Road Trips

A change in the pavement on the abandoned National Road in Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and several visits: two in 2007, one in 2009, and one in 2014.

In the early days of the US highway system, it was common for highways to frequently change pavement types. You could be driving along on concrete that suddenly gave way to gravel, which after several miles abruptly switched to brick. Road guides of the day spelled it all out. This excerpt from a 1924 road guide shows how the road surface alternated between concrete and brick along the National Road between Terre Haute, Indiana, and Effingham, Illinois.

I’m puzzled that the guide says the road is paved in concrete from the state line to Martinsville except for a small brick section in Marshall, given the abandoned brick highway that remains along most of that stretch. I also don’t know how “fine concrete” differs from plain concrete. But at least this gives you a sense of how the surface could change, and how frequently.

Just east of Martinsville, Illinois, the mid-1920s brick highway gives way to a concrete road. You’ll find it here on Google Maps, but here’s a screen shot to show how the pavement changes. Right about in the middle of the image, it’s brick on the right (east) and concrete on the left (west).

Imagery ©2021 Maxar Technologies, map data ©2021 Google.

I’m showing this to you as aerial imagery because I’ve not stopped by this spot to photograph it myself. It’s clearly in someone’s front yard. I wouldn’t want to attract their attention. But this is what the brick road looks like:

National Road

And this is what the concrete looks like:

Abandoned National Road

Notice how the concrete road is three parallel strips of concrete. The center strip is 10 feet wide and the side strips are four feet wide. I’ve written about this before (read it here), but the center section came first, probably in the early 1910s, followed by the side strips, probably in the mid-late 1920s. One section of ten-foot highway remains on private property just east of Martinsville. Here it is, westbound:

10-foot-wide concrete road

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2 thoughts on “A change in the pavement on the abandoned National Road in Illinois

  1. Andy Umbo says:

    Possible difference in “fine” concrete vs. just regular concrete might be the level of “chert” specified. Chert is sort of a concrete extender, consisting of various sizes and grades of stone added to the mix. Mostly this was a bad thing, especially in my climate, causing a lot of entry ways for water to get in and freeze/thaw, and cause the concrete to fracture or cause the stones to “pop-out” of the finished concrete. I walk in older areas of the city I live in, and a lot of the 1920’s sidewalks look to have heavy deposits of chert and are also in various stages of disrepair, whereas the new corners the city puts in for wheel chair access has concrete that’s smooth as glass; ditto for the new concrete roadways! Just a possibility…

    • Good theory! Some of the older road concrete I’ve encountered is full of visible stones. You can see it (if you squint) in this pavement shot on an abandoned 1920s US 40/National Road bridge near Plainfield, IN.

      Abandoned bridge/road of US 40 west of Plainfield

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