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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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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Road Trips

There's a place actually called Toad Hop on Indiana's National Road

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.

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

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.

Old US 40 through Toad Hop

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.

Old US 40 through Toad Hop

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.

Old US 40 near Toad Hop

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.

Old US 40 near Toad Hop

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.

Old US 40 through Toad Hop

The road ends because I-70 and National Ave. come together here. Check it out:

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

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.

Toward Illinois on old US 40

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.

Illinois line on US 40

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.

Illinois line on US 40

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.

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Road Trips

US 40 in downtown Terre Haute, Indiana (as it was in 2006)

US 40 has changed its routing several times through Terre Haute, the last major town on the original National Road westbound before the road reached Illinois. When I moved to town in 1985, US 40 went all the way through town and crossed the Wabash River on a single bridge. But the road diverted from the original National Road route, Wabash Ave., somewhere downtown. The westbound US 40 turned north on 9th St. and then west on Cherry St.; the eastbound US 40 followed Ohio St. to 12th St, I think, and then turned north and then west on Wabash again.

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

Later the one bridge was replaced with two, one eastbound and one westbound, that merged on the west side of the Wabash River. Still later, US 40 was routed around Terre Haute entirely, following SR 46 on the east side of town south to I-70, and then I-70 all the way into Illinois.

That change hadn’t happened yet when I made my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, allowing me to get this photo of a US 40 shield — the one that directed drivers north on 9th St.

Terre Haute

Terre Haute is justifiably proud of where Wabash Ave. meets 7th St. — this is where US 40 and US 41 used to intersect. This intersection saw a great deal of traffic from all over the nation on these two major roads. Originally, US 40 stretched from one coast to the other. I believe US 41 still runs from the top of Michigan to the bottom of Florida. Here’s 7th and Wabash from the northwest corner, as it was in 2006.

Terre Haute

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 bridge abutment on US 40/National Road in Vigo County

Continuing my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, we are now in Vigo County, the last county before the road reaches Illinois.

The Pennsylvania Railroad used to run behind the school. By the time I was there in the late 1980s, the tracks were no longer used. I happened to make a photograph of those tracks in the spring of 1988 while I was a student at Rose. I took this somewhere behind the school’s grounds. The tracks have since been removed.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

During my Rose years the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity formed a chapter there. They lived in a house a mile or two east of campus. Access was strange — you turned left off US 40, and then immediately left again onto a short segment of paved road that ran right alongside 40, and then after maybe 200 yards when that segment ended you turned right onto a gravel road that led to the house. How like an old alignment of US 40! But until the day of this trip, I never put the pieces together.

The map shows the road segment, labeled Kaperak Lane. For fun I included the (now former) Pi Kappa Alpha house. I believe the abutment for the bridge that used to be there is also visible. It’s that sliver that juts out from US 40 at that odd angle, just past where the old alignment ends.

We didn’t plan to stop here. As we whizzed by this little road, I said to my friend Dawn, who was along on the trip, that it was the way to the old fraternity house. Then she noticed a bridge abutment on our right. We stopped and looked and saw where a bridge used to be, and how it used to line up with US 40. And then I realized that the little access road had to be an old alignment, and it had to end at the abutment. We drove this road until it ended, but it didn’t reach the abutment and the vegetation looked too thick to walk through without heavy boots.

Former alignment/Interurban bridge abutment

Trees and brush obscure the bridge abutment. It was remarkable that Dawn even noticed it; at 60 miles per hour you’d have to look fast to see it. This photo looks at the abutment from the north, on the current bridge. The shoulder was thin on the bridge. It was, uh, invigorating to feel the turbulence off the cars that zipped by.

Former alignment/Interurban bridge abutment

Neither of us could tell by looking just what this bridge spanned, but I later learned that it was the old PRR line.

We walked across the bridge to look at the other side. This photo looks eastward. In the 1980s I noticed this little guardrail and used to puzzle over it, since it was behind another guardrail. Now I know it’s there to keep roadfans like us from falling off the bridge abutment!

Former alignment/Interurban bridge abutment

The original bridge was just long enough to span the tracks. The abutments both ran parallel with the rail bed. The new bridge is longer, its abutments perpendicular to the road’s direction. A friend of mine who works in civil engineering tells me that the odder the abutment’s angle to the road, the harder the bridge is to maintain.

This photo shows how the old road, its pavement soft and crumbly under our feet, merged neatly into the current road and is on the same line as the road ahead.

Former alignment/Interurban bridge abutment

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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State Road 340, an original alignment of US 40/National Road in Clay County, Indiana

In my early road trips I focused heavily on the road and its alignments, and hardly at all on the built environment along the road. When I made my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, I took almost no photographs of anything that wasn’t road! It took me a few years to realize I should photograph the cities and towns, as well as the buildings and homes in the rural areas.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

When we reached Brazil, a town in Clay County, we drove right through it, stopping only when we reached State Road 340 at the town’s west edge. This is the most obvious and accessible segment of old US 40 and the National Road in the state. It begins on the west side of Brazil and ends at the Clay/Vigo county line.

Not surprisingly, Indiana 340 is the straight shot off the US 40 roadbed; to stay on 40, you have to bear left. (Since 2006, this intersection was heavily redesigned, and now you must turn right here to follow SR 340.) Here’s the beginning of SR 340, westbound.

SR 340 (former US 40)

Here’s the eastern end of SR 340 facing eastbound. The newer alignment of US 40 was built in 1939 as part of a bigger project to widen the road to four lanes across the state. I don’t know why a new alignment was built here, rather than four-laning the original alignment.

SR 340 (former US 40)

The road is really pleasant to drive — it’s fairly straight, but it rolls a bit, so cruising at speed feels good. Unfortunately, there was no good place to pull off so I could photograph it and show you.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

SR 340 is as close to the original two-lane US 40 experience as you’ll get in Indiana. The surroundings become more rural the farther away you get from Brazil until finally the road meets US 40 again.

As the photo shows, the western terminus of SR 340 is on the same line as the westbound lanes of US 40. SR 340 is also signed as the Historic National Road.

SR 340 (former US 40)

Looking back eastward on SR 340, the Marathon station looks like an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, we both got something to drink here.

SR 340 (former 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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