Road Trips

Segments of the original State Road 37 alignment in northern Johnson County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2007 trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

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.

Old 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.

Old SR 37
Windows Live Local map, 2007

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.

Old SR 37

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.

Old SR 37
Windows Live Local map, 2007

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.

To Old SR 37

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.

NB Old 37

Turning around from this spot, here’s this old alignment as it heads south.

Old SR 37

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.

Old SR 37

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.

Old SR 37

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.

Old SR 37

Next: the old alignment through Waverly, and the single most exciting abandoned road I’ve ever found.

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Road Trips

Leftover bridge on stub of Old State Road 37 near the Indianapolis city limits

Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

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.

Near the Johnson County 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.

State Road 37

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.

State Road 37

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.

Bridge railing detail

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.”

Survey marker

Next: a tiny scrap of the original alignment just to the south of here, in northern Johnson County.

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Road Trips

Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway in Indianapolis

I began my 2007 trip along old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway in Downtown Indianapolis.

Although State Road 37 today goes from south of Fort Wayne all the way to the Ohio River, it originally began in Indianapolis and went south. And while today the road follows I-465 around the east side of town, and then heads south on the Southwestside just west of US 31, it originally began its southbound journey on Meridian Street at Washington Street in Downtown Indianapolis. After about 2 miles it veered right onto Bluff Road.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

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.

State Road 37

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.

State Road 37

Here’s where old West Street picks up on the other side of I-70, which is visible in the background beyond the trees.

West St. at I-70

South of here, West Street curves back into its original alignment, as this photo shows.

Orphaned West St.

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.

Bob's Century

Just check out those 1970s pumps! (As of 2020, the pumps and Bob are gone, and this building is an auto-repair shop.)

Bob's Century

Next: a bridge on a stub of old SR 37 in Indianapolis where the old road meets the new.

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Road Trips

Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway from Indianapolis to Bloomington

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.

State Road 37

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.

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Pony trusses

Pony trusses on the Dixie Highway
Canon PowerShot S95
2012

This bridge is a sad case. Due to deterioration, it closed to all traffic in 2015.

This road was part of the 1914 Dixie Highway and, later, State Road 37, southeast of Martinsville, Indiana. This bridge came along in 1925. In the 1970s, SR 37 was upgraded to a four-lane expressway between Indianapolis and Bloomington, leaving lots of curvy old alignments behind. The new SR 37 is only about 500 feet northwest of this spot. I explored them all in a 2007 road trip; read all about it here.

This bridge is on a short old alignment that provided access to some county roads on the north edge of the Morgan-Monroe State Forest. While it was still open it got only about 500 vehicles a day. So it’s not surprising that Morgan County went lax on this bridge’s maintenance.

And now it’s closed to traffic. It’s all overgrown now; it looks like it’s been abandoned for decades. See it here.

It’s not clear what will happen to this bridge. SR 37 is in the process of being improved to become Interstate 69. Many of the nearby old alignments were or will be used as frontage roads, and have received improvements to support that. But project maps show frontage-road construction ending at the southern end of this old alignment. Will this bridge be left in place? Will it be removed?

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Photography, Preservation, Road Trips

single frame: Endangered pony-truss bridge on the Dixie Highway

Pony-truss bridge on old SR 37 south of Martinsville.

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Preservation

Photographing two of Indiana Landmarks’ 2019 Ten Most Endangered

Every year, historic preservation organization Indiana Landmarks publishes a list of ten historic places across the state that they consider to be “on the brink of extinction and too important to lose.” This year’s list of the 10 Most Endangered is just out; see it here.

Two of the places on this year’s list have found themselves in my camera’s lens. Traveling the state’s old roads as I do, I’ve photographically documented historic structures in a growing number of Indiana’s communities.

Mineral Springs Hotel

Mineral Springs Hotel in Paoli, on the Dixie Highway, was built in 1896 — before Paoli had electricity. So the owners built a power plant in the basement to light the hotel, and they sold excess power to their neighbors! Named for the area’s mineral-water springs that were thought to cure all ails, the hotel did big business for many decades. As the mineral-springs fad passed, however, the hotel’s fortunes declined. It stopped taking guests in 1958, although businesses populated its first floor for a few more decades. Today it’s vacant, its roof leaks, and many of its windows are broken. Indiana Landmarks hopes to find someone to restore it.

I visited Paoli during my 2012 excursion along the Dixie Highway in southern Indiana. The hotel sits on Paoli’s delightful square. Read about my visit here.

The Crump

In Columbus, the Crump Theater has stood here since 1889. As you might guess from these photos, this is not the theater’s original facade. Indeed, the Crump underwent three major remodelings in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Its art-deco facade was added during the third remodeling.

Crump

The facade is distinguished by pigmented structural glass panels known as Vitrolite.

Columbus, IN

The Crump featured live shows until the 1910s when movies began to supplant them. Eventually the Crump became a movie house, and stayed one until 1997, when it showed its last picture. But by then it was already in deplorable condition with a partially collapsed roof and a non-functioning boiler. The theater has only deteriorated more since then, despite several attempts to save it. The city of Columbus would like to see it saved, and Indiana Landmarks is interested in finding a developer who can restore the building and find a good use for it.

The first two photos are from a 2017 and the third from 2008. Both times I was following the Madison State Road, an 1830s route that connected Madison to Indianapolis via Columbus and was an alternative to the Michigan Road, which ran through Greensburg and Shelbyville to the east. Somehow, I’ve managed never to document my Madison State Road trips, an oversight I must one day correct. Meanwhile, you can see more photos from my visits to Columbus here.

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