Road Trips

State Road 340, an original alignment of US 40/National Road in Clay County, Indiana

In my early road trips I focused heavily on the road and its alignments, and hardly at all on the built environment along the road. When I made my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana, I took almost no photographs of anything that wasn’t road! It took me a few years to realize I should photograph the cities and towns, as well as the buildings and homes in the rural areas.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

When we reached Brazil, a town in Clay County, we drove right through it, stopping only when we reached State Road 340 at the town’s west edge. This is the most obvious and accessible segment of old US 40 and the National Road in the state. It begins on the west side of Brazil and ends at the Clay/Vigo county line.

Not surprisingly, Indiana 340 is the straight shot off the US 40 roadbed; to stay on 40, you have to bear left. (Since 2006, this intersection was heavily redesigned, and now you must turn right here to follow SR 340.) Here’s the beginning of SR 340, westbound.

SR 340 (former US 40)

Here’s the eastern end of SR 340 facing eastbound. The newer alignment of US 40 was built in 1939 as part of a bigger project to widen the road to four lanes across the state. I don’t know why a new alignment was built here, rather than four-laning the original alignment.

SR 340 (former US 40)

The road is really pleasant to drive — it’s fairly straight, but it rolls a bit, so cruising at speed feels good. Unfortunately, there was no good place to pull off so I could photograph it and show you.

Windows Live Maps, 2006

SR 340 is as close to the original two-lane US 40 experience as you’ll get in Indiana. The surroundings become more rural the farther away you get from Brazil until finally the road meets US 40 again.

As the photo shows, the western terminus of SR 340 is on the same line as the westbound lanes of US 40. SR 340 is also signed as the Historic National Road.

SR 340 (former US 40)

Looking back eastward on SR 340, the Marathon station looks like an oasis in the middle of nowhere. Indeed, we both got something to drink here.

SR 340 (former US 40)

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

1933 photographs of US 40 at Harmony, Indiana

US 40 was widened from two to four lanes across Indiana in the 1930s and 1940s. Old photographs of any road can be hard to come by, but especially when the road changed so dramatically so early.

Fellow roadfan Roger Green has been researching US 40 for several years now. He grew up in a small western Indiana town called Harmony, which is on US 40 in Clay County. The photos he found are from Harmony in 1933, and they show a road of very different character from today. This eastbound photo is from just west of Harmony Barnett Street. The building at left is Rohrig’s Texaco.

Digital image © 2006 Indiana Historical Society. All rights reserved.

This Google Street View capture shows the same scene as Google recorded it in 2018. The Texaco station is now a diner.

© 2020 Google.

Here’s a closer look at the diner. I made this photo in 2009; the diner’s changed hands and names at least once since then.

Harmony, IN

The photo below is from a little east of the photo above. The house in the picture still stands; see it here.

Digital image © 2006 Indiana Historical Society. All rights reserved.

This westbound photo, which has to be from N CR 200 E, shows Rohrig’s Texaco on the right. It’s a little hard to see but farther down the road on the left is Finley’s General Store.

Digital image © 2006 Indiana Historical Society. All rights reserved.

When I made my 2009 trip documenting US 40 in western Indiana, Finley’s was still standing, but it’s not clear to me whether it was still operating. The same is true today.

Harmony, IN

What’s most fascinating to me is the roadway itself — it’s a continuous ribbon of concrete. Indiana didn’t start inserting expansion joints in its concrete highways until about 1925, as best as I can figure. Also, travel lanes were much narrower in the early 1920s than now. This highway is probably only about 12 feet wide.

One segment of continuous-concrete US 40 remans, on a short old alignment about seven miles east of Harmony, in neighboring Putnam County, near Manhattan. As you can see, this old road cracked pretty severely. Expansion joints help prevent cracking.

Itty-bitty old US 40/NR alignment

This photo gives a pretty good feel of just how narrow this road is. Can you imagine encountering an oncoming truck here at night? Harrowing! The modern four-lane US 40 was a giant improvement in safety and speed. Here’s a 2009 eastbound photo of the modern road just east of Harmony.

US 40 east of Harmony, IN

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 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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Luten bridge

Restored Luten bridge on the National Road at Reelsville, Indiana
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

The National Road and US 40 has been moved around several times near Reelsville in Putnam County, Indiana. Big Walnut Creek flows through here. As various bridges have come and gone, sometimes the road was moved. I sorted out the whole history in this post.

I say this bridge is on the National Road. It is, in that this was an alignment of that road used from 1875 to 1923. But this is not a National Road bridge, as it was not built until 1929. By this time, the National Road had become US 40, and US 40 had been realigned to a new road a quarter mile to the south.

This bridge was designed by Daniel Luten, whose pioneering design for concrete-arch bridges is patented. That’s why this bridge was restored in place after a new bridge was built next to it (in about 2006). If you can find a place to park, you can walk out onto this old bridge.

It’s remarkable to me that this old bridge out in the country was saved. Also notice the pitch of the new bridge. Its construction eliminated a wicked hill.

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Photography

single frame: Restored Luten bridge on the National Road at Reelsville, Indiana

A restored open-spandrel concrete arch bridge in Putnam County, Indiana.

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Road Trips

Refreshed: Posts about my 2009 road trip along US 50 in Illinois

Old US 50 in Illinois

On May 25, 2009, my longtime friend Michael and I drove to Vincennes, Indiana, crossed over into Illinois over the Lincoln Memorial Bridge, and explored US 50 and its old alignments until we ran out of energy for the day.

I wrote a full report on my old HTML site here. But I wrote about it in parallel on this blog, the first road trip to get that treatment. The HTML site had more information on it, so I’ve updated the posts here with that info and enlarged the photos. Here are the posts:

  • Where Lincoln first entered Illinois — Abe Lincoln’s family moved to Illinois from Indiana, crossing over the Wabash River at Vincennes at about the place where US 50 would eventually go.
  • Three abandoned bridges in a row — An old alignment of US 50 runs right alongside the current alignment for several miles in eastern Illinois. Three steel-truss bridges still stood on the old road when we made our trip.
  • The General Dean Bridge — A suspension bridge serves pedestrians today in Carlyle, Illinois. It is the original alignment of the road that was made into US 50.
  • What if they built a bridge and nobody ever drove on it? — US 50 was to be widened to four lanes, divided. The project was cancelled, but after several bridges were built that then were never used to carry traffic.
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Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge in Illinois
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

As you drive US 50 across Illinois, west of Carlyle you’ll cross four bridges that have unused twins right beside them. I told the whole story here, but in short they’re left over after a project to widen US 50 to four lanes was abandoned.

That’s my friend Michael there, balancing on the railing to make his photograph while I made mine of him.

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Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge in Illinois

An abandoned, never used bridge.

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