Preservation, Road Trips

Is old road pavement worth preserving?

I’ve shared photos of this concrete road segment many times on this blog as a great example of early American hard pavement. It was probably poured in the early 1920s. But sadly, it no longer exists.

Old SR 37

The 1910s and 1920s were a time of great experimentation as roadbuilders figured out that right intersection of road-surface durability and cost. This was the era of brick roads, but builders also experimented with asphalt and Portland cement concrete. Early concrete roads were continuous ribbons. Natural expansion and contraction caused the concrete to crack, and often to crumble. This photo shows this road’s crack pattern better:

Concrete road

Roadbuilders soon figured out that regularly-spaced expansion joints helped concrete roads last longer. My experience has been that this happened by about 1925. Continuous concrete roads were built for a short time in modern road history, and most concrete roads will have expansion joints. When you come upon a continuous concrete road, you’ve found a rarity that is nearly a century old.

08_Map_Hacker_Creek_segmentYou can thank the construction of I-69 for this segment’s destruction. This road was a segment of old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway, about five miles south of downtown Martinsville. Modern SR 37 has bypassed it for years, mere feet to the west. As the modern road is upgraded to Interstate standards, an exit is being built here. The plan maps (here and here) show the details. This map segment is from the old Windows Live Maps site; I captured it in 2007 when I wrote up my first trip along this old road (here). This concrete is the segment labeled W Hacker Creek Rd north of Liberty Church Rd on the map. The section south of Liberty Church Rd had been covered with asphalt. I made these photos from the north end of the road, where a bridge had been removed.

Abandoned SR 37

I have no photos from my recent trip along this road because the exit here is substantially complete and construction closures and restrictions blocked access. As we moved past here on the new highway I could see a ramp exactly where this concrete used to be. A new bridge was even built over this gap.

And it’s too bad. I’m sure people who live down Liberty Church Road will be happy for easy access to their properties from I-69. But they get it at the cost of losing an interesting and well-preserved example of road history.

Old bridges and old buildings are obvious choices for historic preservation, especially when they are of a style or type of dwindling number or are part of a historic resource. But I think old pavement should be as well.

Just like any candidate for preservation, you can’t save them all. But I’m pretty sure this was the last section of continuous concrete highway on Indiana’s Dixie Highway, and as such this destruction was a real loss.

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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.


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.


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.


Coca-Cola plant

Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
Canon PowerShot S95

History, Road Trips

Improving the rutted road

Imagining what a road was like in years gone by draws me out to find the old alignments and the old pavement. This is why I’ve recently shared photos of left-behind brick and concrete segments of Ohio’s National Road with you – photos, I’m sure, that were interesting only to readers with a healthy inner roadgeek.

Recently I stumbled upon the Ohio Department of Transportation’s photo archive, a great cache of historic road images that includes an extensive set of early-1900s National Road photos. I killed most of a morning studying every image. I was in roadgeek heaven! Some of the images show things I have been writing about in these posts, and I want to share them with you.

This first image is from 1906, somewhere in Licking County along the National Road. Ohio’s Department of Highways hadn’t yet been formed; the National Road belonged to the counties through which it passed. The road was unimproved and maintenance varied. Imagine trying to drive this rutted road on a rainy day. More to the point, imagine needing help pulling your car out of a mud bog.

Compacting a dirt road by dragging a super-heavy roller across it helps avoid the ruts for a while. This 1905 photo from Muskingum County shows the road after what appears to be a good compacting.

Crushed stone and gravel were popular choices when the National Road began to be improved across Ohio, as this photo from Franklin County shows. ODOT dates the photo to 1917, but I think it might be even older.

This photo, which ODOT dates to 1912, shows a crew laying brick on the National Road in Franklin County. Laying a brick road is all manual labor.

This 1917 photo from Guernsey County shows more bricks being laid. Imagine how long the road had to be closed to get this job done. We wouldn’t put up with it today.

I really hoped to find construction photos from the concrete highway poured between 1914 and 1916 between Zanesville and Hebron. I didn’t have any luck, but at least I found this 1933 photo of the concrete highway in use in Licking County, in which Hebron is located.

If you like historic photos like these, check out these 1920s National Road postcard images and these 1910s-1920s photos from Indiana’s Michigan Road.

History, Road Trips

Concrete evidence

We take for granted that we can drive anywhere in the nation today, but such was not always the case. I have a book here that is a transcribed diary of a family driving from California to Indiana in 1913. Most roads were dirt; some were gravel. Out west, the family found many places were roads simply did not exist, and they had to blaze their own trails with their car.

And so in the 1910s several groups worked to create coast-to-coast (or, in the vernacular of the time, “ocean-to-ocean”) highways. The most famous is probably the Lincoln Highway. Another was the Pike’s Peak Ocean-to-Ocean Highway. Yet another was the National Old Trails Road. Wherever possible, all of these roads were routed along existing roads. The National Old Trails Road followed the National Road from Maryland to Illinois, except for a portion in western Ohio that instead followed the Dayton Cutoff (read about that road here).

Ohio’s National Road had long since been given back to the counties through which it passed. It was in varying states of repair. But as Ohio built its state highway network it took over the National Old Trails alignment and began aggressively to improve it. It reduced grades and smoothed curves. It paved the road in brick, in macadam, gravel – and, along the 24 miles between Zanesville and Hebron, in concrete.

Concrete alignment

While concrete roads aren’t uncommon today, it was considered experimental in 1914, when the first of this road was poured. Very little of this concrete road remains today as the road has been widened and covered with asphalt. The section in the above photo runs in front of the Hopewell Elementary School, just east of Gratiot and about 11 miles west of Zanesville. This map shows the concrete road’s original alignment compared to modern US 40. Click the image to see it larger.

The concrete road is mostly covered in asphalt along the old alignment through Gratiot, but west of town the concrete emerges from beneath the blacktop. The grade reductions that were part of the 1910s improvements didn’t eliminate this blind hill.

Blind hill

After cresting the hill, the concrete ends abruptly.

The end of the Gratiot alignment

I found just two more short bits of concrete. This one is at the east end of an old alignment signed Mt. Hope Road.

Mt. Hope Road

This one is at the east end of an old alignment signed Panhandle Road.

Panhandle Rd.

Eagle’s Nest Hill, just west of Brownsville, is the highest elevation along Ohio’s National Road. This monument stands there to commemorate the concrete paving project. It reads, “Old National Road, built 1825, rebuilt 1914 through the efforts of James M. Cox, Governor of Ohio.” A 19th-century covered wagon and an early-20th-century automobile are also carved into the stone’s face.

Eagle's Nest monument

I’ve also found concrete sections of the National Road in Indiana, but those are at least ten years newer. Read about them here, here, and here.

Road Trips

The old road at Reelsville, part 2

If you’re just joining us, we’re following two old alignments of the National Road near Reelsville, Indiana. Last time, we followed what is probably the National Road’s original alignment here, highlighted in green on the image below. This time, we’re going to follow an alignment built in about 1923, highlighted in red. The two routes’ overlap is highlighted in yellow.


The 1920s alignment is in two sections. The eastern section is in pretty good shape up to where the older alignment turns away, but doesn’t appear to get much maintenance west of there. It provides access to a few houses, but beyond them it fades away, as this photo shows.

Old US 40 alignment

This alignment used to be continuous, of course, but the current road’s right-of-way appears to have overlapped a few hundred feet of the older alignment, and when that happens, old road gets ripped out. The western section begins here.

Old US 40, Putnam County

This section is badly overgrown end to end. The road has gotten very little maintenance and is broken and potholed – but that’s not too bad for concrete poured 86 years ago. If it weren’t for a couple houses along this road, I’d call this abandoned. 

Old US 40, Putnam County

Soon the road crosses Big Walnut Creek over this bridge. The deck and railings are in poor condition.

Old US 40, Putnam County

I took this photo of the bridge from US 40’s current alignment.

Old US 40 alignment

This is where the 1923 alignment ends, curving left to a T intersection with US 40. It used to curve to the right, through what is now woods, and flow into the older National Road alignment. The concrete road still exists along that alignment, as I wrote about last time.

Old US 40, Putnam County

ReadMore If you like old concrete-arch bridges, check out this one that was demolished along old US 52 in Indianapolis.