On the far east side of Plainfield, Indiana, within sight of the west border of Indianapolis, used to be an old alignment of the National Road and US 40. This is what it looked like in 2006, when I first visited. Eastbound:
Notice the orange Road Construction Ahead sign in the photo above. Ahead, the road was closed as the Ronald Reagan Parkway was being constructed. I didn’t know that the plan was to close this alignment permanently; it would not provide access to the new Parkway when that road was completed.
I further didn’t know that the plan was to remove this road entirely. Here’s the scene from my Ride Across Indiana this year. Eastbound:
I wonder why the city went to the expense of removing the road. They could have simply closed it at much lesser expense.
Pro roadgeek tip: whenever you see a line of utility poles like this, you may be looking at a place where a road used to be.
As I bicycled through Downtown Indianapolis on my way across Indiana on the National Road, I had a challenge to solve: how to get across the White River. The White River State Park and the Indianapolis Zoo were built over the original path of the National Road and US 40 there. I shared the history of this alignment, and the many bridges that used to cross the river here, in this post.
In the map excerpt below, the National Road (Washington Street) enters and exits just above the center of the image, but curves south to skirt the park and the zoo. The bridge that once carried traffic on the original alignment still stands and is visible in the image.
If you read the post about the history of the road here, you know that the original path of the National Road here is now the walking path that passes by the NCAA Hall of Champions marked on the map excerpt above. Here’s the beginning of that path, which begins at the Eiteljorg Museum. Here, the path is part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.
It also passes by the Indiana State Museum. I remember when this museum was in the old City Hall on the other side of Downtown. That was 25 years ago, and the new museum was built shortly afterward. I still think of this building as new, even though it’s not.
The path crosses a road that leads to parking. Those are the signature Cultural Trail crosswalk markings in the road. This is about where the path becomes the White River Trail.
The White River Trail shortly crosses the Central Canal over a narrow bridge. That’s the NCAA Hall of Champions on the right. On the left, way in the distance, is the Washington Street bridge that used to carry US 40. It’s marked by the rows of lamps.
Here’s where the original National Road alignment ends at the White River. Once upon a time, there was a big covered bridge right here, on the left, at about a right angle to the riverbank.
From that spot I turned to the left to about the angle of the former covered bridge here. This was the view. My understanding is that in the covered bridge’s era, the White River was narrower than it is now, and the west bank would have been closer in.
From here, I backtracked and rode over to the Washington Street bridge, which is now open only to pedestrians.
Here’s the view from the deck, as I bicycled westward.
At the end of the bridge I faced a choice: follow the White River Trail around the zoo’s north edge, or backtrack all the way to where I started and follow current Washington Street back over the river. I chose the former because it was shorter and avoided a lot of traffic.
Shortly the trail opened up and followed the White River.
Soon the trail met the White River Parkway, a local road. I followed it south to where it intersects with Washington Street, which resumed its original path following the old National Road.
Until this point, the National Road was pretty neatly an east-west road across Indiana. From here on out, it runs west southwest all the way to Illinois.
I rode my old Schwinn 3-speed across Indiana for a number of reasons: to prove to myself that I could do it; to enjoy one of my favorite old roads, the National Road, at ten miles per hour; and to be able to photograph things along it that were more difficult when I’ve traveled it by car.
I’ve documented the old National Road and US 40 alignment that stretches from Dunreith to Knightstown in eastern Indiana before, here. But I made few photographs of the road itself, in large part because I drove it.
At bicycle speed, I could keep my little point-and-shoot camera in my hand and make photographs all along the way.
This is the character of US 40 westbound from the center of tiny Dunreith, right by where the original alignment begins.
The old alignment fades in about 100 feet south of US 40. You can reach the old alignment by car using some Dunreith streets. That route is well marked with National Road signs and is easy to follow. Because I was on my bike, I just rode through the grass to this spot.
The character of the old road could hardly be more different from modern US 40.
Shortly the road crosses State Road 3.
US 40 was widened in place to four lanes across most of Indiana in the 1930s and 1940s, a story I told here. Six former alignments of the original road were left behind.
Four of them are in Putnam County, all short. Three of them still wear concrete pavement poured in the 1920s when Indiana first upgraded this old road. These Putnam County alignments were bypassed to straighten what had been a quite curvy road.
Another former alignment is in Clay County, and it remains a state highway. State Road 340 stretches from the west end of Brazil to the Vigo County line. I assume that it was not possible for some reason to widen the road here, and so a brand new four-lane road was built to its south.
I’m only guessing at why this Dunreith-to-Knightstown alignment was left behind, but I’d say it’s because of the Pennsylvania Railroad intersection in Raysville, just east of Knightstown. Widening this road to four lanes would have involved rebuilding the PRR overpass. I’ll bet the solution was to build a new road that skirted the rail line.
It’s fortunate for us fans of old roads that alignments like this sometimes get left behind. They’re a historic record that shows the road’s original character. The only thing that would make this more authentic would be if old pavement were present — this was likely improved to be a concrete road in the 1920s. But I’m sure that pavement suffered the ravages of time and traffic. The people who live along this road probably very much appreciate this fresh, smooth asphalt.
This road has a rural character. You mostly pass farm fields and associated buildings until you reach Raysville.
This is the east edge of Raysville. A number of houses are here, all set back off the National Road.
This is the old PRR bridge on the west edge of Raysville. The rail line was abandoned some time ago, and this portion of it has been converted into a rail trail. I didn’t know about the trail when I was here, or I might have ridden some of it, too, to be able to look down on the National Road from this bridge.
This looks to be a very solidly built bridge.
Shortly past the bridge, this road curves to meet current US 40. I made this photo from US 40 looking at Old National Road eastbound. Originally, Old National Road didn’t curve here; it went straight over a bridge that’s no longer present, right into Knightstown.
It began in the 1950s as the Kaiden Motel, in the small US 40 community of Philadelphia, four miles west of downtown Greenfield. It wasn’t very different from any number of other motels on US 40, or anywhere, really: a spray of small brick buildings, two rooms each, arranged in a semi-circle around a central restaurant and gas station.
I-70 was built to parallel US 40 across Indiana in the 1960s and 1970s, and as it opened, traffic on US 40 dried up. It spelled death to most businesses that depended on US 40’s heavy traffic, including the motels. As you drive US 40 across the state today, you’ll find many hotels simply abandoned and decayed. A few have continued as budget motels, often with weekly rates.
The Kaiden didn’t survive, and was left to slowly rot. But in 2012, a couple bought the property and restored it for use as small apartments.
Here’s that onetime restaurant and gas station. The gas pumps stood between the pillars, under the awning.
It’s a gorgeous restoration. Just look at all the details the owners paid attention to.
There are six of these two-unit cottages, plus a small house, in this semi-circle. Behind these units are a few more units; you can see part of one of them in this photo. Google Maps satellite view shows three more back there.
I believe that at one time, the center part of these cottages was covered parking for cars. Notice how the brick is slightly different in the center section, and how two of the windows have siding under them rather than brick. Those windows were probably where the entry doors were, originally. It wasn’t uncommon for motels of this style to enclose covered parking areas to enlarge the rooms.
Completing the panorama, here is the east end of the court. Notice how the rightmost building appears to be three units rather than two; the covered parking area was converted into a unit of its own, rather than used to enlarge the other two units.
As I bicycled into Philadelphia on my Ride Across Indiana, I braked hard when I came upon the Village Apartments and, as you can see, photographed it extensively from US 40’s shoulder. This is a stunning restoration. I’m curious to see what the apartments look like inside!
One reason I wanted to bicycle across Indiana on US 40 is because on previous US 40 road trips, there wasn’t always somewhere to put my car when I wanted to photograph something. On my bicycle, I could stop anywhere. Also, taking it at bicycle speed over four days would give me plenty of time to linger.
In reality, I was so focused on the riding that I rode right by some things I wanted to stop and see, unaware that I was passing them. Still, I managed to see many things I wanted.
In eastern Indiana, between Cambridge City and Knightstown lie the three small towns of Dublin, Lewisville, and Dunreith. All three are quite small, but all of them offer something to see.
Dublin is a short distance west of Cambridge City, just beyond the Huddleston Farmhouse. You’ll find this pair of 1800s brick buildings on the town’s eastern edge.
I wonder the recent history of this building. My read on it is that it really was J. Burney’s Carriage Shop back in the day, but people have repainted the sign in recent years to keep the memory alive.
Closer to the heart of Dublin stands this building, which currently houses an antique store. You can shop for antiques all up and down US 40 in this part of Indiana, although most of the shops are in Cambridge City and Centerville.
Lewisville is about 8 miles down the road, and you have to pass through Straughn to get there. But I didn’t stop in Straughn because it’s a bunch of houses and a post office. Lewisville has a small downtown, anchored by this row of buildings.
This is by far the best cared-for building at Lewisville’s main intersection. It appears to be in use as essentially the Lewisville town hall.
Across the street was this little store, which advertises “Harold’s hamburgers.” I wish now I’d gone in to try one.
This is the westbound view down US 40 from in front of the general store.
Dunreith is about 4½ miles down the road from Lewisville. There isn’t much to it.
Dunreith has seen happier times, for sure.
A couple blocks off the National Road stands the Flamingo Motel, an old-time motor court that still operates. This is the only hotel near the road between Richmond and greater Indianpolis, so I stayed here on my bicycle tour.
The room was clean and the attached restaurant offered good diner fare. The restaurant had closed early the afternoon I arrived, which was going to be a problem for me as there are no other restaurants nearby. The owner of the hotel and restaurant took pity on me and made me a cheeseburger and fries.
Here’s my bike in front of my room. My photos inside the room didn’t turn out great so I’ll just tell you that it was small inside and dominated by the bed. The floor was tiled and the small bathroom was spartan. But it was big enough for me and the bike, and the bed was comfortable.
Once in a while I’ll wind up making the same photograph on two trips down the same road, separated by some years. It’s always interesting to see how things have changed.
Here’s the northwest corner of the main intersection in Centerville, in eastern Indiana on the National Road/US 40, as it was in 2009 and then in 2021. As you can see, these facades have received some TLC.
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