I commute each day from just west of Bedford, IN to Bloomfield, IN, each day. Once I got my motorcycle, I desired a path that wasn't so heavy on traffic or as high speed, and using Google Earth, worked out a route that saved about 3 miles of one way travel distance, that utilized only county roads aside from a short section of IN-58 in Lawrence and Greene county.
In TBWR's first article on Indiana exploration, we will explore a portion of this route I take each day, beginning at the southside of Bloomfield, and going through the small communities of Furnace, Mineral, Koleen, and Owensburg.
It presently is difficult, for me anyway, to describe a trip by road names in Greene County, as they use a convention of county road mapping that uses a system I'm not very familiar with. I'm not sure if it has to do with Latitude and Longitude of county roads or what, but all roads center out of roughly the Bloomfield area and increase in number based on whether they run N/S or E/W, with the numeric designation of the county roads increasing the further out you head in the county in any given direction.
(Recently, I have noticed roads north of this route I'm writing about have had their signs replaced with road names, such as "Sylvania Rd.", etc. So Greene County may be updating their county road names to coincide with their recent E911 readdressing a few years back, as Lawrence County did in the late 1990s. So, it may get easier to give directions based on road signs in the future!)
We begin our journey at what is known by locals as "Furnace Rd.", and is on the map called "50 S". Keep in mind, it appears these roads actually change name every so often without making turns, as once we pass through Furnace, this same road becomes "60 S" for no apparent reason that I (yet) understand. (Perhaps someone with more history in Greene County than my 6 years of working there can enlighten me on how this numbering scheme was devised? Email me at tim @ backwoodrealm.com!) Due to these frequent numeric changes, and the fact there is only one true "turn", I won't be calling each of them out. (UPDATE: As this county has now updated their county road signage, you'll be travelling "Furnace Road" and "Mineral-Koleen" road. The stretch in Owensburg is simply "Main Street".)
You can find it between Judson street and the local IGA, if headed south on US-231/IN-157it is on your left. Follow the signs for "Shawnee Theatre", which is the Bloomfield community's local playhouse, and seems to be quite active each year.
Just past the theatre a short distance, near a road leading to an area known as "Hashtown", the first of two interesting concrete bridges exists over Richland creek:
It is highly unusual that I would even notice a concrete bridge of any sort, and I have not taken the time to look under this bridge at its structure to see if it is artistic in any way, or, as they are known on one of my favorite sites, bridgehunter.com, an "ugly bridge". Being marked as built in 1962, chances are high that this is a very plain boring bridge. BUT, look at the styling of the concrete guard railings! The lines made into the poured concrete, with the ends being layered down quite beautifully on the ends. On the south side of the road way, Bloomfield side, 1962 is engraved in the concrete, and it is evident there once was a metal plaque mounted next to that.
From here, we drive up through "Furnace" and pass a quaint little church on the right that used to be called "Furnace Baptist Church", and may still be. (The sign was removed from out front a month or two ago.)
When you get to the T in the road, turn right (south) and continue. This is the only turn that is to be made until the end of our journey to Owensburg.
After we get down the long hill and drive a ways beyond that, we get to "Mineral". There is an attractive small Methodist church here.
Beyond Mineral, the road becomes (I think) unusually straight and flat for southern Indiana for a distance:
Once we reach the end of the land of flatness, there is a road that you can turn left on that is very scenic. I may cover it in a future writing. Continue past it, through the S curve, and we come to another of these cool guard-railed bridges:
While this bridge is certainly shorter, as well as newer, it is identical to the one back near Furnace several miles ago. It also still has its plaque, listing the creek name, year of construction (1971), as well as the names of the Greene County board of commissioners at that time (much like most iron bridges of much older vintage):
Continuing on, we come to Koleen, a small settlement of a few homes in a couple of curves:
Beyond Koleen, a few curves ahead, there is this random cave on the north (left) side of the road. It is next to a road with a new poured culvert, that is part of the I-69 construction project (I think). I rode by it many times before I noticed it there behind the trees, right next to the road. Worth stopping to have a look. (If anyone knows what this is called, if it has a name, email me at tim @ backwoodrealm.com and let me know!) (Update: This is called "Rock Springs", according to someone who grew up in the area in the 1930's and 40's. See bottom of article)
Moving further southeast, just past the cave, we round a corner where there is a road to your right, and just beyond that is a long flat curve, that on a hot summer day, feels EXACTLY the same as the cave/creek regulated temperature of the Pioneer Village and it's picnic area at Spring Mill State Park. It makes me think of it each time I ride through there on a hot day, as the temperature is much cooler through here, just like at the park.
About a mile beyond this, give or take, just past the I-69 corridor, you will come to Ashcraft cemetery on the left (north):
It is very scenic, on a large hill, with the entrance at the bottom:
There is an old storage shed, that also appears to have previously been an outhouse, on the property as well. I can't help but wonder if this building dates to the establishment of the cemetery in 1886.
Until recently, there was also a chapel just off the road, where you now pull into the cemetery. It looked to be in extremely poor condition when it was still standing, with tarps covering the roof and such, so I assume it was demolished due to costs to repair. (UPDATE: Someone who grew up in the area sent info on this. It is at the bottom of the article.)
After coming through an area of several homes, you come into a valley that approaches the top of the hill of Owensburg. You can see the water tower from quite a ways off:
Just before you climb the hill, after you pass over what seems to be a large "hump" in the road (which appears to be a former railroad alignment), take a look to your left, and check out this old tunnel. I can't tell if it was a former road tunnel, or if there used to be a roadway or railroad on top. (UPDATE: Someone who grew up in this area in the 1930's and 40's messaged me, his info on this is at the bottom of the article)
Continuing up the steep grade to the top of the hill, by the Owensburg water tower, we cross Indiana 45. We are now headed down the long hill into Owensburg. There is quite a view from this hill, toward and over NSA Crane:
Once you get into Owensburg, check out the Emanuel Hatfield Museum and Public Library, which is a branch of the Bloomfield-Eastern Greene Public Library.
Also, stop into CB Hatfield's Mercantile just down the street:
Just a few blocks down, we come to the terminus of our exploration journey, Indiana 58. Go left to head toward Lawrence County or Bedford, or right to head to either Indiana 45 to Bloomington, or All the way down to US-231 for a quick run back to Bloomfield.
***UPDATES: Last October, Mr. Kenneth Ashcraft, a native of the area, born 1932, sent the following to clear up some of my questions:
"My name is Kenneth Ashcraft, and I grew up in this area, as a boy of 6 or 7 I helped trim around the headstones in Ashcraft Cemetery. I went to school in the old Redcut school house that sat just off the Drybranch road by the haunted bridge.
Now to answer your question, the cliff overhang just East of Koleen is called Rock Springs, and I used to fetch water from there for the Redcut School house back in 1940. went there for three years and I think it closed in either in 41 or 42.
The road going South out of Koleen was called Blackankle road, the road going to the right just after you pass the Rock Springs going East was called Drybranch after the creek which is called by the same name. The bridge there was called the Haunted bridge, as it had large steel guard rails on each side, about five feet high.
The Ashcraft Chapel was built in 1890, by an Ashcraft as the land for the cemetery was also donated by Simon Ashcraft so it is easy to see why both were named a they were.
An assn: was formed to care for the Cemetery and Chapel when the Methodist left some time in the 1970's, they let the chapel fall in disrepair and after 123 years that it stood there I decided to not let it fall upon its self and raised funds to remove on December 22 2012
We also put up the new sign in July of 2013 as the chapel was gone and the cemetry would be hard to find as the opening was so small.
Kenneth Ashcraft Sr. 05/03/32"
A bit later, he sent some more information in another email, detailing information some other things and more info on things in his earlier message:
"...I am now 82 years old and I grew up in this area. The rock outcliff is called Rock-Springs We used to fetch water from there to use at the old Redcut School that stood by the Monon Railroad that ran thru the valley there, The bridge just past the springs going to the right was called the haunted bridge, until they took the steel high railing away several years ago. THE SCHOOL STOOD ABOUT 150 YARDS PAST THE BRIDGE ON THE DRYBRANCH ROAD . I remember when the tunnel was the only road to get up the tunnel hill ,we went to the free shows at Owensburg and this was the only road. the tunnel was part of the old Monon system. The road over the top was built around 1939 when Roosevelt was making jobs because of the great depression. It was used for one way travel, and the tunnel was used to got down and the spur was used to go up the tunnel hill. After the war, more traffic and bigger trucks made the tunnel useless, the spur was widened and used for traffic both ways.
[The] Cemetery Assoc, that was supposed to care for the Chapel but they let it fall into decay, It was part of the Methodist church, but has not been used since the 1970's So I had to raise funds to remove it before it fell upon it's self The Chapel was removed on December 22,2012. The new green sign was placed there in July of 2013."