Road Trips

90-year-old concrete pavement on Old US 52 in northwest Indianapolis

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!

Old Lafayette Road

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.

Laf1941

Lafayette Road, 1941, via MapIndy

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.

Laf2015

Lafayette Road, 2015, via MapIndy

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!

Old Lafayette Road

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.

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12 thoughts on “90-year-old concrete pavement on Old US 52 in northwest Indianapolis

  1. It is interesting that a concrete road that old survives. I read somewhere that sslt did not become common as a de icing agent until the 1940s, so perhaps this section has not seen a lot of salt. Or did the concrete of that era have a formulation different somehow from modern stuff.

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    • It helps tremendously that this road was a U.S. highway for only about 10 years, and has served since then to access a few houses. A road will last a long time under light traffic.

      That said, I believe concrete is a much more durable surface than asphalt. I lived on a concrete street once, back in the 1990s, that my elderly landlady said had been poured in the 1930s sometime.

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  2. Dan Cluley says:

    On the west side of Lansing MI, there is a quarter mile stretch of what was US 16 that was abandoned in the ’40s or ’50s when they replaced a RR grade crossing with a bridge. 20 years ago it was kind of surreal to walk on a 16 foot wide concrete road with 3 foot tall weeds growing up through the cracks. Since then the neighboring business has put up a fence blocking off access, but google earth shows that most of it is still there.

    Do they stamp construction dates into sidewalks in Indinapolis? That is a thing here, and I’m impressed with how many stretches have lasted 50-60 years. I occasionally still see short bits from the ’20s.

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    • I know there’s some lovely country on 52 southeast of here. In Indiana, it’s not that interesting northwest of Indy. The Lafayette Road portion is what I’m mostly interested in, because of its historic roots

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  3. Steve Miller says:

    Spent two years driving 52 from Lebanon to Lafayette (both IN) Mon-Fri. You’re right that it’s not that interesting a stretch if you drive in infrequently. But driving it for two years and watching the play of light and weather from day to day became fascinating. After a time, you start thinking of long-form photo documentation of some of the scenes…

    Perhaps it was that I spent so much of my work days during that a time art directing photo shoots — both studio and on-site — that I became so sensitive to the daily changes.

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    • As you might imagine, I drive 52 to Lafayette when I go to see my son at Purdue. North of Lebanon it’s straight as a stick, but I still enjoy it, and arrive far less stressed than if I took I-65.

      I’m sure it’s not just your role as an art director — you probably are the rich-inner-life kind of guy who would notice the subtle changes day to day along an old highway.

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  4. sdaven5191 says:

    My husband and I came to live in Northwestern Indiana – Newton County at first – in September of 1977. We had been married in Southeastern Virginia, in July of 1976, where he was stationed in the US Air Force, and where I had grown up and was therefore a native. For him, it was basically a return to his home area and “old stomping grounds” but for me was like a visit to another planet! He had been born in Lafayette, but raised in eastern Illinois, mostly in Sheldon, right off US 24, but had spent an inordinate amount of time at his grandparent’s farm in Benton County, on 71 just outside of Dunnington.
    Kentland, at the juncture of 41 and 24, was also a favorite haunt, but Watseka, further west on 24, even more so, since it contained a slightly higher form of “civilization” (shopping, doctors, other forms of retail life) than either Sheldon or Kentland.
    We, on the other hand, commenced our residency in Goodland, also on US24, where both of his sisters had settled for the time being with their families. We took up very temporary residence in a spare bedroom of one, while hunting for work and a place of our own. We soon located both, and had an apartment of our own on 6the top floor of a two story house right on the “main drag” (such as it was), of Goodland, and settled for about a year. (In time for the infamous Blizzard of ’78, I might add, but THAT is another story for another time!)
    In any case, we settled down to the business of making a home for ourselves, and working for a living. Events conspired, as events always do, to move us on down the road, after spending parts and bits and pieces of time traveling back and forth between our apartment in Goodland to Kentland, or less frequently, to Watseka to shop and also to visit with my father-in-law; to Sheldon occasionally to visit former school friends of my husband’s; to Dunnington outside of Fowler to his grandparent’s farm, one of our less frequent jaunts, but no less enjoyable, which had a couple of different routes off of either 24, or down 41 towards the general direction of Lafayette.
    We also were taken, more than once, on the Great Expedition to Lafayette, where I could get myself a good supply of what I began considering a REAL dose of “civilization” for a big shot of Retail Shopping Therapy!
    We shortly learned the way there and back – it took me two trips, with sisters-in-law, to figure out the “back way” over 55 and/or the Ade Way, a narrow two lane concrete roadway, with the characteristic “bump de bump de bump” of such construction, but absolutely straight, and absolutely flat for miles and miles, named for an Indiana native of some note, George Ade; and a few other twists and turns to Lafayette back in the late 70’s. Traveling east on US 24 to southbound I65 was the way to go though, when one wanted real speed and modern conveyance into Tippecanoe County and Lafayette proper, and points further to the south.
    US 52 though, from 41, became an alternative we would take when we wanted to avoid the nerve wracking pace of the Interstate, or later, its crumbling surface from the millions of trucks and buses and even more automobiles that traversed its length daily between Chicago and points south, and enjoy more interesting vistas.
    Eventually we were to take ourselves South to Lafayette to live and work, and I to go to nursing school as well, and for the birth of our first child. Our travels were far from over, however, as we lived in two places in Lafayette, then my husband’s job transferred him to Kokomo, followed by another move in a couple of years, to the great metropolitan area of Indianapolis, mostly around the East side. Again, we would pick up stakes and move one last time to Greenfield.
    We still have relatives in the general areas of which I spoke, except the farm is now gone – actually the house, barn and buildings are gone while the farm itself remains, a real family trauma – and there are no longer any reasons to visit Goodland, his sisters having done what we did as well and got themselves out of that slowly dying village. One (of my) sisters-in-law, mother-in-law (who has also just moved again), and husband’s uncle all live in or around Boswell right off of US 41.
    Another sister-in-law has been living in Lebanon for several years, working in a small town nearby. I doubt if my father-in-law will ever leave Watseka though, as his wife owns a gorgeous four square home so often found in such places, and are both firmly settled there.
    We have traveled millions of miles in the last 40 years, much of which has been over Indiana highways and biways, and the one consistent occurrence has always been crossing the State line, and noticing, no matter which State is involved, how much BETTER the road suddenly gets on the OTHER side – or, when traveling back again, how much worse it is to leave it! I don’t think there has ever been an instance of the other way round!

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