On the National Road in Indiana, in Hendricks County right at the Putnam County line, you’ll find this 1872 home known as Rising Hall. It’s named after what staircases were sometimes called — this home has five staircases.
It was in sorry condition in the 1980s when Walt and June Prosser bought it and began its restoration. They completed it in the early 1990s and frequently invited the public in to tour it. You can watch a short documentary about the restoration here.
Walt Prosser died in 2010, aged 86. I haven’t found an obituary for his wife, June, so perhaps she still lives in Rising Hall.
Not long ago I showed this sign in my lit-neon single frame series. I found this photo from my 2009 tour of the National Road (US 40) in western Indiana that shows the sign in its context. It’s a pleasing scene from downtown Terre Haute.
Terre Haute is a blue-collar town of about 60,000 people. That’s big enough that you can’t know everybody, but small enough that after you live there for a few years the locals are largely familiar to you.
When I lived there, I used to stop by a little diner downtown for breakfast. Most days the county sheriff ate at the stool next to me. We’d nod and smile as he sat down. I worked with a fellow then who went on to be Terre Haute’s mayor now. This is how life goes in a city of this size, and I miss it.
When I moved to Terre Haute in 1985, the bridge that carried US 40 over the Wabash River into West Terre Haute was in sorry shape. It had served since 1905 and had been rehabilitated in 1973. But by the late 1980s it again needed a great deal of work. This postcard, which carries a 1912 postmark, shows it in sturdier times.
This unusual seven-span bridge had a central plate-girder section that carried vehicular traffic, with Pratt deck truss spans on either side for pedestrians. The pedestrian spans were closed by the time I lived in Terre Haute, presumably because deterioration had made them unsafe.
This bridge replaced a wooden covered bridge that was built in 1865. I’ll bet it was the longest covered bridge in the state while it was in operation.
But back to the unusual deck-girder/deck-truss bridge. Rather than restoring it yet again, the state chose to replace it with not one, but two new bridges, one eastbound and one westbound. The bridges were named for two Terre Haute natives, singer/songwriter and comedic actor Paul Dresser (westbound) and journalist and author Theodore Dreiser (eastbound). Dresser and Dreiser were brothers; Dresser changed his last name. Dresser wrote one of the most popular songs of the 19th century, “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” making his bridge over the Wabash River a touching tribute. The Dresser and Dreiser bridges opened in 1992, and the old bridge was demolished.
Notice the separation of these two bridges. Since the 1970s, US 40 had been realigned a couple of times through downtown Terre Haute, and these two bridges merely met US 40 where it was. Here’s how the two bridges cross the Wabash River.
US 40 and the National Road used to go straight through downtown Terre Haute, where it met the 1905 bridge and the 1865 bridge before it. This 1973 topographical map shows the route; it’s the red line across the middle of the image.
By the time I moved to Terre Haute, US 40 had been rerouted downtown. Westbound, when it reached US 41 (Third Street), the original path was no longer through. You turned north on US 41 for one block to Cherry Street, when you turned west again and followed a curve onto the 1905 bridge. Eastbound, after coming off the bridge a curve led to Ohio Street, one block south of the National Road. US 40 followed Ohio Street for several blocks before turning north and then east again onto the National Road. This 1989 topographical map shows the configuration.
From a 2009 visit to Terre Haute, here’s the Vigo County Courthouse, at the corner of the National Road and US 41. By this time US 40 had been rerouted again westbound to turn north at Ninth Street and then west one block later at Cherry Street.
The grassy area in the lower right is where the National Road used to go.
The Saratoga was already a local institution when I lived in Terre Haute in the 1980s and 1990s. It is still going strong today. I like to stop for a meal whenever I’m in town. I’m usually greeted by Shelly, a longtime waitress and someone I knew when I lived in Terre Haute.
I sort of miss Terre Haute. I liked living there. Unfortunately, there was only one company in town that needed people who did what I do, and when that company folded I had little choice but to move on.
We were just two weeks into stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought I was adapting okay, but as that second week drew to a close I felt myself going a little stir crazy. I felt a strong need to get away for a while. But where could I go?
My wife suggested I just take a long drive. “If you’re in your car, there’s nobody to infect you and you can’t infect anybody.” Brilliant. So that Saturday afternoon that’s just what I did.
The bare-tree months are my favorite time to visit this bridge because it’s so visible. In the middle of summer this is mighty overgrown. You can’t even see the bridge from modern US 40 then. But at this time of year it’s easy to see.
This bridge was built in 1923. It doesn’t look too bad for having gotten zero maintenance since it was abandoned, which was sometime between 1939 and 1941.
Iron’s Cemetery is just northeast of the bridge. Little spring flowers grew all along the path leading to it.
Inside the cemetery, you can see the other side of the bridge. At least you can during the bare-tree months.
Except for the sound of an occasional passing car, the only sound here is the wind. It was lovely to be out in the world in a peaceful place.
There are always lots of interesting details to photograph in an old cemetery. Gravestone letterforms of the 1800s fascinate me. They have such style!
Unfortunately, many of the markers here are in poor condition. Some of them are broken and lying on the ground.
I hate to see any old cemetery in this condition. It’s funny — I won’t be buried in one when I’m gone, it seems like a waste of good ground. Cremate me and scatter my remains to the wind. But for those who did choose burial, good heavens, provide for the maintenance of those graves!
But enough of that maudlin stuff. It helped me regain my internal footing to make this trip. I lingered here well past I stopped finding photographic inspiration, just to enjoy the quiet and the outdoors. Then I got into my car and drove back home.
My photo of a 1950s stainless-steel diner on US 40 east of Plainfield is featured in a new book from Indiana Landmarks.
The book, Rescued and Restored, “celebrates remarkable historic places snatched from the wrecking ball or lifted from decades of neglect.” So says the Web page Indiana Landmarks put up about the book, which includes a link to purchase a copy. See it here.
My copy of the book arrived last week, and it is a lush look at many beautiful and interesting historic structures around Indiana, telling their stories and showing photographs before and after they were restored.
You’ll find the Oasis Diner on page 77. It was manufactured by Mountain View Diners, a New Jersey company, in 1954 and shipped to its original site on US 40 east of Plainfield. It operated there until 2008.
Stainless-steel diners like these were once common on the American roadscape, but have dwindled in number over the years. Indiana Landmarks worked with the City of Plainfield to find it a new place to operate, and new owners who would restore it.
In 2014 the diner was moved about four miles west, still on US 40 but in downtown Plainfield. After an extensive restoration, including a recreation of the original Oasis sign that had been removed many years before, the Oasis Diner reopened for business in November, 2014. I made this photo on my first visit, about a month later.
I have thin memories of passing this diner by from trips along US 40 as early as 1984. I first paid real attention to it on my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana. I made that trip again in 2009, which is when I made the featured photograph. See this post for a writeup of this stop on both of those road trips.
When the Oasis Diner was being moved and restored, Indiana Landmarks asked for permission to use my photograph in their publications. I gave it happily. I am a Landmarks member and support their mission. I loved the thought that one of my documentary road-trip photos could find a useful purpose beyond being on my blog. My photo appeared in news articles about the diner, as well as in at least one issue of Indiana Landmarks’ monthly member magazine.
I thought that would be it, but then this year they used it again in an email to members announcing the book. Had they not done that I might never have known they published it in this book!