Cushing St.

Cushing Street
Kodak EasyShare Z730

Today I begin a “single frame” series on brick streets and highways. As bicycles and automobiles created a thirst for hard-surfaced “good roads” in the early 20th century, brick was one of the surfaces tried. The brick era ended by about 1930; asphalt and, to a far lesser extent, concrete won the contest. Except for some modern brick streets built largely for aesthetic reasons, when you find a brick road, it is 90+ years old.

My hometown of South Bend has a large number of brick streets in its core. The main roads were all paved in asphalt decades ago, often right over the original brick. You’ll still find brick only on the side streets.

My mom grew up on one of South Bend’s brick streets, in a large house just north of downtown. My brother had an apartment for a while on the one block of Main St. that’s still brick.

As a kid, I didn’t enjoy riding on the brick streets. They rumbled the car so! I don’t mind them at all today. What I’ve found as I’ve explored the midwest’s old roads is that South Bend’s brick streets are especially rumbly. Some of the brick roads I’ve driven on are as smooth as concrete or asphalt.

This is Cushing St., on South Bend’s northwest side. I made this photo from its intersection with Lincolnway West — the old Lincoln Highway, which in South Bend was routed along the old Michigan Road.

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11 responses to “single frame: Cushing Street”

  1. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    That was back when labor was cheaper than materials- and materials were pretty cheap. What kind of asphalt would last that long?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      No kidding! A high-school friend, her father worked in road construction. He said that one of the reasons they moved away from brick is that it’s terrible to remove snow from.

  2. J P Avatar

    I cannot recall seeing paving bricks laid on an angle like this. All the brick streets of my experience have the short edges of the brick straight against the curbs. I would think this style would be more labor intensive because every brick along a curb would have to be cut. Then again, each course is longer between curbs. I am clearly thinking about this too hard.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’ve never seen it anywhere but on some (not all) South Bend brick streets.

  3. brandib1977 Avatar

    A few neighboring towns still have some brick streets in their downtown areas and it always makes me happy to feel the transition from smooth pavement to bricks. I’ll look forward to your series!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s like driving into the past! About a month’s worth of these on Tues and Thurs are to come.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Nice! I will look forward to that.

  4. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

    Sidewalks are often made of brick here, including the ones in my apartment complex. They are put on a sand base and quickly develop dips, especially when people park on them. What keeps those old brick roads in such good shape?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Most brick streets here were laid onto a concrete pad! This post describes the method used on Illinois brick highways.

      1. marcusterrypeddle Avatar

        Thanks for the link. That’s quite interesting.

  5. Marc Beebe Avatar

    Trivia: at one point when they repaved the main street in my hometown they had to remove the many layers of asphalt that had been put down over the years. They took it right down to the bricks which were the original paving. Of course that surface wouldn’t stand up to modern traffic, but it’s nice to know that history is preserved under protective layers of modern methods.
    Similarly the street I lived on once wore down to brick at the top where the crosswalk was; not quite so many protective layers there!

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