Road Trips

Old US 36 and the Pikes Peak Ocean to Ocean Highway over Big Walnut Creek in Putnam County, Indiana

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

Shortly after from Hendricks County into Putnam County is tiny Groveland, with a gas station, a couple houses, and a few decrepit buildings. Immediately west of Groveland, US 36 curves to the north a bit, and a narrow road splits from it following the straight path.

Old US 36 and US 36

It leads to a long old alignment that crosses Big Walnut Creek, as this map snippet shows.

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

This is a winding rural road, and it’s a lovely drive.

Old US 36

The terrain through here has some challenging spots, and this alignment’s winding path is typical of the days when roads were built around challenging terrain, rather than through it. My old maps show that this road was US 36 through at least 1932 — and that it was a gravel road all that time!

Old US 36

Soon this alignment became heavily wooded.

Old US 36

I came upon a covered bridge over Big Walnut Creek. J. J. Daniels built a lot of covered bridges in Putnam and Parke Counties. This is a Burr arch truss bridge – if you squint a little at the photo below, you can see the arch bracing the trusses along the bridge’s inside wall.

Old US 36

Here’s the bridge’s west end, which I share just because I really like how this photo turned out.

Old US 36

Just past the bridge I came across a big, old, smoke-belching RV blocking the road along here. Some fellows were standing on it, cutting branches out of a tree in their front yard. I only sat there for a minute before they moved the RV back far enough for me to drive around, but the smell of that smoke stayed in my nose the rest of this segment. Its end looks like this.

Old US 36

In the driveway of the house across the road was a grand old automobile. Do you see it? It looks to be from the late 1930s. I couldn’t tell what kind it was; if you know, leave a comment!

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Rising Hall

Rising Hall
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

On the National Road in Indiana, in Hendricks County right at the Putnam County line, you’ll find this 1872 home known as Rising Hall. It’s named after what staircases were sometimes called — this home has five staircases.

It was in sorry condition in the 1980s when Walt and June Prosser bought it and began its restoration. They completed it in the early 1990s and frequently invited the public in to tour it. You can watch a short documentary about the restoration here.

Walt Prosser died in 2010, aged 86. I haven’t found an obituary for his wife, June, so perhaps she still lives in Rising Hall.

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: Rising Hall

A view of Rising Hall, an 1872 home on Indiana’s National Road.

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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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History, Road Trips

Puzzle solved: The National Road at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville in Indiana

For almost as long as I’ve been following the old roads I’ve wanted to piece together the history of a tangle of National Road alignments at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville, in Putnam County, Indiana. Until recently I had managed to figure out only that there are three alignments here. This map shows them:

NRaroundReelsville

The current alignment is US 40, which was built in about 1941. The previous alignment is the yellow-red-yellow road, built in about 1923. The alignment before that is the yellow-green-yellow road. It would have been easy to assume that this was the original National Road alignment, except that by statute the National Road was supposed to be a direct route, and this is anything but direct.

Thanks to research by fellow roadfans Richard Simpson and Roger Green I’ve learned a great deal that has solved almost all of this puzzle. If, by the way, you find this stuff at all fascinating, I recommend joining Simpson’s Indiana Transportation History group on Facebook here. He shares lots of fascinating research there about Indiana roads.

Simpson found articles in the Brazil Daily Times newspaper with dates from 1912 to 1922 that told the story. From them, here’s what I now know:

  • When the National Road was built here sometime in the 1830s, it proceeded from the east along the yellow and then red alignment on the map, passing through Pleasant Gardens. It crossed Big Walnut Creek at about the same place the red alignment does, over a “wagon bridge,” which means it was probably a wooden covered bridge. From there, however, it crossed railroad tracks that were there then, and joined the green alignment. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912, viewable here, and an 1864 map of Putnam County viewable here.)
  • In 1875, that bridge washed out and was not rebuilt. At this time, National Road travelers began to follow the yellow-green-yellow route, which already existed. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912.) By then, the railroad was more prominent than any major road. It is likely that this alignment persisted because it provided access to the train stop in Reelsville.
  • This route had two serious challenges: first, a steep downgrade as the road headed north into Reelsville, and second, two at-grade crossings of the Vandalia Railroad, one of which was considered among the most dangerous in the state. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912.)
  • In 1907, funds were secured to move the Vandalia tracks here to correct a dangerous curve and eliminate the at-grade crossings, but by 1912 nothing had been done. (Brazil Daily Times, Oct. 11, 1912.)
  • In 1919, about two years after Indiana created its numbered state highway system and signed the National Road as State Road 3, the State Highway Commission drew up plans to move the road to the yellow-red-yellow route. (Brazil Daily Times, May 23, 1919, viewable here.)
  • The contracts for this work were finally let in 1921. (Brazil Daily Times, Nov. 18, 1921, viewable in two parts here and here.)
  • Work finally began in 1922. (Brazil Daily Times, Jan. 5, 1922, viewable here.) From other research I’ve done I’m reasonably certain that this road was completed in 1923. This is also about the time the train stop at Reelsville closed, as the National Road once again became the more popular way to move people and goods.
  • In the late 1920s, a truck hit the covered bridge over the Big Walnut Creek on Reelsville Hill. Putnam County built a new bridge there in 1929, an open-spandrel concrete arch bridge. The bridge has been bypassed but remains in place. A plaque on the bridge gives the 1929 date.
  • As part of a project to widen US 40 to four lanes across Indiana, in about 1941 the road was realigned and rebuilt here to its current alignment. This removed part of the 1923 alignment, making it discontinuous. See this post for information about the four-lane US 40.

Here’s an excerpt from the 1864 map I mentioned above, showing the National Road crossing Big Walnut Creek west of Pleasant Garden.

ReelsvillePleasantGardens1864

The Indiana Historical Aerial Photo Index has a 1939 image of this area that shows the 1923 alignment still intact. I’ve added color to the road to highlight it. Instead of crossing the railroad track like the pre-1875 alignment, it hugs its south edge.

NR_Reelsville_1939

It turns out that my many photographic visits to this area will let me take you on a visual tour of these alignments. Here’s the map again, with index numbers that will go with the photographs that follow, starting at the eastern end.

NR_Reelsville_numbered

The old alignments begin here, at 1 on the map. 2009 photo.

Old alignment US 40 & National Road

Shortly the road reaches Pleasant Gardens, directly south of Reelsville, at 2 on the map. 2009 photo.

Old US 40 alignment

There’s not much here now. 2009 photo.

Old US 40 alignment

This is the crossroads where the 1875 alignment turned right, but the pre-1875 and the 1923 alignment continued straight. 2006 photo.

National Road, Reelsville

Here’s the westbound pre-1875 and 1923 road, which dead ends just beyond where it goes out of sight in this 2006 photo.

National Road westbound out of Reelsville

This is the road north to Reelsville, the 1875 alignment, heading down Reelsville Hill. 2006 photo.

National Road, Reelsville

On my first ever visit to Reelsville Hill, in 2007, a new bridge had recently opened and the 1929 bridge had been abandoned in place. (3 on the map.) By the time I made this photo, in 2009, that bridge had been restored. That’s because it was designed by Daniel Luten, who invented and patented a kind of concrete arch that was very influential in bridge design. Luten bridges are therefore considered historic. The project to build the new bridge involved significantly reducing the grade, as this side-by-side shot of the old and new bridges shows.

Luten bridge

Here’s the restored Luten bridge in profile. 2009 photo.

Luten bridge

Here’s the best photo I have of the bridge from before it was restored. 2006 photo.

Bridge along the National Road, Reelsville

I made a screen shot in 2006 of this aerial map segment showing the old bridge still in use and the new bridge being built alongside. Notice how the road to the old bridge curved to meet the old bridge, but the road to the new bridge would track straight onto it. This might suggest that the 1929 bridge was built alongside the old covered bridge that was here on new abutments, and the road moved to this location. But the 1929 bridge is said to have been built on the covered bridge’s abutments.

Bridge construction at Reelsville

After crossing the bridge, the 1875-1923 alignment takes the first left and soon becomes a gravel road. I made this photo at about 4 on the map. 2006 photo.

Gravel National Road segment, Putnam Co, Indiana

Here’s more of the gravel road, from about 5 on the map. There’s no sign today that the railroad ever crossed this alignment; the tracks have been removed and the road smoothed out. 2009 photo.

Gravel National Road segment

The 1923 alignment was paved in concrete. Here’s where the 1875-1923 alignment meets the 1923 concrete, at 6 on the map. The concrete road from 9 on the map to here was removed at some point. I’d love to know why. 2009 photo.

1920s concrete

The 1923 alignment was broken into two segments by the 1941 alignment. Here’s where the second segment of the 1923 alignment begins, at 7 on the map. 2006 photo.

Old US 40, Putnam County

I haven’t been back here in a long time, but when I made these photos in 2006 the road was heavily overgrown.

Old US 40, Putnam County

This is the 1923 bridge over Big Walnut Creek, at 8 on the map. 2006 photo.

Old US 40, Putnam County

Here’s where the 1923 alignment abruptly ends, at 9 on the map. It used to continue through where my little red car stands, curving off to the right to join to point 6 on the map. I’d really like to know why this segment was removed. The narrow strip of asphalt that curves to the left connects this segment to the 1941 alignment.

Old US 40, Putnam County

This eastbound shot at 10 on the map shows the 1923 concrete. 2009 photo.

1920s concrete on the National Road

Westbound from the same spot, the 1923 concrete is someone’s driveway today. I’d love to get permission to walk this segment as far as it goes. On the aerial maps it looks like it ends about 800 feet from here. 2009 photo.

Old National Road as somebody's driveway

There you have it: all of the National Road alignments at Pleasant Gardens and Reelsville, explained and illustrated.

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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