Road Trips

Goodbye to the bridge that kindled my love of bridges

I fell in love with bridges because of this bridge.

Public domain image by Wikipedia user Nyttend

In 1987 I was a junior in college and I had a girlfriend at Indiana University. My buddy Doug also had a girlfriend at IU — and he had a car. He generously let me ride along every time he drove to Bloomington.

Terre Haute and Bloomington are connected by State Road 46. It rolls and winds gently through the countryside. It’s truly a lovely drive; make it if you’re ever out that way.

I never paid any attention to bridges until Doug and I started making this trip. Just west of tiny Bowling Green, State Road 46 crosses the Eel River. Starting in 1933, it did so over this two-span Parker through truss bridge.

Passing through this bridge became a quiet highlight of the trip. I probably never mentioned it to Doug. I came to enjoy the shadows the sun cast through the overhead trusses as we passed.

I came to enjoy other truss bridges in my travels. Soon I was curious about other kinds of bridges. My inner bridgefan had been awakened.

A regular inspection in 2011 found some failed gusset plates, critical to the bridge’s safety. They were repaired in a one-month closure. Then in 2012 more structural problems were found, leading to a three-month closure for repairs. But the Indiana Department of Transportation could see that this bridge would soon need either a thorough restoration — or replacement.

I’ll cut to the chase: INDOT chose replacement. People who lived near the bridge wanted it restored. They rightly pointed out that this bridge was on the National Register of Historic Places thanks to its association with settlement and economic development in the county. Their arguments only delayed the inevitable. In 2019, this old bridge was removed, and this bridge was built.

Replacement SR 46 bridge near Bowling Green

It’s been years since I had been out this way. Since moving to Indianapolis in the mid 1990s, I had little call to drive the road between Bloomington and Terre Haute! But in August I met one of my sons at a state park near his home for a long hike. Because of COVID-19, we hadn’t seen each other in at least six months. We were long overdue. That state park is on State Road 46.

After our hike, my son needed to be on his way. I had a couple hours to kill, so I plotted a long drive and went on my way. My first destination was this bridge. I knew not seeing the old truss bridge would be challenging. Fortunately, SR 46 is just as charming a drive today as ever. Enjoying the drive took some of the sting out when I came upon the new bridge.

I’ve lamented modern bridges before: they stir no hearts. Their utilitarian design probably makes them less expensive to build and maintain. As a taxpayer, I appreciate that. Also, when this one has outlived its useful life, nobody will protest its demolition and replacement.

I’ll say this much in praise of the new bridge: it’s plenty wide. The old bridge’s deck was just 23.6 feet wide. Encountering an oncoming semi in there always felt like an uncomfortably close encounter! Actually, those semis are a big part of what make old truss bridges like these obsolete. Trucks just weren’t as big and heavy when these bridges were built. Today’s semis simply wore these bridges out faster. The new bridge offers no eye candy, but it is stout enough to take on any vehicle the modern era can throw at it.

Because of the bridge’s historic status, all is not lost. It was dismantled and will be relocated to a park near Nashville, Indiana, where it will serve as 2 single-span pedestrian bridges. When I hear that this project is complete, I’ll make a trip to see — and experience this old bridge once again.

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Old brick road

Old State Road 46
Nikon F2AS, 50mm f/2 AI Nikkor
Fujifilm Fujicolor 200

State Road 46 stretches across Indiana from Terre Haute to almost Ohio, east to west across south-central Indiana.

At one time, SR 46 extended through Terre Haute all the way to the Illinois state line. It ran through Terre Haute along a series of what are now city streets.

The road was truncated to Terre Haute’s eastern edge long before Interstate 70 was built through the south side of town. That new highway cut across State Road 46’s original path just south of town, slicing the old highway in two.

A little segment of old State Road 46 north of I-70 is this brick road, left intact even though it goes nowhere because it serves two businesses. This photo faces north. To follow old 46, veer left at the first stop sign. Then at the second stop sign, take a slight right to where the red car is in the photo.

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Film Photography, Road Trips

single frame: Old State Road 46

A short segment of old brick highway south of Terre Haute, Indiana.


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.


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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Road Trips

The mystery of the unfinished, abandoned bridge

As we explored an old gravel alignment of Indiana State Road 46 in Clay County, we came upon these enormous bridge abutments. We stopped to look them over, and tried to figure out why they were there.

Abandoned abutments to never-built railroad bridge

We even spotted an elevated bridge over a nearby creek. It lined up perfectly with these abandoned abutments.

Abandoned abutments to never-built railroad bridge

My companion Dawn said, “These look like parts to a railroad overpass, but I don’t see where any tracks might have been.”

Abandoned abutments to never-built railroad bridge

Dawn was right – these abutments were meant to carry a railroad. But it turns out that tracks were never laid.

John Walsh was an Irish immigrant who built a fortune selling newspapers in Chicago. He expanded his empire to include three banks, a Chicago newspaper, and a railroad – the Evansville and Richmond, which Walsh renamed the Southern Indiana Railroad.

Walsh set about expanding his railroad, first building a line up to Terre Haute, and later starting a line from the small town of Blackhawk in Vigo County that he meant to extend to Indianapolis. Contracts were let in about 1903. The road was graded from Blackhawk to just north of Bowling Green in Clay County. These abutments (marked with the red arrow on the map below) and the nearby bridge were built, along with an abutment for a bridge over the Eel River nearby.

Imagery and map data © 2013 Google.

But Walsh overextended himself building his railroad, and work stopped at Christmas in 1905. By 1907, the United States was in recession, and Walsh watched two of his banks fail. The feds started sniffing around and found considerable evidence that he had drained funds from his banks to build his railroad. He was charged with 180 counts of misapplication of funds, and was later convicted of 54 of those counts. He spent five years in prison at Leavenworth.

Wooly worms on the concrete

Today, these abutments on a narrow gravel road are a curious testament to John Walsh. His failed accomplishment makes a wonderful home for wooly worms. Dozens of them were crawling all over the shady south abutment.

I also found remnants of a bridge near Bedford. See photos here.

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Road Trips

A brick highway remnant in Terre Haute

You know I love to find an old brick road. Here’s one I found on the south side of Terre Haute recently. It used to carry State Road 46.

Brick old SR 46

My friend Dawn and I made our annual road trip together not long ago. We set out to follow SR 46 from Terre Haute to Nashville. To research the route, I turned to the small but mighty online cache of early Indiana highway maps at Indiana University. There I learned that SR 46 didn’t come along until 1931, well after Indiana established its highway system. I also learned, to my surprise, that the highway used to extend west all the way to the Illinois line, passing through Terre Haute. Today, SR 46 ends at US 40 on Terre Haute’s east side. On this excerpt from the 1932 map, I’ve highlighted SR 46 in green and marked the approximate location of this brick segment with a red arrowhead:

1932 Indiana state highway map

SR 46 entered Indiana from the west on what is now US 150 and flowed south into West Terre Haute, where it joined US 40 on its way east into Terre Haute. It turned south in town, almost certainly following US 41, which followed 7th St. in those days. It looks to me like SR 46 then followed Hulman St. east, and 25th St. south out of town.

My 25th St. theory was confirmed when I found this brick segment near Terre Haute’s south city limit. It picks up where 25th St. ends, at Margaret Ave. It’s a slight jog east of 25th St. This photo looks northbound toward Margaret Ave.; 25th St. continues to the north past that Marathon station.

Brick old SR 46

Here’s the crazy thing – when I lived in Terre Haute in the early 1990s, I drove right by this brick road every day on my way to work, and I don’t recall whether I ever noticed it.

Brick old SR 46

I’ve traced the original path of SR 46 in green on this current map. The red arrow shows the brick segment’s location. I-70 now interrupts the path of old SR 46. The brick road ends just before the railroad track, which flows under I-70. What was SR 46 resumes at E. 30th Dr., although if any bricks remain, they’re underneath the asphalt with which that road is paved today. I’m guessing that E. 30th Dr. and Sidenbender Rd. were built as part of the I-70 project to resolve the broken path of old 25th St.

Imagery c 2013 Google. Map data c 2013 Google.

This brick road isn’t quite abandoned; it provides access to two small businesses. A Private Property sign is posted just south of the second business’s driveway, so we didn’t walk back to see where the old road ended.

Other left-behind Indiana brick highways: SR 39, US 40, US 136.

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