SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — On the north edge of downtown Sioux Falls lies a pitted concrete lane, embedded with chucks of Sioux quartzite, jutting south off the intersection of North Drive and Walnut Ave.
To the north sits the State Penitentiary; to the south, a church; to the east, the drop-off of the bluff, with Phillips Ave. below.
This bit of road, little more than 400ft long, is nearly all that remains of what was the first concrete paved road laid by the South Dakota DOT, 100 years ago.
Then the Bureau of Public Roads, the S.D. DOT began construction on this stretch of pavement in October of 1923, finishing up in December.
Jason Reaves, executive director for the South Dakota chapter of the American Concrete Pavement Association (ACPA), explained more.
“This was a highway from the north edge of Sioux Falls all the way to Dell Rapids,” Reaves said. “It’s goal was to be a minimum of 18ft wide, where in the curves, it was 25ft wide.”
This, by today’s standards, is quite narrow, especially considering that this was not just any road, but a highway. “A standard roadway out on the highways now is typically 12ft lanes, so 24ft wide, and that doesn’t include the shoulders,” said Reaves.
On September 27, 2023, Reaves, on behalf of the ACPA, gathered together a small group of state and local officials to commemorate the 100th birthday of this roadway.
“In the mid-to-late 1910s there was very little hard surfacing in the state of South Dakota outside of a couple of the larger cities,” Reaves reflected. “The concrete mix was a simple 1:2:4 mix, meaning there was one part cement powder, two parts sand and four parts rock.”
Reaves highlighted the roadway’s achievements in resiliency and sustainability.
Mike Vehle, former state legislator and current member of the Transportation Commission, spoke following Reaves.
“It’s fun looking at a 100-year-old piece of concrete here that’s survived 100 years,” Vehle remarked. “Now, we take this concrete, when it’s done its time, we dig it up and we crush it and we use it as a base load. We’ve gone a long ways with how we use the concrete roadways.”
The road served the area for 12 years according to records from the Quartzite Rock Association (QRA), sourced by Reaves, until it was partially re-routed in 1935 for the construction of a new railway bridge.
In addition to being the first bit of highway paved by the DOT, Reaves dropped another little nugget of interest. “This actually was a small part of the “King of Trails Highway” that extended all the way from Winnipeg, Canada to the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.
The stretch of road in Sioux Falls was likely never actually part of the “King of Trails Highway”, aka Hwy 75, which did not actually pass through South Dakota. However, the QRA records provided by Reaves do state that the stretch was part of the original 1918 plan for the “King of Trails Highway,” but that “owing to war, the idea was abandoned and was changed to a gravel surface.”
Whether it was originally intended to be part of an international route or not, the fact remains that it was.
The little stretch of road is impressive for a few reasons. First is maintenance.
The QRA wrote that as of 1990, the road had never been overlaid, surviving what was then “66 years of traffic, summer heat, and freeze-thaw action with very little maintenance and no overlay.”
“Honestly, it looks like to me that the only maintenance that has been done to it is that they filled up the transverse cracks (those which run across the width of the road) with an asphalt type of material,” said Reaves. Otherwise, it certainly doesn’t look to me like it’s had any maintenance done to it in the 100 years it’s been here.”
The other reason the road is so impressive is that it’s here at all.
“The fact that it hasn’t been torn out,” said Reaves. “Usually you don’t see roads like this anywhere. They get torn out for development — or a new road like North Drive up here.
Indeed, this stretch of pavement seems to be in a unique place when it comes to its ability to stay undeveloped. It served as a highway, the access road to a trailer court, and now as the driveway to a church.
It’s unclear what its proximity to the penitentiary and the Smithfield pork plant may have had on its development value over the years.
The stretch leading to the Iglesia de Jesucristo church is not technically the only remaining piece of the roadway. Further up North Dr. is a little bit of road that juts out from the east side of the street, curving around a dilapidated fountain, the furthest east side of which is slowly crumbling as it settles on the edge of the bluff.
This too is thought to be a part of that original pavement. Today it is used as parking for the penitentiary.
Sitting just to the east of this smaller section of roadway is quiet little green space, surrounded by a low wall, containing a single bench and a small plaque before it; a South Dakota Civil Engineering Landmark.
This plaque was placed in 1990, commemorating the 1984 designation first concrete state highway in South Dakota.