History, Road Trips

Puzzle solved: The National Road at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville in Indiana

For almost as long as I’ve been following the old roads I’ve wanted to piece together the history of a tangle of National Road alignments at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville, in Putnam County, Indiana. Until recently I had managed to figure out only that there are three alignments here. This map shows them:


The current alignment is US 40, which was built in about 1941. The previous alignment is the yellow-red-yellow road, built in about 1923. The alignment before that is the yellow-green-yellow road. It would have been easy to assume that this was the original National Road alignment, except that by statute the National Road was supposed to be a direct route, and this is anything but direct.

Thanks to research by fellow roadfans Richard Simpson and Roger Green I’ve learned a great deal that has solved almost all of this puzzle. If, by the way, you find this stuff at all fascinating, I recommend joining Simpson’s Indiana Transportation History group on Facebook here. He shares lots of fascinating research there about Indiana roads.

Simpson found articles in the Brazil Daily Times newspaper with dates from 1912 to 1922 that told the story. From them, here’s what I now know:

  • When the National Road was built here sometime in the 1830s, it proceeded from the east along the yellow and then red alignment on the map, passing through Pleasant Gardens. It crossed Big Walnut Creek at about the same place the red alignment does, over a “wagon bridge,” which means it was probably a wooden covered bridge. From there, however, it crossed railroad tracks that were there then, and joined the green alignment. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912, viewable here, and an 1864 map of Putnam County viewable here.)
  • In 1875, that bridge washed out and was not rebuilt. At this time, National Road travelers began to follow the yellow-green-yellow route, which already existed. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912.) By then, the railroad was more prominent than any major road. It is likely that this alignment persisted because it provided access to the train stop in Reelsville.
  • This route had two serious challenges: first, a steep downgrade as the road headed north into Reelsville, and second, two at-grade crossings of the Vandalia Railroad, one of which was considered among the most dangerous in the state. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912.)
  • In 1907, funds were secured to move the Vandalia tracks here to correct a dangerous curve and eliminate the at-grade crossings, but by 1912 nothing had been done. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912.)
  • In 1919, about two years after Indiana created its numbered state highway system and signed the National Road as State Road 3, the State Highway Commission drew up plans to move the road to the yellow-red-yellow route. (Brazil Daily Times, May 23, 1919, viewable here.)
  • The contracts for this work were finally let in 1921. (Brazil Daily Times, Nov. 18, 1921, viewable in two parts here and here.)
  • Work finally began in 1922. (Brazil Daily Times, Jan. 5, 1922, viewable here.) From other research I’ve done I’m reasonably certain that this road was completed in 1923. This is also about the time the train stop at Reelsville closed, as the National Road once again became the more popular way to move people and goods.
  • In the late 1920s, a truck hit the covered bridge over the Big Walnut Creek on Reelsville Hill. Putnam County built a new bridge there in 1929, an open-spandrel concrete arch bridge. The bridge has been bypassed but remains in place. A plaque on the bridge gives the 1929 date.
  • As part of a project to widen US 40 to four lanes across Indiana, in about 1941 the road was realigned and rebuilt here to its current alignment. This removed part of the 1923 alignment, making it discontinuous. See this post for information about the four-lane US 40.

Here’s an excerpt from the 1864 map I mentioned above, showing the National Road crossing Big Walnut Creek west of Pleasant Garden.


The Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index has a 1939 image of this area that shows the 1923 alignment still intact. I’ve added color to the road to highlight it. Instead of crossing the railroad track like the pre-1875 alignment, it hugs its south edge.


It turns out that my many photographic visits to this area will let me take you on a visual tour of these alignments. Here’s the map again, with index numbers that will go with the photographs that follow, starting at the eastern end.


The old alignments begin here, at 1 on the map. 2009 photo.

Old alignment US 40 & National Road

Shortly the road reaches Pleasant Gardens, directly south of Reelsville, at 2 on the map. 2009 photo.

Old US 40 alignment

There’s not much here now. 2009 photo.

Old US 40 alignment

This is the crossroads where the 1875 alignment turned right, but the pre-1875 and the 1923 alignment continued straight. 2006 photo.

National Road, Reelsville

Here’s the westbound pre-1875 and 1923 road, which dead ends just beyond where it goes out of sight in this 2006 photo.

National Road westbound out of Reelsville

This is the road north to Reelsville, the 1875 alignment, heading down Reelsville Hill. 2006 photo.

National Road, Reelsville

On my first ever visit to Reelsville Hill, in 2007, a new bridge had recently opened and the 1929 bridge had been abandoned in place. (3 on the map.) By the time I made this photo, in 2009, that bridge had been restored. That’s because it was designed by Daniel Luten, who invented and patented a kind of concrete arch that was very influential in bridge design. Luten bridges are therefore considered historic. The project to build the new bridge involved significantly reducing the grade, as this side-by-side shot of the old and new bridges shows.

Luten bridge

Here’s the restored Luten bridge in profile. 2009 photo.

Luten bridge

Here’s the best photo I have of the bridge from before it was restored. 2006 photo.

Bridge along the National Road, Reelsville

I made a screen shot in 2006 of this aerial map segment showing the old bridge still in use and the new bridge being built alongside. Notice how the road to the old bridge curved to meet the old bridge, but the road to the new bridge would track straight onto it. This might suggest that the 1929 bridge was built alongside the old covered bridge that was here on new abutments, and the road moved to this location. But the 1929 bridge is said to have been built on the covered bridge’s abutments.

Bridge construction at Reelsville

After crossing the bridge, the 1875-1923 alignment takes the first left and soon becomes a gravel road. I made this photo at about 4 on the map. 2006 photo.

Gravel National Road segment, Putnam Co, Indiana

Here’s more of the gravel road, from about 5 on the map. There’s no sign today that the railroad ever crossed this alignment; the tracks have been removed and the road smoothed out. 2009 photo.

Gravel National Road segment

The 1923 alignment was paved in concrete. Here’s where the 1875-1923 alignment meets the 1923 concrete, at 6 on the map. The concrete road from 9 on the map to here was removed at some point. I’d love to know why. 2009 photo.

1920s concrete

The 1923 alignment was broken into two segments by the 1941 alignment. Here’s where the second segment of the 1923 alignment begins, at 7 on the map. 2006 photo.

More Old US 40

I haven’t been back here in a long time, but when I made these photos in 2006 the road was heavily overgrown.

Old US 40

This is the 1923 bridge over Big Walnut Creek, at 8 on the map. 2006 photo.

Bridge on Old US 40

Here’s where the 1923 alignment abruptly ends, at 9 on the map. It used to continue through where my little red car stands, curving off to the right to join to point 6 on the map. I’d really like to know why this segment was removed. The narrow strip of asphalt that curves to the left connects this segment to the 1941 alignment.

Old US 40 end

This eastbound shot at 10 on the map shows the 1923 concrete. 2009 photo.

1920s concrete on the National Road

Westbound from the same spot, the 1923 concrete is someone’s driveway today. I’d love to get permission to walk this segment as far as it goes. On the aerial maps it looks like it ends about 800 feet from here. 2009 photo.

Old National Road as somebody's driveway

There you have it: all of the National Road alignments at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville, explained and illustrated.

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Washington at Addison

Washington at Addison
Olympus XA
Kosmo Foto 100

Even though I’ve driven the National Road from end to end and have visited the Indiana and Illinois segments more than once, I’ve yet to fully document the road through Indianapolis. I’ve made some photographs Downtown, but very little between there and the eastern and western city limits. It’s in some part because the neighborhoods are bad, and in some part because it can be difficult to find places to park.

But I go to church within sight of this location, the corner of Washington (the National Road) and Addison Streets on the Near Westside. I’d never noticed before that the corner building was originally a lodge of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. It says so above the second-story windows. I’ve lost count of how many such lodges have I encountered as I’ve followed the old roads.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Washington at Addison


Road Trips

Changes along the National Road in western Indiana

I’ve made a couple trips along US 40 (the old National Road) between Indianapolis and Terre Haute lately and have taken a few photos along the way. I’ve been driving this road for enough years now that some of the sights have really changed.

First, the Cedar Crest Motel sign is gone. This old motel was in Putnam County about 1.5 miles west of Mt. Meridian. Here’s the sign as I found it in 2011. Longtime readers might recall that this is on the only remaining brick alignment of this road in Indiana.

Cedar Crest Motel sign

Also, out in Terre Haute the great old Woodridge Motel sign is gone, too. The motel still operates, but it has a generic backlit plastic sign now. The new sign is so banal I didn’t even bother getting out to photograph it. Here’s the Woodridge sign in 2009.

Chateau Woodridge

In Seelyville, just east of Terre Haute, the Kleptz Bar neon sign disappeared almost immediately after I photographed it in 2009.

Kleptz Bar

I finally stopped — very quickly — in front of the Putnamville Correctional Facility to properly photograph the original alignment of this road, which is still used as a service road there. It’s blotchy because I shot it at maximum zoom with my iPhone. While most of this road segment is covered in asphalt, its tail is the original 1920s concrete. Those houses, by the way, are associated with the prison. They’re all very attractive, with dark red brick and green-shingled roofs, and I’ve always wished I could tour them.

Old alignment of US 40/National Road near Putnamville, IN

Here’s a through-the-car-window shot I made back in 2009. What’s most interesting to me about these two shots is how they reveal a curvy, undulating road. Putnam County has the most challenging terrain of all the Indiana counties through which this road passes, and when the current four-lane highway was built in the 1930s great care was taken to straighten and smooth the ride.

State prison alignment of National Road

I stopped in Brazil in Clay County. The highway had been rebuilt through town, and I wanted to see it. It wasn’t very exciting; it’s just a modern road. I guess the real excitement was when they tore out the road and found a layer of bricks underneath the asphalt, and the tracks for the interurban that used to pass through town. But I was pleased to see some improvements to the facades of some buildings. Here’s the Times Building in 2009.

Times Building, Brazil, IN

Here it is today, its lower facade refreshed but the upper portion still in poor shape. I Photoshopped this one to correct perspective, which is why it’s so upright when the one above is keystoned. The “today” shots from Brazil, by the way, were shot with my Minolta XG 1 and my 45mm f/2 Rokkor lens on Fujicolor 200.

Times Building, Brazil

And here’s the 1907 Davis Building in 2009, looking pretty rough.

1909 DH Davis building, Brazil, IN

And here it is today, with some improvements made. One of the years between then and now this building made Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered list, which got it some attention.

Davis Building, Brazil

But it hasn’t yet gotten all of the attention it still needs, as this peek inside shows.

Davis Building, Brazil

Finally, a couple counties to the east in Hendricks County, just west of Plainfield, this abandoned bridge is still abandoned.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

It doesn’t appear to be deteriorating very fast, which is nice in a way. It was built in the 1920s, probably; it was abandoned in about 1940 when the new four-lane alignment was built next to it.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

Here’s what it looked like on a visit in 2013.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

And here’s what it looked like on my first ever road trip, in the summer of 2006. Finding this bridge on this trip hooked me hard on following the old roads, by the way.

Abandoned National Road/US 40

I suppose that by summer the bridge will look like this again. I’ll be back one day. Because the old roads keep changing.


Brick Rd.

Brick National Road near Norwich, Ohio
Canon PowerShot S95

Ohio has some deeply delightful brick and concrete sections of the old National Road, some of which you can still drive. Like this section. It’s good, rumbly brick.

Thus endeth the series of old-road photos to celebrate Down the Road’s 10th blogiversary. But I have more to say about blogging and this blog, so watch for more “Ten Years of Down the Road” posts to come.

Photography, Road Trips

Photo: Brick section of the National Road in Ohio


The view from Gilpin Road

The view from Gilpin Road
Kodak EasyShare Z730

My sons and I were driving the National Road across Maryland. As we ascended Polish Mountain, the view of modern US 40 and I-68 below was arresting.

Photography, Road Trips

Photo: The view from Gilpin Road, part of the National Road in Maryland


Peacock Road

Peacock Road
Canon PowerShot S95

This is a nearly forgotten old alignment of the National Road in Ohio, still open to traffic. But as you can see, it gets very little of that. These bricks were laid in the 1910s or 1920s.

Photography, Road Trips

Photo: Peacock Road, a part of the National Road in Ohio