Did you know that Michigan Road, Indiana’s first “super highway” which passed through Clinton County from Madison to Michigan City, was constructed in the 1830s and 1840s. Like the National Road, which was built between 1811 and 1837 and crossed central Indiana from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandala, illinois, Michigan Road helped encourage both settlement and economic growth across the new state.
While Michigan Road was a state project, local officials were eventually called upon to oversee the work in their counties. That project then spurred on other local and state road projects in Clinton County, including the 1835 commission of state roads leading from Michigantown to Andersontown (in Madison County) and from Lafayette to Michigan Road. In 1836, another state road was commissioned, this one leading from Michigantown and intersecting the Frankfort and Lafayette state road. Additional roads were planned and built in the next few years, connecting Clinton County to the cities of Wabash, Crawfordsville, and Delphi.
Originally, the roads in Clinton County were little more than mud paths which were often nearly impassable. According to The History of Clinton County, the adhesive, sticky mud of Clinton County’s prairies “clung to the wheels of the vehicles,” and in the level parts of the county, there was standing water most of the year. Eventually, the thruways were “planked” with timber. Roads from Tipton to Berlin, from Cicero to Kirklin, from Frankfort to Lafayette, and from Delphi to Frankfort all were partially planked during the middle of the 19th century.
By 1870, however, planking was being replaced by grading and graveling, or in some cases, the innovative paving process of macadam, where chipped rock and sand were laid and packed along the roadbed. Developed by Scottish engineer John McAdam in the early 19th century, the macadam method continues at the heart of today’s paving technologies.
By 1880, more than $1 million dollars had been spent to gravel or macadamize 90 percent of Clinton County’s 1,000 miles of roads, at an approximate cost of $1,200 per mile. From there, the county could maintain the roads for about $55 per mile annually for the next several years.
As early as 1913, roads in Clinton County were being “paved” with bricks, and within the decade, newer paving materials, like asphalt and concrete, were being used on state and federal highways and eventually on county roads and city streets.
While this summer has a busy season of road repair and repaving in Clinton County, we can be thankful that we aren’t driving through the mud, planks, and gravel of our ancestors.
Originally published at Clinton County Daily News on August 20, 2016.