Road Trips

A bridge that will never inspire an artist or a poet

Artists and poets have long employed bridges in their work for their grace and beauty. Monet famously painted bridges, including one in his Japanese garden. Van Gogh painted the same bridge over and over again. Harold Hart Crane wrote probably the most famous bridge poem, about Brooklyn Bridge. Wordsworth’s heart was so stirred by the view from a bridge that he composed a poem while standing on it.

This plain bridge stirs nobody’s heart. Artists and poets look at it and think, “meh.”

UCEB

Three bridges have spanned the White River on US 50 in Shoals, Indiana. This is the third one. The first, a Whipple through truss, was built in 1880 and served until 1932. The second was a three-span Parker through truss. When it was time for that bridge to go, the era of Interstate-style ugly concrete eyesore bridges (UCEBs) was in full swing, and so this is what Shoals got. This is pretty much the only kind of bridge built anymore.

Fortunately, someone saved this concrete plaque from the 1880 span. It was placed here, marking that bridge’s location, when the 1932 bridge was built. It has style, unlike the modern bridge.

Shoals, Indiana

One day this UCEB will need to be replaced. Nobody will lament it; there will be no commemorative plaque, no paintings or poems.

I happen to think that steel truss bridges are beautiful.

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Road Trips

The National Road/US 40 at Reelsville, part 1

In my never-ending quest to find the old roads, I am building a nice selection of vintage maps and road guides. The old maps are best at revealing old routes.

I came upon a single page from a 1913 Goodrich Route Book that includes a map of the National Road between Terre Haute and Indianapolis. I scanned that page into my computer and superimposed the current map of US 40 from Bing Maps. The image below shows the overlay, with the National Road and US 40 corridor highlighted in light green. It’s a little hard to make out, but the old route is black and the modern route is orange. As you might expect, the 1913 road isn’t quite as straight as the modern road. But in a couple places in Putnam County, the old road differs heavily.

The first big difference was near Putnamville, some of which I shared in an earlier post. But the road has undergone major reroutings twice around the little community of Reelsville. This aerial image from Bing Maps shows both alignments. I highlighted in green the route from the 1913 map; in red the later route, which was built in about 1923; and in yellow where the two routes overlap. The modern route, built in the early 1940s, cuts across the bottom of the image.

This is the alignments’ eastern end. A roadsleuthing tip: Whenever you see a road branch off like this, curving sharply almost immediately, you may have come upon an old alignment. The curve was added after the new alignment was built so that the road didn’t fork, which would have been awkward for anyone wanting to turn left off the old highway.

Old alignment US 40 & National Road

The old road is in pretty good shape, as this eastbound photo shows. It was originally concrete, but has since been covered with asphalt.

Old US 40 alignment

Here’s where the yellow, red, and green roads intersect on the aerial image above. The road to the left and the road ahead did not exist in 1913.

Old US 40 alignment

This building, which looks like an old gas station to me, stands on the northeast corner of this intersection. It’s for sale.

Old US 40 alignment

After you turn the corner and crest the hill, you come upon Big Walnut Creek. A modern bridge was built here a few years ago, but an older bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been preserved.

Luten bridge

All five of my regular readers may remember that I wrote about this old alignment two years ago. The bridge hadn’t been restored yet and was in terrible shape.

Bridge along the National Road, Reelsville

The railing and arch were crumbling.

Bridge along the National Road, Reelsville

The arch has been repaired and the deck and railing replaced.

Luten bridge

The new railing is remarkably like the original. It’s also exciting to see the concrete deck surface – the old deck’s asphalt surface was certainly layered over original concrete.

Luten bridge

This plaque tells why the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places – it is a Luten bridge. Daniel B. Luten was a pioneer designer and builder of reinforced concrete-arch bridges. He was awarded 30 bridge-building patents, the first in 1900, about the time his National Bridge Company began building bridges. (If you went to law school, you may know Daniel Luten from a landmark contract-law case involving a North Carolina bridge.) Dozens of Luten’s bridges still stand, and many of them are on the National Register. This one was built by the Luten Engineering Co., one of Luten’s later companies.

Luten bridge

This bridge was built in 1929 to replace a wooden covered bridge that stood where the current bridge now stands. By the time this bridge was built, the newer road alignment had been built to the south. So Putnam County was responsible for this road and had the bridge built. That’s why the plaque lists the county commissioners – if it had been part of a state or US highway, the state of Indiana would have built it, and any plaque on it would read accordingly.

Here’s the old and new bridges in profile. I wonder why the new bridge was built higher on its south end. Check out the bridge’s open spandrels.

Luten bridge

Where the old alignment turns left and resumes its westerly journey, the road is gravel. This is as close as it comes to experiencing what Indiana’s National Road was like 100 years ago.

Gravel National Road segment

Shortly, a concrete road emerges out of nowhere. At one time, the 1923 alignment merged with the older alignment here, and the concrete road ran briefly through what is now woods (at left in the photo). I don’t know why, but that portion of the 1923 alignment was torn out, probably when the modern US 40 alignment was built. In the aerial image shown near the beginning of this post, this is where the red and green merge to become yellow again on the left end of the image.

1920s concrete

This eastbound shot shows the character of the old concrete road. I never cease to marvel at how narrow old highways were.

1920s concrete on the National Road

I turned right around after taking the photo above and took this westbound shot. Here, the old highway is somebody’s driveway. One of these days, I’d like to find out who owns this land and ask permission to walk and photograph the old highway as far as it goes.

Old National Road as somebody's driveway

In my next post, I’ll show you the 1923 alignment.

UPDATE: Later research revealed the timeline of every one of these old alignments. Read about it here.

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

What if they built a bridge and nobody ever drove on it?

Here’s a weird one – a bridge along US 50 in southwestern Illinois that has an unused twin!

Here it is, up close and personal.

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

There are actually four such bridges along this 21-mile stretch of US 50 between Carlyle and Lebanon. The State of Illinois built them in about 1973 anticipating a four-lane divided highway that never materialized. Overpasses along this stretch are wide enough to accommodate a four-lane highway too.

I’ve heard that there were plans for I-64 to follow the US 50 corridor, and, later, plans for a US 50 expressway from St. Louis to Vincennes, neither of which came to be. I’ve also heard that dreams for a US 50 expressway still persist in southern Illinois. Not only is much of the infrastructure in place along this stretch, but much of an older alignment of US 50 lies unused next to the current alignment in south-central and southeastern Illinois.

Abandoned, never used US 50 bridge

When the time comes to build the road to this bridge, it looks like all they have to do here is lay some asphalt and put a bar across that railing!

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Road Trips

Three National Road/US 40 bridges over Maryland’s Casselman River

Casselman River bridge

I didn’t plan for our trip across Maryland to become the 2009 Grey Family Old Bridge Tour, but that’s how it turned out. I enjoyed it, of course, but I worried that my sons’ enthusiasm would quickly wane. How many old bridges can 10- and 12-year-old boys stand to see in one day? But somehow they didn’t run out of “Wow!” and “Cool!” and they never tired of running along every old bridge we stopped to explore.

One stop was left before we crossed into Pennsylvania. My youngest son was stoked because we had just come from photographing him next to a sign welcoming us to a county with which he shares a name. He was more than ready to see the 1813 Casselman River Bridge.

Do just a little research into the National Road and you’ll soon find photos of this bridge. It seems to be the best-known bridge on the National Road. At 80 feet long it was the longest stone arch bridge ever built in the United States. I had trouble backing up far enough to get the whole bridge into a frame.

Casselman River bridge

Photos hardly do justice to how tall this bridge is. The top of the arch is 30 feet above the waterline! It creates quite a peak on the road’s surface. Some modern sporty cars might scrape their undercarriages when they crest it.

Casselman River bridge

Early automobiles had enough ground clearance that this was not a problem, as this 1916 photo shows.

CasselmanBridge1916

No cars travel this bridge today. While it became a part of US 40 in 1926, it was left behind when a new bridge was built nearby in 1933. Today, the old bridge is part of a state park, and the approaching road has been removed on each side.

Casselman River bridge

The 1933 bridge built to carry US 40 has become historic, too. Many steel bridges like this one (a Pratt through truss design, in case you’re curious) have been demolished in favor of more modern bridges.

Casselman River bridge

Even this bridge has been bypassed. US 40 (and I-68) now use the bridge in the background, a plain “slab and pier” design that bridge fans call a UCEB – an Ugly Concrete Eyesore Bridge. The 1933 bridge has to be content to carry Alternate US 40.

Casselman River bridge

Okay, bridges can’t feel contentment. At least I was content as we drove over this bridge that it still carries traffic. Check out its skew!

Casselman River bridge

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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