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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Hibbs Ford Bridge

Hibbs Ford Bridge
Canon PowerShot S80
2010

Built 1906, restored 2006.

Photography
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Photography, Road Trips

Captured: Gravel National Road segment

Gravel National Road segment, Putnam Co, Indiana

The old National Road was built in the early 1800s to connect the East to what then passed for the West, but which we know today as the Midwest. In the 20th century, the old road became US 40, more or less.

This is one of the “less” parts – the only gravel alignment of the National Road I’ve ever found, and I’ve explored it all, from Maryland to Illinois. This is County Road 725 South, near the tiny town of Reelsville in Putnam County, Indiana. US 40 lies about 1,000 feet to the south. For whatever reason, US 40 wasn’t routed along this alignment, and so it was never improved to modern standards. It’s about as close to the 1800s National Road experience as you can get.

I’ve written extensively about the National Road. Here’s a list of posts.

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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

From a visit I made in March of 2013, here’s a better look at the abutment.

National Road bridge abutment

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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