Ride Across Indiana, Road Trips

Then and now: Original National Road/US 40 alignment in Plainfield, Indiana

On the far east side of Plainfield, Indiana, within sight of the west border of Indianapolis, used to be an old alignment of the National Road and US 40. This is what it looked like in 2006, when I first visited. Eastbound:

Old National Road east of Plainfield

Westbound:

Old National Road east of Plainfield

Notice the orange Road Construction Ahead sign in the photo above. Ahead, the road was closed as the Ronald Reagan Parkway was being constructed. I didn’t know that the plan was to close this alignment permanently; it would not provide access to the new Parkway when that road was completed.

I further didn’t know that the plan was to remove this road entirely. Here’s the scene from my Ride Across Indiana this year. Eastbound:

Fmr NR/US 40 alignment, Plainfield IN EB

Westbound:

Fmr NR/US 40 alignment, Plainfield IN WB

I wonder why the city went to the expense of removing the road. They could have simply closed it at much lesser expense.

Pro roadgeek tip: whenever you see a line of utility poles like this, you may be looking at a place where a road used to be.

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Road Trips

The National Road and US 40 at the Indiana/Illinois line

I’ve written extensively about the National Road, especially in Indiana and Illinois. See everything I’ve written here. As I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois here. Here’s the first of them, about the many changes at the Indiana/Illinois state line. I’ve updated and expanded it. This is based on recent research and a bunch of visits: one in 2006, two in 2007, one in 2009, and one in 2014.

The National Road and US 40 have changed dramatically at the Indiana-Illinois state line thanks to repeated improvements in this corridor. I’m going to try to explain the changes and show the various alignments. It gets confusing, so strap in.

The Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index (IHAPI) at the Indiana Geological Survey shows these roads’ progression. Click any of these maps to make them larger. This first image is from 1946, showing the original two-lane US 40 running from upper right in Indiana to lower left in Illinois. The thick white line at about the ¼ mark from the left is the state line.

Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index image

In about 1949, in Indiana the road was moved slightly north and improved to four divided lanes. On the Illinois side, sometime during the 1950s the original road was abandoned and a new two-lane alignment built immediately to the north. This 1958 aerial images shows it all. In the bottom left corner of this image, you can see a trace of the original National Road alignment just below the new US 40.

Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index image

I-70 was built here in the mid-late 1960s. About a mile and half of it on either side of the state line was built directly onto the US 40/National Road alignment. This 1966 aerial image shows I-70 under construction. When I-70 was finished, US 40 was routed onto it for about three miles. Also under construction here is a two-lane road that connects US 40 in Indiana to what would shortly become old US 40 in Illinois.

Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index image

Finally, this is what the scene looks like today. Click this map to make it larger. I’ve widened the view a bit to show the interplay between US 40 and I-70, placing the state line near the middle. In 2011, US 40 was rerouted onto I-70 to bypass Terre Haute, placing the 1949 alignment of US 40 here under county maintenance. Notice especially Illiana Drive, which branches off W. National Dr. in Indiana and flows into the old alignment of US 40 in Illinois.

Bing Maps, 2021

From a road trip I made in 2009, here’s what the original National Road/US 40 alignment looks like in Indiana. This is a westbound photo. This bridge over Clear Creek was built in 1919.

Old US 40 near Toad Hop

Shortly past that bridge is the last opportunity to turn off the original alignment before it ends. This is the last 200 feet of the original National Road in Indiana. The 1949 alignment of US 40 is about 200 feet to the north (right) of here, and I-70 is about 200 feet to the south (left). The turnoff is immediately to the right of where I stood to make this photo, and it connects right to Illiana Drive. If you squint, you can see it on the map above.

Old US 40 near Toad Hop

If you make that turn and cross the 1949 alignment of US 40, Illiana Drive curves hard to the left and heads toward Illinois. While this road was never the National Road or US 40, the Indiana National Road Historic Byway was routed along it by necessity. You can see a National Road guide sign just beyond the speed limit sign in this 2006 photo.

Toward Illinois on old US 40

Shortly you come upon the Illinois state line. On my 2006 visit, I drove into Illinois a little bit and found US 40 shields on this section of road, even though US 40 was officially routed onto I-70. On this visit in 2007, the US 40 shields were gone. I’ve heard, but can’t confirm, that Illinois maintains this road and counts it as part of US 40. Beyond this curve, Illiana Drive flows into the 1950s alignment of US 40.

Into Illinois

This was the day of the annual Ride Across Indiana (RAIN), a bicycle tour across Indiana that follows US 40 all the way. This was the starting line, just inside Illinois. That’s my friend Dawn standing near my car; she’s been a frequent road-trip companion for many years.

RAIN

Shortly after you curve onto the 1950s alignment of US 40, you can see the original alignment standing abandoned alongside. In this aerial image, two roads are marked E US Highway 40. The lower segment is the original National Road alignment.

Bing Maps 2021

This eastbound view shows the road as it emerges from the woods. 2014 photo.

Abandoned brick road

If you walk into those woods, the old roadbed is largely still there. The bricks are just an inch or so into the soil, and you can easily reach them by clearing soil away with your foot. 2007 photo.

Abandoned National Road

As you emerge from the woods you see that the road had a noticeable grade. That’s my car at the top. 2007 photo.

Abandoned National Road

On one of my 2007 visits, turning my car around there I accidentally backed it off the access road and got it stuck. A woman who lived nearby came out to help, as did a passing motorist. My friend Dawn was with me too. We ended up lifting the front end of the car and pushing it back into the ditch, right onto the brick National Road. It must have been 50 years since anyone had driven on those bricks! I backed my car up to get a good running start and then made a break for it up the hill. The bottom of my car scraped the lip at the top of the hill as it went over, but no fluids or parts trailed behind me so I hoped all was well.

Abandoned National Road

The woman asked why we were out on that hot morning. When we pointed excitedly and said, “We’re driving the National Road all the way to Vandalia!” she said, “Oh, that.” I suppose if the National Road runs through your front yard, you take it for granted. She did mention that the neighbor from whom she and her husband bought their property had helped build the brick road, watched US 40 go in ten yards to the north, and lived long enough to watch I-70 start to be built on what used to be some of his land. The neighbor told her that when US 40 was built, all the bridges and culverts along the National Road were torn out. That meant no long drives on the brick.

Incredibly, some years ago I found a set of photographs showing this road being built, in about 1925! Here’s one; you can see more in this article. Notice that this road is a shallow U-shaped concrete pad with a layer of sand laid in, and then the bricks laid on.

Building the Illinois National Road

This diagram from a 1923 report of the Illinois Department of Highways shows this construction. I wonder why Illinois bothered with the bricks; why not just pour a concrete slab and be done with it? But these were experimental days in highway construction, and highway engineers were figuring out what worked best. It didn’t take long for road-builders to give up on brick. I’d say that after about 1925, nobody was building brick highways anymore.

Looking west from Dunlap Road, you get a better sense of the brick road (despite the equipment stored on it). 2007 photo.

Abandoned National Road

This road is in poor condition here. I brought my friend Michael along to see it on the second 2007 visit and we walked this segment until it ended, near where I-70 intersects. Here he is standing on it, in a place where most of the bricks have been removed to reveal the concrete pad below.

Abandoned National Road

On the 2007 trip with Michael, we found an intact bridge on the old road. It would probably be more accurately characterized as a box culvert. I’m pretty sure this culvert spans Hawks Creek. Unfortunately, I’m not 100% sure thanks to my poor note-taking. But given where these photos fall in order the day I made them, if I’m off, it’s not by far. This eastbound photo shows the road, bricks removed, ending abruptly.

Abandoned National Road

The place where the road used to be continues, rather obviously.

Abandoned National Road

Here’s the culvert. It’s an odd affair: the culvert is topped with earth, which is topped with a concrete slab.

Abandoned National Road culvert

This is a sizeable culvert. Here you can see my friend Michael having a closer look at it.

Abandoned National Road culvert

At the I-70 intersection, US 40 exits I-70 and follows the 1950s alignment. But large sections of this brick road continue to appear all the way to Marshall, about 5½ miles away, and then from the other side of Marshall about another 5½ miles, almost to Martinsville.

Related reading:

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Road Trips

The same scene on the Ohio River in Indiana, 60 years apart

My wife and I still own too much stuff after four years of marriage. We went on a jag recently to rearrange the entire downstairs of our home, along the way shedding some things we don’t need anymore.

Emptying a drawer, I came upon a stack of old postcards I bought early in my road-trip hobby. They depict roadside scenes all over Indiana, but mostly on the Michigan and National Roads. I don’t need these postcards anymore. I scanned them all, and sent them to a fellow I know who collects postcards just like these.

Old postcards are a great way to see what the old roads and the surrounding environment used to look like. Sometimes places look very different, and sometimes they don’t. The postcard above is probably from the 1940s, of a scene just west of Leavenworth, Indiana, on State Road 62. (The postcard says this road is also US 460, but US 460 was removed from Indiana in 1976.)

Remarkably, some time before I bought that postcard I made a photo from the same place. I stepped over the steel guardrail and down the bank a little for my photograph, but as you can see the mighty Ohio and the surrounding terrain still look much the same.

Ohio River, from IN SR 62, Leavenworth, IN
Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, Fujicolor 200, 2006

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Road Trips

A survey of US 36 in western Indiana

Let’s wrap up my October, 2006, road trip in west-central Indiana.

I headed north out of Bridgeton on Bridgeton Road, which led straight to Rockville and US 36, the road I would take back to Indianapolis. Even with the scant research I did before the trip, I knew there were several old alignments of this road.

Parke County did a very nice job of signing old alignments of US 36. The first one I encountered was just outside Rockville by Billie Creek Village, a history museum. It ran south of current US 36, as the map shows.

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

Old 36 Road, as this alignment is signed, is very narrow. I imagine the alignment is very old and has not been used as US 36 in many decades. I encountered a car and a truck within the first quarter mile, and it was a tight squeeze. When I passed the truck, I wasn’t sure we’d both fit, so I edged my passenger-side tires onto the grass.

US 36 at Billie Creek

I didn’t know that an 1895 covered bridge was still in use along the route! I had never driven on a covered bridge before. Every other one I’d ever seen had been limited to foot traffic. It gave me spooky chills to drive on it since I was trusting 111-year-old wood, rather than good old steel and concrete, to hold my 2,700-pound car. With quiet strength, the old bridge stoically did its job.

US 36 at Billie Creek

I find this alignment curious because I saw no evidence that it ever flowed into the current roadbed. Here’s where it ends at US 36 about a mile down the road.

US 36 at Billie Creek

The next old alignment I looked for runs through Raccoon Lake. Here’s the map. Notice how the old road, from west to east, runs slightly north of current US 36, then crosses it, and then ends at the lake and picks up on the other side before flowing back into current US 36. The US Army Corps of Engineers built Raccoon Lake between 1956 and 1960 as a flood-control project. They built a new segment of US 36 straight-as-a-stick across the new lake, and just buried the old road underwater.

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

Somehow, I missed the western end of this alignment. I realized it when I saw a sign for Hollandsburg. I took the next left, CR 870 E, and drove north on it to the alignment, which was signed as Old 36. I drove west, hoping to find the beginning of the alignment. But without warning, the road dead-ended. The map above doesn’t show it, but something, maybe a creek, bisects the road.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

This photo shows the barricade at the end of the road, and the mound on which the road is built on the other side. I didn’t bother driving around to find the other side; maybe next time.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

I stepped back to take a picture of current US 36 to the south — straight into the sun, unfortunately. It’s hard to see, but the asphalt road was coated in a fine gravel here.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

I turned around and drove west. After a couple hundred yards, the gravel ended. As this photo shows, old US 36 here was cut into the scenery. Driving this narrow road made me feel like I was a part of the land. In contrast, driving the elevated US 36 gave me a broad and stirring view of the scenery.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

Old US 36 forms an S of sorts as it crosses current US 36. A friend who works in civil engineering tells me that when an old road is rerouted, the old road is usually curved to cross the new road at 90-degree angles for safety. This photo shows this crossing pointing westbound.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

It was exciting to follow this segment of road eastward to its end at the lake. The road is used as a boat ramp today. The road actually curves to the left just before it reaches the water; the boat ramps were built on the right. A co-worker who grew up in this area told me that in the winter, the Army Corps of Engineers lowers the lake by about 20 feet, and you can see a bit of the road that is normally underwater.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

Looking back westbound from the end of the road, old US 36 is pretty.

US 36 at Raccoon Lake

I drove back to US 36, found the eastern end of this old alignment, and spent quite some time driving around trying to find where the alignment ended at the lake on the other side. It would have helped if I had remembered to bring the map I had printed; without it, I was chasing wild geese. This failed search used up a lot of my time, and I started wanting to get home. I was so irritated with myself that I forgot to take a photo of the eastern end of this alignment.

I drove past a couple old alignments in Putnam County — one little one around the town of Bainbridge, and a larger, more interesting one that I knew I couldn’t find without my forgotten map. But I had spent more time on the trip than I planned and was growing tired, so it was just as well. I knew I’d revisit US 36 another day and explore it thoroughly.

When US 36 enters Danville in Hendricks County, it becomes a major artery and loses all of its charm. When I visit friends in this area, I usually ask about back roads to their houses so I can avoid US 36, which gets mighty congested. US 36 was rerouted and widened to four lanes on the east side of Danville. This map shows both alignments where they split as you head east out of Danville, and where they rejoin again west of the town of Avon.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Landsat/Copernicus, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2020 Google.

I was pooped, so I made just a couple quick photos at either end. Here’s the west end, where old US 36 (Main St.) splits from current US 36.

Old US 36 at US 36

Here’s what east emd looks like. Now that I think of it, I should have driven back up to where old 36 curves south and taken a photo showing how old 36 and current 36 line up.

This photo, taken in Avon, is typical of any drive I’ve made, day or night, along US 36 in Avon. I am always looking at someone else’s exhaust pipe. It seems like I never quite make it to the speed limit, either. It seems like most things in Avon dump out onto US 36. What’s the charm of living in Avon if every trip involves slow-moving traffic on the town’s only artery?

US 36 in Avon

After I made this trip, I learned that US 36’s original 1927 route began in Downtown Indianapolis and headed west from there. Another day I’ll make a proper US 36 trip, starting at Downtown, driving all the old alignments I can find, and ending no sooner than the Illinois border.

I headed home from here, tired but satisfied from a day’s exploration.

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Road Trips

The covered bridge at Bridgeton, Indiana

Let’s return to my October, 2006 road trip in west-central Indiana.

When I lived in Terre Haute in the late 1980s and early 1990s, whenever I wanted to get away for awhile and be alone, I used to drive up into neighboring Parke County, to Bridgeton. The old covered bridge there was a great place to find some peace.

Bridgeton bridge in 1900. Sourced from Wikipedia.

The Bridgeton bridge was built in 1868 and carried traffic until 1967. It’s one of 31 covered bridges in Parke County. Every October the county holds a big festival to its covered bridges, and Bridgeton is one of the most popular stops.

Bridgeton bridge in the 1980s. Adrian Ross photo sourced from bridgehunter.com.

In 2005 an arsonist destroyed the bridge. This page shows photographs of the smoldering remains. Funds were raised and the bridge was rebuilt in time for the 2006 Covered Bridge Festival. This page has some good photos of the bridge under construction.

Because Bridgeton is a place I go to be alone, I avoid it during the Festival as it is packed with people. But the Festival had just ended on the late October day I made this road trip, and so I detoured to see the new bridge. I turned left off US 41 onto a country road and then, just as I did during my Terre Haute years, I drove around until I found the homemade signs pointing to Bridgeton. I’d forgotten how the Bridgeton Road winds for quite some time before abruptly entering the town and just as abruptly coming upon the bridge.

This photo is from Bridgeton Road northbound. Notice how the road is rerouted from the covered bridge to a modern bridge; the covered bridge hasn’t carried anything more than tourist foot traffic since 1967.

Bridgeton

The old bridge’s seeming permanence was comforting to me. I was simultaneously sad and excited to see the new bridge — sad to lose an old friend, but excited to see how so many people cared so much to rebuild so quickly, using the same curved Burr arch truss design of the original bridge. On this sunny day, the bridge was bright inside, and construction was visible in detail. The builders did a tremendous job.

Bridgeton

The bridge is most often photographed from the north to show the little waterfall.

Bridgeton

The neighboring Bridgeton Mill was operating then and, as far as I know, continues to operate.

Bridgeton

I felt as though my old friend had never left. Satisfied, I followed that country road north past the 10 O’Clock Line, which marked the boundary of an Indian land sale to the US in 1809, toward Rockville. There I would pick up US 36 and make my way home.

10 O'Clock Line sign

I’d like to say that I visit Bridgeton frequently. I still love visiting, but my time goes to other things. The last time I visited was in 2013 on a date with the woman who would become my wife. Here’s a photo I made of the bridge that day.

Bridgeton bridge

Next: scenes from old alignments of US 36 I encountered on my way home.

I’ve written about Bridgeton before, in more of a memoir form, here.

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Road Trips

Twisty US 41 in western Indiana

Let’s return to my October, 2006 road trip along some lovely highways in western Indiana.

Imagery ©2020 TerraMetrics, map data ©2020 Google.

Ice-age glaciers flattened the northern two-thirds of Indiana. It makes a 26-mile stretch of US 41 in western Indiana, on either side of Rockville, a real surprise.

After reaching the end of State Road 47, I headed north on US 41 about 6½ miles to SR 234, and then turned around for the southbound trip, which ended up taking me almost to Terre Haute.

In the periphery, imposing tree banks grow upon massive hills that seem to well up out of nowhere. The road curves around them, yet at times is steep enough that my little car bogged down in fifth gear.

Naturally, the road’s thin shoulder left no obvious place to stop for photographs. That situation changed south of SR 47. The road alternated between gnarled and straight. This southbound photograph is in the middle of an isolated gnarled section.

US 41

After crossing US 36 in Rockville, I stopped to take a photograph of a stirring wall of color created by the southbound road’s curve ahead. The photograph doesn’t do the scene justice.

US 41

This stretch of US 41 frequently passed between dense woods and open country. I entered a lonely, isolated stretch as the road curved uphill. After cresting the hill, the scenery suddenly opens wide. These juxtapositions are common along US 41 in Parke and Vigo Counties, and they make the road a real pleasure.

US 41

It had been on the order of 15 years since I had last driven here. I remembered US41 being curvier and more challenging to drive; I thought there were big “Dangerous Curves” signs north and south of Rockville. Was I imagining these things? I felt like a man who visited the home of his boyhood — how could a yard that small have ever seemed so huge?

Next: A visit to the covered bridge at Bridgeton. I’ve written about this visit a long time ago, here, but I’ll share more photos and history this time.

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