US 50 in Indiana
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.
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?
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 arenít all that overgrown and the grass is cut, suggesting that someone is minimally maintaining the property.
And this is the Butlerville High School, built in 1904.
I assume that the school consolidation that ran so rampant in Indiana after
about 1950 claimed these two schools. Itís sad that they sit derelict, but
theyíre not alone; many once-proud schools across Indiana have been left to
Indiana, like most states, began improving its roads in the early part of the 20th century and has never stopped. Youíd 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 Ė Iím talking about you, Kokomo!
And so itís 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.
As you make that corner from the other direction, you pass by a brick street on your right, on which stands this theater.
I was drawn to this attractive building but puzzled over the name atop its facade. It didnít take much Internet sleuthing to find out about the Improved Order of Red Men, the nationís oldest fraternal organization.
North Vernon offers a sturdy downtown with many viable businesses. A lot of small Indiana cities wish they could be North Vernon.
This library, so typical of those Iíve seen all over the state, stands a couple blocks away.
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.
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 didnít
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.
Old and new US 50 diverge about four miles west of North Vernon.
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.
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, itís often easier to get money to replace a worn-out bridge than to keep it up in the first place. So itís always a real pleasure to find an old bridge still serving.
I didnít 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 bridgeís 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 bridgeís posted five-ton load rating. But something irrational inside me doesnít 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 youíll need a new saw! My usual nervousness was not helped when I noticed the missing plank. Actually, at that moment I said out loud, ďHeck no, thereís no way Iím driving over that thing.Ē 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.
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 Ė 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.
And then the old road stretched out before me. My ABBs say that this was Old State Road 4, which gives it a pretty good chance of having been US 50's first alignment here.
And then I came upon tiny Hayden.
Almost immediately, I came upon this restored gas station. If you didnít 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.
Whoever restored this station placed these Sinclair pumps here, but who knows what brand of gas it originally sold.
I got a little turned around trying to follow my ABB's directions through Hayden. I'm not positive I was still on the old highway when I came upon this building. But then, coming upon interesting things is the whole reason I go on the road.
I saw no signs of life in Hayden this day, or I might have asked about old man Dodd.
I got myself on the right road out of town, and before long it took me out of Jennings County.
Created 2 January 2011.