Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway east from Chrisman, Illinois

Let’s wrap up my 2007 road trip along US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana (and a little into eastern Illinois, too).

After following current US 36 west to the Indiana/Illinois border, I kept going into Illinois until I met US 150/State Route 1. I headed north along that road until I reached little Chrisman, a town of fewer than 1,500 people. Here I’d find the original alignment of US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway. The original alignment takes on a particular shape you can see in the 1915 TIB Guide excerpt and in the map snippet below.

Windows Live Maps 2007

This wasn’t my first visit to Chrisman. My stepdaughter’s dad’s family all live here and are probably the most prominent family in the region. Many years ago I came out here a couple times to pick up my stepdaughter from her grandmother’s. But I had never seen the town. The PP-OO enters town on 2300 N, which in town is Monroe St. and borders the town square to the south.

The First National Bank anchors the square’s southwest corner. You can’t see it in the photo, but above the awning over the door the word “BANK” is embossed into the stone. It was so common for old banks to be on corners, with the door facing the corner just like this.

Chrisman, IL, square

Just west of the bank was a John Deere dealership. You know you’re in a farm town when you can buy a Deere downtown.

Chrisman, IL

I was surprised to see not a courthouse on the town square, but a nice park.

Chrisman, IL, square

On the northwest corner were a couple restaurants, one of which has an old painted advertisement in nice condition.

Chrisman, IL, square

I enjoyed my brief visit to downtown Chrisman, but I was here to drive the PP-OO. Standing in the square’s southeast corner, I looked east down Monroe St., which would become the PP-OO a few blocks east of here at US 150/SR 1.

Chrisman, IL

Heading out of town, 2300 N was asphalt. But where the road curved to the north, the surface changed to some sort of chip and seal, the kind that kicks pebbles into your car’s undercarriage and makes your car feel a little floaty.

PP-OO in eastern Illinois

I took this photograph a short distance away, at 1725 E. It was quiet out here. As I considered how remote this area is today, I wondered how PP-OO travelers found it. This road was probably dirt in 1915. If it rained and you got stuck in the mud, the walk to a farmhouse to ask for help sure would be unpleasant.

PP-OO in eastern Illinois

When I reached Indiana, the chip and seal turned back into asphalt, and my car felt more planted on the road again.

PP-OO Illinois/Indiana line

Here’s the road somewhere in Indiana, before the road curves toward US 36. I passed through the north end of Dana so quickly I wasn’t even sure it was a town.

PP-OO in eastern Illinois

And here’s where the PP-OO rejoins the US 36 route, west of Montezuma and SR 63.

PP-OO in Indiana

It’s challenging to find good information about the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway. I know that this was the road’s route in 1915. The road was realigned many times across the nation, including across Indiana. In 1915 it followed the National Road from Ohio to Indianapolis. If you go to my main National Road page here and scroll down to the Indiana section, you can see my reports of this segment of the PP-OO. From Indy, the PP-OO followed the route that became US 36, which I documented on this road trip writeup.

But I’ve seen a 1923 PP-OO map that shows the road realigned across Indiana from Muncie to Anderson to Crawfordsville to Covington, and from there to Danville in Illinois. On modern roads, that’s essentially State Road 32 west to US 136. I’ve not explored SR 32, but I have driven and documented the US 136 portion. That road was better known as the Dixie Highway. I’ve documented that trip beginning here.

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Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in Vermillion County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana.

The TIB Guide showed a pretty jagged route for the PP-OO west of the Wabash River.

US 36, not surprisingly, followed a much smoother path. If the shape of the road on the TIB Guide map is accurate, it looks like a portion of the little sliver of road near the top of the map below was the old PP-OO route. It’s currently called E 600 S. I can’t tell how the PP-OO got up there after crossing the Wabash.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

The PP-OO sliver runs into a segment that dead ends at both ends, which made my old-alignment radar go, “Ping!” So I drove over there for a look. Its east end looks like this.

Stubbed segment

I hoped I’d see concrete, but no luck. Here’s what the road looks like westbound. A drought in the area has trees unceremoniously shedding leaves in August; hence the brown leaves on the road. This road provides access to two homes, both of which are on the north side of the road. The trees and grass on the north side are trimmed back from the road, while on the south side they grow over.

Stubbed segment

The alignment ends just west of the road that allows access to it. As you can see, the State Road 63 overpass is visible. My guess is that the road was realigned when State Road 63 was moved there and made a four-lane divided highway – its previous alignment is the first road east of this segment. This road provides access to nothing here.

Stubbed segment

The PP-OO and US 36 follow the same route again starting about here, but it lasts only about ¾ mile. A railroad track begins to parallel the road just beyond SR 63, PP-OO stays with the tracks, but shortly US 36 curves to pass over the tracks and the old PP-OO.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

Here’s what the split looks like.

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PP-OO in Indiana

This map shows the routes of US 36, the railroad tracks, and PP-OO. US 36 is the southernmost road on the map. The railroad curves off and heads west. PP-OO stays on its trajectory a little longer before heading straight west, and is the northernmost road on the map.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

From here I drove current US 36 into Illinois. I followed US 150/Illinois State Route 1 north to Chrisman and then drove the PP-OO back to the place in the map above where the PP-OO and current US 36 diverge. I’ll explain why I went to Chrisman in my next post.

I was so excited about this PP-OO business that as I finished driving US 36 I failed to get the obligatory photograph of the Indiana-Illinois state line. There was even some roadside historic site about Ernie Pyle that registered in the corner of my eye only as it was almost past. No matter; I was on a mission to drive a segment of a very old coast-to-coast highway!

Just take my word for it that this segment of US 36 is a straight, unremarkable two-lane highway.

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Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in Montezuma, Indiana

Let’s return now to my 2007 road trip along US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana.

When I worked for a rock radio station in Terre Haute many years ago, once an hour we read a liner that said, “107-5 ZZQ rocks <insert name of town> with <insert name of band>.” It was supposed to make us sound like a regional station. I knew and had visited many of the towns I named — Farmersburg, Poland, Sullivan, Seelyville, Rosedale, Allendale, Riley, Newport, and good old Toad Hop. I occasionally shouted out to a town I didn’t know, such as Prairieton, Pimento (pronounced Pie-men-to, a caller hastily corrected me), Carbon, Fontanet, and Montezuma. Today was my day to meet Montezuma.

The TIB Guide shows the PP-OO taking some hard corners as it made its way to Montezuma.

US 36 makes a much smoother path through this region today. But given the way the existing side roads fall, I was able to make a guess at the PP-OO’s route, where it’s different from US 36. I drew it in blue on the map below. I didn’t actually drive any of that route, though. You’d think those roads would be obvious as I approached from the west, but I found the curve strangely disorienting.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

As I entered Montezuma, I immediately recognized that US 36 had been rerouted by several feet to the south at some time to replace a bridge. The approach to the old bridge was still there. I find it interesting that the old bridge was lower than the current bridge.

Old US 36 next to current US 36

You can see how the curve into town was made just a little tighter to accommodate the new alignment.

Montezuma, IN

On the other side of US 36 at this cross street was a building proudly proclaiming it was built in 1903. I wouldn’t be surprised if another old brick building did not at one time share its north wall. If so, it might have been demolished to make way for the current US 36 alignment.

Montezuma, IN

Where old US 36 approaches the bridge that is no longer there, the road is concrete, and thus probably dates back to the 1920s or 1930s.

Approach to former US 36 Wabash River bridge

Here’s a 1951 postcard (sourced from Bridgehunter.com) showing both bridges open. The older bridge was built in 1892 and demolished in 1951, and the newer bridge was built in 1949. So these two bridges coexisted for about two years.

Compared to the current bridge, the old bridge looks to be little more than a single lane wide.

US 36 Wabash River bridge

There was no traffic, so I walked out onto the bridge.

US 36 Wabash River bridge

When I lived in Terre Haute, we sometimes said the word “mighty” before Wabash with a nudge and a wink. The only thing mighty about the Wabash is that it’s mighty brown.

US 36 Wabash River bridge

Next: Vermillion County, where US 36 and the PP-OO follow different paths.

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Road Trips

The original alignment of US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Parke County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana.

West of Rockville the map showed two places where a road diverged from US 36 only to return to it. That’s a sure sign of an original alignment.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

This looked to me remarkably like the shape of the road at this spot in the 1915 TIB Guide strip map that I saw at the Federal Highway Administration’s Web site where they were tracking the route of the old Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway.

About 3½ miles past Rockville I came upon where this road split from US 36.

US 36 alignments

I turned in, and the road immediately turned to gravel. This westbound photo was taken several feet away from US 36, and you could hear the traffic whizzing by. But doesn’t this photo seem to be miles away from anything? Doesn’t it look like it ought to be pin-drop quiet?

PP-OO in Indiana

I checked my old state maps, which go back to 1936. They aren’t detailed enough to accurately render the shape of US 36 through here, but they do say that US 36 was paved. It’s possible this segment was never US 36, but it was certainly the PP-OO.

After about a quarter mile this road became paved and its name changed from W 25 N to N 350 W. A couple houses appeared. Another quarter mile later, it deposited me back onto US 36. This eastbound photo shows the old road’s ascent to the highway.

PP-OO in Indiana

Another quarter mile or so down US 36 the next segment began. The map suggests to me that this segment used to flow smoothly from the previous one, and that it came in from the gravel driveway on the left in this photo.

PP-OO in Indiana

Off the road goes westbound. The presence of utility poles suggests that rural electrification reached here before US 36’s current alignment did.

PP-OO in Indiana

Soon this old alignment meets Arabia Road. The Phillips covered bridge is a couple hundred feet down this road. It was built by J. A. Britton in 1909.

Phillips Bridge

There wasn’t much along this old PP-OO alignment but soybeans.

PP-OO in Indiana

Shortly I came upon the 1883 Sim Smith Bridge, a Burr arch truss bridge also built by J. A. Britton. I didn’t think much of the “Warning Flooding Possible” sign as it blocked this, the best angle I found of the bridge.

Sim Smith Bridge

Here’s a better look at those curved Burr arch trusses.

Sim Smith Bridge

After crossing the bridge the land deepened into a mild valley overgrown with weeds. US 36 came into view on my right. I could see that the road made an unusual jog to the left up ahead, and when I reached it I felt a mild bump and heard my tires make a different sound, as if I had just changed roads. I pulled right over to have a look. I could see a faint double yellow line on the road.

Mystery US 36 alignment

The road had a shoulder on its north side, and it looked like the road and its shoulder were summarily chopped off beyond a certain point, as this photo shows. The little red, white, and black sign at right says “Danger Flooding Possible.”

Mystery US 36 alignment

The only evidence I found of the road’s former path was a drainage trench. It hugged the road’s shoulder to where the road was cut off, and then it snaked around the ridge.

Mystery US 36 alignment

I drove on, and soon the old road was blocked by these gates. Fortunately, a curve had been built here to connect the road to current US 36.

Mystery US 36 alignment

It looked to me like the road used to go through where these gates are now. This land looks built up like a roadbed.

Mystery US 36 alignment

From this evidence, I conclude that a former US 36 bridge over this creek was built in the flood plain. That became enough of a problem that the state built a new bridge nearby, raising it far above flood levels, and rerouted US 36 onto it. The blue line on this map shows where I think old US 36 used to go.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

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Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in Rockville, Indiana

Let’s return now to my 2007 trip along US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway in western Indiana.

Some time ago I entered Rockville’s square from the road to Bridgeton and drove around the square twice looking for US 36 so I could head back to Indianapolis. I was surprised to find no US 36 shields anywhere. I saw a gas station west of the square on Ohio Street, so I drove that way after a soda and maybe directions. As I drew closer to the gas station, I began to make out a US 36 sign in the distance. I got the soda, turned around, and followed Ohio Street east towards home.

This time I knew my way around a little better, and besides, I entered Rockville from the east on US 36 so there was no chance I would not be able to find it in town. Like so many Midwestern small towns, Rockville has a courthouse square. This is the square from the northeast, at Ohio and Jefferson Streets. If you look close you can almost make out that Jefferson Street is paved in brick. So are the other two streets on the square.

Parke County Courthouse

Rockville appears to be making quite an effort to keep its square bright and tidy. I understand that this square is the center of the annual Covered Bridge Festival, a major tourist attraction here, so there’s ample reason for the town to invest here. I took the photo below from the southeast corner of Ohio and Market Streets, a block west of the previous photo.

US 36, Rockville, IN.

Presumably, this is where the old Rockville State Road ended. It was one of Indiana’s early state roads from the 1830s, part of a network linking important towns. Both the Pikes Peak road and US 36 were laid out onto it from Indianapolis to Rockville.

Past the square, past some tidy older homes, US 41 quickly comes to signal the end of Rockville. This photo shows US 36 as it heads west into Rockville, taken from the southeast corner of US 36 and US 41.

Eastbound US 36

And this photo is of the US 36/US 41 intersection northbound and westbound.

US 36 at US 41

My camera’s battery died about here, so I had to turn around for home. I came back a couple months later to finish this trip. Next: another gravel alignment of the road.

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Road Trips

US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway at Indiana’s Billie Creek Village

Let’s return to my 2007 trip along US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway.

It’s not clear to me whether outdoor history museum Billie Creek Village still operates. News of financial difficulties surfaced in the early 2010s, and the site went on the auction block in 2012. But it was open in 2007 when I passed through on my US 36 trip. Not that I stopped.

Billie Creek Village is just east of Rockville, sandwiched between the original and current alignments of US 36. The original alignment was also the Pikes Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway and the Rockville State Road.

Windows Live Maps, 2007

This old alignment begins about a mile west of the dirt and gravel segment I shared in the previous post.

Old US 36

Two cars wide on a good day, this asphalt road soon comes upon a little covered bridge built by J. J. Daniels in 1895, as was the covered bridge over Big Walnut Creek earlier in the trip. Curiously, though the village, this bridge, and the adjoining road (the right turn just before the bridge) are all named Billie Creek, the bridge crosses Williams Creek.

Old US 36

Here’s a view of the trusses inside the bridge. The curved members are Burr arches, a common truss style among Indiana wooden covered bridges.

Old US 36

From an earlier visit, here’s an eastbound photo of the bridge.

Billie Creek Covered Bridge

Let’s look westbound again. On the map, notice how High Street follows roughly the same line as Old US 36. High Street goes right into downtown Rockville. Could High Street have been part of the Rockville State Road? In the photo below, High Street is the left turn; Old US 36 continues ahead.

Old US 36

Slightly more than two miles in, this segment ends at US 36. This is a mighty tight squeeze for two vehicles.

Old US 36

For completeness’s sake, from an earlier visit here’s a view of this end of the alignment from current US 36.

US 36 at Billie Creek

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