The National Road in Western Indiana, Revisited
This old house is perched on a hill along the road just before it reaches the little town of Harmony. It was built by a doctor named McKinley in 1872 and today is the McKinley Bed and Breakfast. It is quite lovely inside Ė follow this link and scroll down to see photos.
The homeís front yard was not always a jungle. When the house was built, the road was a narrow path much farther from the front door and was level with the front stoop. The house sits atop a rise that was cut out, probably when the road was widened and leveled around 1940. George Stewart, who photographed scenes along US 40 from coast to coast for his 1953 book US 40: Cross Section of the United States of America, also captured this house. Hereís his photograph, which shows the cutís severity and how it eliminated the houseís front yard.
Isnít it remarkable how, excepting the shutters present then but not now, the house looks as though it has merely glided forward through time, as if in stasis? Yet when Thomas and Geraldine Vale retraced Stewartís steps for their 1983 book US 40 Today: Thirty Years of Landscape Change in America, they found the house abandoned and rotting, obscured by overgrown trees and shrubs. This house has been restored to its present condition.
Clay County's county seat, Brazil, used to be down the road a bit from Harmony, but Brazil grew. As you drive US 40 today, you can hardly tell where Harmony ends and Brazil begins.
I first visited Brazil in 1986 when I was in college in nearby Terre Haute. A friend was raised there and he and I sometimes drove to town; I forget why. I wondered aloud one day about why the main drag was named National Avenue, and he replied, ďItís the name of an old highway, older than US 40.Ē Thatís the first time I remember thinking the question that has spurred my roadsleuthing and road trips ever since: ďI wonder where it used to go?Ē
Iíve been through Brazil a bunch of times, and have even passed through on road trips with camera in hand, but never stopped to photograph it. I wish I had not delayed, as there used to be a Greyís Auto Parts on the west end of town. I would have liked to have a photo of the sign. I always wondered if there was any relation, but itís gone now, and so thereís nobody left to ask.
I donít have anything eloquent or insightful to say about Brazil, but I did get some good photographs, so Iím going to write about them.
The Clay County courthouse was built in Brazil in 1914. The town itself was founded in 1866, although its roots go back to at least 1840.
Does your countyís courthouse have an F-86 fighter jet on its lawn?
When a town booms and booms again, old buildings get torn down to make way for new as prosperity continues. When a town booms but once, in its early days, its old buildings remain and are adapted to many uses their builders did not foresee. Brazil fits into the latter category.
I donít know for sure, but Iím probably not going too far out on a limb to say that this building used to house The Brazil Times newspaper.
This building is a hodgepodge of misguided remodelings.
Some of Brazilís downtown buildings have at least been tastefully redone.
This is the most original-looking building I saw in town.
This is the 1909 D. H. Davis building, and it was for sale for a mere $45,000 on the day I came through town.
Thereís plenty more to see in Brazil, but my time was running short. I made for the west edge of town where State Road 340 begins. At 5Ĺ miles, it is the longest two-lane alignment of old US 40 and the National Road in Indiana. A four-lane US 40 was built in 1939 parallel to this alignment about 1000 feet to the south. I wonder what made it impossible to widen the original alignment.
Here's where State Road 340 begins in Brazil.
Did you notice the boxy former gas station there?
Iíve driven this road any number of times with a camera in the car, but I only ever get photos at its ends, like this one. The road gets just enough traffic, and is narrow enough in all the most scenic spots, that thereís never a good opportunity pull my car over!
State Road 340 ends at the Vigo county line.
Created 1 January 2010.