History, Road Trips

Improving the rutted road

Imagining what a road was like in years gone by draws me out to find the old alignments and the old pavement. This is why I’ve recently shared photos of left-behind brick and concrete segments of Ohio’s National Road with you – photos, I’m sure, that were interesting only to readers with a healthy inner roadgeek.

Recently I stumbled upon the Ohio Department of Transportation’s photo archive, a great cache of historic road images that includes an extensive set of early-1900s National Road photos. I killed most of a morning studying every image. I was in roadgeek heaven! Some of the images show things I have been writing about in these posts, and I want to share them with you.

This first image is from 1906, somewhere in Licking County along the National Road. Ohio’s Department of Highways hadn’t yet been formed; the National Road belonged to the counties through which it passed. The road was unimproved and maintenance varied. Imagine trying to drive this rutted road on a rainy day. More to the point, imagine needing help pulling your car out of a mud bog.

Compacting a dirt road by dragging a super-heavy roller across it helps avoid the ruts for a while. This 1905 photo from Muskingum County shows the road after what appears to be a good compacting.

Crushed stone and gravel were popular choices when the National Road began to be improved across Ohio, as this photo from Franklin County shows. ODOT dates the photo to 1917, but I think it might be even older.

This photo, which ODOT dates to 1912, shows a crew laying brick on the National Road in Franklin County. Laying a brick road is all manual labor.

This 1917 photo from Guernsey County shows more bricks being laid. Imagine how long the road had to be closed to get this job done. We wouldn’t put up with it today.

I really hoped to find construction photos from the concrete highway poured between 1914 and 1916 between Zanesville and Hebron. I didn’t have any luck, but at least I found this 1933 photo of the concrete highway in use in Licking County, in which Hebron is located.

If you like historic photos like these, check out these 1920s National Road postcard images and these 1910s-1920s photos from Indiana’s Michigan Road.

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14 thoughts on “Improving the rutted road

  1. Great tour through the past. Thanks for sharing these. I note that the ratio of “watchers” to “workers” was about the same on a road crew a hundred years ago as it is today!

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    • How cool is that!

      I remember when Dad would drive down one of South Bend’s brick streets how much I didn’t like how rumbly they were. I wished the city would pave over them all for smoother, quieter travel! Clearly I feel differently about it today.

      But I’ve also learned that brick roads don’t have to be as rumbly as the ones in South Bend. I drove over some of the abandoned brick National Road in Illinois and, while it was a little noisier than driving on concrete, as long as the bricks were all intact it was pretty smooth.

      I’ve since learned that, apart from the labor it takes to lay a brick road, they fell out of favor because they are hard to plow (apparently plows can pull up bricks somehow) and are slicker than asphalt or concrete when wet or icy.

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  2. Michael says:

    That one in Muskingum County looks as wide as a modern 2-lane highway.

    Oh, and you drove pretty slow on those IL bricks. I bet it would have been louder if you were cruising!

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    • Hm, yes, it does look pretty wide.

      South Bend’s brick streets are all side streets; the fastest we ever drove on them was probably 30 mph, and they still rumbled the car!

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