For most of history, roads had to wind, rise, and fall with the terrain. Straight, flat roads meant cutting into the earth, and that was either too costly or simply impossible. Through the 20th century, constantly improving technology changed that. Good thing, too, because as people increasingly relied on motor transport, narrow, winding roads became insufficient.
Indiana began improving its important roads in the early 20th century. At first, it simply improved the road surface, converting dirt to gravel, crushed stone, brick, or concrete. Later, it straightened many highways, made them bypass small towns, and widened them to make them safer and allow speedier passage. For example, Indiana repeatedly improved the Dixie Highway between Martinsville and Bloomington (along the way changing its name to State Road 37.) It’s now a divided four-lane expressway – straight, smooth, and speedy. Indiana isn’t done improving this road; it is slated to be upgraded to Interstate standards and become part of I-69. These three map segments, from 1937, 1970, and 2005, tell the story.
|1937 Rand McNally||1970 Rand McNally||2005 Indiana DOT|
These improvements left several segments of the original winding road behind. As is sometimes the case, some infrastructure from days gone by was left behind, as well.
This three-span pony truss bridge was built in 1925. It’s narrow by modern standards, with a 19-foot-wide deck. Oncoming cars can pass, but it feels a little tight. (Click here to see it on Google Maps.)
A bit south of the bridge, on another left-behind segment of the old road, we found this slab of concrete. (Click here to see this location on Google Maps.) When you drive over a truss bridge, you know it’s old because nobody builds them anymore. But concrete is still sometimes used to pave highways. Besides, who really pays any attention to the road surface?
I do, of course! And I’ve been exploring Indiana’s old roads long enough to know that this is mighty old concrete. Notice all the cracks? Early Indiana concrete highways had no expansion joints. As temperature changes expanded and contracted the concrete, it had little choice but to crack. I’ve found other similar concrete highways in Indana that I’ve dated to as early as 1923.
But there’s a chance that this concrete is even older than that. A buddy on my favorite roadgeek forum dug into his extensive collection of historic maps and road guides and found evidence that this road could have been paved in 1917! But I think 1925 is more likely. That’s when the bridge shown above was built, and it’s less than two miles from here. Also, 1925 is consistent with the other seamless concrete roads I’ve found.
This was the only concrete segment we found all day. Over time, Indiana covered its concrete highways in asphalt; along the rest of the Dixie, this concrete is buried under one or more layers of the stuff. This segment was left in its original state because it is not through; it provides access to one house, where it dead ends. There was once a small bridge here.
A short segment of abandoned concrete road lies beyond the creek. That’s modern State Road 37 at its end.
When I next write about the old Dixie Highway, I’ll show you a 15-mile old alignment that leads through beautiful country, ending in Bloomington.
The oldest concrete highway I’ve found was on Ohio’s National Road – from 1914! See it now!