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Fresh From The Illinois Trip

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I got back from the trip at about 9:30 pm yesterday, after leaving here at 6:30 am. Brick and cement National Road paralleled US 40 for at least 60 miles, from the IL border to about Effingham, except where "old US 40" ran through a town, when usually it followed the National Road alignment. Seeing brick was exciting at first, but after about 30-40 miles it became commonplace.


I've attached some pics. KTSOTR clued me in on locations where George Stewart took photos in both IN and IL. I shot as many as I could find.


1367.jpg. My car, beached when I backed up too far. Notice the brick road behind my car; this is the National Road, just west of the IN-IL border. A woman who lived nearby, and a man passing by, stopped and helped lift and push my car into the ditch so I could make a running start to get back up. It worked, but I scraped bottom pretty good. The woman who lived there said a neighbor who died many years ago laid brick on the Natl Rd, watched as US 40 went in 30 yards to the north, and died just after I-70 construction started south of him (taking some of his land).


1416.jpg. The famous block in Marshall, IL, from the US 40 book


1738.jpg. The old capitol building in Vandalia, with the Madonna of the Trail.


1831.jpg. The Victorian house just east of Harmony, IN. It appears to be a bed-and-breakfast now.


We could not find the farm near Belleville, IN -- and we scoured the highway for miles either side of Belleville. My travel companion grew up in that area and she says she vaguely remembers the barns as a girl (which would have been the mid-late 70s). She called some friends and relatives who'd lived there longer and none of them remember a Blue Ribbon Farm. So for now, what happened to this site is a mystery.


I took something like 350 photos of this trip so it's going to take time to sort through them before I can do my usual writeup. My general rule is not to take another road trip before I write up the last one -- I have a trip scheduled with an old friend for July 28, so I'd better get cracking.




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Wow, and double Wow! Three out of four is amazing!


I bet if you did the Marshall shot in black and white like in Stewart’s US 40 book they would be close to identical. You had a great day, even with the car bottoming. BTY, I had no idea that brick was so extensive along the road.


Unless you prefer to do it I will add the Stewart photos in a post later today so those who don’t have the book can compare them with your “Now” pictures.


I don’t know whether I dare mention this, but yesterday I discovered a 1925 National Old Trails Hobbs Guide in my stuff.. It lists the brick sections and lots of businesses along the route you took. I wish I had found it a week ago, I could have sent it with the Stewart pages. I will copy the relevant pages sometime today and post it as a reply here.


The interest in old alignments has encouraged me to start to organize 25 years of map and guide collecting. It is kind of fun because I discover things I didn’t know I have. I’m looking for a book I have that describes a trip Roadhound is taking soon, and it is neck and neck as to whether I find it before he leaves.


A completely minor point.....in the Marshall photo...the cornice or whatever you call it on the building on the far right is gone. It had a date, and name for the building. It may have been victim to a misguided modernization.


Back to your adventures. I look forward to see the write up and more photos.


Keep the Show on the Road

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The house and one of the barns was already gone from the "Blue Ribbon Farm" when the Vales sought it out in 1980 for the 1983 book. A small modular home sat where the big farm house once was. The barn nearest the road remained but was no longer bright white. It may very well be completely gone by now. The little bridge was also still there in 1980 but it was no longer white, either, and there was no evidence of the white wooden fence that is on either side of the bridge in the Stewart photo.


In Marshall, the date and name (1889 & Grabenheimer) that KtSotR mentions topping the corner building were gone before the Vales photographed it.


The Vales reported the "Victorian Elegance" house abandoned and deteriorating. Their photo clearly shows how overgrown it had become. Your photo and report indicate a major (and rare) reversal.


Nice job. I may benefit from your report a little more than most since I have the Americanized version of your Matrix (a Pontiac Vibe) and now know to be extra careful when turning around on brick sections of the National Road.

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Hat’s off to Denny for that interesting info addition! And isn't it great that the house has a second chance.; I bet it had something to do with the National Road. There is a story there.


I am really sorry I didn’t find this 1925 Hobbs Guide before your trip. But look at the bright side. If you had it you might still be out there looking for the old sites!





Here are the Stewart's US 40 photos from about 1953 for visitor's comparisons to the ones you took.







Keep the Show on the Road!

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A little more on "Victorian Elegance":


I just discovered that Russell C. Poole's 2006 "photographic journey across the National Road" includes a picture of the house. He doesn't identify it with Stewart and it's a straight on shot which I'll use as my reason for not recognizing it before. When he took his picture, it was a bed & breakfast called The McKinley House after its builder. In that photo, there is a "McKinley House" sign directly in front of the front door. That spot is visible, with no sign, in mobilene's picture from Saturday.

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It is still called the McKinley House. The sign has moved east, to a gravel road which is probably the driveway. That road seemed to be farther east than the cut into the hill in the 1953 photo. I sure wished I had taken my photo from farther back, like Stewart did. I left my printout of that page in the car, daggone it, and couldn't compare. At least I got the right angle.


About the Matrix/Vibe, it's not as low as a sports car, but for a sporty-looking economy car it's awfully low. Those silly, and expensive, low-profile tires don't help. FWIW, I've found a lot of good information at www.matrixowners.com. Mostly kids who customize their 'Trixes, as they call them, but I've gotten help with a clutch issue, my brakes, and I found out why I've lost FIVE (5) $80 wheel covers since I got the car (bad design).


KTSOTR, what a jewel of a resource you posted there. The first thing that strikes me is that we saw nothing, but nothing, but brick road until Marshall, and the concrete began somewhere west of there. Once we saw concrete, we saw nothing but concrete to Effingham. Past Effingham, IIRC we stopped seeing the old road; perhaps they built modern 40 over it. And if I had this road guide for the trip, I wouldn't have gotten home until midnight because I would have wanted to linger in towns and guess where all these businesses were. As it was, we saw a couple buildings along the way we were sure used to be garages, and now I'm wondering if they were called out in your guide. I can see that I could get sucked deep into collecting guides and maps.


One short segment of brick was signed as Old Natl Rd or something, and was driveable. That was pretty cool. Where I grew up, there are still many brick streets downtown, and I hated riding on them because they were noisy and made the car vibrate. These segments of National Road brick were very smooth. The one driveable segment needed some maintenance.


FWIW, a lot of the old National Road appeared to be in the right-of-way of US 40. Seems pretty efficient. And the old telephone-pole rule applied very well along most of the route, although there were three or four times the poles disappeared and we couldn't figure out why or to where they'd gone. The railroad rule applied pretty well past Marshall, too.


We found several old motels, some abandoned and decaying and a couple still going concerns. One Indian fellow came rushing out of his motel's office, concerned about why we were photographing his establishment. He was quite relieved to learn we were just tourists.


Along the way we encountered this giant neon sign: Green Lantern Fine Food. I would have loved to see it lit up at night. But behind it was the charred remains of what must have been the restaurant, police tape still up, and a sign saying "New Green Lantern Coming Soon."


Oh, and one more thing, about the Blue Ribbon Farm. I may have missed it, but I never saw the little bridge, either. That the house was gone in 1980 fits with my friend's 1970s childhood memory.


By the way, I encountered more people along this route than ever before. I'm used to these trips being pretty quiet! Everybody was friendly, though, even the rough-looking couple at a laundromat where I parked my car, who wondered if my friend and I were looking at buying any of the vacant businesses in their town.




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Thanks for the great write up! I enjoyed every word, and the images they created. I am sorry that the couple asked about buying a business in their town because it so captures the plight of small towns. I guess I am like a guy bemoaning the end of the horse and buggy. The lost of America’s small towns is the loss of many cherished values and putting vintage style lamp posts along main street doesn’t bring them back.


We have one small section of recognized (on the Yellowstone Trail) old brick road outside Seattle and practically enshrine it! In your area you have lots of brick road and folks take it largely for granted. Hummm.


Since you opened the door a bit for me to comment on the maps and guides, I will. It is certain that you would have found at least a third to a half the business buildings described. You were going through towns that were probably static or declining so there was no reason for them to tear out an old building and replace it. Thus, if they didn’t burn down, odds are good that the hotels and garages are still there, even maybe some service stations, most serving another purpose. Your comment about motels is interesting too, because you can probably find post cards and an AAA guide that describe several of them.


You are blessed with some great road tripping country, and material on the midwest is around if you want it. And the good news is that the old guides and maps can be “free.” I seldom buy anything I can’t sell for at least twice what I paid, often much more


Before this begins to sound like a real estate investment pitch, my point is that reasonable choices in old maps and guides are investments that on net will return as much or more than you paid for them. So in effect, in the long run, they are free, and better.


And an opposite approach that works as well for someone one who wants to use the maps and guides themselves and not ever resell them is to buy torn or damaged items. Since condition drives price, you can often buy something without the cover, or missing a few pages for peanuts. Collectors like me don’t want them or already have a pristine example, but they read just as well as the $100 item. They won’t resell for much, but you can carry and use them on the road and not worry that your collectable will be damaged.


Tell us again where is your July 28 trip headed? I’m getting juiced up for another trip myself, maybe along the Columbia River Highway and US 20 through Central Oregon or down US 101, or even US 99.


Keep the Show on the Road!

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I am tentatively planning on writing up this trip in detail next week. I should have the time, the Lord willing and the creek don't rise. But I've taken waaaaaaay more photos this time -- I finally bought that new battery, making it possible -- and it'll take forever to just sort it out. My first ever official road trip (more than just noodling around, which I had done for years) was 1 year ago Saturday, before my digital camera -- I took a film camera and 2 rolls of film. I can't imagine being that limited now!


America's small town was already lost when I became old enough to be aware. My grandparents lived near Cassopolis, Michigan, and it was decayed and depressed even in the 1970s. I saw more of the same in every southwestern Michigan small town we visited. But on this trip, I will say that Casey, IL, stood out as still vital. The homes along old US 40 were generally very well cared for. As we entered town from the east, my friend and I both said, "Wow," as we saw the tree-lined street with its tidy homes, some stately. We passed a 1928 elementary school with new windows -- I'll bet you get how big of a deal that is. As we entered downtown, we didn't see any significant architecture or anything, but we did see reasonably maintained old buildings with real businesses in them, not just antique shops as in so many other small towns. We also found what looked like it had been a service station, maybe built in the 50s, with old gas-station memorabilia in and around it. Photos will be forthcoming.


Yeah, even the lady who has the National Road in her front yard had the attitude of, "Oh, that," when I pointed to the brick road and said we were following it to Vandalia. Cripes! I'd be the type to *move* to that strip of Illinois just so I could maintain the part of the road that ran through my front yard!


I am becoming more serious about buying some of the old road guides. I think your advice about buying the worn ones is spot-on. I like having old things in nice shape, but I would be *using* these guides, taking them along on trips, and I would want to be able to subject them to the abuse attendant thereunto. Besides, $100 for one of these in the best shape hurts my brain. Anyway, I would like to be able to make educated guesses at what building X is there on the corner, and the guide should be able to answer many of those questions. It would also make my writeups more interesting. "In this photo is the building that was in 1914 Meckelson's Garage, which had labor rates of $1 per hour."


On July 28, my oldest friend (known since we were 12) and I are taking a trip of pure nostalgia for both of us. We both have plenty of memories of US 31 from the Michigan line to Indianapolis, and we're going to drive the old alignment of it, before 31 was rerouted and made 4 lanes. We'll pass through South Bend, Plymouth, Rochester, Peru, Mexico, Kokomo, Westfield, and Carmel on the way, all now bypassed. I'm not sure anybody really cares about US 31 -- it's such an undistinguished road. But he and I spent a lot of time on it going places -- me entirely on the new routhing, him on the old routing as his family made trips on it before the four-lane was built -- and we are going to enjoy the ride. I've driven parts of this route over the years, before I got serious and was still just noodling. My dad tells me I need to look for the one-lane bridge that used to be a major bottleneck in Rochester, but I'm betting it's not there anymore.




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I glance at these new postings and all too often see something that I want to respond to when I should be about my boss's business. I'll try to be useful while being quick.


Too bad you're not passing through South Bend two days earlier. Michael Wallis will be there on the 26th signing copies of his new Lincoln Highway book. I'm expecting Ypsi Slim to throw something in the LH forum here any minute but, if not, I'll do something later.


Don't be too quick to judge the lady with the National Road in her front yard. That "undistinguished road" you're planning on taking north in a couple of weeks was once a Dixie Highway connector. Check out how some of it is signed in South Bend and maybe some other towns.

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I'm running automated tests today, which nearly consumes both of my computers, so today I *am* about my boss's business while I do this. It's why I can afford to be verbose.


I grew up in South Bend thinking that the main road through town could be called either Michigan St. or Dixieway. My dad *always* called it Dixieway. It was signed Dixieway South in places on the south side, where I lived. It may still be signed Dixieway North in Roseland, a little town north of South Bend, but it's been a long time since I've been up there. When I go home to visit, people don't say Dixieway as much anymore. Kind of sad, really.


Yeah, maybe I'm suffering from too much familiarity with US 31; I've driven it from here to there hundreds of times and it is absolutely no less mind-numbing each time. It's stoplight city from Indy north to Kokomo, and then it is absolutely dead (except for the speed trap at US 24) until you get to LaPaz, just south of South Bend. It's why I normally take Michigan Rd/421 to SR 29 up to Logansport, then through Logansport on old 29 to SR 25, then 25 to Rochester and to US 31 and north to S.B. -- in other words, the rest of the Dixie Highway connector, which is a lot more fun, with a lot more to see.


Besides, the real DH connector - old US 31, before that SR 1 - veers off of US 31 at Plymouth and only rejoins US 31 briefly before Rochester! :-)


And wouldn't you know it, my automated tests just finished on this machine, so now I need to go do work that requires my full attention.




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