Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013
Roadtrip on the Bloomfield Road, 2010 editionPosted Thursday, January 21, 2010, at 11:28 AM
One of the most storied roads in Southeast Missouri, the Bloomfield Road has provided a connection between Cape Girardeau and Bloomfield since the 1830s. It's gone through various incarnations: stagecoach route, military road during the Civil War, toll road, and state highway.
Today the original route is followed by a patchwork of county roads, city streets, and state highways. The whole thing can be driven from end to end, although a handful of detours are required where the original road is missing. Much of the road, especially along Crowley's Ridge in Stoddard County, remains fairly primitive. It provides a stark reminder of the challenging conditions that early motorists faced.
This map from 1861 clearly shows the Bloomfield Road as it appeared during the Civil War. (Map from the American Memory Project/Library of Congress)
Here is a detailed guide to retracing the old Bloomfield Road.
During its days as a toll road, the so-called "Cape Girardeau-Bloomfield Gravel Road" started at the intersection of Sprigg and Good Hope streets in Cape. It made a jog in front of the old St. Francis Hospital site to reach Bloomfield Street. A tollhouse stood at the intersection with Koch Avenue.
Turning southwest, Bloomfield Road left town and soon intersected the Benton Road, another early road connecting the county seats of Jackson and Benton. Here was Mount Tabor, an early settlement featuring what has been described as the oldest American school west of the Mississippi, established in 1799.
Approaching the climb up Mount Tabor from the east
Following the Ranney Creek valley, the road then encountered the "Big Swamp" separating Cape and Scott counties. It turned west, hugging the hills, to reach Dutchtown. The route was bypassed by a new concrete road, Highway 74, in 1930-31.
Driving directions: Take Bloomfield Road west from Cape Girardeau, then turn right at Highway 74. Continue west to Dutchtown.
The road at Dutchtown has been rebuilt at least twice. Evidence of the earlier roads can be seen along Dutchtown Loop on the west side of town.
A short distance west of Dutchtown, the road forked, with the right fork heading to Whitewater and beyond. The Bloomfield Road followed the left fork, leading to Allenville.
Approaching the fork in the road
Directions: At the stoplight in Dutchtown, continue straight on Route A. Where Route A forks at the "Allenville 4" sign, bear left on to County Road 241.
Platted by the Iron Mountain Railroad in 1869, the town of Allenville was named for railroad tycoon Thomas Allen. A covered bridge was constructed to carry the Bloomfield Road across Whitewater River on the southern edge of town.
Allenville Covered Bridge (photo from the Historic American Buildings Survey/Library of Congress)
This historic bridge was destroyed by a windstorm in 1945.
The current bridge is no match for the original covered bridge.
After the Diversion Channel was built south of Allenville, the road had to be relocated. A massive iron bridge, originally built elsewhere over Whitewater, was relocated in 1918 to span the "Big Ditch." This bridge collapsed in 1977, leading to an ugly legal and political battle over building a replacement. Now that replacement bridge is starting to show its age.
It might be an optical illusion, but the current Allenville Bridge does seem to be sagging in the middle.
Directions: Follow CR 241 into Allenville, where it becomes Penney Street. Follow the street around the right curve and continue on Whitewater Street. At the T-junction, turn left on CR 238. Follow this road across two bridges to reach Route N.
The Bloomfield Road was an important route for moving soldiers and supplies during the Civil War. On Aug. 1, 1863, a Union wagon train stopped to camp at a place called Round Pond along the road. They were attacked that night by Confederate guerillas. Sources vary as to the final death toll, but the scene was sufficiently bloody to earn the name "Round Pond Massacre."
The pond no longer exists, but the site is marked by a private lane called Old Round Pond Lane.
Directions: Turn right on Route N. Just before the Delta Elementary School, turn left on CR 254. Follow this road to the T-junction at CR 253 and turn left.
In the 1800s, roadbuilders tried to avoid swampy lowlands, so the road was built up and over the high ground of Hickory Ridge.
This stately barn sits next to the road on top of the ridge.
Hickory Ridge is completely surrounded by lowlands, however, and the roadbuilders had no choice but to bring the road down into the swamps.
From a place called Rum Branch, the road traveled southwest, clipping through a corner of Bollinger County, before reaching Stoddard County near the villages of Toga and Lakeville.
The gravel surface changes color at the county line.
Directions: Follow CR 253 to Route NN. Turn left on Route NN, then bear right on CR 278. This becomes Bollinger County Road 430 and then Stoddard County Road 203.
Toga and Lakeville
Lakeville, surrounded by lakes and swampy ground, was appropriately named.
When the Houck Railroad arrived in the 1880s, the tracks bypassed Lakeville to avoid the excessive land prices demanded by residents.
At the location where the Bloomfield Road crossed the railroad, a new settlement emerged called Toga, named for Toga Bill Rhodes. It seemed like an ideal choice for a new town. But it faced competition from another town founded a short distance to the southwest, strategically named New Lakeville. Toga lost the competition to the "advancing" town of New Lakeville. We now call it Advance.
The old settlements of Lakeville and Toga never completely died, and a cluster of houses remain at both townsites.
Driving through Toga
Directions: At the intersection with Highway 25, continue straight to go through Toga on CR 303. Make a left at the T with CR 310 and follow this road through Lakeville to Route O.
From Lakeville, the road turned to the southeast to reach the drier ground on top of Crowleys Ridge. It reached the town of Tilman, still marked by a church and some houses. The place was named for landowner Squire John Tilman.
Beyond Tilman, the original road disappears from modern maps until it picks up again south of Highway 91.
Directions: Turn left on Route O, then make a right on CR 309. Follow this road until it ends at Route OO. Turn left on Route OO, go through Tilman, and continue to where the pavement ends. Bear right to continue on CR 337. Upon reaching Highway 91, turn right and then make a left on CR 331. Keep your eyes peeled for the right-hand turn for CR 317. This curvy road finally rejoins the original Bloomfield Road.
The road followed the backbone of Crowleys Ridge. In some place, it clings to the highest point of the hill, flanked by surprisingly steep hollows on both sides. Elsewhere, the one-lane road cuts through hillsides, sandwiched between steep banks offering little clearance on either side.
Eventually, the road dropped to lower ground to cross Castor River. Here is another gap in the original road. An iron bridge was built in 1906 one mile to the east, so it appears, for whatever reason, that the route was shifted. That iron bridge still stands, but is abandoned.
To overcome this gap, it is necessary to drive west to cross the Castor River on Highway 25 at Aquilla.
Directions: At the intersection with Route Y, turn right. Follow Route Y as it zigzags to Highway 25, then turn left. Take Highway 25 south through Aquilla and turn left on Route AB. Look for the turnoff for CR 525 on the right.
After crossing the Castor, the road then resumed following the backbone of Crowley's Ridge. At the home stretch approaching Bloomfield, the road turned southwest to drop away from the ridge. It entered the town on Cape Road, a street that still exists. Naturally, it was silly for the Bloomfieldians (or Bloomfieldites? Bloomfielders?) to call the road "Bloomfield Road." To them, it was the Cape Road.
Directions: Follow CR 525 until it merges into CR 510. Continue on CR 510, then make a right at the T-junction with CR 514. Turn left on Highway 25 to enter Bloomfield, then bear right on Cape Road.
Congratulations, you've made it to Bloomfield, hopefully without suffering any flat tires or getting caught after dark without headlights.
And now, the map
Since the directions are rather complicated, I've drawn the entire route using the Google map widget below:
The blue segments are those roads that follow the original Bloomfield Road exactly, or at least close enough. The red segments are gaps where the original road no longer exists. Use the green segments to bypass the missing portions.
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The webmaster of seMissourian.com and its sister newspapers, James Baughn has lost track of the number of websites he manages. On the side, he maintains even more sites, including Bridgehunter.com, LandmarkHunter.com, TheCapeRock.com, and Humorix.