The Lincoln Highway was the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway, cobbled together out of local roads across 14 states. It begins in New York City and ends in San Francisco. It passes through northern Indiana along the way.
In northeastern Indiana, for the most part the Lincoln Highway became US 33. A few old alignments lurk here and there. Only one of them that I know of is paved in brick. You’ll find it just south of Ligonier. If you’re curious, you can see it mapped here.
This is a short segment of road, about two tenths of a mile. It was left behind when US 33 was realigned here to eliminate a fairly sharp curve. That’s what makes this segment so interesting. To make this road curve, the roadbuilders had to change the bricks’ pattern.
I’ve seen gently curving brick roads where the pattern remains consistent. I assume the space between the bricks increases slightly along the radius of the curve. But on a sharp curve, there’s little to do but create a joint like this.
New Carlisle is a cheerful Indiana small town about 15 miles west of South Bend on a triply historic road: US 20, the longest US highway; the Lincoln Highway, our nation’s first coast-to-coast road; and the Michigan Road, which has linked the Ohio River to Lake Michigan since the 1830s. The town has been there since 1835, not long after the road was built.
As you enter New Carlisle from the east, you take a tight S curve under a railroad bridge and along a retaining wall that greets you cheerfully.
Until 1926 the road ran straight, crossing the tracks at a dangerous angle that was the scene of many accidents. Four rail lines passed through: two owned by the New York Central Railroad; one by the Chicago, South Bend, and Northern Indiana Railway; and one by the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad. The South Shore tracks were a few feet lower than the New York Central tracks, making for an uneven crossing and increasing motorists’ challenge.
Negotiations with the railroads to build a viaduct and reroute the road for safer passage dragged on for several years but kicked into high gear when New Carlisle passed an ordinance limiting trains to eight miles per hour. That got the railroads’ attention. Terms were worked out, the bridge was built, and the road was curved.
After you negotiate that curve, New Carlisle unfolds before you, tidy and cheerful. Little has changed, at least cosmetically, in this town since before World War II. Check out this mural of the town as it was in about 1941, painted on the side of one of downtown’s buildings.
Downtown New Carlisle has changed little since those days! You’ll have to take my word for it to some extent, as I made these photographs in 2008. Margaret and I drove through on our late-December Michigan Road trip, but heavy rain made it a poor day for photography. But we could see it: New Carlisle still looks very much like this.
I’m always curious why some small Indiana towns remain well-maintained and others don’t. Money obviously makes the difference. But where does New Carlisle’s come from? There’s no real industry here, to speak of. It’s too far away from Chicago to be a commuter town. I suppose many residents commute to South Bend to work; is that enough?
Regardless, everywhere you look in New Carlisle’ downtown, the buildings are in good condition. Something must be going right here — unlike so many Indiana towns of similar size, New Carlisle is growing. Its population remained flat at about 1,400 for several decades, but between 2000 and 2010 it swelled to over 1,800.
As you keep heading west you soon leave the downtown area and pass many lovely older homes.
This church is right on Michigan Street. The sign says, “God wants spiritual fruits, not religious nuts.”
Memorial Park is on Michigan Street, too. It’s a lovely spot to rest on a lovely street in a lovely town.
I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.
The Lincoln Highway is on my old-road bucket list. The 1913 coast-to-coast highway cuts two major alignments across Indiana. I’ve driven parts of it, especially the entire portion from South Bend to the Illinois line, but have never stopped to photograph anything along it. This Lincoln Highway visit was a minor exception. Margaret and I had a whole day to ourselves after our trip to Auburn and were just looking for a pleasant day together. There’s a well-known bypassed brick section of the Lincoln Highway near Ligonier, which was just 30 miles away. So we spent part of our day on the Lincoln.
The 1913 alignment as it heads northwest from Fort Wayne is mostly US 33 today. A few old alignments lurk about as US 33 was rerouted in improvements over the years.
This is probably the best-known old alignment along the 1913 Lincoln Highway route, if for no other reason that it’s the last brick pavement still serving on it.
As you can see on the map snippet, this was a pretty wicked curve. That’s where the township line runs, and the road was routed along it. Roads were also typically routed along farm property lines in those days. It made for a lot of awkward curves. Highway departments everywhere spent much of the 20th century smoothing out such curves for safety. That frequently left the older alignment behind so that homeowners could still reach their properties.
When I first heard of this alignment many years ago, a short section of brick remained on the west side of US 33 where you see that little clearing on the map. Those bricks, which served no practical purpose, are gone now. Too bad.
This northbound photo is from the north end of the old alignment, where it flows into modern US 30.
Incredibly, while researching these bricks I found a 1924 photograph of the brick road taken near this curve. I haven’t been able to confirm when these bricks were laid, but clearly it was no later than 1924. Most other Indiana brick highways I’ve encountered were laid in the 1910s.
Returning to today, here’s where the road curves as it heads south. The Lincoln Highway is an east-west road overall, but this segment lies along a brief north-south section.
I’ve seen a lot of old brick roads in my travels, but have never seen a curve constructed like this one. In both directions leading toward the curve’s center, the bricks were laid in parallel rows that edged along the curve’s radius. Where they met in the middle, a 45-degree cut was made.
Another thing I’ve never seen before is a brick gutter. And notice how the bricks are mortared. I’ve found few mortared brick roads in my midwestern old-road travels — most of the time, the bricks are tightly packed without mortar. These three features alone make this road segment worth preserving.
Here’s a view of the gutter from the other direction.
Given how the “old” looks hastily added, I wondered as I shot this whether this mailbox predates the realignment. Probably not: my research suggests that the Lincoln was realigned here as early as the late 1920s. I doubt this mailbox is pushing 90 years old!
Here’s the south end of the old brick road, which is about 800 feet long. Margaret was busy exploring too. She’s a good sport: old cars all day Saturday and old roads all day Sunday.
These Lincoln Highway markers are said to be a recent addition, but they don’t look to be rust resistant.
This is the only surviving brick segment of the Lincoln Highway in Indiana. I know of a 2-mile brick segment near East Canton, Ohio, and a 2.8-mile stretch near Elkhorn, Nebraska, said to be the longest along the entire route. There may be others. It’d be fun to find them all.
During my Michigan Road trip last weekend I passed through South Bend, where the north-south road becomes east-west. It enters from the south on Michigan St., turns west downtown at LaSalle Ave, and after a block and a half curves onto Michigan Ave. on its way to Michigan City. Well, at least that street was originally called Michigan Ave. Carl Fisher’s efforts put it on the Lincoln Highway and gave it its current and more famous name, Lincoln Way West. This is an old part of town, as the brick cross streets testify. The building in the photo below, Lincolnway Foods, was originally an A&P store; both my mother’s and father’s families shopped here in the 1950s. It has been an independent grocery since 1980 and still a busy place as I had to wait for several customers to enter or exit before I could take a clean photo.
This store burned down Friday morning. These photos are stills from WSBT-TV’s coverage.
The roof is said to have caved in, which caused an exterior wall to collapse. One firefighter was injured when the wall fell on him; another firefighter was also injured fighting the fire. The fire is said to have leveled the building.
It’s not like this building was a historic landmark. And judging by comments left by readers of the South Bend Tribune‘s article on the fire (which I’m not going to link because it will go behind a pay wall in a few days and you won’t be able to read it anyway), the store was not known for cleanliness or neatly stocked shelves. But this grocery in all its incarnations has been a fixture in this neighborhood for decades, and it’s sad to see it destroyed.