US 40 and the National Road in Western Indiana

The Jim Grey Page Roads


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 seems 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 going to 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 Indiana 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 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 Indiana 340 between Brazil and the Vigo County line was an old alignment of US 40. I started to become fascinated.

2006 is 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 of this anniversary year we both started talking about traveling the road in western Indiana and looking for old alignments. Dawn has lived her whole life along 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.

Unusable segment of old roadOn 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 identified by indiananationalroad.org as being old National Road segments.

I took photos as we went, which I describe on the pages that follow. To read about each old alignment in order from east to west, click Washington Street Bridge and then click Next on each page that follows. Or click on the alignment that interests you.

 

Start 1 Washington Street Bridge 2 Six Points 3 White Lick Creek 4 Deer Creek
5 State Prison 6 Pleasant Gardens 7 Big Walnut Creek 8 Indiana 340 9 Interurban
10 Downtown Terre Haute 11 Toad Hop 12 Illinois State Line

next


Created July 2006. Last update 26 May 2007.
These pages, including text and photographs, are copyright 2007 by Jim Grey. (Replace # with @ if you click that link to send me e-mail.)
Maps are screen shots from Windows Live Local. All copyrights acknowledged.