Road, and right onto Ronald Reagan Parkway, from here.

Bisected National Road

In 2006 I failed to make photographs of the western end of this segment. I corrected my oversight in 2009.

Bisected National Road

Today, you can’t drive the eastern portion of this alignment anymore as it was removed. Curiously, a tiny stub remains right next to the Ronald Reagan Parkway.

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

As you approach the removed alignment from the east, the only evidence the road was ever there is the row of utility poles that follows the old right-of-way. That’s a common tell of an old roadway. Here’s a view from Google Maps Street View showing how this scene looked in June, 2019.

Street View image © 2020 Google.

It always makes me sad when any part of a historic road is removed.

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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Covered bridge west of Greenup

Cumberland County Covered Bridge
Canon PowerShot S95
2014

Here’s an oxymoron: “new covered bridge.” Yet here this one is. It was built in 2000 as a replica of an 1832 bridge that once stood here.

You’ll find it just west of Greenup, Illinois on the original alignment of US 40 and the National Road. It spans the Embarras (EM-ba-raw) River. That original covered bridge washed out in 1865. A steel replacement, I believe a Whipple truss, constructed in 1875 washed out in 1912. A girder bridge was completed in 1920 and served until flooding damaged a pier in 1996, rendering the bridge unsafe.

By this time, US 40 had long been rerouted around Greenup to the south. This crossing no longer carried a significant amount of traffic — 225 vehicles a day, at last count. The county got a grant to build this bridge as a tourist attraction.

If you’d like to get more of my photography in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe.

Road Trips

single frame: Cumberland County Covered Bridge

A new-ish (2000) covered bridge in Greenup, Illinois.

Image
Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

Abandoned US 40 bridge
Nikon N8008, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor
Kodak Tri-X 400
2017

I’ve often wondered what leads to a bridge being abandoned. Was it too expensive to tear it out? Won’t it become a safety hazard for curious explorers?

I don’t know for sure when this bridge was built, but my past research points to 1920-25. It carried US 40 over the west fork of White Lick Creek, just west of Plainfield, Indiana. It served until only about 1940, when US 40 was upgraded to four lanes here. Two new bridges were built, one for each direction of traffic. This bridge was left behind.

The current westbound bridge is only a few feet away. It’s only in the winter months, when the trees are bare and the vegetation has died back, that you can see this old bridge from the road as you drive by.

I love it when serendipity happens. I scheduled this post to go live today weeks ago. Later, I started moving my 2006 road trip along this section of the National Road and US 40 to the blog, which I started sharing this week. My post about the day I first encountered this bridge posts next week.

If you’d like to get more of my photography in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe.

Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Abandoned US 40 bridge

An abandoned bridge near Plainfield, IN, that used to carry US 40.

Image
Road Trips

US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, 2006

I’m going to start sharing my very first road trip, on July 15, 2006, down US 40 and the National Road from Indianapolis to the Illinois state line. I’m bringing this content over from my Roads pages on my old HTML site, which I will eventually shut down.

I traveled US 40 from Indianapolis to Terre Haute for the first time in 1984. I was a senior in high school, and my parents were taking me to visit Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. I didn’t know the road’s important history then and I hadn’t even begun to become a roadfan. I remember only two things about the road, and both of them were near Terre Haute. First, as you crested the last hill before Rose-Hulman, a red, round 84 Lumber sign seemed to rise out of the hill like the morning sun. It was kind of disorienting, really. Second, the clock on the bright yellow Clabber Girl Baking Powder billboard had stopped.

The 84 Lumber sign peeking through the trees; the Clabber Girl billboard beyond it

I ended up attending Rose-Hulman and became friends with a fellow who liked to take me on late-night drives on obscure highways and country roads to see where they led. I began to wonder why roads turned out as they did. For example, why did State Road 42 have two ninety-degree turns at the Vigo-Clay county line? Since every journey out of Rose-Hulman started with US 40, I became interested in it, too. I asked a classmate from nearby Brazil why US 40 through his hometown was called National Ave.; he said that was the road’s “old name.” I learned that locals considered the intersection of 7th Street and Wabash Avenue, where US 41 used to intersect with US 40, to be not only the crossroads of America, but the crossroads Eric Clapton sang of with Cream. And then somebody told me that State Road 340 between Brazil and the Vigo County line was an old alignment of US 40. I started to become fascinated.

Clabber Girl
The Clabber Girl billboard, the clock working this time

2006 was the 200th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson authorizing a National Road. It would be 30 years before it reached Indiana, and another 90 years before it became part of the US numbered highway system. The original road through Indiana was a narrow path made largely of dirt and sometimes chipped stone or macadam. It is now a paved highway, four lanes through most of the state.

My friend Dawn and I discovered our mutual interest in roads and US 40 in particular, and after learning that we were in that anniversary year we both started talking about traveling the road in western Indiana and looking for old alignments. Dawn has lived her whole life near US 40 between Plainfield and Brazil, and I spent nine years living in Terre Haute where I traveled the road between Brazil and Illinois. Between us, we thought we knew the road. As we researched, we discovered many old alignments of  US 40 and the National Road, always under our noses but beyond our detection. We decided we had to make the trip and explore these alignments.

At the Clay-Vigo Line
You’ll see these signs pointing the way all across Indiana’s National Road

On July 15, 2006, we drove west from the intersection of Washington and Meridian Streets in Indianapolis and, several hours later, crossed the Illinois border. Along the way, we saw many old alignments of US 40 and the National Road ranging from unusable to maintained state highway. We followed any road marked with a Historic National Road marker, any road marked National Avenue or National Road, and roads the Indiana National Road Association identified on (a now long-ago version of) their Web site as being old National Road segments.

I took photos as we went, which I will share and describe in a number of posts to come.

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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard