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.
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.