Preservation, Road Trips

See it now

After exploring the Midwest’s old highways for the past seven years, this is the most important thing I’ve learned: See it now.

The roadway’s built environment changes with time, and artifacts of the past disappear. It’s the natural order of things.

These buildings in Crawfordsville houses Cornett’s Furniture. When I made my Dixie Highway trips last year, I looked forward to reaching Crawfordsville so I could finally photograph the great neon sign on the building on the left. “Wait,” I hear you say, “what neon sign?” Exactly. It’s gone, and I was very disappointed.


Not long ago while looking for a photo in my archive, I was excited to find I had photographed the sign a couple years before. I’d simply forgotten about it.

Schloot Furniture Co.

While driving the old National Road in western Indiana in 2009, I finally photographed the Kleptz Bar neon sign in Seelyville, just east of Terre Haute. It’s on the left in the photo below; the sign on the right is relatively recent. During the years I lived in this area, the Kleptz Bar sign was a beacon in the night. About a month after I photographed it, it was taken down and has not returned. Every time I drive through the area after twilight, I miss seeing it glow.

Kleptz Bar

Finally, recently I found an old map from the early days of the national route system that showed an older US 40 alignment through West Terre Haute. It’s outlined in blue below; the road labeled National Ave. was the first realignment. (US 40 now follows I-70, which is south of town.) I’ve always wondered if this might be an older alignment; finding that old map confirmed it for me. When I lived in Terre Haute in the 1980s, part of this alignment was paved in concrete. Because it was once part of US 40, that concrete was probably poured in the 1920s. I really wanted to get out there and see it again!

Imagery ©2013 DigitalGlobe, IndianaMap Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2013 Google

Imagery ©2013 DigitalGlobe, IndianaMap Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency, Map data ©2013 Google

But first I looked at it in Google Street View — and found that the old concrete had been covered with asphalt. That’s a real shame, because any concrete road from the 1920s is historic and needs to be considered for preservation.


This has me thinking of several other places I need to visit before they’re gone, too.


I’ve found 1910s-1920s concrete on the
National Road in Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

Photography, Road Trips

Fine-art road-trip photography?

Most photos I take when I’m on a road trip are documentary. I take care to compose them as well as I can so they’re pleasing, but my primary goal is to show the road and its context of landscape and built environment. Once in a while on the road I find something that creates a feeling in me, and I set about trying to capture whatever it is about the scene that generated it. I guess that makes those photographs art.

Honestly, I struggle with the notion of myself as an artist. As a boy I was acquainted with a number of artists and whatever I remember them to be, I’m not. I went to engineering school, for heaven’s sake, and make software for a living – my world has long been filled with the concrete, the factual, the practical, the purposeful. Certainly, creativity overflows in these hard disciplines. As you know, I think truss bridges are beautiful. But more than that, I respect and admire how their beauty is always second to their purpose. Yet here I am, trying to make something beautiful, or something that tells a story, or something that creates a feeling, just for its own sake. And wet is dry, and left is right, and up is down.

And now, a few art photos from my recent Dixie Highway tour.

This is a door on the Fountain County Courthouse in Covington. These doors seemed so severe and imposing. I shot digital on this trip; all my black-and-white shots are that way thanks to Photoshop. That conversion made this door even more severe and imposing.

Courthouse door

I spotted a ghost sign on a building in Crawfordsville a block north of the Dixie and moved in to capture this detail. I punched up the contrast a little, which brought out some really nice textures in the image.

Whee Bal

A storefront in Waynetown had this old-style entry. I’ve seen a lot of old commercial buildings in small Indiana towns but very few entries like this one, as so many have been modernized over the years. Converted to black and white, this photo reminded me of a scene from the 1930s, save for the modern credit-card stickers on the window.


And finally, a color shot just how it came out of the camera. This is an old alignment of the Dixie west of Brownsburg. I like the relentless green framing the gray road, how the sun faintly shines onto the road through the trees, and how the window reveals the unexpectedly lurking house.

Old alignment

For a few other favorite photos,
click here and here and here and here

Road Trips

Are all Dixie Highway small towns alike?

When I get home from a road trip, as soon as I can I transfer the photos from my camera to my computer and geotag them. If I wait too long, I’m likely to forget where I took some of the shots.

It’s a darn good thing I didn’t delay after this trip, or I would never have sorted out the photos from all the small towns. They all looked too much alike! Here’s downtown Hillsboro.


Down the road a bit is Waynetown.


Farther along comes Pittsboro.


And finally, there’s Brownsburg.


I’m sure I’ll rankle the preservationists in my audience when I say that buildings like these were sort of the strip malls of their day – utilitarian facilities for a town’s commerce. To mollify the preservationists, I’ll say that these buildings were designed to last where strip malls aren’t, and are ripe for adaptive reuse in ways strip malls never will be.

While Hillsboro, Waynetown, and Pittsboro are all sleepy little Indiana towns, what you can’t see in the photo from Brownsburg is that it is a giant bedroom community for Indianapolis, which is close by. This photo is of Brownsburg’s main intersection, where the Dixie Highway (US 136) intersects State Road 267. The other three corners probably once had buildings just like these, but they’ve been torn down in favor of a bank, a Walgreens, and a CVS. Ah, progress. I think I’d rather have the old buildings, as plain as they probably were.

The old buildings in Old Washington, Ohio,
on the National Road, have tons of character. Check them out!

Road Trips

How to make an old roadgeek happy

Have I ever mentioned how happy it makes me when I find an old bridge or old pavement that used to serve on an important highway? Oh my, but it does. I unexpectedly came upon some old brick pavement while looking for an old bridge on Indiana’s Dixie Highway mainline. I couldn’t reach the old bridge, but finding the bricks almost made up for it.

Brick New Ross Road

Looking at the map, it’s easy to tell this road’s story. The Dixie Highway originally cheerfully passed through New Ross about 12 miles southeast of Crawfordsville, but just east of town the road crossed a railroad track awkwardly. Indiana’s highway engineers devised a new route that crossed the tracks more safely, bypassing New Ross in the process.

Imagery © 2012 DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, Indiana Map Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2012 Google.

At some point, the bridge that carried the Dixie’s older alignment was demolished. The brick road begins east of where the bridge was. This entire alignment was once paved in brick, but this remnant is all that’s left. It provides access to one property. The resulting ultra low traffic is certainly why this segment has never been covered in asphalt.

Imagery © 2012 DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, Indiana Map Framework Data, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data © 2012 Google.

Here’s a westbound shot of the brick road as it heads toward the creek.

Brick New Ross Road

When you zoom the map in a little closer, another bridge becomes visible – the one I was hoping to see. If you go back to the previous map, you can see how the road used to be aligned to cross this bridge. My guess is that when the Dixie Highway was paved in bricks, probably during the 1920s, this old bridge was for whatever reason judged insufficient. A newer bridge (now demolished) was built and the road realigned to use it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the old bridge is still used by the landowner.

Imagery © 2012 GeoEye, Indiana Map Framework Data. Map data © 2012 Google.

Sadly, I found no way to get to that bridge without trespassing. I sure would have loved to see it. But at least I got to see the old brick road. Here it is just north of where it crosses the railroad tracks.

Brick New Ross Road

I’ve also found plenty of old brick highway
on the National Road in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.

Road Trips

Making a beeline down the Dixie Highway

If you’re not too persnickety, the easiest way to drive the Dixie Highway’s western mainline in Indiana is just to follow US 136. You will miss a few old alignments in so doing, but your cruising will be eased by needing only to follow the marked highway. If you’ve read this blog at all, you know I’m persnickety. Naturally, I followed all of the old alignments. The longest old alignment stretches about 8½ miles from Covington to just past Veedersburg at US 41.

Imagery © 2012 TerraMetrics, map data © 2012 Google

The road is narrow with no shoulders, which suggests that the road saw few improvements while it was still the state highway. When Indiana chose to seriously invest in its road here, it chose to build a new alignment to the north.

Dixie Bee Road

Most of this road is signed Dixie Bee Road. A competing auto trail known as the Dixie Bee Line connected Chicago and Nashville, Tennessee, via Danville, Illinois and Terre Haute, Indiana. My 1920s Indiana road maps show the Dixie Bee Line following a different path from this road, but given that some auto trails’ routes changed frequently, it is still possible that this was once the Dixie Bee Line as well as the Dixie Highway. After all, this segment ends at US 41, which leads directly to Terre Haute.

When Dixie Bee Road reaches Veedersburg, its name changes to State Street. It cuts across Veedersburg’s south side and then crosses Coal Creek on on this great pony-truss bridge.

Steel bridge

Except for rust and a bent railing where a vehicle nudged it, the bridge looks to be quite solid. Whenever you see equilateral triangles in a truss bridge, you know you’re looking at a Warren truss.

Pony truss bridge

These trusses are massive, stretching about eight feet above the deck.

Pony truss bridge

About a mile east of the bridge, the Dixie Highway meets US 41. US 136 rejoins the historic alignment from here west.

I once came upon a suspension bridge on an old
 alignment in Illinois. Check it out!

Road Trips

Driving Indiana’s Dixie Highway

The Dixie Highway was a 1910s and 1920s network of roads that connected the Midwest to the South, running from Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan to Miami, Florida. In a day where good roads were not a given, the Dixie was formed to pave the way, literally, to bring tourists to the South. To learn more, please see Robert V. Droz’s outstanding Dixie Highway site, which includes a 1923 map of the route.

From the 1923 map

The Dixie neatly crossed Indiana, entering from the north at South Bend and from the west near Covington, converging at Indianapolis, and then exiting to the east at Richmond and to the south at New Albany. Indiana folded all of the Dixie into its state highway network in the 1920s. Later road improvements have left a few old alignments behind, but you can drive almost all of the original Dixie Highway in Indiana today.

I’ve covered a lot of Indiana’s Dixie on past road trips. The segment from South Bend to Indianapolis followed the Michigan Road, which I explored in 2008. The segment from Indianapolis to Richmond followed the National Road, which I explored in 2009. And when I explored State Road 37 from Indianapolis to Bloomington in 2007, I was unwittingly also following the Dixie Highway. So it seems only natural that I finish driving Indiana’s Dixie.

In the Dixie’s heyday, the section between the Illinois line and Indianapolis was part of the western “mainline” that began in Chicago. Indiana erected State Road 34 signs along the route in 1927, but took them all down in 1953 and erected US 136 signs instead. Naturally, over the years the road was improved, occasionally leaving old alignments behind. And then in the 1960s I-74 was built along the same corridor, forever relegating US 136 simply to connect the small towns along it.

Small towns and old alignments always entice me, so on a recent Saturday I drove out to where US 136 enters Indiana and headed back east, exploring all the way. I’ll share some of the interesting sights in upcoming posts.

Indiana State Line, US 136

I also briefly followed a bit of the Dixie in southern
Indiana on my US 50 trip a couple years ago. Check it out!