Road trips

Changes along the National Road in western Indiana

I’ve made a couple trips along US 40 (the old National Road) between Indianapolis and Terre Haute lately and have taken a few photos along the way. I’ve been driving this road for enough years now that some of the sights have really changed.

First, the Cedar Crest Motel sign is gone. This old motel was in Putnam County about 1.5 miles west of Mt. Meridian. Here’s the sign as I found it in 2011. Longtime readers might recall that this is on the only remaining brick alignment of this road in Indiana.

Cedar Crest Motel sign

Also, out in Terre Haute the great old Woodridge Motel sign is gone, too. The motel still operates, but it has a generic backlit plastic sign now. The new sign is so banal I didn’t even bother getting out to photograph it. Here’s the Woodridge sign in 2009.

Chateau Woodridge

In Seelyville, just east of Terre Haute, the Kleptz Bar neon sign disappeared almost immediately after I photographed it in 2009.

Kleptz Bar

I finally stopped — very quickly — in front of the Putnamville Correctional Facility to properly photograph the original alignment of this road, which is still used as a service road there. It’s blotchy because I shot it at maximum zoom with my iPhone. While most of this road segment is covered in asphalt, its tail is the original 1920s concrete. Those houses, by the way, are associated with the prison. They’re all very attractive, with dark red brick and green-shingled roofs, and I’ve always wished I could tour them.

Old alignment of US 40/National Road near Putnamville, IN

Here’s a through-the-car-window shot I made back in 2009. What’s most interesting to me about these two shots is how they reveal a curvy, undulating road. Putnam County has the most challenging terrain of all the Indiana counties through which this road passes, and when the current four-lane highway was built in the 1930s great care was taken to straighten and smooth the ride.

State prison alignment of National Road

I stopped in Brazil in Clay County. The highway had been rebuilt through town, and I wanted to see it. It wasn’t very exciting; it’s just a modern road. I guess the real excitement was when they tore out the road and found a layer of bricks underneath the asphalt, and the tracks for the interurban that used to pass through town. But I was pleased to see some improvements to the facades of some buildings. Here’s the Times Building in 2009.

Times Building, Brazil, IN

Here it is today, its lower facade refreshed but the upper portion still in poor shape. I Photoshopped this one to correct perspective, which is why it’s so upright when the one above is keystoned. The “today” shots from Brazil, by the way, were shot with my Minolta XG 1 and my 45mm f/2 Rokkor lens on Fujicolor 200.

Times Building, Brazil

And here’s the 1907 Davis Building in 2009, looking pretty rough.

1909 DH Davis building, Brazil, IN

And here it is today, with some improvements made. One of the years between then and now this building made Indiana Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered list, which got it some attention.

Davis Building, Brazil

But it hasn’t yet gotten all of the attention it still needs, as this peek inside shows.

Davis Building, Brazil

Finally, a couple counties to the east in Hendricks County, just west of Plainfield, this abandoned bridge is still abandoned.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

It doesn’t appear to be deteriorating very fast, which is nice in a way. It was built in the 1920s, probably; it was abandoned in about 1940 when the new four-lane alignment was built next to it.

Abandoned US 40 bridge near Plainfield, IN

Here’s what it looked like on a visit in 2013.

Abandoned US 40 bridge

And here’s what it looked like on my first ever road trip, in the summer of 2006. Finding this bridge on this trip hooked me hard on following the old roads, by the way.

Abandoned National Road/US 40

I suppose that by summer the bridge will look like this again. I’ll be back one day. Because the old roads keep changing.

Standard

Brick Rd.

Brick National Road near Norwich, Ohio
Canon PowerShot S95
2011

Ohio has some deeply delightful brick and concrete sections of the old National Road, some of which you can still drive. Like this section. It’s good, rumbly brick.

Thus endeth the series of old-road photos to celebrate Down the Road’s 10th blogiversary. But I have more to say about blogging and this blog, so watch for more “Ten Years of Down the Road” posts to come.

Photography, Road trips

Photo: Brick section of the National Road in Ohio

Image

The view from Gilpin Road

The view from Gilpin Road
Kodak EasyShare Z730
2009

My sons and I were driving the National Road across Maryland. As we ascended Polish Mountain, the view of modern US 40 and I-68 below was arresting.

Photography, Road trips

Photo: The view from Gilpin Road, part of the National Road in Maryland

Image

Peacock Road

Peacock Road
Canon PowerShot S95
2011

This is a nearly forgotten old alignment of the National Road in Ohio, still open to traffic. But as you can see, it gets very little of that. These bricks were laid in the 1910s or 1920s.

Photography, Road trips

Photo: Peacock Road, a part of the National Road in Ohio

Image

Indianapolis sunset from the National Road bridge

Sunset over the White River on the National Road bridge, Indianapolis
Apple iPhone 6s
2016

I shot this on my wedding day. My bride and I stayed Downtown on our wedding night, and we took a sunset stroll through White River State Park along the path of the old National Road, which the park took over. The old bridge over the White River hasn’t carried cars in decades. It’s a seven-span closed-spandrel concrete arch bridge built in 1916.

Photography

Photo: Sunset over the White River

Image
Road trips

The most dangerous highway in Indiana

Meet US 40, the most dangerous highway in Indiana.

US 40 in Putnam County, Indiana

Waiiiiit…. it looks pretty harmless, actually. Like a pleasant Sunday-afternoon drive.

But there was a time when it had the most traffic fatalities per mile in the state. That time was 1967. Here’s proof from an Indianapolis newspaper, probably The Indianapolis News.

us40dangerous

It’s hard to imagine now that US 40 was ever busy enough to be that dangerous. Today, when it’s busy along its original path it’s only because of local traffic in the cities. My church, for example, is steps off old US 40 on Indianapolis’s Near Westside, and at 5 pm on a weekday it’s challenging to turn left onto our street from this road.

But I-70 hadn’t opened yet when this article was written. Years ago I was interviewed for an article in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star about US 40’s importance in that city. The reporter spoke to people who owned businesses along US 40, and one of them recounted that the day I-70 opened, traffic immediately slowed to a trickle as if “someone had closed a faucet.”

All of that traffic has been on I-70 ever since. And the traffic has done nothing but get heavier year over year. At least that’s how it seems to me. I’ve driven the US 40/I-70 corridor a lot over the last 30 years.

It’s probably no surprise that I prefer driving US 40. I take I-70 only when time is of the essence — its 70 mph speed limit gets me there a lot faster than US 40’s 55 mph limit. But US 40 is so much more pleasant to drive. I always arrive far less stressed when I take US 40.

I’ve been in correspondence with Roger Green, who grew up on US 40 in Harmony, a tiny town near Brazil in western Indiana. He’s embarking on his own US 40/National Road exploratory journey and is learning as much as he can about the road. His Google searches led him here. Roger shared the newspaper clipping above with me, as well as clear memories of accidents in front of his house in those days:

Yes, US 40 with all its glory had a sad side with many accidents. We were so glad when I-70 opened to relieve the traffic as it was getting difficult for us to pull out of our driveway. We had so many accidents near our house that our response became routine. We would be watching TV and hear screeching tires and then the crash. Mother would go directly to the phone and call the sheriff and dad would run out the front door to see what he could do to help the injured. Part of the problem was a speed transition which started in front of our house with 65 MPH dropping to 45 MPH if coming from the east. Many people just didn’t slow down. Added to that were all of the cross roads and private driveways adjoining the road and you had the recipe.

I stopped in Harmony on my last tour of this road, which was in 2009. Hard to believe it was that long ago now. I am overdue for another tour. Much is sure to have changed.

Harmony, IN

US 40 boasts many tiny towns across western Indiana, but few of them have as much going on as Harmony. There’s still a “there” there.

Harmony, IN

Harmony’s side streets are narrow and its buildings often have shallow setbacks from the highway. It looks like it might still be challenging sometimes to turn safely onto US 40. Indeed, on the day I visited this corner street sign had met its fate under a car’s wheels.

Harmony, IN

So a little danger still lurks on US 40.

Standard