Cumberland County Covered Bridge Canon PowerShot S95 2014
Here’s an oxymoron: “new covered bridge.” Yet here this one is. It was built in 2000 as a replica of an 1832 bridge that once stood here.
You’ll find it just west of Greenup, Illinois on the original alignment of US 40 and the National Road. It spans the Embarras (EM-ba-raw) River. That original covered bridge washed out in 1865. A steel replacement, I believe a Whipple truss, constructed in 1875 washed out in 1912. A girder bridge was completed in 1920 and served until flooding damaged a pier in 1996, rendering the bridge unsafe.
By this time, US 40 had long been rerouted around Greenup to the south. This crossing no longer carried a significant amount of traffic — 225 vehicles a day, at last count. The county got a grant to build this bridge as a tourist attraction.
Abandoned US 40 bridge Nikon N8008, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6 AF Nikkor Kodak Tri-X 400 2017
I’ve often wondered what leads to a bridge being abandoned. Was it too expensive to tear it out? Won’t it become a safety hazard for curious explorers?
I don’t know for sure when this bridge was built, but my past research points to 1920-25. It carried US 40 over the west fork of White Lick Creek, just west of Plainfield, Indiana. It served until only about 1940, when US 40 was upgraded to four lanes here. Two new bridges were built, one for each direction of traffic. This bridge was left behind.
The current westbound bridge is only a few feet away. It’s only in the winter months, when the trees are bare and the vegetation has died back, that you can see this old bridge from the road as you drive by.
I love it when serendipity happens. I scheduled this post to go live today weeks ago. Later, I started moving my 2006 road trip along this section of the National Road and US 40 to the blog, which I started sharing this week. My post about the day I first encountered this bridge posts next week.
I’m going to start sharing my very first road trip, on July 15, 2006, down US 40 and the National Road from Indianapolis to the Illinois state line. I’m bringing this content over from my Roads pages on my old HTML site, which I will eventually shut down.
I traveled US 40 from Indianapolis to Terre Haute for the first time in 1984. I was a senior in high school, and my parents were taking me to visit Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. I didn’t know the road’s important history then and I hadn’t even begun to become a roadfan. I remember only two things about the road, and both of them were near Terre Haute. First, as you crested the last hill before Rose-Hulman, a red, round 84 Lumber sign seemed to rise out of the hill like the morning sun. It was kind of disorienting, really. Second, the clock on the bright yellow Clabber Girl Baking Powder billboard had stopped.
I ended up attending Rose-Hulman and became friends with a fellow who liked to take me on late-night drives on obscure highways and country roads to see where they led. I began to wonder why roads turned out as they did. For example, why did State Road 42 have two ninety-degree turns at the Vigo-Clay county line? Since every journey out of Rose-Hulman started with US 40, I became interested in it, too. I asked a classmate from nearby Brazil why US 40 through his hometown was called National Ave.; he said that was the road’s “old name.” I learned that locals considered the intersection of 7th Street and Wabash Avenue, where US 41 used to intersect with US 40, to be not only the crossroads of America, but the crossroads Eric Clapton sang of with Cream. And then somebody told me that State Road 340 between Brazil and the Vigo County line was an old alignment of US 40. I started to become fascinated.
2006 was the 200th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson authorizing a National Road. It would be 30 years before it reached Indiana, and another 90 years before it became part of the US numbered highway system. The original road through Indiana was a narrow path made largely of dirt and sometimes chipped stone or macadam. It is now a paved highway, four lanes through most of the state.
My friend Dawn and I discovered our mutual interest in roads and US 40 in particular, and after learning that we were in that anniversary year we both started talking about traveling the road in western Indiana and looking for old alignments. Dawn has lived her whole life near US 40 between Plainfield and Brazil, and I spent nine years living in Terre Haute where I traveled the road between Brazil and Illinois. Between us, we thought we knew the road. As we researched, we discovered many old alignments of US 40 and the National Road, always under our noses but beyond our detection. We decided we had to make the trip and explore these alignments.
On July 15, 2006, we drove west from the intersection of Washington and Meridian Streets in Indianapolis and, several hours later, crossed the Illinois border. Along the way, we saw many old alignments of US 40 and the National Road ranging from unusable to maintained state highway. We followed any road marked with a Historic National Road marker, any road marked National Avenue or National Road, and roads the Indiana National Road Association identified on (a now long-ago version of) their Web site as being old National Road segments.
I took photos as we went, which I will share and describe in a number of posts to come.
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.
One bridge was built in 1826, the other in 1932. One guess which is which!
Both bridges carry the National Road/US 40 over Wheeling Creek near Blaine in Belmont County, Ohio. It’s just five miles from the Ohio River, the border with West Virginia.
The lower bridge came first. It’s the oldest standing bridge in Ohio, and is the longest of the few remaining S bridges in the state. Notice its “S” curvature? This was done in the name of economy: it’s less expensive to build and maintain a bridge that’s perpendicular to the creek it crosses. They merely curved the approaches to meet the road.
This was just fine in the days of horses and buggies with their slow speeds. As automobiles took over, it became a hazard. Drivers had to slow way down to negotiate the S. Some didn’t slow down in time.
Moreover, west of this bridge lay a very steep hill. It was challenging for cars of the day to climb. I’m sure pedestrians and horses didn’t much enjoy the climb either!
The upper bridge made travel easier on three counts: it eliminated the S, it offered a wider deck (38.1 feet vs. 26.9 feet), and it created a gentler rise to the top of the hill.
I know of four other S bridges on the National Road: one in Pennsylvania (here) and three in Ohio (two here, the third here). That last one was still open to traffic when I visited it in 2011, and I drove over it. By 2013 it, too, was closed (here).
The Wheeling Suspension Bridge closed to vehicular traffic on September 20. It will be closed for at least a year, say officials with the West Virginia Department of Transportation.
Too many vehicles heavier than the posted 2-ton weight limit have been crossing the bridge, according to Secretary of Transportation Byrd White. “People just ignore” the posted weight-limit signs, he said.
The bridge was closed for several weeks over the summer after a bus crossed it and then got stuck under a barrier entering Wheeling. The bridge was inspected, and some damage was found to the structure.
The bridge was repaired and new barriers were installed to block large vehicles, but vehicles over the weight limit kept crossing the bridge.
The Department of Transportation hopes to rehabilitate the bridge during its closure. They will reevaluate whether to allow vehicular traffic again at that time.
The bridge remains open to walkers and bicyclists.
Another camera review I refreshed recently was of my Minolta X-700. I shot just two rolls with it before it succumbed to the common but dreaded Stuck Winder Problem. A certain capacitor fails, and the X-700 becomes a brick.
That second roll (it was Fujicolor 200) was shot primarily on a road trip along Indiana’s National Road from Indianapolis to the Illinois state line. My goodness but do I miss taking to the old roads. I’ve made not a single road trip this year. Life just has presented higher priorities. I hope for next year.
It felt great, however, to look through these photos from my trip ten years ago and remember a great day alone on this old highway. You might know it as US 40. First, here’s an abandoned bridge just west of Plainfield. It carried US 40 from probably about 1925 until the road was rebuilt as a four-lane divided highway in about 1940. Two new bridges were built just to the south — I stood on one of them to make this photograph — and this one was left behind to molder.
Here’s another view. You can park on a clearing just east of this bridge and walk out onto it.
Just before the four-lane highway reaches Putnamville, a short older alignment branches off. This 1923 bridge is on it, and you can still drive across it.
The bridge feels narrow, and the railing feels heavy.
Near Reelsville you’ll find an old alignment of the road that never got paved.
For a long time I thought this was the National Road’s original alignment. But I learned that the National Road was moved to this alignment in 1875 when a bridge on the original alignment, to the south, washed out and was not replaced. Read about the history of these alignments here.
Near here I stopped to photograph some roadside flowers.
When I made it to Terre Haute, I walked along the road for several blocks downtown. It’s known as Wabash Avenue here. This is the entrance to Hulman and Company, which for many years made Clabber Girl Baking Powder.
This building may once have housed the Terre Haute Trust Company, but for as long as I can remember — since I moved to Terre Haute in 1985 — it has housed the Merchant’s National Bank and, after a merger, the Old National Bank.
I drove from there all the way to the end of the Indiana portion of the road. Then I turned around and went back to Terre Haute to catch dinner at the Saratoga, a longtime restaurant right on the road.
It was a great day, and my Minolta X-700 helped me capture it — before it failed.
If you’d like to see more from this trip, via my digital camera, check it out on my old site, here.