Indiana and Illinois National Road Revisited
Indiana-Illinois State Line
A great deal of the National Road was either removed or obscured when US 40 was built to four lanes in Indiana near the Illinois state line, and when I-70 was built across the state line. Just beyond the state line in Illinois, the brick National Road emerges from a woods and then runs parallel to US 40. This map shows this first segment of the old brick road visible after you enter Illinois. It appears maybe 1,000 yards after you cross the state line on old US 40.
When I was there in July, I didn't explore into the woods, but for this trip Michael and I had on clothes and shoes we didn't mind getting a bit dirty. This westbound photo shows the road's former path, now in the woods.
Even though this section of road has been abandoned for at least 50 years, the roadbed is still evident in the woods because only ground cover has grown on it. I dug down with the toe of my shoe and found brick after only an inch. It looks like years of falling leaves have decomposed into dirt that has allowed shallow-rooted plants to grow.
We walked east along the roadbed until we could no longer find brick under the ground cover. We could hear I-70 clearly and decided we had reached its right-of-way, where the old road would have been torn out.
We turned around and walked the brick road west. The road ran uphill as it exited the woods, but grass growing between the bricks made the road hard to see from US 40.
We walked past a couple old Dodges decaying in somebody's yard.
Soon we came upon a section where the bricks had been torn out to reveal a cement bed underneath. We discovered that this cement bed had a U shape to it, the sides of the U being about one brick deep and maybe a foot wide. These sides served to hold the bricks in. In the past, I had guessed that these cement strips served to widen the road and were poured later, but I was wrong. Here's Michael considering the brick debris. I don't know what was running through his mind at that moment, but I was sorely tempted to lift a brick as a souvenir. I resisted.
Soon we came upon a creek, and all traces of the road disappeared, as this eastbound photo shows. We tried to dig with the toes of our shoes but after several inches found no cement. I would say that the bridge approach had been removed, but no trees were growing where the road used to be. There was no sign of the old bridge or culvert in the creek, either.
We walked back to the car and drove a short distance west to a place where the National Road crossed over to the north side of US 40, which I somehow missed on my July trip. The map suggests that the National Road paralleled US 40 to the south, but it actually curved here, running north of US 40 for a short distance. In the map below, I marked the National Road's route in faint green.
We drove over a little creek along the way, so we decided to trace the old road back east to it. I had been told that all the bridges and culverts had been torn out along the old road, but we found a culvert still intact there. You can see the current US 40 culvert over this creek through the old culvert.
This photo shows the road pad in more detail.
Michael climbed up and over to the other side of the culvert, where he discovered remains of a stone support. This suggested to us that this culvert had replaced an older one, but for some reason they had retained this support.
We walked back westward along where the road had been. Trees lined either side, suggesting that the road still lived underneath the grass. The road became gravel and turned to parallel US 40. We think that where it turned, the National Road went straight.
Across US 40, in a straight line from the road on the other side, a very short segment of brick road appeared.
Michael climbed up on my stepladder to get a little height while he photographed where the National Road's path was interrupted by US 40.
At the other end of this short brick segment is an official warning from the State of Illinois.
The house visible three photos ago belongs to Paul Ford, who operates several Christian radio stations from a studio in his front room. People who lived in the Terre Haute radio market at a certain time may remember Paul's name; he was a pioneer in Terre Haute radio and built the WPFR AM and FM stations. Michael has helped Paul in his work on many occasions and took the opportunity to introduce me.
Paul grew up southwest of Flat Rock, IL. He talked to us about driving the brick road from the late 1940s until current US 40 was built. He called the road narrow, curvy, hilly, and dangerous, telling of close calls when people would get behind slow trucks and impatiently pass when it wasn't safe. New US 40 was a blessing because it was safer and faster. Notice how much of this road my car occupies. Passing left little room for error even on a straightaway. Imagine the tight squeeze when opposing trucks encountered each other!
Paul confirmed that a four-lane divided US 40 was originally planned to be built along this corridor, but that after the westbound lanes were built next to the National Road, the eastbound lanes were never built, leaving the old brick road behind. He said that farmers soon started farming within the old road's right-of-way, but were caught after some years by a road survey.
Paul told us some great radio stories going back to the 1940s and about a time when he got to interview former President Truman when he was in Indianapolis just after leaving the Presidency. Paul heard where Truman was staying and went over to the hotel. The front desk said, "Why sure, he's here!" and called his room. President Truman said, "You want to interview me? Well, come on up!" No way would that happen today! Incidentally, on October 26, 1928, then Judge Truman was president of the National Old Trails Road Association and came to Vandalia to dedicate the Madonna of the Trail placed at the end of the National Road there.
Just west of Paul's house, a mound of debris blocked the old road just before a creek. The debris looked to us like bits of the torn out road that approached the bridge that once spanned the creek, complete with large chunks of the cement pad on which the bricks lay. Since I was here last, somebody dumped some construction waste here, too. Notice the asphalt patches on the road, which had to be made late in this road's life.
We pushed through the grass and brush and soon came upon the creek bed. These two posts remained from what was probably once a barrier with a Bridge Out sign on it.
As we climbed down the bank toward the creek we saw some bridge remains. A stone bridge was built here first, and later it was widened on both sides with rebar-reinforced concrete. The current US 40 bridge stands maybe 50 feet north of here.
We walked across the creek on stones and scaled the other bank where a road-width path was obvious. The cement pad emerged in the distance.
This photo shows the best example I saw of the cement pad's design. Bricks appeared to be set into the pad without mortar.
The cement pad ended at the Armstrong United Methodist Church parking lot. In the name of the Lord we desecrate the National Road!
I wonder if anybody driving east on US 40 notices the gap in the trees here and wonders what causes it.
Created 12 February 2008. Last updated 27 July 2009.