US 50 in Illinois
Someone I follow on Flickr loves bridges. At least, I assume he loves bridges, because every week he uploads another batch of old-bridge photos. Not long ago, he uploaded several photos of some abandoned steel truss bridges along US 50 in Illinois. I knew I had to go see.
After totaling my car while on a road trip made me feel skittish about driving on the highway, I knew I needed to make another road trip as soon as I could. An Illinois US 50 trip seemed like just the thing.
As you might imagine, US 50 has a long history in Illinois. Some of my roadfan buddies have shared research with me that take this road's roots back to 1806, when a mail route and a stagecoach road was created between Vincennes, Indiana and St. Louis, Missouri, along the corridor that became US 50. One part of this corridor may have been part of a trace called the Goshen Road. In 1913, this corridor became part of the Midland Trail, an early coast-to-coast automobile road. Then it became State Route 12 and, finally, US 50 in 1926.
I knew going in that I wouldn't be able to cover this road to my usual obsessive-compulsive level of detail – driving to the road, and back home at the end of the day, would consume much of my time, and I was planning to cut 2/3 of the way across Illinois. That's a lot of ground to cover. So this trip became a recon mission for an eventual return trip, in which perhaps I'll stay overnight in Vincennes and start bright and early from there.
This trip began in Vincennes with my dog and a good friend along for the ride. We started at the center of this photo, where the bridge crosses the Wabash River. Despite the US 50 shields on the map, US 50 has bypassed Vincennes to the north for many years.
The Abraham Lincoln Bridge that connects Indiana to Illinois here was built in 1933. It's easy to find photos of this lovely bridge on the Internet – just search on "Vincennes bridge" in Google Image Search. But all the photos are from the Indiana side. Now, perhaps for the first time on the Internet, here are photos from the Illinois side.
I couldn't decide which of these two photos I liked better, so I decided to share them both.
Before 1933, US 50 crossed into Illinois on a different bridge a block away on the Vincennes side. This 1909 postcard images shows that it had a steel arch truss portion and a wooden covered portion.
The blue line on the aerial photo below shows where the old bridge used to be and how the road curved a bit on the Illinois side. Notice that the old road is still there.
It's a brick road!
The faint blue line on this aerial photo shows the road's path from the shore. Whoever owns the property now parks his car on old US 50! From the air, it looks like the old bridge's approach is still there at the shoreline. I would have loved to see if doing so had not meant trespassing.
The road leading to the old bridge site on the Vincennes side is brick, too – check out the lower right quadrant of this aerial photo.
Back to the Illinois side. Here's old US 50 westbound to where it merges with current US 50.
Check out how this brick road was made to curve.
Ten feet above the old brick road, along the newer Old US 50, is this memorial to Abraham Lincoln and his family as they first entered Illinois near this spot.
Not too far inside Illinois, the road veers away from its original path on its way to intersect with current US 50. A bit of the original road was left behind.
Here it is. The map suggests there's a little bridge back there, but time was short, and a couple trucks were parked back there and I wasn't interested in meeting whoever owned them.
When the old road reaches Lawrenceville, it becomes State Route 250. It follows that path to Sumner, where it turns north briefly and then curves back westward.
Do you notice that there are thin traces of road to the north and south of US 50 west of where it merges with SR 250? We didn't have time to stop for photos, but a previous iteration of US 50, paved with cement, follows along to the south all the way to Olney. It appeared to be accessible, but some portions of it looked awfully rough.
SR 250 separated from US 50 east of Olney and followed US 50's old path through that town. Shortly it reached the little town of Noble, where it made a left, crossed some railroad tracks, and made a right before leaving town.
On the second of these turns stands this old gas station, old pumps standing quietly by.
Just outside of Noble, SR 250 came upon current US 50. The road marked "Old IL 250" in the map below is also old US 50, which parallels the current highway to Clay City.
This is what the old highway looks like. We drove it; it rides rougher than it looks.
Before the old road enters Clay City, it crosses three old bridges, all of which are closed. The first bridge spans the Big Muddy River. This eastbound photo from the bridge's east side shows the condition of the road here.
Here's the bridge, which I'm told has been closed since 1994. Check out the brick railing. The shot is westbound.
Here's a closer look at the railing.
Check out the hole in the deck!
I walked out to the west end of the current US 50 bridge here to get this photo.
Little Muddy Creek and its abandoned bridge are about a half-mile west.
This one is more overgrown than the other.
At least its deck is whole!
Its railing, however, isn't in great shape.
Here's the whole bridge.
Just over a mile west is the Little Wabash River and its bridge.
These bridges looked to have been abandoned for quite some time. But I was surprised to learn that they were open through the mid 1990s. Can you imagine two oncoming semis encountering each other on this narrow bridge?
Here's the whole bridge.
Inside Clay City, the old road curves and briefly heads south through town on Main St. until it meets current US 50.
West of Flora, segments of old US 50 parallel the current highway to the south. Then the old highway pulls away to the south so it can pass through Flora while the current highway bypasses it to the north. I've marked the old road's path through town in blue on this map.
The old and new roads merge northwest of Xenia. They stay merged until Carlyle, about 40 miles west.
Just east of Carlyle, the old stagecoach road diverges a bit from US 50's path. About 3/4 of the way across the map image below, the stage road used to veer north of US 50, cross the Kaskaskia River, and follow Fairfax St.
The stage road is used as a park entrance today, leading to a suspension bridge built in 1859. It's named after Major General William Dean, a Carlyle native who served during the Korean War.
The old bridge wasn't designed to carry automobiles, but was used to carry them for some years anyway. Here's a photo of a section of the bridge after a truck fell through the deck! A new bridge was built nearby in 1932, and this bridge was closed. In 1936, the then-abandoned and deteriorating bridge was documented for the Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic American Engineering Record; here's its page at the Library of Congress's Web site. These photos were taken as part of that work.
When the Vincennes-St. Louis mail route was founded, travelers had to ford the Kaskaskia River here. Then a "mud bridge" was built here, but it lasted only through 1830. Travelers had to ford the river again until this bridge was built in 1859. After the bridge closed, it was left to rot until the 1950s when it was restored. Today, it's a pedestrian bridge.
The current deck is much narrower than the original deck.
The previous photos are westbound; this photo is eastbound.
This photo was taken facing southeast.
The old stage route followed Fairfax St. through town and then angled northeast out of town. It appears below as the road south of "New Route 50" on the map's left edge. US 50 used to follow Franklin St. all the way through town, but in the early 1970s was rerouted north along State Route 127 and then west along a new alignment.
Sadly, the new alignment interrupted the old stage route, labeled "Old State Rd" on the map below. Overpasses were built for other roads; why not for this historic road?
This new alignment is interesting in that all the signs point to it having been intended to be an expressway – four divided lanes. Overpasses are wide enough to accommodate two more lanes, but that's not the most telling sign. Remarkably, and mind-bogglingly, wherever a bridge was needed, two were built alongside each other. In each case, one is used, the other has stood unused for more than 35 years. Here's an aerial view of the eastmost of these twin bridges.
It crosses Beaver Creek. You can walk through the tall grass and stand right on it.
Which, of course, we did.
My friend has pretty good balance. I tried standing up there briefly, but felt pretty unsteady.
There is more to see along US 50 in Illinois. We passed several old motels, some abandoned, some still in business with great neon signs out front. I would have liked to stop and photograph more segments of the old cement road that parallels current US 50 in many places. I would have liked to drive the entire unfinished expressway west of Carlyle and explored the other three never-used bridges. And I would especially have liked to follow the old stage road west of Carlyle. The drivable portion if it ends about 15 miles west of Carlyle, but you can see bits and pieces of its remnants in aerial images. Check out this 1000-foot section of the old road that lies in a farmer's field!
But it was time to head home. I was pretty tired, and so was my dog. That's her tired face.
Created 16 June 2000