Photography

Historic road infrastructure on Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway in Morgan County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2007 road trip along Old State Road 37 and the Dixie Highway between Indianapolis and Bloomington.

Windows Live Local map, 2007

This is the segment of old road I spied from current State Road 37 that led me to make this road trip. It turned out to contain two historic pieces of road infrastructure.

The road is signed as Hacker Creek Road at its north end. Its abandoned north tip was visible from current State Road 37. This is the abandoned segment of road I saw while driving home from Bloomington a few weeks before I made this trip, and which sparked my interest in this road. The bridge over Hacker Creek was removed, orphaning this segment. This northbound photo is taken from south of the creek.

Abandoned SR 37

Stepping back a bit, still facing northbound, Hacker Creek Road ends before this abandoned alignment with a guardrail and a faded Stop sign. One house is on this stretch of road north of Liberty Church Road, and its driveway is at the end of the road at the right.

Old SR 37

Facing southbound from that spot, the narrow road is concrete as far as the eye can see, and it lacks the 2-foot extensions on either side that were common north of Martinsville. What this road also lacks is expansion joints. That’s what makes this road segment distinctive. My research and experience says that Indiana laid its first concrete highways in the early 1920s but didn’t start adding expansion joints until after about 1925. When this road was built, it was a continuous concrete ribbon. With Indiana’s freeze/thaw cycles, the concrete cracked into this pattern.

Old SR 37
Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies USDA Farm Service. Map data ©2020 Google.

Sadly, this stretch of concrete is no more. When I-69 was completed here, an exit was built at Liberty Church Road. This map segment shows what happened to that strip of continuous concrete — it was replaced by an offramp. And sadly, south of Liberty Church Road this road was paved over with asphalt long ago.

I wish they could have saved this strip of concrete, as very little continuous concrete highway remains in Indiana. I know of only one other segment, on US 40 in Putnam County, Indiana. I show a photo of it deep in this post.

There is consolation, however. A 1935 concrete-arch bridge on this alignment was bypassed, and the old bridge left in place. The bridge was closed in 2013 because it failed inspection.

Imagery ©2020 IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies USDA Farm Service. Map data ©2020 Google.

But because the bridge was judged as Select on the state bridge inventory, it’s eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and as such can’t be destroyed without a lot of pesky paperwork and approvals. So a new bridge was built, the road realigned to it, and the old bridge and road left in place. In 2007, however, I drove right over it.

Bridge on Old SR 37

After crossing Liberty Church Road, the road is covered with asphalt (and seemed marginally wider) as it gently curves back toward current SR 37.

Old SR 37

Next: a beautiful, long old alignment that winds all the way to Bloomington.

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Road Trips

Old US 40/National Road alignment in Putnam County, Indiana

Let’s return to my 2006 road trip along US 40 and the National Road in western Indiana. The first old alignment as you head west from Indianapolis doesn’t come until you reach Putnam County. You’ll find it about a mile and a half west of US 231. If you reach Putnamville, you’ve missed it.

But first, a curiosity. Just before you reach this old alignment, you’ll find this odd strip of concrete by the side of the road. There’s another on the other side of the road. They used to be part of a truck weigh station. Today, posted signs warn drivers t stay off them.

Pull-off strip

The Historic National Road sign in the photo above points the way to this old alignment. It’s a little confusing to find if you’re following the road signs. On this 2006 image from Windows Live Maps, it’s marked as E CR 550 S. If you check Google Maps today, it’s marked as W CR 570 S. But the sign on the corner reads 35 E. And the sign where this alignment returns to US 40 says 25 W.

Many Indiana counties mark their roads based on distance from a centerline. A road marked N 200 W runs east-west 2 miles west of the east-west centerline, and north of the north-south centerline. A road marked E 500 S runs north-south 5 miles south of the north-south centerline, and east of the east-west centerline. This makes it easy for police, fire, and ambulance to find a location in an emergency. Old highway alignments like this one sometimes challenge this system a little.

Here’s where old US 40 branches off from the current highway on its east end.

Old US 40 alignment

Shortly after entering this old alignment, you cross Deer Creek over this bridge. It was built in 1925, before the US highway system. A state highway system existed; this was State Road 3. The bridge was peaceful. We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere — even though US 40 was 100 yards to our south, all we heard were the birds and the breeze. While the road was clearly maintained and used, we encountered no traffic while we explored it. We walked the bridge’s length and lingered here for a while.

Old US 40 alignment

On this 2006 road trip I shot film, and had to choose my subjects carefully so I wouldn’t run out of film before I finshed my trip. When I returned in 2009 I photographed this area more extensively with my new digital camera. Here’s a close-up of the bridge railing. This bridge’s deck is only 20 feet wide, very narrow by modern standards.

Old US 40

Before this bridge was built, an iron truss bridge carried National Road traffic across Deer Creek. I told its story here. This 1891 bridge still had lots of life in it, so it was floated along the stream and installed around the corner on S CR 25 E. Here’s a photo of it from 2010. That’s my road-trip friend Dawn getting ready to walk onto the deck.

Cooper Iron Bridge

I had heard that the old bridge crossed Deer Creek lay south of the 1925 bridge. On a December day in 2011 I happened to be driving US 40 back from Terre Haute and decided to follow this old alignment to see whether I could find evidence of the old bridge crossing. It’s always easier to find old road evidence when the leaves are off the trees. Glory be, I found it: the approach from the west, and the old stone abutment. I wrote about this in more detail here.

National Road path

Back to my 2009 photos. This old alignment is covered in asphalt east of the bridge, but west of the bridge the asphalt ends and the original 1920s concrete pavement emerges.

Former NR/US 40 alignment

Notice the expansion joints in this concrete: the one that runs down the center, and the lateral joints every so many feet. Expansion joints were a new idea in Indiana highway construction at about this time. Earlier concrete highways were just a continuous ribbon of concrete, and therefore cracked considerably as the concrete warmed in the summer and froze in the winter.

Former NR/US 40 alignment

And finally, back to my only other 2006 photo of this alignment, as it ends. The turnoff to US 40 was added when the new road was built in about 1941. The old concrete highway was truncated here.

Old US 40 alignment

Old alignments like this one are left behind largely to serve houses and businesses that remain when a new road is built nearby. These old alignments get little maintenance due to getting little traffic. That’s allowed this old concrete to look this fresh since being left behind.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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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_segment

You 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.

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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Coca-Cola plant

Coca-Cola Bottling Co.
Canon PowerShot S95
2015

Photography
Image
History, Road Trips

Improving the rutted National Road in Ohio

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.

I stumbled upon the Ohio Department of Transportation’s photo archive (which has since gone offline), 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.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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