Road Trips

US 50 in Knox County, Indiana

On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois. I wrote about that trip on my old Roads site, but now I’m bringing that material to this blog.

US 50 has had three major alignments in Knox County. The first ran considerably north of US 50’s current path. (From a 1927 Indiana State Highway Commission map.)

Then US 50 was moved south to what I believe was mostly a new-terrain road (but don’t cite me on it). It was a much straighter and smoother path at any rate. US 50 still follows this path, at least until it gets to Vincennes, which it now bypasses. That’s the third alignment of which I speak.

When the US 50 expressway was built, it bypassed tiny Wheatland.

I turned off US 50 on the first available side road as I drove westbound. This was the eastbound scene on old US 50, near where it dead ends.

Old US 50

Here’s the scene westbound from there.

Old US 50

I passed through Wheatland, of which there is not much, and soon the end of the road was in view.

Old US 50

I made my way to Vincennes. Can you imagine Revolutionary War soldiers marching down US 50 to save Vincennes, Indiana? They did. Well, sort of.

Vincennes was founded in 1732. You just don’t find European settlements any older than that in Indiana. And it’s not like the French, the first Europeans to settle here, came up with the idea on their own; the area had been populated for thousands of years by American Indians. So it was the Indians first and then the French, and then the British took control in 1763, and finally the Americans took Vincennes in 1778 during a Revolutionary War campaign.

It’s no mistake people settled here; it’s where an ancient buffalo migration route met the Wabash River. What buffalo had tramped smooth, man liked to follow, and so the Buffalo Trace was the most major road in what would become Indiana. American troops in that Revolutionary War campaign followed it to Vincennes. It became an important settlement route, leading Indiana Territory governor William Henry Harrison to order it improved in 1804 and the new state government to order it improved again in the 1830s (at about the same time the Michigan Road was built). Young Abraham Lincoln and his family, in their journey out of Indiana, joined the Buffalo Trace to reach Vincennes and cross the Wabash River into Illinois. In the early 20th century, the first alignment of US 150 from New Albany to Vincennes was laid more or less along the Buffalo Trace’s corridor. US 150 has, of course, been straightened, widened, and outright moved many times since then and bears little resemblance to the Buffalo Trace’s original path. But since this segment of US 150 is the Buffalo Trace’s direct descendant, efforts are underway to honor it as a National Scenic Byway. US 50 is part of this story because it joins US 150 from the east at Shoals.

The modern US 50 expressway barely touches Vincennes, but the old road splits off east of town and makes a beeline for downtown.

Where the old road splits off, the scene is typical rural Indiana. Dig that crazy single center stripe. It seems to be colloquial to Knox County roads.

Old US 50

Inside Vincennes, I found one remaining nod to this road’s former glory – this US 50 sign. I puzzled over the white/gray/black scheme on this sign – I’d never seen anything like it, not even in old road photographs. So I visited the AARoads forum, which is the largest concentration of road-sign fans on the Internet. I posted this photo and asked about it. Consensus is that the white portion around the shield faded from black, and that the gray shield would look white if the black border hadn’t faded. After browsing the AARoads Shield Gallery for a while, I decided that this sign dates to the 1960s, maybe as early as 1961. If I’d been standing out in the weather for more than 40 years, I’d look pretty faded, too.

Business US 50 shield

Plenty of great old homes stand on Old US 50 as it makes its way to downtown Vincennes. This is a great example.

Old house

The old road also passes by at least one old neon sign and a few former service stations converted to various purposes. And then it reaches Main Street, where it hangs a right on its way to the Wabash River. But before it gets there, it passes by five blocks of downtown lined with great old buildings, some of which date to the middle and late 1800s. Many buildings appear to be in good original condition or restored.

Vincennes Main Street

The Pantheon Theatre at 5th and Main looks solid from the outside, but signs on the windows seek donations to have the interior restored.

Pantheon Theatre

This corner is covered in Vitrolite, a type of glass paneling.

Glorious Vitrolite

I snapped a lot of photos on Main Street, with my dog in tow on the leash. It seemed like everywhere I looked, there was a great old building dripping with character.

Vincennes Main Street

I imagine this building, which hearkens to Greek times, was once a bank.

Vincennes Main Street

Shortly my dog and I reached the end of Main Street.

Vincennes

Main Street and old US 50 in Vincennes ends at the Wabash River today, but until the early 1930s a bridge over the Wabash River connected Vincennes to Illinois. I found brick pavement (dating probably to the 1920s) in the last block leading up to the river. A bridge used to cross the river here; it is long gone. I covered that bridge at length in this article.

The old brick road

The next alignment of US 50 crossed the Wabash over the Lincoln Memorial Bridge, which still stands.

Lincoln Memorial Bridge

At the end of this bridge in Illinois, a great monument stands commemorating the crossing of young Abraham Lincoln and his family into Illinois. If you stop to see the monument, you can see that the old highway leading away from where the old bridge once stood remains on the Illinois side as well. It, too, is brick. (I wrote about that road here.)

The Lincoln Memorial Bridge is about my favorite bridge in Indiana, and the Indians carved into the columns at its entrance are no small part of why.

Indian

Here’s the view as the bridge takes you into Illinois.

Lincoln Memorial Bridge deck

I regret not walking across this bridge into Illinois. But I felt a little pressed for time, and I still had the original alignment of US 50 to follow back to Washington. I made my way back the way I came. At about where I found the old US 50 sign, I turned off Old US 50 and made a couple turns to reach Old Wheatland Road – Old Old US 50. This is the route I followed, which is my best guess at the route in the 1927 map segment I showed at the top of this page. The overall shape is right, but it’s possible I didn’t get a couple details right. (I did get a couple turns wrong, in Washington. Otherwise, this is correct.)

In no time flat, I was back in the country.

Old Wheatland Road

After I posted these photos to my Flickr space, a fellow who follows me there and who grew up in Vincennes confirmed for me that this was US 50’s original route.

Old Wheatland Road

After a bit more than eight miles, Old Wheatland Road reached State Road 550. Actually, it’s pretty clear that SR 550 follows Old Wheatland Road from this point.

SR 550

SR 550 passes through Wheatland, but Old Old US 50 turns left onto Green St., which becomes CR SE 700 S. Soon enough, Old Old US 50 comes upon this beautiful old bridge that spans the White River.

Washington Road Bridge

I can’t decide whether my favorite part of this trip was the super long old alignment in Jackson and Lawrence Counties or this alignment that spans Knox and Daviess Counties. But I do know for sure that my time on this bridge was the most peaceful on any part of this trip.

Washington Road Bridge

This three-span Pratt through truss bridge was built in 1909 and rehabilitated, including replacing its original wooden deck with a steel deck, in 2006.

Washington Road Bridge

It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Washington Road Bridge

I spent a lot of time on this bridge and never encountered another car. Several houses stand (on stilts) next to this bridge and I felt a little jealous of the families who live in them, as they get to enjoy both that peace and this bridge every day.

Washington Road Bridge

Really, this whole drive was peaceful and quiet. It was a warm, still day, so I had been driving with all my windows down. Country scents of crops and livestock wafted in and out of my car, and drivers of the few trucks I encountered all waved as we passed.

Washington Road Bridge

I kept enjoying these things as I pushed on from here to Washington, where my summertime exploration of US 50 came to an end. And I have Elias Conwell to thank.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Daviess County, Indiana

On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois. I wrote about that trip on my old Roads site, but now I’m bringing that material to this blog.

The country-road alignment of US 50 that led away from Loogotee almost immediately crosses into Daviess County.

Old US 50

If you didn’t know the history, you’d think this had always been just an old farm road. Google Maps does label it both CR 100 S and Old US 50. I love it when Google Maps does that.

Old US 50

Soon the current alignment of US 50 met the old alignment and continued as the modern two-lane highway it is.

US 50 has a colorful history in terms of realignments across southwestern Indiana. I-64 was originally going to be built along the US 150 corridor from Louisville to about Shoals, where it would pick up US 50 on its way to Illinois. But lobbying got I-64 built farther south, passing closer to Evansville. That didn’t stop the desire for a major highway through this part of Indiana, so the current expressway was built westward from Washington. Of course it bypasses every town along the way, leaving juicy bits of old road behind. There are actually two old alignments of US 50 in Washington. This map shows them both – the original alignment in red (as best as I can figure, anyway) and the second alignment in blue. You can see current US 50 swing wide to the south of town. (I was close on the original US 50 alignment in downtown Washington – the westbound road actually turned north directly onto Front Street, several blocks west of where I show it turning in red.)

Both alignments begin at Washington’s east end. Here’s a stub of the old highway, photographed eastbound.

Old US 50 stub

On my westbound journey, I drove only US 50’s second alignment, which passes by this great root beer stand at the intersection of State Road 257.

Mason's Root Beer

While I was out photographing the sign, a teenaged girl came out to take my order. How could I resist? The root beer is apparently brewed on the premises.

Mason's Root Beer

Old US 50 doesn’t go through downtown Washington but rather skirts across the south side of town. The original alignment cut right through downtown, though. At any rate, past the root beer stand there wasn’t much to see. Soon the road exited Washington and became very lonely.

Old US 50

Signs begin pointing motorists back to US 50 and then begin warning that the road ends ahead. And they meant it.

Old US 50

I stopped and walked out past the Do Not Enter signs to take this photograph. I’m sure there’s more road underneath the brush, and I was very curious to explore. But I was also wearing shorts and wasn’t at all excited about wading through all of this with my legs exposed. Critters? Poison ivy? No thanks.

Old US 50

If I could have wound the clock back 20 years, this is what I would have found in there.

Yep, a three-span Parker through truss bridge.

According to the Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD), from which I got these photos, this bridge was built in 1930 and met its doom in 1990. This bridge had a twin that stood less than a half mile to the west, just inside Knox County. It, too, is gone, although the US 50 expressway goes right over the spot where it stood. You might think the old bridges could have been kept and new bridges built in the oncoming lanes, but these bridges’ 20-foot-wide decks probably doomed them. Consider that Interstate standards call for bridges to be a whopping 37½ feet wide – two 12-foot lanes, a ten-foot outer shoulder, and a 3½-foot inner shoulder. Two semis entering this bridge at the same time would find it a tight fit!

I did follow US 50’s first alignment in Washington, but I did it after continuing along the second alignment into Knox County and reaching the Illinois state line. I turned around from there and followed the first alignment back to Washington. Photographs of the Knox County portion of that alignment are in the next, final section.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Martin County, Indiana

On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois. I wrote about that trip on my old Roads site, but now I’m bringing that material to this blog.

I visited Shoals twice as I explored US 50 this summer – at the end of the second leg  and at the beginning of the third leg. My old maps and road guides plot a very different path for US 50 than it follows today – the blue route on this map. Old US 50 actually continued south on what is now Spout Springs Road until it reached what is now State Road 550. It then followed SR 550 for several miles before returning to US 50’s current path.

(I have since learned that I missed a segment of Old US 50 that lies just a bit east of here. This map excerpt, courtesy Richard Simpson, shows it. You’ll find it labeled Red School Road today.)

Entering Shoals, we first spied Bo-Mac’s ice cream stand.

Shoals, Indiana

It sure was a busy day at Bo-Mac’s!

Shoals, Indiana

When we reached downtown Shoals, we found we had stumbled upon the town’s annual Catfish Festival. Main St. was full of vendors and people having fun.

Catfish Festival

I purposed to follow the old and new alignments of US 50 between Shoals and Loogootee (pronounced lo GOAD ee). I actually started in Loogootee and headed east on current US 50 to Shoals, and then followed old US 50 back to Loogootee.

This wasn’t my first time on this patch of road. I had a great time zooming through this twisty stretch during a 2006 road trip and wanted to drive it again. Here’s a photo I took from there in 2006.

US 150 near Shoals IN

I photographed the road from about the same place this time, too.

Scenes from US 50

For Hoosiers who grew up where the glaciers flattened everything, pretty much the northern half to two-thirds of the state, straight roads cut through level farmland. But roadbuilders of old had to go over or around southern Indana’s hills. It had to be much harder work than their northern Indiana counterparts experienced, but it sure led to fun drives like this stretch of US 50. It also led to some great views, such as this one at a little pulloff called Overlook Park.

View from US 50 in Martin County, Indiana

I had more trouble finding Jug Rock, a natural rock formation in Shoals not far from the bridge over the east fork of the White River. It’s all sandstone and is the largest “table rock” formation east of the Mississippi. It stands feet from the road, but downhill a bit and in a thick woods so it’s hard to see. It’s also not well marked. I missed the itty bitty sign and tiny pulloff three times and almost gave up looking for it!

Jug Rock

US 50 was busy this Saturday. As I waited for traffic to pass so I could get back into my car, I snapped this shot that shows the road’s character here.

Scenes from US 50

Then I returned to Shoals to follow US 50’s old alignment, which didn’t cross the White River but instead headed south out of town. US 50 changed quite a bit from Shoals west to about Montgomery from 1927, when it was first signed in Indiana, to about 1932. Here’s an excerpt from a 1927 Indiana State Highway Commission map, which shows US 50’s north-south orientation through Shoals and its path along what is now SR 550 to Loogootee, plus a more southerly alignment leading away from Loogootee.

This excerpt from the 1932 Indiana State Highway Commission map shows US 50 on its modern east-west alignment through Shoals and into Loogootee, and a straighter path out of Loogootee that goes through Montgomery rather than bypassing it.

From the intersection of US 50 and Old US 50 (Main St.) in Shoals, here’s the old Main St. alignment facing north (eastbound).

Shoals, Indiana

From the same spot, here’s the old alignment facing south (westbound). Main Street Ts into Spout Springs Road on the south side of town, and Old US 50 follows that road.

Shoals, Indiana

Shortly the road crosses Beaver Creek via this 1962 bridge.

Bridge on Spout Springs Road

This large rock formation is just south of the bridge.

Rock formation on Spout Springs Road

It is covered in faded graffiti.

Rock formation on Spout Springs Road

This is a typical scene along Spout Springs Road.

Spout Springs Road

Soon the road Ts into State Road 550; US 50 once made the right turn here to head west toward Loogootee.

State Road 550

It’s a little twisty but otherwise is a typical rural Indiana highway.

State Road 550

Soon SR 550 reaches Loogootee. As you can see, current US 50 comes in directly from the east.

When I made this trip, I erroneously thought old US 50 followed what is now US 231 south and then headed west on County Road 100 S. Richard Simpson’s excellent maps of US 50’s original routing shows this path. Courtesy Richard Simpson.

I have to think that since this road ceased to be US 50 in the early 1930s, that this is the width of that highway in those days. Its narrowness boggles my mind.

Old US 50

Next: US 50 in Daviess County.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Lawrence County, Indiana

On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois. I wrote about that trip on my old Roads site, but now I’m bringing that material to this blog.

Lawrence County must be proud of its old-road heritage, because it signs Old US 50 as Old US 50.

Old US 50

The road snakes around quite a bit in Lawrence County.

Old US 50

This is my favorite shot from along this old alignment — a winding, sun-dappled old road.

Old US 50

We soon came upon a bridge with a steel deck. It’s a pretty recent replacement for an older bridge, but I think steel decks are cool.

Old US 50

All too soon, this great old alignment came to an end. Back on modern US 50, we came upon this great motel sign.

Plaza Motel

It stands before this motel, which still operates.

Plaza Motel

Just before we came to Bedford, we followed another old alignment. I marked it on this map in blue. It wasn’t very picturesque, so we didn’t stop.

And then came Bedford. In 1926, US 50 entered from the east on 16th Street. When it reached downtown, it turned south on Washington Avenue.

This is the Lawrence County Courthouse, on the town square. I made this photo from 15th Street, which carries US 50 westbound through downtown today.

Lawrence County Courthouse

This is 16th Street from the southwest corner of the town square. Through downtown, 16th Street carries US 50 eastbound.

Bedford, Indiana

I really liked this garage on 16th St. The sign says it’s been here since 1927, one year after US 50 was established.

Garage

Bedford has done well for itself, thanks in no small measure to being at the crossroads of US 50 and State Road 37. These major highways attract heavy through traffic, so much so that they have been realigned in and around Bedford several times. But once upon a time, back when US 50 was still Original State Road 4 and State Road 37 was Original State Road 22 (and before that the Dixie Highway), these roads converged in downtown Bedford and followed the same path southwest out of town. This image shows how these roads leave town today, with numbers next to various old-road remnants. I believe it shows remnants of at least three former alignments, but I can’t confidently stitch them all together. I do know that the 1926 path of US 50 turned after 1 below to cross the river on the same alignment as US 50 today.

1: Washington St. once carried Original SR 4 and Original SR 22. Perhaps they diverged here; who knows. But today both roads dead end; the right road is private property.

Road split

2: If you study the aerial image closely, you can see a two-track road that is on the same line as the left fork of Washington St. I believe I see two utility poles along it, which is a good sign. I can’t explain the little abandoned pony truss bridge that crosses the creek where it bends. It’s near the bottom of the image below.

3: I think the old road continued through what is now a farm field. I detect a faint line across the field where the road would have gone. Then it would have curved to cross the White River. Remarkably, two piers from the old bridge remain. They’re plainly visible from the air.

You can also see them from the current US 50 bridge. There wasn’t a good place to stop there, but my travel companion noticed a nearby boat ramp road. We waded into inch-deep mud and were eaten alive by mosquitoes to bring you this shot of one pier.

Old bridge pier

4: A narrow gravel road begins just where drivers would have come off the bridge. It is signed something like “Old Highway Road” on the ground, but it’s perpendicular to the former bridge. The gravel road ends at Old US 50 and Old SR 37, which assumes the gravel road’s line at that point. So before this point, the road labeled Old US 50 and Old SR 37 must be a newer old alignment. Old SR 37 is the road on the left.

Old US 50 veers right

My 1916 Automobile Blue Book sends drivers down the road on the left to the next town, Mitchell. Then it has the driver follow a road that later became State Road 60 west to where it merges with modern US 50. In contrast, my 1924 ABB sends drivers down the right fork in the photo above. Modern US 50 soon rejoins its path. This resolves one piece of this puzzle – US 50′s path west from here to where it meets SR 60 about 10 miles away was built sometime between 1916 and 1924. (I have since learned that in 1926, US 50 followed the road on the left. I haven’t been able to find when US 50 was rerouted over the road to the right.)

US 50 passes through the Hoosier National Forest before leaving Lawrence County. There were a few possible old alignments along the way, including one through the tiny town of Huron. We drove it, but it wasn’t interesting enough to photograph.

Next: US 50 in Martin County.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Jackson County, Indiana

On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois. I wrote about that trip on my old Roads site, but now I’m bringing that material to this blog.

The second leg of my trip down Indiana’s US 50 got off to a bumpy start. As I parked in Seymour, where this trip began, I accidentally locked my keys in my car. They lay on the driver’s seat.

Fortunately, I had a friend along, and he noticed a hardware store across the street. “Let’s go buy a wood dowel there,” he said. “Your window is open a smidge – you can stick the dowel through the window and press the unlock button on your keyfob.” 58 cents later I was using the dowel to turn the fob over and press its Unlock button. Success!

I’ve had more daunting adventures on road trips, such as being chased off by the police and backing my car off a road, beaching it. Oh, and wrecking my car. Shudder. So this wasn’t all that bad in comparison. But without my friend’s quick thinking, I would have ended up calling a locksmith and paying way more than 58 cents to get into my car.

My 1924 Automobile Blue Book directed the driver to enter Seymour on Tipton St., which is modern US 50, but turn north on Chestnut St. and then west on 2nd St. (Richard Simpson’s excellent article on US 50’s original route includes this map, which shows how the road entered and exited Seymour.)

We walked a few of the downtown blocks along this route.

US 50 in Seymour, Indiana

The most interesting and surprising find was this sign just off Chestnut St. at St. Louis Ave.

Paris Style

The rest of the original route through Seymour was plenty colorful.

Lacey

There are plenty of great old buildings downtown.

I was taken by the chimney on this house at 2nd and Walnut.

Eye Care for All Ages

My Automobile Blue Book had us follow 2nd St. to the edge of town, where it makes a sharp left and crosses a railroad track, crosses US 50, and follows a couple county roads briefly before rejoining US 50. But backing up a bit, this is US 50’s current alignment through Seymour.

US 50 in Seymour, Indiana

Just outside Seymour, next to a field, we found this historical marker.

Indian Treaty Corner historic marker

The next town is Brownstown.

Brownstown is full of great neon.

US 50 in Brownstown

If you’re surprised that Brownstown Flowers and Gifts has been around since 1890, you may be even more surprised to learn that Zabel’s Furniture has been around since 1879.

US 50 in Brownstown

Brock’s is a real Johnny-come-lately to Brownstown, having come along in 1952.

US 50 in Brownstown

The Knights of Pythias building stands in the next block, right across from the Jackson County Courthouse. The building itself isn’t remarkable, but this weathered neon sign sure caught my attention.

Knights of Pythias building

Remarkably, the Knights of Pythias still meet here. I’m used to seeing fraternal-order buildings used for other things or standing vacant.

Knights of Pythias building

There seems to be an idiom of Indiana county seats – a courthouse stands at the center and brick buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s face it on at least one side. Brownstown is no exception.

My travel companion wondered why Brownstown became the county seat when Seymour is so much bigger; I guessed that Seymour outgrew Brownstown long after the county seat was named. I’ve since learned that Brownstown is Jackson County’s second county seat. The first was Vallonia (the next stop on our trip). The county seat moved to Brownstown shortly after it was founded in 1816. Upstart Seymour didn’t come into being until 1852.

US 50 in Brownstown

Regardless, I was taken with the Jackson County Courthouse. It’s not that it is unusually beautiful, but that the many trees surrounding it made for excellent shooting. I took a lot of photos from the grounds.

Jackson County Courthouse

Does your county’s courthouse have a tank on its grounds?

Tankity tank tank

Where modern US 50 turns left a block past the courthouse, old US 50 continues straight and shortly merges with State Road 135. The original alignment follows SR 135 through Vallonia to SR 235, then SR 235 to Medora, then a series of delightful country roads. Most old road alignments I’ve found have been brief, lasting less than a mile. I’ve encountered a handful that have lasted a few miles, such as the 5-mile old alignment I missed between Aurora and Dillsboro earlier on US 50. But just check out this old alignment of Indiana’s US 50!

That’s almost 21 miles of old-alignmenty goodness! We hit the mother lode! And so off we went. Our first stop along the Mother of All Old Alignments was Vallonia. State Road 135 (old US 50) bypasses it today, but at one time this highway went right through town.

The French settled this land in the late 1700s. The settlers and area Indians didn’t get on too well, and by 1810 hostilities had broken out. Governor William Henry Harrison ordered a fort be built at Vallonia to protect the settlers. He sent two companies of Indiana Rangers here during the War of 1812; several skirmishes happened here during the war. Not that you could tell it today. This is one seriously sleepy town. We saw not a soul as we walked its main street.

People still live in Vallonia, of course. Some of them go to church here, at the Vallonia United Methodist Church. It was founded in 1858; this building was completed in 1906.

Vallonia United Methodist Church

We thought the church might be the only non-residential building in Vallonia until we rounded the curve and found its faded business district. This is the only building that looked like it might still contain a business.

Vallonia, Indiana

Was this once the Blue Bird Cafe?

Cafe Beer

There’s more to downtown Vallonia, of course.

Vallonia, Indiana

Plenty of dilapidated buildings line old US 50. This one may have been an automobile repair garage, by the looks of the triple doors on the right.

Vallonia, Indiana

This building is being overrun by ivy.

Vallonia, Indiana

The jewel of Vallonia is the Joe Jackson Hotel, built in 1914. I haven’t been able to find out anything about Joe Jackson, but his hotel was apparently the finest in Jackson County (which is named for President Andrew Jackson, not old Joe).

Joe Jackson Hotel

Another sign of life is Fort Vallonia. It’s not the original fort; that’s long gone. This one was built in 1969. Ever since, the fort has hosted Fort Vallonia Days, a festival every October that attracts 30,000 people.

Fort Vallonia

I guess maybe Vallonia isn’t so sleepy after all!

Fort Vallonia Garrison House

Just south of Vallonia, SR 235 begins at a T intersection with SR 135. My old maps and road guides said to follow SR 235, and so we did, looking for Medora. Before we got there, we came upon the Medora Covered Bridge on an old alignment of the road. Indiana is well known for its covered bridges – 98 still stand across the state. The largest and most famous concentration of them is in Parke County. You can spend many enjoyable hours driving around Indiana seeing them all; you can still drive across a few of them.

But seldom do you get to see one, um, undressed.

Medora Covered Bridge

That’s because this bridge is undergoing restoration. It was built in 1875 by J. J. Daniels, one of the leading covered bridge builders in the state. With three spans, at 431 feet, 10 inches, it is the longest covered bridge in the United States.

Medora Covered Bridge

Those curved beams in the bridge identify it as a Burr arch truss bridge. Engineers disagree about whether the arch bears the load and the Howe truss (the vertical and angled beams) provide stability or vice-versa. But one thing’s for sure – combining the arch with the Howe truss gives a stronger bridge than either alone.

Medora Covered Bridge

Can you imagine how dark this bridge must be when its roof is complete and the sides are attached? Given that and my general nervousness about driving on wooden bridges, I’m very happy that this bridge was retired from service in 1972. (This photo shows the bridge while it was still in service.) I’ll drive over the modern UCEB (ugly concrete eyesore bridge) next to it, thank you. But I’m eager to return after the restoration is complete so I can walk it end to end. (I did. Check it out here.)

Next we came upon tiny Medora.

This is most of its downtown.

Medora, Indiana

I think it says a lot about such a little town when its watering hole calls itself legendary!

Medora, Indiana

I like how, except for the blue paint, this building seems to be in original condition.

Medora, Indiana

SR 235 continues straight through Medora, but to follow Old US 50, you have to turn left onto CR 350 S. This little liquor store is the last business on the way out of town.

Medora, Indiana

And then we were out in the country. Look at how narrow this road is. It hasn’t been US 50 in a long, long time.

Old US 50

The old road had some rough spots.

Old US 50

Next: US 50 in Lawrence County.

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Road Trips

US 50 in Jennings County, Indiana

On three Saturdays in the summer of 2010, I drove as many old alignments of US 50 as I could find in Indiana, from Ohio to Illinois. I wrote about that trip on my old Roads site, but now I’m bringing that material to this blog.

After missing the abandoned bridge in Ripley County, I had to take consolation in the beauty of the road and its surroundings just over the line in Jennings County.

US 50 in Ripley County

I aimed to follow US 50’s original alignments as much as possible. My old Automobile Blue Books claim, as best as I can tell, that the route highlighted in blue below was Old State Road 4’s path between the small towns of Nebraska and Butlerville. Since Old 4 was resigned as US 50 when the US route system came into being, this was probably the path US 50 first followed here. Can you imagine putting up with all those 90-degree turns on a major highway today?

(I guessed wrong. From Richard Simpson’s excellent article about US 50’s 1926 route, here’s his map of the original alignment.)

When I arrived in Butlerville along this path, I came across two abandoned school buildings right next to each other. This is the Butlerville (Elementary, I presume) School, built in 1922. The bushes out front aren’t all that overgrown and the grass is cut, suggesting that someone is minimally maintaining the property.

Butlerville School

And this is the Butlerville High School, built in 1904. (Readers have let me know that this building’s roof has caved in, and the building’s days are numbered.)

Butlerville High School

I assume that the school consolidation that ran so rampant in Indiana after about 1950 claimed these two schools. It’s sad that they sit derelict, but they’re not alone; many once-proud schools across Indiana have been left to molder.

My ABBs described a route to the next town, North Vernon, that I couldn’t figure out. I’m pretty sure it involves a segment of road that is no longer labeled on Google Maps but shows up in a farmer’s field just the same, and a bridge that not only no longer exists, but there’s no trace of one ever having existed. Whee. (Richard Simpson successfully found the original 1926 route. Here’s his map of it.)

I gave up and just followed current US 50 to North Vernon.

Indiana, like most states, began improving its roads in the early part of the 20th century and has never stopped. You’d think that every highway in the state would have been improved to perfection by now! But the thirst for wider, straighter, and faster roads seems never to be slaked. In a few cases, towns on major highways that were bypassed with expressways 50 years ago are set to be rebypassed with freeways.

And so it’s refreshing to this old roadgeek when a US highway still passes through a town, especially a town with a well-preserved old downtown. Such is the case with US 50 when it reaches North Vernon, a small city in southeastern Indiana. This eastbound photo is of an intersection where US 50 makes a right turn on its way out of town.

US 50 in North Vernon

As you make that corner from the other direction, you pass by a brick street on your right, on which stands this theater.

Park Theater

I was drawn to this attractive building but puzzled over the name atop its facade. It didn’t take much Internet sleuthing to find out about the Improved Order of Red Men, the nation’s oldest fraternal organization.

US 50 in North Vernon

North Vernon offers a sturdy downtown with many viable businesses. A lot of small Indiana cities wish they could be North Vernon.

US 50 in North Vernon

This library, so typical of those I’ve seen all over the state, stands a couple blocks away.

North Vernon library

I love it when I come into a town or small city and find it to be quite alive and well as I did with North Vernon on this rainy afternoon. People were coming and going from the shops along US 50 and enough cars passed by that I had to wait several minutes at this corner before I could take this unobstructed eastbound photograph.

US 50 in North Vernon

I enjoyed my brief walk through this classic Indiana downtown, but I wondered as I photographed it how North Vernon had managed to go unbypassed. I didn’t know until I came home and started researching for this post that the Indiana Department of Transportation is studying several routes that will finally take US 50 around North Vernon. One day this street will be Old US 50. (That bypass is now complete. It bypasses North Vernon to the north.)

You might think I’d lament this bypassing, but I accept it as the way of the world. I’m just glad I visited with my camera while the highway still passes through town. I visit lots of towns through which highways once passed and I wonder what they were like when they got all of the highway’s traffic. It’s satisfying to have experienced North Vernon while US 50 still passed through it. I’m sure I’ll visit again one day after the bypass is built and remember when I took this photo of the US 50 shield while it still stood along the road.

US 50 in North Vernon

Old and new US 50 diverge about four miles west of North Vernon. (At least it did in 2009, when I made this trip. The completed US 50 bypass significantly changed the road configuration here.)

The old road makes a beeline for tiny Hayden while current 50 swings south a bit along a railroad track and bypasses the tiny town. On Google Maps, the shadow over the tracks tells of a bridge, but neither my 1916 nor 1924 Automobile Blue Books mention it. I figured that this had been an at-grade crossing during those years and that the bridge came later. But when I got there, I was shocked to find a kind of bridge generally not built later.

Wooden bridge

That’s right – a wooden bridge. Now, I’ve seen plenty of wooden covered bridges in my travels, but never an uncovered wooden bridge.

Sometimes I think that nobody likes to maintain old bridges. My old road guides frequently call out iron, concrete, and wooden bridges along routes because they were good landmarks, but I seldom expect to find them still standing. Even though a well-designed and -maintained bridge can stand strong for well over a hundred years, it’s often easier to get money to replace a worn-out bridge than to keep it up in the first place. So it’s always a real pleasure to find an old bridge still serving.

Wooden bridge

I didn’t immediately drive over this bridge. though. You see, wooden bridges make me nervous! I have a hard time believing that timbers are going to hold up my car. Now, I went to engineering school. I generally understand how all of a bridge’s structural elements work together to bear its loads. I know that a bridge is designed with a certain maximum load in mind. I also know that my car weighs about 2,500 pounds, a mere 25% of the bridge’s posted five-ton load rating. But something irrational inside me doesn’t want to buy all of that. A wooden bridge seems inherently fragile to me. I could put some serious hurt on this structure with a chain saw; try it on a steel or concrete bridge and you’ll need a new saw! My usual nervousness was not helped when I noticed the missing plank. Actually, at that moment I said out loud, “Heck no, there’s no way I’m driving over that thing.” So I parked and headed out to photograph this old girl, intending to follow modern US 50 to the next town when I was done.

Wooden bridge

I was further discouraged to find wooden piers supporting the deck. But as I walked around the structure snapping photographs, several heavy farm trucks drove over it. They slowed down only slightly – clearly, the drivers did not share my fear. The bridge popped and rumbled every time, making me think of a giant popping extra jumbo popcorn. Despite the racket, the bridge stood firm, with neither a shimmy nor a shake. My confidence was buoyed. So when my photographic desires had been satisfied, I climbed back into my car and drove over the bridge. I proceeded slowly, my stomach clenching all the way. But I made it over.

Wooden bridge

(Sadly, as part of the US 50 bypass project, this bridge was removed.)

And then the old road stretched out before me.

The old road

And then I came upon tiny Hayden.

Almost immediately, I came upon this restored gas station. If you didn’t know that the country road leading in and out of Hayden was once the highway, you might be surprised to find this gas station in a little country town in the sticks.

Gas station in Hayden

Whoever restored this station placed these Sinclair pumps here, but who knows what brand of gas it originally sold.

Sinclair

From here, the original US 50 followed County Road 700 West south out of town, crossed the tracks, and turned west onto current US 50.

Next: US 50 in Jackson County.

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