Road Trips

Old US 40/National Road at Pleasant Gardens in western Indiana

Let’s return to my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road between Indianapolis and the Illinois state line. The next old alignment of this road is at a place called Pleasant Gardens, in Putnam County. When I made this trip I did not know yet that the road was realigned several times in this area, including an alignment that took it through Reelsville, a town slightly north of here. Read the whole history of the National Road and US 40 in this region here.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

Just past Manhattan in Putnam County was a turnoff for 620 W, which curves into a segment of an old alignment. US 40 is visible from some of this segment; it’s about 100 yards away.

Old US 40 alignment
Old US 40 alignment

The road crumbles away about 1,200 yards later at a dead end with the current US 40 road bed. To exit, we had to backtrack to 625 W, a crossroad that bisects this alignment.

Old US 40 alignment
Windows Live Maps, 2006

The next segment begins maybe 300 yards from where this one ends, as this map shows. Notice how 300 yards to the west another old alignment starts again, labeled 750 S. It seems obvious that these two segments were once connected.

The map shows this segment in three sections: 750 S and, strangely, two labeled 725 S. If you trace the road west of the segment’s western end, past the intersecting road (800 S), you can see a faint trace or ridge that suggests how the segment used to flow and merge with the current roadbed.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

The turnoff to this segment was gravel, the only time we saw an unpaved turnoff on this trip.

Old US 40 alignment

After rounding the curve, the pavement became the familiar chipped-stone concrete, although it did not have an expansion joint down the center as did the concrete pavement we encountered earlier on this trip. It was overgrown on both sides and the surface was wearing away in spots, but it was otherwise intact.

Old US 40 alignment

Soon the road comes to a bridge that crosses Big Walnut Creek.

Old US 40 alignment

From the bridge it’s easy to see the current US 40 bridge, maybe 500 feet to the south.

Old US 40 alignment

The concrete pavement ends abruptly about four tenths of a mile west of the bridge. A one-lane asphalt road curves sharply to connect back to US 40.

Old US 40 alignment

I decided to see if there were traces of 725 S from the other side. We drove out onto US 40, turned right at 800 S, and drove up to what the map said was 725 S (but was signed 750 S). The road was concrete, but without the stone chips we’d seen on other old road segments. But shortly the road curved right into the woods on the right, as the photo shows. Beyond that curve, the road was gravel. We walked up to where curve met woods and saw no evidence in the woods that the road ever went through. But why then the curve?

Old US 40 alignment

I would learn much later that this concrete road used to go through, connecting to the abrupt end of concrete road we found in the previous photo. It’s all part of the puzzle of these old alignments, which I finally untangled a couple years ago and explained in this post.

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

Old US 40/National Road alignment in Putnam County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana. The first old alignment as you head west from Indianapolis doesn’t come until you reach Putnam County. You’ll find it about a mile and a half west of US 231. If you reach Putnamville, you’ve missed it.

But first, a curiosity. Just before you reach this old alignment, you’ll find this odd strip of concrete by the side of the road. There’s another on the other side of the road. They used to be part of a truck weigh station. Today, posted signs warn drivers t stay off them.

Pull-off strip

The Historic National Road sign in the photo above points the way to this old alignment. It’s a little confusing to find if you’re following the road signs. On this 2006 image from Windows Live Maps, it’s marked as E CR 550 S. If you check Google Maps today, it’s marked as W CR 570 S. But the sign on the corner reads 35 E. And the sign where this alignment returns to US 40 says 25 W.

Many Indiana counties mark their roads based on distance from a centerline. A road marked N 200 W runs east-west 2 miles west of the east-west centerline, and north of the north-south centerline. A road marked E 500 S runs north-south 5 miles south of the north-south centerline, and east of the east-west centerline. This makes it easy for police, fire, and ambulance to find a location in an emergency. Old highway alignments like this one sometimes challenge this system a little.

Here’s where old US 40 branches off from the current highway on its east end.

Old US 40 alignment

Shortly after entering this old alignment, you cross Deer Creek over this bridge. It was built in 1925, before the US highway system. A state highway system existed; this was State Road 3. The bridge was peaceful. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere — even though US 40 was 100 yards to our south, all we heard were the birds and the breeze. While the road was clearly maintained and used, we encountered no traffic while we explored it. We walked the bridge’s length and lingered here for a while.

Old US 40 alignment

On this 2006 road trip I shot film, and had to choose my subjects carefully so I wouldn’t run out of film before I finshed my trip. When I returned in 2009 I photographed this area more extensively with my new digital camera. Here’s a close-up of the bridge railing. This bridge’s deck is only 20 feet wide, very narrow by modern standards.

Old US 40

Before this bridge was built, an iron truss bridge carried National Road traffic across Deer Creek. I told its story here. This 1891 bridge still had lots of life in it, so it was floated along the stream and installed around the corner on S CR 25 E. Here’s a photo of it from 2010. That’s my road-trip friend Dawn getting ready to walk onto the deck.

Cooper Iron Bridge

I had heard that the old bridge crossed Deer Creek lay south of the 1925 bridge. On a December day in 2011 I happened to be driving US 40 back from Terre Haute and decided to follow this old alignment to see whether I could find evidence of the old bridge crossing. It’s always easier to find old road evidence when the leaves are off the trees. Glory be, I found it: the approach from the west, and the old stone abutment. I wrote about this in more detail here.

National Road path

Back to my 2009 photos. This old alignment is covered in asphalt east of the bridge, but west of the bridge the asphalt ends and the original 1920s concrete pavement emerges.

Former NR/US 40 alignment

Notice the expansion joints in this concrete: the one that runs down the center, and the lateral joints every so many feet. Expansion joints were a new idea in Indiana highway construction at about this time. Earlier concrete highways were just a continuous ribbon of concrete, and therefore cracked considerably as the concrete warmed in the summer and froze in the winter.

Former NR/US 40 alignment

And finally, back to my only other 2006 photo of this alignment, as it ends. The turnoff to US 40 was added when the new road was built in about 1941. The old concrete highway was truncated here.

Old US 40 alignment

Old alignments like this one are left behind largely to serve houses and businesses that remain when a new road is built nearby. These old alignments get little maintenance due to getting little traffic. That’s allowed this old concrete to look this fresh since being left behind.

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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Putnam County bridges

Hibbs Ford Bridge
Argus A-Four
Fujicolor 200
2015

If I could make the time, I’d drive country roads all over Indiana in search of gems like this. They’re out there, lurking, waiting.

Thank heavens for bridgehunter.com, which makes it easy to find old bridges without driving aimlessly for hours. Not that driving aimlessly can’t be pleasant in and of itself. But for those us pressed for time, we can pick any county in the United States, browse its old bridges on bridgehunter.com, and map a route to see the ones that interest us.

That’s just what my longtime friend Dawn and I did in 2015. We chose Putnam County, Indiana, specifically because of its wealth of old bridges, and saw as many as we could in one day. I wrote two posts: one about the county’s iron and steel truss bridges (here) and one about the county’s wooden covered bridges (here).

The Hibbs Ford Bridge was built in 1906 to carry what’s now E County Road 375 S over Deer Creek. I’m betting that this creek is also known as Hibbs Ford. In 2006, this bridge was restored so it could serve another generation.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Hibbs Ford Bridge

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Hibbs Ford Bridge

Hibbs Ford Bridge
Canon PowerShot S80
2010

Built 1906, restored 2006.

Photography
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Road Trips

Found: Hidden old National Road alignment

One of my favorite stretches of road anywhere is US 40 and the old National Road in Putnam County, Indiana. To get there, head west from Indianapolis or east from Terre Haute – it’s about in the middle. Indiana’s best old National Road alignments are all there, including a brief brick segment, a gravel segment, a few strips of 1920s concrete, a rolling section on the grounds of a prison (which therefore you can’t drive), and three concrete arch bridges.

In particular, an old alignment just east of Putnamville keeps me coming back because I’ve heard reports that an even older alignment lurks nearby. I have searched for it on several occasions to no avail. But on a recent trip I think I finally found part of it. Here it is from the air, with the approximate location of the segment I found marked in green.

I normally take my road trips during the warm months, as Indiana winters are usually hostile to man and beast. But this winter has been the mildest of all 44 I’ve experienced here. It was sunny and 40 degrees when I made a trip to Terre Haute recently, so I took the leisurely route along US 40 and drove all the old alignments in Putnam County.

And with the leaves off the trees, there it was, plain as day.

National Road path

What you’re looking at here is the approach to a bridge. This photo shows the abutment still in place.

National Road path

Remarkably, the 1891 iron truss bridge that once stood here still serves. When the newer alignment and its concrete arch bridge were built in 1925, the iron bridge was moved around the corner to carry County Road 25 across the same creek. Here it is, with my frequent road-trip companion Dawn taking it in. I wrote about this bridge once before – go read about it.

Cooper Iron Bridge

On this trip I was wearing clothes not well suited to exploring through the brush, so I’m looking for a chance to go back. I want to know where the road went on the other side of the creek!

How do old alignments get left behind? When the road is straightened, widened, or moved

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

17 bridges in Putnam County, part 2

Last time I shared photographs of iron and steel truss bridges my friend Dawn and I found as we explored Putnam County, Indiana. This time, it’s the wooden covered bridges.

Neighboring Parke County is quite famous for its covered bridges. Putnam County is rich in covered bridges, too, but it’s not quite as well known. Maybe Parke County just has better PR. Well, I’m here today to help Putnam County’s cause!

Also, if you search for covered bridges on the Internet, you will find thousands of bucolic photographs. I find them to be cloying! So while I’ll include a small photo of each bridge so you can recognize it should you make this trip yourself someday, I’m going to show you some of each bridge’s beautiful engineering and construction details. Hubba hubba!

Dick Huffman Covered Bridge

The Dick Huffman covered bridge was built in 1880 and is the longest covered bridge in the county. Its two spans cross Big Walnut Creek. It was first known as the Webster bridge but was renamed after the Huffman family bought the property next to it. This bridge could use some love, as it seems to lean to one side a little bit. The bridge seems solid, though; as we stood on it, a passing car barely disturbed it.

The photo below shows its no-nonsense Howe truss design. When you see the wooden Xs with the vertical iron bars between them, you know it’s a Howe.

Dick Huffman Covered Bridge

Check out this massive stone abutment.

Dick Huffman Covered Bridge

The Houck covered bridge was also built in 1880 and is also of Howe truss design. It was built by the Massillon Bridge Company of Massillon, Ohio. It is so similar to the Dick Huffman bridge that I suspect it, too, was built by Massillon, but I can’t find any sources that back up my hunch. As you can see in the photo at right, this bridge was built up pretty high over the surrounding terrain.

Houck Covered Bridge

It’s possible to walk underneath this bridge on its west end, so we did, and I got this interesting shot of its understructure.

Houck Covered Bridge

J. J. Daniels built the Oakalla Covered Bridge. Daniels is probably the most prolific builder of Indiana covered bridges; 17 of his bridges still stand in Indiana. This bridge has been carrying traffic over Big Walnut Creek since 1898.

Oakalla Covered Bridge

Daniels’ signature design element was the Burr arch, the curved beams in the photo below. Just because you see a Burr arch doesn’t automatically mean Daniels built the bridge; his contempoary J. A. Britton, who was almost as prolific as Daniels, also favored the Burr arch.

Oakalla Covered Bridge

Speaking of J. A. Britton, he built the Dunbar covered bridge. Britton was known for building single-span bridges, so the Dunbar bridge with its two spans is a bit unusual. But its Burr arches are typical.

Dunbar Covered Bridge

We had heard that this bridge was closed, but when we arrived we found it busy carrying traffic. It turns out that the bridge was just undergoing renovations and had recently reopened. The deck planks had been replaced. Little labels were still affixed to the ends of the planks, and they carried 2010 dates.

Dunbar Covered Bridge

At some point, the Dunbar bridge’s one pier had gotten some work – check out all the concrete. I’m not sure whether this was part of the recent renovation, though.

Dunbar Covered Bridge

The Bakers Camp covered bridge is a bit of a latecomer, having been completed in 1901. If this bridge looks familiar, it’s because I’ve written about it before. It stands on the original alignment of US 36 through Putnam County. As you can see from the photo, it probably has the prettiest setting of all the covered bridges we saw on this trip.

Baker's Camp Bridge

Being a J. J. Daniels bridge, of course it features Burr arches.

Baker's Camp Bridge

Covered bridges are rightly revered in Indiana, but I sure wish the old iron and steel truss bridges were as loved. County officials sure seem eager to replace them when they fall into disrepair. I’ve learned that it can be more attractive for counties to replace a bridge than to maintain it properly. You see, federal matching funds are often available for replacements, while maintenance is entirely on the county’s dime. To spark preservation efforts, maybe someone in Putnam County can organize an iron bridge festival!

I got an unusual opportunity to see a covered bridge’s structure recently as it was undergoing restoration. Check it out.

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