History, Road Trips

When someone tells me to hit the bricks, I take it literally (on the National Road in Ohio)

As the automobile age dawned at the turn of the 20th century, the nation’s network of mostly dirt roads was passable only in good weather. The clamor for “good roads” paved in hard surfaces for all-weather travel led to the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, which created state highway departments and provided money to them for road improvements. Additionally, the United States’ entry into World War I in 1917 highlighted the need to be able to quickly move military equipment and troops across the nation.

And so Ohio began to improve much of its National Road, by now also known as State Route 1, in the mid-1910s. Military needs during World War I caused it to lay bricks on much of the road between the Ohio River and Zanesville.

I’m always excited to find an intact road surface from this era; few are left anywhere. Along the National Road, I’ve seen one brief brick segment in Indiana (see it here) and a long one in Illinois (see it here), plus two still driveable concrete segments in Indiana (see the first; see the second), all laid in the 1920s. But I was especially excited to make my Ohio trip because I knew I’d encounter a few segments of pavement that were even older.

The first brick segment was at Blaine (see it here). I expected the second to be just west of Old Washington, as it was clearly an old alignment and Google Maps labeled it Brick Road.

Apparently the evil asphalters got to it before I did. Indeed, Ohio covered most of its brick National Road with asphalt in 1932. But check out the difference between the old alignment on the left with its narrow roadway and blind hill, and the flat, wide current alignment on the right. Highways continued to be improved during the 20th century for greater safety.

Brick Road isn't brick anymore

I knew the next old alignment would still be brick because fellow National Road fan Christopher Busta-Peck tipped me off about it on his blog. It lies a bit west of the previous alignment but east of Cambridge, the next town.

It starts off as gravel, but bricks emerge west of Steele Lane. (I’ll bet that if you dig down in the gravel a little bit you’ll find brick in bad shape, hence the gravel.) Though busy US 40 is 100 yards away, Peacock Road has a remote, secluded feel. I had an strong urge to go to a hardware store, buy an edger, a weedwhacker, and some Roundup, and come back here to clean up the overgrowth so the road would be visible edge to edge.

Peacock Road

Peacock Road emerges from the woods just before it ends.

Peacock Road

I encountered another brick segment as the old road headed west out of Cambridge. The road’s original route (labeled Co Hwy 430 on the map below) crosses US 40; where it does, the road is paved in brick for a short distance.

It is good, rumbly brick.

Brick segment of old US 40/NR

This road’s center stripe means that it is still considered important. If you squint, you can see the seam where the brick ends and asphalt begins.

Brick segment of old US 40/NR

The road next passes through New Concord, and then an old alignment splits off on its way to Norwich. Just past Norwich, an older alignment splits off the old alignment. It is labeled Brick Road.

Fortunately, this Brick Road is really still brick!

Brick Rd.

It cuts across a lovely country scene.

Brick Rd.

The concrete curbs made me wonder if this road is built the same as the abandoned brick segments in Illinois – a concrete pad topped with bricks. But I learned from the Ohio National Road Association’s wonderful Traveler’s Guide that these are simply concrete strips alongside the brick road.

Brick Rd.

This was the last brick segment I encountered on the trip. Zanesville is the next big town to the west, and the segment between there and Hebron was famously laid in concrete from 1914 to 1916. Brief segments of that concrete remain, and I’ll share those I found in an upcoming post.

I also encountered some old pavement on the National Road in Maryland. Check it out.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

To get Down the Road in your inbox or reader six days a week, click here to subscribe!
To get my newsletter with previews of what I’m working on, click here to subscribe!


12 thoughts on “When someone tells me to hit the bricks, I take it literally (on the National Road in Ohio)

  1. Awesome! Peacock Road in particular looks like a great place for a hike or a picnic.

    I hadn’t really thought about it, but I guess that before the first war, most American roads were indeed dirt roads.

    Thanks for another great trip through time, no TARDIS required. :-)

    • Believe it or not, Scott, it was bicyclists who started the push for good roads in the very late 1800s. But the automobile is what made the Good Roads movement really gain traction, pardon the pun. In the early days, only the wealthy had automobiles, and their connections and influence certainly had something to do with early road improvements.

  2. Can you imagine the labor that went into laying all that brick back then?? Tremendous!

    It’s amazing that the old brick road segments are still in decent shape considering their age and all the harsh winters Ohio and Illinois has.

    • When I was out exploring the brick section of the National Road in Illinois, I met a woman who lived on the road. She told me that her former neighbor, who had died some years before, worked laying those bricks in the 1920s.

      Brick and concrete are very durable paving materials. My hometown of South Bend still has many brick streets downtown. I understand, however, that brick is difficult to plow and is very slick in the winter.

  3. We have some brick streets in my hometown in central Illinois. While they’re quaint to look at, they’re a bear for city workers who must repair, clean, and plow them. Consequently, most have been paved over with asphalt or some such. A sign of the times, I suppose. Thanks for your lovely photos!

    • Debbie, thank you for stopping by. An old high-school friend whose father worked in road construction tells me that brick streets are indeed challenging to plow and maintain, and this is why they end up covered with asphalt or, sometimes, removed entirely. But now brick streets are subject to historic preservation! My hometown of South Bend still has a number of brick streets near downtown. Here’s one.

      Cushing St.

    • Kaitlin, I’m so glad you enjoy these posts. One thing I’m learning is go see the old roads as soon as you can, because you never know when they won’t be there anymore.

    • Yes, brick was used frequently in the early 20th century in roadbuilding! It fell out of favor for concrete and then asphalt for their cost factors. And, yes, for being safer in the rain and snow!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.