COVID-19, Film Photography

An abandoned bridge and a forgotten cemetery

We were just two weeks into stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought I was adapting okay, but as that second week drew to a close I felt myself going a little stir crazy. I felt a strong need to get away for a while. But where could I go?

My wife suggested I just take a long drive. “If you’re in your car, there’s nobody to infect you and you can’t infect anybody.” Brilliant. So that Saturday afternoon that’s just what I did.

I don’t like to drive aimlessly. I need to have a destination. So I chose one: the abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana, and the Civil War-era cemetery hidden near it. It’s about 40 minutes from home, giving me a good long drive there and back. I’ve never encountered another soul there anytime I’ve visited, so it would be a safe place to go. My Pentax ME Super was loaded with Kodak T-Max 400 at the time so I brought it along. The wonderful 50mm f/1.7 SMC Pentax-M lens was attached.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

The bare-tree months are my favorite time to visit this bridge because it’s so visible. In the middle of summer this is mighty overgrown. You can’t even see the bridge from modern US 40 then. But at this time of year it’s easy to see.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

This bridge was built in 1923. It doesn’t look too bad for having gotten zero maintenance since it was abandoned, which was sometime between 1939 and 1941.

Abadoned US 40 bridge

Iron’s Cemetery is just northeast of the bridge. Little spring flowers grew all along the path leading to it.

At Iron's Cemetery

Inside the cemetery, you can see the other side of the bridge. At least you can during the bare-tree months.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Except for the sound of an occasional passing car, the only sound here is the wind. It was lovely to be out in the world in a peaceful place.

At Iron's Cemetery

There are always lots of interesting details to photograph in an old cemetery. Gravestone letterforms of the 1800s fascinate me. They have such style!

At Iron's Cemetery

Unfortunately, many of the markers here are in poor condition. Some of them are broken and lying on the ground.

At Iron's Cemetery

I hate to see any old cemetery in this condition. It’s funny — I won’t be buried in one when I’m gone, it seems like a waste of good ground. Cremate me and scatter my remains to the wind. But for those who did choose burial, good heavens, provide for the maintenance of those graves!

At Iron's Cemetery

But enough of that maudlin stuff. It helped me regain my internal footing to make this trip. I lingered here well past I stopped finding photographic inspiration, just to enjoy the quiet and the outdoors. Then I got into my car and drove back home.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Photography, Road Trips

Published: My photo of a stainless-steel 1950s diner on US 40 in Plainfield, Indiana

My photo of a 1950s stainless-steel diner on US 40 east of Plainfield is featured in a new book from Indiana Landmarks.

The Diner
Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 Minolta MD, Fujifilm Fujicolor 200, 2009

The book, Rescued and Restored, “celebrates remarkable historic places snatched from the wrecking ball or lifted from decades of neglect.” So says the Web page Indiana Landmarks put up about the book, which includes a link to purchase a copy. See it here.

My copy of the book arrived last week, and it is a lush look at many beautiful and interesting historic structures around Indiana, telling their stories and showing photographs before and after they were restored.

You’ll find the Oasis Diner on page 77. It was manufactured by Mountain View Diners, a New Jersey company, in 1954 and shipped to its original site on US 40 east of Plainfield. It operated there until 2008.

Stainless-steel diners like these were once common on the American roadscape, but have dwindled in number over the years. Indiana Landmarks worked with the City of Plainfield to find it a new place to operate, and new owners who would restore it.

In 2014 the diner was moved about four miles west, still on US 40 but in downtown Plainfield. After an extensive restoration, including a recreation of the original Oasis sign that had been removed many years before, the Oasis Diner reopened for business in November, 2014. I made this photo on my first visit, about a month later.

Oasis Diner
Canon PowerShot S95, 2014

I have thin memories of passing this diner by from trips along US 40 as early as 1984. I first paid real attention to it on my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana. I made that trip again in 2009, which is when I made the featured photograph. See this post for a writeup of this stop on both of those road trips.

When the Oasis Diner was being moved and restored, Indiana Landmarks asked for permission to use my photograph in their publications. I gave it happily. I am a Landmarks member and support their mission. I loved the thought that one of my documentary road-trip photos could find a useful purpose beyond being on my blog. My photo appeared in news articles about the diner, as well as in at least one issue of Indiana Landmarks’ monthly member magazine.

I thought that would be it, but then this year they used it again in an email to members announcing the book. Had they not done that I might never have known they published it in this book!

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.

Standard
Road Trips

Abandoned US 40 bridge west of Plainfield, Indiana

This was the moment I became hooked on following the old roads. Online maps showed a little bit of bypassed pavement here, but I didn’t know an abandoned bridge was in there, too — and holy cow, was it ever cool! Here’s what it looks like from the air.

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

(Notice the clearing in the upper right of the image. That’s Iron’s Cemetery, a 19th-century burial ground well hidden from view. Read about it here.)

The map shows a gray area at the eastern end of this segment that turns out to be a landing of sorts. We pulled onto it, but didn’t see any road we could drive on. We parked and got out to look. We found a tiny opening in the wooded area that led to the roadbed. In this photo, which shows US 40 westbound at left, the opening is about on the horizontal centerline, about one-third of the way from the right edge.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

Here’s what that opening looks like, close up.

Abandoned US 40

Inside, we found a heavily overgrown road that was cracked and, in some places, buckled. The bridge appeared almost immediately, and it, too, was heavily overgrown, as this photo shows. When I first looked at this photo, I had to look twice to see the bridge’s concrete guardrails.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

This was incredibly exciting. I had no idea that old road infrastructure could be abandoned like this! I’ve been back a number of times, since this isn’t terribly far from home. It’s easier to see the deck in the winter months when the vegetation has died back. The next two photos are from March, 2013.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

Trees are growing through the deck. Concrete-arch bridges are often filled with soil. (I once documented the demolition of a concrete-arch bridge built around the same time as this one; click here to see the soil under the deck.) As the deck cracks and crumbles, plants can take root. Also: note the Posted No Trespassing sign. Oops. That wasn’t there on any prior visit. I stay off this bridge now when I visit it. A good road tripper respects private property.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

This bridge is mere feet away from the twin bridges built in about 1940 when US 40 was widened to four lanes here. My educated guess is this bridge was built between 1920 and 1925. I don’t know why the state built two new bridges and abandoned this one, rather than using this one for the new westbound lanes and building a single new bridge alongside it for the eastbound lanes. Guessing, by 1940 standard highway travel lanes were wider than in the early 1920s, rendering this narrow old bridge functionally obsolete.

US 40 bridge in Plainfield IN from abandoned US 40 bridge

I revisited this spot in 2009 and made this photo of the abandoned bridge from the 1940 bridge. When you drive by, it can be hard to spot.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

The pavement looked like concrete, but it contained large stone chips. I’ve never seen chipped stone used in pavement before.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

The road was passable only on foot because it had become so overgrown. I am amazed by how nature slowly reclaims road that is not maintained.

As a kid, I saw a TV movie where the United States was wiped out by nuclear bombs, but years later a few people who survived came out from underground to see if the land was habitable. They found a lot of things intact and untouched, including roads, which they promptly drove on. Where’d they get the gasoline?

I’ll bet that in another 20 or 30 years, it’ll be hard to tell that there ever was a road in here.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

I turned around to look back. This is what happens to a neglected roadway, dystopian movies be damned.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

The wooded area cleared out and the road passed in front of a house. The front of the house is parallel with the old road, which suggests that the house was built when this alignment was still in use. As the photo shows, the road disappears before it meets US 40, but is in perfect alignment with its westbound lanes.

Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

If my guess of 1920-1925 is correct for this bridge’s construction, it predates US 40. Indiana established its network of state highways in 1917, when the National Road became Main Market Highway No. 3. There were some legal challenges to the state’s authority to do this (some details here). Long story short, the state overcame the challenges and in 1919 this became State Road 3. It wasn’t until the creation of the US highway system in 1926 that this became 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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard
Road Trips

US 40 and the National Road at Six Points near Plainfield, Indiana

Windows Live Maps image, 2006

Just beyond the Indianapolis and Marion County border, but just east of Plainfield, is the Six Points area. A two-lane segment of an old US 40 alignment runs through here. It’s maybe 600 yards long.

Heading west just past the Marion/Hendricks county line, there’s a body shop on the south side of the road as the road gently curves. We took the next left and and immediately made the first right to get onto the old road. This picture shows the old segment on the left and the current road on the far right.

Old National Road east of Plainfield

On the right you can barely see the sign for The Diner, an old Mountain View diner that had more space built onto the back. It was in its declining years. When I visited again in 2009, I found it closed when I photographed it.

The Diner

It was later moved into the City of Plainfield itself, restored, and given its original name back: the Oasis Diner. Here’s my photo from 2014, not long after it reopened. It’s quite popular today.

Oasis Diner

But back to this segment of US 40 and the National Road. When we turned around, it was clear that the broken pavement behind us was old US 40 pavement. Notice how the body shop building is parallel with the old segment, and would have been right against US 40.

Old National Road east of Plainfield

As this westbound photo shows, the road was closed for construction, so we couldn’t drive it. As best as we could tell, this road had houses on both sides. Dawn and I wondered aloud if they moved the road around these houses so they could widen it to four lanes without displacing the residents. Later I learned that the road was moved to eliminate the dangerous railroad crossing from this US highway.

Old National Road east of Plainfield

This segment was bypassed in about 1940 when US 40 was widened to four lanes. The bypass eliminated a shallow-angle (and therefore dangerous) intersection with a rail line in here. You can see a trace of the line in the map above.

What we didn’t know on the day we made this trip was that the road was closed to build the Ronald Reagan Parkway. I made this trip again in 2009 and in driving this segment westbound was deeply disappointed to find this:

Bisected National Road

I get it, this old alignment got so few cars it didn’t make sense to make an intersection here, especially when current US 40 was 200 feet away to the north. But it is unfortunate that this historic road was made discontinuous. Here’s the eastbound view from the other side of the Parkway. Since I made this photo in 2009, this has been reconfigured so that you can turn left from southbound Ronald Reagan Parkway onto Old National Road, and right onto Ronald Reagan Parkway, from here.

Bisected National Road

In 2006 I failed to make photographs of the western end of this segment. I corrected my oversight in 2009.

Bisected National Road

Today, you can’t drive the eastern portion of this alignment anymore as it was removed. Curiously, a tiny stub remains right next to the Ronald Reagan Parkway.

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

As you approach the removed alignment from the east, the only evidence the road was ever there is the row of utility poles that follows the old right-of-way. That’s a common tell of an old roadway. Here’s a view from Google Maps Street View showing how this scene looked in June, 2019.

Street View image © 2020 Google.

It always makes me sad when any part of a historic road is removed.

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.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader, click here to subscribe!

Standard