One of the roads I had hoped to tour this road-trip season was Lafayette Road, old US 52 between Indianapolis and Lafayette. I don’t think I’m going to make it this year, unfortunately; time is running out and my dance card is full. I do drive portions of this road a lot, and see a few obvious old alignments out of the corner of my eye. I stopped at one the other day and hit paydirt: concrete!
And not just any concrete: jointless concrete. My research isn’t rock solid, but it suggests that this practice generally ended by about 1925, when road-builders everywhere started putting expansion joints into their concrete roads to prevent cracking.
A bridge that was demolished in 2009 on this road a few miles south of here is known to have been built in two parts: two lanes in about 1925, and two in about 1935. Both projects were part of ongoing efforts to improve the state highway network, which was created in 1917 to respond to the rise of the automobile. Lafayette Road became part of State Road 6. Given the bridge’s history, it seems reasonable to conclude that the state paved this road in concrete in about 1925 — and then turned around in about 1935 and widened the road to four lanes and smoothed out a few curves. By this time, this road had become part of US 52.
Can’t you just hear the farmers who lived on this road? “You just got done paving it in concrete a few years ago, and now here you are widening it and rerouting it! Why didn’t you do it all at once?”
Today, half of this old road segment has been removed, thanks to construction of a subdivision.
If you use an online aerial map to trace Lafayette Road from its origin in Indianapolis to about Lebanon in Boone County, you’ll find several old-road segments like this one, which is why I’ve wanted to explore it. The MapIndy site and the Indiana Historic Aerial Photo Index offer aerial images as old as 1937, which you can use to help locate them and see how the surrounding area has changed.
This photo shows this old alignment in relationship to the current alignment. As you can see, the state also flattened the road a little bit here!
The state relinquished this road to the city at least 40 years ago, after it rerouted US 52 around the city on an Interstate beltway. It’s just Lafayette Road again. But it remains a historic road, one of several roads the Indiana government commissioned during the 1830s to connect important cities and towns. In case it’s not obvious, this one linked Indianapolis to Lafayette. As best as I can tell, Indiana got out of the road business after about 1850, only to get back in again in 1917 thanks to the rise of the automobile.