Brick Route 66

Brick Route 66 in Illinois
Canon PowerShot S95

When you follow Route 66 west in Illinois, when you reach Springfield you have to decide which of two alignments to follow to St. Louis. The newer one hugs I-55 — or, more accurately, I-55 hugs Route 66, as 66 came first. The older alignment is a little farther west, generally following what is now State Route 4.

That old road was routed around farm boundaries, creating a number of sharp turns. Over the years, the state rebuilt sections of that road to make it straighter and smoother. The old sections of the road were left behind so farmers on the road could still reach their properties.

Sometimes, the original pavement remains. This is one of those times. Thanks to a restoration, this is brick in wonderful condition. This is the typical Illinois brick highway, with bricks fitted inside a wide-U-shaped concrete pad. I wrote about how these roads were built here, with diagrams from old Illinois Department of Highways documents and photographs of one of these roads under construction.

I made this photo at the north/east end of this 1.4-mile segment, facing toward Chicago as the road goes. The road used to curve left here to flow into the current alignment of State Route 4.

This is a truly gorgeous segment of old brick road, and gives the best feel I’ve ever encountered for what these roads were like when they were new. If you’d like to visit, you can find it on the map here.

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13 responses to “single frame: Brick Route 66 in Illinois”

  1. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    That is a fascinating bit of roadway. You would have to think that when the concrete pad was being laid someone must have thought “let’s just make the whole thing concrete”. So I wonder what was the reason(s) for doing the brick? Got to be higher initial cost, so lower maintenance going forward? Illinois Highway Dept. corruption? Something less obvious?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’d have to guess it was about ongoing maintenance cost. There are segments of Illinois brick road untouched for 60 years that are still driveable.

  2. brandib1977 Avatar

    It s amazing to me that this alignment was left for the farmers and that the brick still exists. What a treasure! Beautiful photo too!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s pretty standard, you can’t obliterate a road if it’s the only way someone can get to their house! This is the major reason so many old highway alignments get left behind.

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        Makes sense! Wonderful time capsule!

  3. J P Avatar

    I wonder if the theory was to keep the concrete deeper in the ground to minimize freeze/thaw cycles in those days before expansion joints were common, then using the brick for a surface with natural expansion joints every few inches in every direction.

    With the asphalt (bitumen) and sand, this is surely the most intricate brick roadway I’ve ever seen.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Good thinking. I think rather that it was about minimizing maintenance costs. You could ignore one of these brick roads for a good, long time. Here’s a section of Illinois brick highway that used to be US 40 near Marshall. It’s a farm road today and while it doesn’t get highway levels of traffic, it does get driven on.

      Driveable brick National Road segment

  4. tbm3fan Avatar

    I was just about to say brick over concrete maybe because of expansion in the heat and cold cycles in Indiana weather back then.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      This was a very experimental time. Road engineers were trying to figure out what surfaces made sense. In Indiana at least they experimented with continuous concrete – no expansion joints. It cracked like mad of course. But a little of it still exists here and there.

  5. Kurt Ingham Avatar
    Kurt Ingham

    Check Return to Oz (film)for results of deferred maintenance

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I looked it up. The yellow brick road needs torn out and rebuilt!

  6. jim austin Avatar

    i grew up on 66 ! my dad”s stadard service gas station was on 66 !!! in fact it was on us 66, us51, us 150,& illinois 9 in the middle of bloomington, il i rode my bike and played kick the can on it.i love that road!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Sounds like you had a wonderful childhood!

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