History, Road Trips

Building US 41 near Terre Haute in the 1920s

The curator of the Vigo County Historical Museum in Terre Haute, Suzy Quick, contacted me recently. The museum had been given three photographs showing construction of US 41 near Terre Haute, and Suzy wondered if I could help her date the photos. I said I’d give it a try! Here are the photos, used with permission:

Photo property of the Vigo County Historical Museum
Photo property of the Vigo County Historical Museum
Photo property of the Vigo County Historical Museum

I’m making a couple assumptions: first, that the person who donated the photos is correct, that these depict construction of US 41; and second, that they depict scenes in roughly the same area.

I hoped there would be identifiable elements in these photos — signs, cars, landmarks. The first and second photos definitely have cars from the 1920s in them. In the third photo, the road looks to me to be paved in concrete. I’ve encountered a lot of old concrete on former and abandoned alignments of Indiana highways, and when I’ve been able to find when one of those roads was built, it was always during the 1920s. So I’m confident that these photos are from the 1920s.

Unfortunately, there are no signs or clearly recognizable landmarks in these photos to help me narrow it down any more than that. The railroad tracks in the second photo are a landmark, but this road crosses several sets of tracks on its way through Terre Haute, and another set a few miles south of Terre Haute. Only one of those crossings currently involves two tracks, one on Terre Haute’s near north side. But it’s possible that tracks could have been removed at one or more of the other crossings since these photos were made.

I turned to my small collection of maps and road guides for further clues. They gave me some solid evidence that leads me to the hypothesis that these photos are from 1924 or 1925, and that the location they represent might be somewhere south of Terre Haute. The rest of this post explains.

Typical ABB cover

I own a number of old Automobile Blue Books, which are road guides updated and published annually from 1900 to 1929. They give comprehensive turn-by-turn directions from place to place. Finding one’s way as a motorist was a significant challenge in the early automobile days, as outside of cities many roads weren’t marked. The ABB was a terrific resource then.

In Indiana, the first five marked, numbered state highways were routed in 1917. The state added more and more numbered highways in subsequent years. Those highways were routed over existing roads and frequently involved lots of left and right turns. In the 1920s and 1930s, Indiana improved most of those highways to be much more direct and to eliminate most turns.

I own 1924 and 1925 ABBs that cover Midwestern states. In both ABBs, Route 300 is Terre Haute south to Vincennes, and eventually Nashville, TN. Both guides route the driver south from Terre Haute over State Road 10. This road would become US 41 in 1926, when the US highway system was established.

Here the relevant section of Route 300 from the 1924 ABB. Notice how it says to follow State Road 10 south from 7th St. and Wabash Ave, which was then the main intersection of downtown Terre Haute. Then 5.7 miles later at a fork in the road, the ABB directs drivers to bear left with the trolley. That means that trolley tracks were running in or alongside the road. Notice that in the third photo above, railroad tracks hug the road. They are likely trolley tracks and might be the tracks the ABB describes. Notice also how directions tell drivers to do an awful lot of left and right turns, and bearing left or right at forks.

In the 1925 ABB, just one year later, notice how the directions are far simpler. If it were necessary to tell drivers “end of road, turn left” and such, this ABB would certainly do that, as it does so on other routes. What this says to me is that State Road 10 (US 41) was significantly improved in 1924-25 and had become a very direct route. This article lays the 1926 route of US 41 onto modern maps, and shows that from Terre Haute to Vincennes, there was only one hard turn, in Shelburn.

So: I think, but am not certain, that these photos are from south of Terre Haute. Because my ABBs suggest that SR 10 was rebuilt south from Terre Haute sometime after the 1924 ABB was published, but before the 1925 ABB was published, I think these photos are from 1924 or 1925.

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Ohio Street Beach

single frame: Lake Shore Drive
Nikon Df, 28-80mm f/3.3-5.6G AF Nikkor

Lake Shore Drive is a busy Chicago artery that, as its name suggests, follows the shore of Lake Michigan. It’s also US 41 along the majority of its length, as this sign reminds.

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single frame: Lake Shore Drive

A look at Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

Road Trips

Twisty US 41 in western Indiana

Let’s return to my October, 2006 road trip along some lovely highways in western Indiana.

Imagery ©2020 TerraMetrics, map data ©2020 Google.

Ice-age glaciers flattened the northern two-thirds of Indiana. It makes a 26-mile stretch of US 41 in western Indiana, on either side of Rockville, a real surprise.

After reaching the end of State Road 47, I headed north on US 41 about 6½ miles to SR 234, and then turned around for the southbound trip, which ended up taking me almost to Terre Haute.

In the periphery, imposing tree banks grow upon massive hills that seem to well up out of nowhere. The road curves around them, yet at times is steep enough that my little car bogged down in fifth gear.

Naturally, the road’s thin shoulder left no obvious place to stop for photographs. That situation changed south of SR 47. The road alternated between gnarled and straight. This southbound photograph is in the middle of an isolated gnarled section.

US 41

After crossing US 36 in Rockville, I stopped to take a photograph of a stirring wall of color created by the southbound road’s curve ahead. The photograph doesn’t do the scene justice.

US 41

This stretch of US 41 frequently passed between dense woods and open country. I entered a lonely, isolated stretch as the road curved uphill. After cresting the hill, the scenery suddenly opens wide. These juxtapositions are common along US 41 in Parke and Vigo Counties, and they make the road a real pleasure.

US 41

It had been on the order of 15 years since I had last driven here. I remembered US41 being curvier and more challenging to drive; I thought there were big “Dangerous Curves” signs north and south of Rockville. Was I imagining these things? I felt like a man who visited the home of his boyhood — how could a yard that small have ever seemed so huge?

Next: A visit to the covered bridge at Bridgeton. I’ve written about this visit a long time ago, here, but I’ll share more photos and history this time.

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History, Preservation

A sense of place: Going home to Twelve Points

Twelve Points State Bank

How well do we actually see the places where we live? Truly notice the details that give it identity and make it a place?

For me, the answer is: Better now than when I was young. I’ve lived long enough now that the stomping grounds of my youth have changed a lot. But back then my inner historian, preservationist, and photographer had not yet awakened. I had not yet learned to see.

In the early 1990s I lived in the Terre Haute, Indiana, neighborhood known as Twelve Points. The area got its name from the awkward intersection of Lafayette Ave., Maple Ave., and 13th St., which created twelve corners.

Imagery and map data ©2013 Google

Twelve Points was once a hot spot, at a time when Lafayette Road was still US 41, when passenger-train and streetcar service still delivered hundreds of people each day to shop here, and before the big shopping mall was built on the south side of town.

When I moved there, Twelve Points’ best days were already well in its past. Many of the buildings were empty and in poor repair.

A handful of businesses remained. I used to walk over to Hook’s drug store to fill prescriptions, and I’d sometimes stop at the little IGA grocery store on the way home from work. I could have done my banking, gone out for pizza, gotten my hair cut, and visited the dentist in Twelve Points, too, but I never did. Today I’d do it on principle, but that’s the kind of man I’ve become only lately.

A few years ago I visited an exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society that made me deeply regret not getting to know Twelve Points better. Part of the IHS’s “You Are There” series, the exhibit recreated Citizens Grocery, owned and run by Ernest Zwerner on Lafayette Road in Twelve Points, as it had been in 1945.

It was a painstaking recreation based on 1940s photos of Zwerner’s store (one is here), with period equipment and goods both real and carefully reproduced. Actors portrayed the shopkeeper and customers, all dressed in period clothes. Visitors to the exhibit could go inside the store and talk with the characters, who responded as if it were really 1945 and they were going about their daily business. It put visitors in touch with a time few of us knew.

Remarkably, I knew a couple who would have shopped at Zwerner’s: My landlords, Steve and Henrietta, who had lived since the 1930s in their home a few blocks away and rented its attached apartment to people like me. Inside the recreated grocery, I imagined young Henrietta there doing her marketing. Or, more likely she phoned in her order and waited for delivery.

I became a little misty eyed as I experienced my connection to this store and this time. I wanted to play along with the actors, tell them I lived a few blocks away on 8th Street (which I had, 45 years later), lament rationing, and ask them how much longer they thought we’d have to fight in this war. But I lacked the guts. I walked around the store in silence, slightly dizzy in delight, the corners of my lips curled up in a slight grin that I tried to suppress lest it let the mist in my eyes get out of hand.

(You will learn more about Zwerner the man and his business in this Google Books excerpt of An American Hometown: Terre Haute, Indiana, 1927, here.)

When I last visited Terre Haute, I made a point of returning to Twelve Points with my camera. The building that held Zwerner’s store was demolished decades ago, so I photographed the buildings I remembered from my time living nearby in the early 1990s.

The Twelve Points State Bank building held a branch of the Merchants National Bank when I lived there. It looks pretty good yet, despite the boarded-up storefront there on its south side.

Twelve Points State Bank

Thirty years ago this building was in such poor condition as to be derelict. While it still shows some rough edges, it’s in much better condition today and on the day I took this photo was significantly occupied by Tilford’s Variety Store. Unfortunately, Tilford’s struggled to make its way and closed shortly after I visited.


This was the Garfield Theater, which I’m sure was a focus of the local night life. Many Twelve Points businesses and buildings have Garfield in their name because of the former Garfield High School, which once stood around the corner on Maple Ave. The Banks of the Wabash Chorus, a barbershop harmony group, has been in the building for at least a quarter century.

Banks of the Wabash Chorus

I can’t believe that in the five years I lived nearby, I never ordered a pizza from A Ring Brings Pizza. The now-me shakes his head at the then-me. And now nobody can call C-5951 for pizza anymore, not because C became 232 when seven-digit dialing arrived, but because the restaurant is closed. At least its great sign remains.

A Ring Brings Pizza

The Garfield Barber Shop and Coiffure Salon is also defunct. I swear that the sign and the lettering painted on the window look just as they did 25 years ago.

Garfield Barber Shop

Since I moved away, a new gas station was built on the southwest corner of Maple Ave. and Lafayette Ave., and it was hopping while I visited Twelve Points that day. A CVS Pharmacy replaced the little grocery store on the northeast corner of 13th St. and Maple Ave., and it showed every sign of doing well. These kinds of businesses aren’t enough to reinvigorate Twelve Points on their own, but they at least show that there is some life left in the neighborhood. Here’s hoping it finds revitalization one day.

I first shared these thoughts in early 2013. In the 4½ years since, according to Google Street View, a few things have changed: the defunct Garfield Barber Shop has finally been replaced with a new tenant, and the A Ring Brings Pizza sign has been taken down. Tilford’s is still closed, but the men still sing at The Banks Of The Wabash Chorus. 

If you’d like to see my apartment near Twelve Points and hear my story of getting started as an adult, it’s here.


The Indiana Theatre: A crown jewel of Terre Haute

Tucked quietly into the corner of 7th and Ohio Streets in Terre Haute is this grand and gorgeous theater.

Indiana Theater
Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor, Fujicolor 200, 2017

Opened in 1922 and designed by John Emerson in Spanish Andalusian style, this is considered the first theater in the nation to embody “atmospheric” theater design, which recreated exotic foreign locales. This style quickly became common and characterized many theaters built during the 1920s.

Indiana Theater
Konica C35, Fujicolor 200, 2013

The versatile Indiana has hosted vaudeville, movies, live theater, and music events throughout its life. But when I lived in Terre Haute, from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, it was a dollar theater. It showed The Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight every Friday; I still remember many of the audience-participation lines. A girlfriend and I saw a fair number of movies here because it was a cheap date. I especially remember seeing Born on the Fourth of July here, because on the theater’s enormous screen (54 by 33 feet, the second largest in the state, I’m told) the film’s violence and gore chased us away long before the movie ended.

Inside the Indiana
Konica C35, Fujicolor 200, 2013

I haven’t set foot inside the Indiana in more than 20 years. This is the only interior photo I’ve taken, of the atrium behind the box office. What awaits behind those doors is truly stunning — and was even during the dollar-theater days, when the building had fallen into some disrepair. The second balcony, for example, was permanently closed because of rumored structural issues. But since 2013 the building has been renovated and restored. Check out the theater’s Wikipedia page to see some of its gorgeous interior today.

The theater is now primarily an event center. Seats on the floor in front of the stage were removed in favor of tables, which lets the venue host meetings and parties. Taking a look at the venue’s calendar, I see live theater, weddings, and a rock concert booked in the near future.

Indiana Theater
Minolta XG 1, 45mm f/2 MD Rokkor, Fujicolor 200, 2017

I try to stop by the Indiana for photographs every time I visit downtown Terre Haute. I’d love to see just one more dollar movie here. And I’d bring a good camera and photograph the interior extensively.

Indiana Detail
Konica C35, Fujicolor 200, 2013

But I, and by extension you, will have to be satisfied with these exterior shots. And so finally, here’s a long shot of 7th Street from Wabash Avenue, the famous Crossroads of America, where US 40 and US 41 once intersected. The Indiana truly is tucked tidily into the Terre Haute streetscape. Do you see it there?

Southbound Old US 41
Kodak EasyShare Z730 Zoom, 2009