The National Road in Illinois
Crossing the state line
We reached the Indiana-Illinois state line along old US 40 at about 9 am. It was already hot outside and my car's air conditioner was already running. We had been to the state line at the end of last year's trip down US 40 in western Indiana, so we felt like we were picking up where we left off. This map shows how the US 40/I-70 multiplex turns south from old US 40, still marked US 40 on the map. Last year, we saw US 40 shields posted along this stretch of road, but didn't notice any this year.
We arrived to find the state line and the road into Illinois looking like they did.
As last year, we found a starting line painted on the road for the Ride Across Indiana (RAIN), a bicycle tour along US 40 in Indiana that was scheduled for the next Saturday morning. This photo is eastbound from just inside Illinois.
Our adventure began almost immediately as the map showed, not a half-mile inside Illinois, a segment labeled Old National Hwy. We turned left onto Dunlap St. and looked for the road.
At first, all we saw was gravel. And then I thought perhaps we were driving on a private driveway. I got skittish, not wanting to trespass, and so backed up to turn my car around. As I did, I felt my rear wheels drop off – and I found myself unable to go forward or backward. I had backed off the edge of the gravel road and beached my car. We got out and there behind us was the National Road in glorious brick, grass growing through it. I didn't know whether to go down and look at the road or stand there and worry about how I was going to get unstuck!
A woman who lived nearby came out to help, as did a passing motorist. We ended up lifting the front end of the car and pushing it back into the ditch, right onto the National Road. I wondered how long it had been since anyone had driven on these bricks. I backed my car up to get a good running start and then made a break for it up the hill. The bottom of my car scraped the lip at the top of the hill as it went over, but no fluids or parts trailed behind me so I hoped all was well.
The woman asked why we were out on that hot morning. When we pointed excitedly and said, "We're driving the National Road all the way to Vandalia!" she said, "Oh, that." I suppose if the National Road runs through your front yard, you take it for granted. She did mention that the neighbor from whom she and her husband bought their property had helped build the brick road, watched US 40 go in ten yards to the north, and lived long enough to watch I-70 start to be built on what used to be some of his land. The neighbor told her that when US 40 was built, all the bridges and culverts along the National Road were torn out. That meant no long drives on the brick.
On the other side of Dunlap St. the National Road continued, less overgrown. At some time, cement strips were laid on either side of the road, perhaps to widen it to two narrow lanes.
We were extremely excited to find brick, but I must admit I was disappointed we couldn't really drive on it. We drove back out to Old US 40 heading west and watched out my window as the National Road stayed with us. After we drove under I-70, the road on which we drove became US 40 again. We stopped to see a segment of brick road that someone had made into his driveway. We didn't get a picture as several large dogs came running after us, making it prudent to return quickly to the car.
Not a quarter mile later, we came upon a large mound of dirt and debris on the old road. You could access and drive on this segment if you were determined, and so we figured that the dirt mound must foreshadow a missing bridge ahead. After we left here, we immediately crossed a creek on US 40.
The National Road was abandoned along much of its route, although a lot of it was accessible and drivable for short distances. This photo, pointing eastbound, shows a short that lies maybe a half mile past the dirt mound. It runs along a cornfield, perhaps providing access for the farmer. We drove along this section for a hundred yards or so and I was very impressed with how smooth the ride was. The old brick streets in my hometown, South Bend, were always so rumbly and noisy.
To the west on this section, the highway department stores construction lane dividers on the National Road. The road was heavily repaired with asphalt here. This is a clue about how long this road was US 40. It seems to me that, broadly, the earliest 20th-century paving material was brick, followed by cement, followed by asphalt. So this road was in use into the asphalt era.
Here's a close-up of the brick, with a little asphalt repair on top.
Created July 22, 2007.