Road Geek Tools

Admittedly, I have been what most people would call a road geek for a long time. And a historian. So putting the two together made sense. One of the things that I have learned to do along the way is to study the routes and old routes of roads by looking at the clues available.

For instance, along SR 9 in Southern Shelby County, the road had been moved twice. Once years ago and once in the past couple of years. The most recent move did little. It basically changed the geometry a bit to allow the building of a new bridge. The previous move was a little more massive. The attached aerial image shows the current road

situation, with the former road geometry highlighted in orange and red. The red lines are parts of the old road that can be followed. The orange sections have been removed, or in some cases, applied to different situations. There are several tools that I used to ascertain the old layout of SR 9. First was simple looking at old maps and comparing them to the current situation. One must remember that the gentle curve of the current SR 9 is a relatively recent invention. Roads, until taken completely over by government entities (read early to mid 20th century), would be built in straighter lines along property lines. The only entities, for the longest time, that had the right to take and/or purchase land for transportation were the railroad companies. Also, looking at the location of the old bridge, it shows that it crosses at a right angle, much like the currently one. It is VERY common for roads to be bent to cross streams at a right angle. This would allow the least expensive, and possibly most stable, bridges to be built. I recommend that you look up any web page about the National Road S-Bridges (hint, hint, Jim Grey has one*) to show what I am talking about.

Another example of this would be the old National Road bridge in Indianapolis. The National Road crossed White River at a right angle, then turned about 15 degrees south of east to connect to Washington Street one block west of West Street. The old road became Washington Avenue when the original bridge was removed in 1904.

The other give-away in this were, quite simply, the location of the utility poles. One of the things that usually doesn’t happen when a road is moved is the removal of the utility poles. Part of the reason for that is simply that those poles belong to one of the utility companies that have wires on them. There are a lot of hoops to jump through to move private property like that.

But the “new” tool that I have been using lately to follow the old routes of roads is, believe it or not, Google Maps. What started this entry is looking at Google maps for the last entry (Paoli State Road). Let’s look at the northern end of Martinsville, with SR 37, to show what I am talking about.

The attached is the Google Map of the area. Notice I am not using the satellite image for this. The regular map has a lot of great information in places. In this case, the highlighted section is the old SR 37 entering Martinsville. What helps give this away is fact that Google Maps will use property lines. Check out the northern end of E. Morgan Street before it turns east to connect to SR 37. Notice the property lines that connect the new road in a straight line to the old road. Following the old SR 37 from that point shows more examples of this. Following East Morgan Street into Martinsville, I see several. I could be wrong, but it looks like they could be part of old SR 37 (look at Kristi Road and Reuben Drive).

Another example is south of Martinsville. It also shows the location of the old SR 37 bridge over Indian Creek (highlighted). This bridge has long been disconnected from the road system. But according to Google Maps satellite imagery, it is still there. Looks like a road trip is coming!

One must consider that all of these tools must be used together, as no one tool is complete and/or fool proof. For instance, in these two images, I can tell where the old SR 37 is because one shows a bridge and one shows property lines. But on the first example (of SR 9), that required on the spot research as utility lines are hard to see on Google satellite images, and there are no property lines showing the old route.

Using these kinds of tools, doing some research before hitting the road gives you something to look for. On the ground research becomes a little easier with some information ahead of the game. There are times when very little or no information is available before the road trip. But it is better to find out there is no information available than to not have looked at all for any help you can get.

* For those that want a direct link to sources, check these links out:
Crooked little bridges, well preserved (Jim Grey)
Wikipedia entry: S bridge
“S” Bridge, West of Cambridge, Guernsey County, Ohio

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