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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking back westbound from the end of the road, old US 36 is pretty.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bridge is most often photographed from the north to show the little waterfall.
The neighboring Bridgeton Mill was operating then and, as far as I know, continues to operate.
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.
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.
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.
Let’s return to my October, 2006 road trip along some lovely highways in western Indiana.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sheridan arrived in no time. Here’s the beginning of SR 47, westbound, in 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
Here’s a westbound shot from the same spot. This is a nice little hill.
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.
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.
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.
When I was in college in Terre Haute, I had a friend who worked for a crappy little radio station. He invited me to come visit him one day while he was on the air. He gave me directions: “Take I-70 to the Darwin Road exit, then turn left on Old US 40. Then look for our tower and just follow the roads until you get to it.” What? “Yeah, the station’s out in Toad Hop, and the roads aren’t marked back there.” Toad Hop? What’s that? “That’s just what this area is called. And by the way, if you get lost, don’t stop to ask directions, because the locals aren’t too friendly.”
Toad Hop is west of West Terre Haute, which is across the Wabash River from Terre Haute. Even though Toad Hop was not the most welcoming place when I first visited, I remembered that my friend mentioned that “Old US 40” ran through it. So on our 2006 Indiana National Road trip, Dawn and I were off to Toad Hop.
Before we got there, just after we crossed the Wabash River and entered West Terre Haute, we encountered what looked like an old alignment of US 40 since it kept going straight where US 40 curved. You can see it in the upper right of the map above. That road was even made of concrete then, though it has since been paved over with asphalt.
This road is signed Paris Ave. as it leads to Paris, Illinois. I have wondered for years whether the National Road/US 40 originally followed Paris Road to the crossroad on the west side of town, Bennett Lane. Did it then follow Bennett south, curving to cross a now-missing bridge over Sugar Creek and flow right into Old US 40 leading to Toad Hop?
It’s not impossible that the National Road/US 40 always followed West Terre Haute’s main street, National Ave. It would have curved just east of Sugar Creek to cross that now-missing bridge and then continue on Old US 40.
Whichever way it ran, it ran that way until 1949 when the new four-lane alignment was built. It carried US 40 until 2011, when US 40 was rerouted along I-70 from east of Terre Haute to just inside Illinois.
To reach this segment, we turned left off National Avenue onto Darwin Road. We drove east in hopes of seeing where that bridge had been, but the road was lined with houses and trailers. The area looked no friendlier than it did when I was last there umpteen years before. To be safe, we took pictures from the Darwin Road intersection. This photo shows old US 40 eastbound from there, aiming right at that alleged bridge.
Here’s the westbound outlook. We didn’t know then when the four-lane US 40 was built, but we wondered, as this road looked awfully narrow.
We drove along this alignment almost as far as it went. We crossed a small bridge along the way that we did not photograph that day. I came back in 2009 to photograph it; here it is. It was built in 1919.
Except for the overgrown grass, this gives you a very good idea of what a major US highway looked like in the 1920s. The bridge itself is a concrete arch design.
Back to 2006, soon we could see we were about to run out of road. We wanted to drive all the way to the end, but there were several homes here and we would have been awfully conspicuous. So I made this through-the-windshield photo and we turned around.
The road ends because I-70 and National Ave. come together here. Check it out:
I-70 follows the original National Road alignment for about a mile into Illinois. It then veers away from the National Road alignment, and old US 40/the National Road emerges from the woods as a brick road! Illinois built a more modern US 40 alongside it and abandoned the older road. Read more about it here.
We doubled back and crossed over to Illiana Dr. on the other side of National Ave. We could see on the map that this road becomes US 40 in Illinois, so we felt confident that we were on the right track. As soon as we crossed over US 40 and made that left, we were immediately rewarded to see a Historic National Road sign.
It seems likely that this road was built at the same time as this segment of National Ave. (which used to be US 40 until US 40 was rerouted from the east side of Terre Haute to follow I-70). There needed to be some way to connect back to US 40 inside Illinois. The photo below looks from Indiana into Illinois.
This old US 40 alignment moved into Illinois as so many roads do — with a change in pavement. The speed limit also increased, from 35 MPH in Indiana to 55 MPH in Illinois. We wondered why the same road merited 20 extra miles per hour in Illinois. We drove into Illinois a little ways and found our answer — the road is signed US 40. This is curious, since US 40 is also multiplexed with I 70 just to the south.
This photo looks from Illinois into Indiana. The words “Start Race” are painted in orange on the pavement on the Illinois side where the Indiana pavement begins. My friend Michael explained that on the same day, the Ride Across Indiana (RAIN) started from that point and toured 161 miles of US 40 and the National Road all the way to the Ohio state line. This explained all the bicycles we saw heading eastbound on US 40 when we were west of Plainfield!
With this, our tour of the National Road in western Indiana ended. Little did we know, until we picked up from here a year later, how exciting the road would be in Illinois because of the abandoned brick highway there.
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.