Monday, May 18, 2015

The Hard Road

Since I am running out of inspiration to make enough posts about film cameras to keep this blog going I have decided to expand my subject to a wider range of vintage topics.

Back in 1923 voters in Champaign County Illinois approved a the selling of $2.5 million in bonds to build hard roads. The right-hand lane of the road above is one of the few remaining sections of the original pavement. Back then the idea was to connect all the towns of Champaign County with a nine foot wide concrete pavement. In all 173 miles of such roads were built in Champaign County between 1924 and 1928.  The pavement shown above is the last mile of a ten mile segment that connected Bongard Station to Pesotum.

The map is from some promotional info sent out to explain the bond issue. The red dots mark the section of the pavement that still exists. Bongard Station on the east end of the pavement never became a town. To this day the only thing there is a grain elevator. Pesotum on the other end also began as a station to gather products from local farmers for shipment on the Illinois Central. Today Pesotum is a town with a few hundred residents. Pesotum has managed to keep its depot in good shape.

The reason for only making one concrete lane was that they would get more road for the money. If you occasionally had to pull off to let another car by it would be made up for by being able to make most of your trip "out of the mud".
Today it is hard for most of us to understand how the phrase "getting out of the mud" could have so much appeal. We take for granted being able to travel on roads that are passable almost all the time. However before hard pavement travel could be almost impossible when roads were deep in mud.  And as the vote on the bond issue proved "getting out of the mud" was a popular idea. Not that there wasn't some opposition. Many farmers still used horses and the hard pavement was more difficult for horses. Also many small town merchants believed that they would lose business as people used the new roads to travel to larger towns.The section of road at Pesotum was connected to the larger road network by the new state route 45. And it is true that many people began to use that road to travel more frequently to the larger cities of Champaign and Urbana.

The pavement here is the way I remember the entire road being when I first saw it in the 1960's. By that time an asphalt lane had been added. Still people tended to drive on the concrete lane and would only use the asphalt lane when they had to yield.  The road was still called the "hard road" although by that time almost every road around had a hard surface.

The pavement has held up pretty well considering that it is now 90 years old. The rest of the section was rebuilt into a two-lane highway during the mid-1980's. To my knowledge this short section by Pesotum may be the last segment of the original hard road project in Champaign County that still exists. Up until the 1980's roads like this were still fairly common, however all of the ones that I knew of have since been replaced. Still Champaign County got nearly 60 years of useful pavement out of its investment. And this short segment by Pesotum is still doing well.