Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.
A few hundred yards after reaching the dead end of the previous segment of Old State Road 37, I picked up another segment at 700N.
Tracing north from where 700N intersects Old SR 37, past where the road goes through a trailer park, a ridge exists where the road used to go. Notice how it would have curved to flow into the 800N segment.
Looking at that ridge on the map as I researched this trip, I hoped for a juicy abandoned section of this road. I was not disappointed.
Here’s where 700N curves to become Old SR 37 southbound. Notice the path that continues northbound.
The trailer park was just north of here on Old SR 37, but to access it you have to follow the curve and then drive through the parking lot (where my little red car is parked) to get back on Old SR 37. The trailer park is less than a quarter mile up the road.
As I drove into the unusually tidy trailer park, a mound of dirt blocked my way. A branch stretched low across the road.
I started to get excited — how long would this abandoned stretch be? At first, it looked like the road ended a couple hundred feet ahead.
But as I walked near, I saw that this was where a bridge had once been, and that the road continued on the other side. Fortunately, the creek bank and the creek itself were shallow, and people had placed all sorts of objects in and over the creek to aid roadfans like me in their adventures, so I picked my way across.
As I came up the bank, I saw the concrete road pad with three layers of asphalt on it, a couch dragged out into the middle of the road, and then the road stretching out for a long way before me. Woohoo! I climbed up the bank.
The abandoned couch was a sad, sad affair. It looked deliberately placed, perfectly perpendicular to the road’s edge.
The northbound sight from there was glorious overgrown abandoned road as far as the eye could see. What I thought was a ridge on the map was really old road obscured by trees. I am always astonished that without human intervention, roads eventually look like this:
I couldn’t tell exactly how far I walked along this segment from where I left my car — I guessed about a half mile — making it the longest abandoned road segment I’ve ever seen. Notice how large the trees are beyond where the old road was cut off. This stretch hasn’t been a road in many, many years, at least since 1970, since my 1970 map shows the road along its current alignment.
The closer I got to the end, the more I could hear cars. At the end, I turned east and saw cars speeding by through the brush and trees. I was probably 30 feet from current SR 37.
That walk absolutely exhilarated me! It wasn’t until I was halfway back that it occurred to me that people from the trailer park probably used this secluded spot for illicit activities, and that it might not actually be safe to be in there.
Next: more of this old alignment, and the time the police came and chased me away.
Let’s return to my 2007 trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.
Just before the Marion-Johnson county line, the road swings west, away from State Road 37’s original alignment, and the old road reappears.
I turned in on County Line Road and headed north up the short segment of Bluff Road. It’s the last little bit of the original alignment in Indianapolis.
The road narrows, the pavement ends, and somebody’s gravel driveway begins. I imagine that their driveway once emptied directly onto the old two-lane SR 37.
Looking southbound toward County Line Road from this spot, it’s clear that the grass has overgrown the edges on this short segment.
South of County Line Road, the road is marginally wider as the grass has been kept at bay. Also, the road was striped double yellow down the middle like a highway.
Johnson County clearly considers this a road worthy of maintenance. Marion County (Indianapolis) does only the minimum for its part of this segment.
The end of this alignment came 1.6 miles later. Bluff Road curved and met current SR 37, but a little tail remained.
A new housing subdivision was being built here, and old SR 37 was used for its entrance. Before that, the old road simply ended here. Almost dead center in this photograph, you can see a car on current SR 37.
The next little segment of the old alignment lay a couple miles to the south of County Line Road. On the east side of SR 37, the crossroad is labeled 800N, but on the west side, it’s labeled Old St Rd 37.
Old alignments are almost always rounded off like this to meet the new road more squarely, for safety. But in this case, they did it only to the north end of it.
This photo shows the access road to the segment of old SR 37. It wasn’t clear on the map whether the road emptied out onto State Road 37 or not. The Dead End sign here cleared up that mystery.
Where the road curved south and the old highway took over, I turned around looking for any sign of the old highway as it would have stretched northbound. I stood in the middle of the old road, pointing northbound, to take this photo. Except for the utility poles running on the right in alignment with where the old road had been, you can’t tell a highway ever ran through here.
Turning around from this spot, here’s this old alignment as it heads south.
This alignment ends a half mile later, the pavement ending cleanly at somebody’s driveway. As you drive on current SR 37, you can see the little guardrail just beyond the trash can. If you didn’t know what lay beyond it, you might not give it a second thought.
Turning around from here and looking northbound at the tree-lined old highway, the lovely scene made me long for the day this highway was still in use. Maybe it’s just my fantasy, but I imagine the trip to Bloomington being more pleasant not just because of the narrow road, but because drivers might be more likely to slow down, open the windows, and take in the beauty on either side.
From here to Martinsville, all of the old SR 37 alignment had this two-foot extension on each side. You can see the weeds growing in the crack. I wonder whether this was a tiny shoulder of sorts, or whether this was an attempt to widen the old concrete road. I’m betting the latter.
Next: the old alignment through Waverly, and the single most exciting abandoned road I’ve ever found.
Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.
Today, SR 37 flows around Indianapolis on I-465 to an exit on the Southwestside a mile or two west of old 37. But after just four miles the new road assumes SR 37’s original alignment. Old SR 37, as Bluff Road, passes through several neighborhoods and crosses Stop 11 Road, a fairly major Southside road. But just south of there, Bluff Road curves, becomes Wicker Road, and intersects with SR 37. A short dead-end segment of Bluff Road continues, as this map shows.
This southbound photo shows where Bluff Road curves. Notice the old edge of the road, which appears as a filled crack and runs south from the lower right side of the photo, past the white line, and across the double-yellow line.
This old segment ends where current SR 37 curves into the old alignment’s path. The oncoming cars in the distance once would have come right through where I was standing.
This segment of Bluff Road lacked wide shoulders, except where the bridge crossed. Most bridges I encountered on this trip were little wider than the road, while this one had wide shoulders. Did the road here once have shoulders as wide as the bridge’s, or was the bridge wide in anticipation of expansion? I imagine this segment is typical of the old highway, except perhaps for striping it probably had then.
Most bridges on old SR 37 had closed concrete barriers; this one had arched openings two by two. I’ve not seen another like it in Indiana. According to bridgehunter.com, this bridge was built in 1954. I wonder what kind of bridge was here before.
Just behind the column at the far left of the photo was a worn survey marker. I couldn’t make out all the words but it said “State Highway Commission of Indiana Survey” and mentioned “above sea level.”
Next: a tiny scrap of the original alignment just to the south of here, in northern Johnson County.
I didn’t know that when I made this trip. The oldest map I owned showed SR 37 following West Street, which is about a half mile west of Washington Street. So that’s where I began, where West intersects with Washington. (On the map, it’s labeled as Missouri Street in error.)
As usual, Downtown Indianapolis was busy with events, and there wasn’t a place to park so I could take a photo of my starting point. So I took it through my windshield as I drove. I had just crossed Washington Street. The Indiana Government Center parking garage is on the left. The arch beyond the hotel sign and the speed-limit sign is for Victory Field, where Indianapolis’s minor-league baseball team plays.
Shortly down the road, West Street curved to the left, went under I-70, and then curved back. Betting that it hadn’t always been like that, I went back to check for old West Street. Both streets below are signed as West Street. The original alignment, on the right, is buried under I-70.
Here’s where old West Street picks up on the other side of I-70, which is visible in the background beyond the trees.
South of here, West Street curves back into its original alignment, as this photo shows.
South of Downtown at about Southern Avenue, West Street meets and becomes Bluff Road, angling slightly southwesterly. This road is named for its destination: the bluffs of the White River, at a little town called Waverly, about 15 miles away. Even though it’s not State Road 37 anymore, from here it’s still a major road with wide shoulders and highway-style striping.
I was getting thirsty and started looking for a gas station where I could buy a soda. The first gas station I came upon make me think I had stepped back into the 1970s! I wondered at first if it was abandoned, but the pumps had modern gas prices on them ($3.19 per gallon for regular unleaded). Maybe the station was closed because it was Sunday, another old-time practice.
Just check out those 1970s pumps! (As of 2020, the pumps and Bob are gone, and this building is an auto-repair shop.)
Next: a bridge on a stub of old SR 37 in Indianapolis where the old road meets the new.
In mid-April of 2007 I was driving home on State Road 37 after visiting an old friend in Bloomington. It had been years since I’d traveled that road. Just south of Martinsville, I saw what looked like a strip of abandoned concrete road, weeds growing through the cracks, on the edge of some farmer’s field. I found my way to that road segment and followed it; it ended shortly to the south at State Road 37 again. A sure sign of an old alignment!
At home I went online and traced the highway on maps. Not only did I find that little abandoned section, but I saw that the road was rich with segments of not one, but two old alignments of State Road 37. I began planning a road trip.
Bloomington, like all other important Indiana cities, would want direct, good quality routes to the state’s capital to conduct business and government. They had it as early as 1822, when Indiana authorized the Paoli State Road. I don’t know whether this road was cobbled out of existing roads or was a new road. I do know that as the 1800s continued, the old State Roads were privatized or turned over to the counties through which they passed. But interest in good roads surged in the early automobile era of the early 1900s. In about 1915 this road became part of the Dixie Highway, a network of roads connecting Chicago and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, to Miami, Florida.
The automobile drove Indiana back into the State Road business in 1917. It took this section of the Dixie Highway over in about 1923, calling it State Road 22. Then in 1926, as part of a renumbering of all State Roads, it became State Road 37.
In those days roads had to flow with the terrain, winding, rising, falling. As technology improved, road builders became able to cut through the earth. As Hoosiers increasingly relied on motor transport, the original narrow, winding roads became insufficient. So Indiana improved its important roads, straightening them, making them bypass small towns, and widening them to make them safer and allow speedier passage. As of 2007, State Road 37 is almost Interstate quality — straight, smooth, and speedy.
Notice how State Road 37’s path changed twice between Martinsville and Bloomington, as these three map excerpts show.
First, the road was straightened, smoothed, and moved to bypass Martinsville, Hindustan, and Dolan. Next, it was moved to bypass Bloomington. Somewhere in there it was expanded to four wide lanes with big shoulders. State Road 37 has become a superhighway. In the years to come, it will be upgraded to Interstate standards and given its new name, I-69, which the 2005 map predicts. (That was in 2006. By 2020, SR 37 between Bloomington and Martinsville has been upgraded to full Interstate standards and is signed I-69. The section from Martinsville to Indianapolis is being upgraded too.)
Did you notice that the old road still runs through Martinsville, Hindustan, and Dolan? The 1970 map shows it clearly; the 2005 map not so much. But it’s still there. When you drive down current State Road 37, you have to look carefully for the signs or you’ll miss them. But they’re there, and they say, “Old St Rd 37.”
On Sunday, 13 May 2007, I drove as much of the original alignments of State Road 37 between Indianapolis and Bloomington that I could find. This is an epic road trip with lots of photos and stories. I’ll be sharing it all in several posts to come.
This 2007 road trip is now a time capsule, perhaps even a historic record. The old alignments I will show you are now far harder to access because you can no longer turn off SR 37 onto them. I will also show you some pavement around 100 years old that was removed thanks to Interstate construction.
Let’s wrap up my October, 2006, road trip in west-central Indiana.
I headed north out of Bridgeton on Bridgeton Road, which led straight to Rockville and US 36, the road I would take back to Indianapolis. Even with the scant research I did before the trip, I knew there were several old alignments of this road.
Parke County did a very nice job of signing old alignments of US 36. The first one I encountered was just outside Rockville by Billie Creek Village, a history museum. It ran south of current US 36, as the map shows.
Old 36 Road, as this alignment is signed, is very narrow. I imagine the alignment is very old and has not been used as US 36 in many decades. I encountered a car and a truck within the first quarter mile, and it was a tight squeeze. When I passed the truck, I wasn’t sure we’d both fit, so I edged my passenger-side tires onto the grass.
I didn’t know that an 1895 covered bridge was still in use along the route! I had never driven on a covered bridge before. Every other one I’d ever seen had been limited to foot traffic. It gave me spooky chills to drive on it since I was trusting 111-year-old wood, rather than good old steel and concrete, to hold my 2,700-pound car. With quiet strength, the old bridge stoically did its job.
I find this alignment curious because I saw no evidence that it ever flowed into the current roadbed. Here’s where it ends at US 36 about a mile down the road.
The next old alignment I looked for runs through Raccoon Lake. Here’s the map. Notice how the old road, from west to east, runs slightly north of current US 36, then crosses it, and then ends at the lake and picks up on the other side before flowing back into current US 36. The US Army Corps of Engineers built Raccoon Lake between 1956 and 1960 as a flood-control project. They built a new segment of US 36 straight-as-a-stick across the new lake, and just buried the old road underwater.
Somehow, I missed the western end of this alignment. I realized it when I saw a sign for Hollandsburg. I took the next left, CR 870 E, and drove north on it to the alignment, which was signed as Old 36. I drove west, hoping to find the beginning of the alignment. But without warning, the road dead-ended. The map above doesn’t show it, but something, maybe a creek, bisects the road.
This photo shows the barricade at the end of the road, and the mound on which the road is built on the other side. I didn’t bother driving around to find the other side; maybe next time.
I stepped back to take a picture of current US 36 to the south — straight into the sun, unfortunately. It’s hard to see, but the asphalt road was coated in a fine gravel here.
I turned around and drove west. After a couple hundred yards, the gravel ended. As this photo shows, old US 36 here was cut into the scenery. Driving this narrow road made me feel like I was a part of the land. In contrast, driving the elevated US 36 gave me a broad and stirring view of the scenery.
Old US 36 forms an S of sorts as it crosses current US 36. A friend who works in civil engineering tells me that when an old road is rerouted, the old road is usually curved to cross the new road at 90-degree angles for safety. This photo shows this crossing pointing westbound.
It was exciting to follow this segment of road eastward to its end at the lake. The road is used as a boat ramp today. The road actually curves to the left just before it reaches the water; the boat ramps were built on the right. A co-worker who grew up in this area told me that in the winter, the Army Corps of Engineers lowers the lake by about 20 feet, and you can see a bit of the road that is normally underwater.
Looking back westbound from the end of the road, old US 36 is pretty.
I drove back to US 36, found the eastern end of this old alignment, and spent quite some time driving around trying to find where the alignment ended at the lake on the other side. It would have helped if I had remembered to bring the map I had printed; without it, I was chasing wild geese. This failed search used up a lot of my time, and I started wanting to get home. I was so irritated with myself that I forgot to take a photo of the eastern end of this alignment.
I drove past a couple old alignments in Putnam County — one little one around the town of Bainbridge, and a larger, more interesting one that I knew I couldn’t find without my forgotten map. But I had spent more time on the trip than I planned and was growing tired, so it was just as well. I knew I’d revisit US 36 another day and explore it thoroughly.
When US 36 enters Danville in Hendricks County, it becomes a major artery and loses all of its charm. When I visit friends in this area, I usually ask about back roads to their houses so I can avoid US 36, which gets mighty congested. US 36 was rerouted and widened to four lanes on the east side of Danville. This map shows both alignments where they split as you head east out of Danville, and where they rejoin again west of the town of Avon.
I was pooped, so I made just a couple quick photos at either end. Here’s the west end, where old US 36 (Main St.) splits from current US 36.
Here’s what east emd looks like. Now that I think of it, I should have driven back up to where old 36 curves south and taken a photo showing how old 36 and current 36 line up.
This photo, taken in Avon, is typical of any drive I’ve made, day or night, along US 36 in Avon. I am always looking at someone else’s exhaust pipe. It seems like I never quite make it to the speed limit, either. It seems like most things in Avon dump out onto US 36. What’s the charm of living in Avon if every trip involves slow-moving traffic on the town’s only artery?
After I made this trip, I learned that US 36’s original 1927 route began in Downtown Indianapolis and headed west from there. Another day I’ll make a proper US 36 trip, starting at Downtown, driving all the old alignments I can find, and ending no sooner than the Illinois border.
I headed home from here, tired but satisfied from a day’s exploration.