History, Road Trips

A hundred-year-old brick road

It was a day of ceremony and celebration, the day in 1915 that the first brick was laid on the Dixie Highway in Martinsville, Indiana.

Last year I explored the old Dixie Highway in southern Indiana. The Dixie Highway was a 1910s and 1920s network of roads that connected the Midwest to the South, running from Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan to Miami, Florida. In a day where good roads were not a given, the Dixie was formed to pave the way, literally, to bring tourists to the South. The highway was laid mostly over existing roads, many of which were unimproved; i.e., dirt. The Dixie Highway Association wanted to see the entire network improved for swift, sure travel.

Martinsville, a town about 30 miles southwest of Indianapolis, really embraced the Dixie and was first to improve it. Thanks to a local brick-making industry, in 1915 Martinsville bricked a portion of the Dixie, connecting it from the outskirts of town to already-paved city streets. The first brick was laid on September 15 amid great fanfare. A holiday was declared in Martinsville and school was canceled for the day. A young woman named Marguerite Mars was named “Dixie Queen” and rode on a float in a parade honoring the day and the highway. Carl Fisher, father of the Dixie Highway, traveled to Indianapolis with Indiana Governor Samuel Ralston, who placed the first brick.

Dixie1915Martinsville1

I’m sure it took quite some time to complete the job. Somebody came back when it was done to photograph the road southbound from where the bricks began.

Dixie1915Martinsville2

If you’d like to know more about the day the Dixie was bricked in Martinsville, click this link, which will take you to a Google Books search with many great links, from which I learned all I’ve shared here.

Governor Ralston spoke to assembled Martinsvillians on that day in 1915, saying that a hundred years hence they would look back on that day with gratitude and pride. This was doomed prophecy. Gov. Ralston could not have predicted then how prolifically roads would be built and improved. 98 years later, if those bricks still exist they are buried under layers of asphalt along some old alignment of what became Indiana State Road 37. Today, SR 37 is a heavily traveled four-lane divided highway that bypasses Martinsville; it will become I-69 in the coming years. It seems unlikely that anyone in Martinsville remembers the old brick road that once led to town, and I’ll bet few in Martinsville have ever heard of the Dixie Highway.

But last year while researching the Dixie Highway to write about it here, I discovered a short segment of brick road still in use in Martinsville. I had the opportunity to pass through that town recently, so I stopped to look the old road over.

Old brick road

This road is on Martinsville’s northwest side, near where State Road 39 crosses the west fork of the White River. It’s called Bob Gay Parkway today. You can drive only on the short section I marked with green arrowheads, even though Google Maps shows it extending beyond that point.

Imagery © 2013 Google. Map data © 2013 Google.

Imagery © 2013 Google. Map data © 2013 Google.

It seems reasonable to guess that these bricks were placed in the same timeframe as the Dixie Highway bricks. It is also reasonable to guess that when the Indiana State Highway Commission laid out State Road 39, it followed these bricks until the more modern road was built just to the south.

Here’s where the old brick road fades away, near the leftmost green arrowhead in the map excerpt above. As you follow current SR 39 toward the river, you can see bits and pieces of the old brick road.

Old brick road

This segment is about 500 feet long. It gets little traffic; it appears to only provide access to the Morgan County Jail. Maybe that’s helped these bricks stay in such good shape. But brick roads wear like iron anyway.

Old brick road

As you can see, this road is not up to the task of modern highway travel. It’s narrow, at only probably 16 feet wide. Can you imagine encountering an oncoming semi at 55 miles per hour on a road like this? If only old Governor Ralston could see this in context now.

readmore2

A short brick section of the Dixie
remains in western Indiana. See it here.

Advertisements
Standard

19 thoughts on “A hundred-year-old brick road

  1. Some great finds. I remember my uncle telling me that as a young man he saw brick being laid for Route 36(at the time the Coast to Coast Highway). I was amazed that such a long highway was made with brick. Before that I had thought it had only been used in a town. These roads must have kept the brick factories humming.

    Like

  2. Lone Primate says:

    I’ve never really understood brick roads. Wouldn’t they be extremely labour-intensive? Do they have much of an edge over well-kept gravel roads?

    Like

    • The 1910s and 1920s was a time of experimentation in making hard roads, and brick was tried. Gravel’s great until it washes out; brick doesn’t wash out. Yes, they were incredibly labor intensive, but as you can see they really lasted.

      Like

  3. Carole says:

    I grew up in an old section of town with brick streets. I loved them with their rattle-like hum as you drove over them and the coolness they provided in the summer (as evidenced by the dogs that would lay on them on hot summer days). The brick streets gave our neighborhood a comfort of stability, togetherness, and the honor that we were living in a special place that deserved a certain reverence. But, brick roads were a time in history and they certainly don’t meet the needs of travel today.

    Like

    • I know those brick streets. I’ve driven a lot of old brick roads as I’ve explored, and I can say that those brick streets are the rumbliest I’ve ever experienced.

      Like

  4. Cleveland says:

    Two roads besides the one to the jail still exist in Martinsville, Indiana. The one past the jail doesn’t ( I have been trying to keep those two fairly well kept but out of public eye.

    Like

Share your comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

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