The Herald Bulletin

July 28, 2013

Jim Bailey: In the beginning, Anderson's streets were paved with bricks

By Jim Bailey
For The Herald Bulletin

---- — The most famous brick paving is in Speedway, Indiana, where a yard of bricks is all that remains visible in the most famous auto racing course in the world.

Bricks were the paving material of choice more than a century ago when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2 ½-mile circuit was completed. Indeed, most streets of the time where the first generation of automobiles could be expected to travel were paved with bricks, which combined smoothness, durability and resilience.

Anderson was no exception. Most of the inner-city streets in the Madison County seat had brick surfaces.

That was before concrete and asphalt paving offered cheap and smooth alternatives, resulting in either the replacement or cover-up of most of the millions of bricks that once honeycombed the streets and roads of the central city.

Back in the 1950s, Meridian and Main streets underwent major reconstruction. As the paving surfaces were dug up, not only was the original brick paving exposed but the discovery of trolley tracks brought to light for the first time in many years.

A few near-downtown streets remained brick-surfaced for years after that reconstruction. Now few of them are to be found. And those that do remain are interrupted at intersections with newer thoroughfares, in addition to spot paving on locations where repairs have been necessary.

Three streets in particular still exhibit vestiges of Anderson’s road-building past. Lincoln Street, going north from the site of old Anderson High School, still is largely brick-covered all the way from 14th Street to Ninth Street. Chase Street is still largely brick-covered from Fifth Street to 11th Street, the site of the old YWCA, although that block is at least temporarily closed and asphalt has covered at least part of the bricks. And one block of Delaware Street, from Fifth Street to Sixth Street, still has the original bricks. There may be others. Most of Delaware, of course, was reconstructed when it was made part of the Brown-Delaware thoroughfare.

In addition, several alleys in the area were originally brick-paved, many of the bricks remaining visible even though vegetation has grown up through the cracks.

Considerable comment on Facebook has taken place about the brick streets. City Councilman Russ Willis pointed out that Mayor Kevin Smith recently signed an executive order directing that all street paver bricks be stored at the city street department for use in restoration of brick streets as necessary.

Of course, there are some faux bricks in spots such as the Anderson University campus and some downtown crosswalks, mostly concrete imitations.

The sound of tires on brick streets creates a hum that differs markedly from asphalt or concrete. And with tiny gaps between the bricks, traction and speed are less than on the newer surfaces.

But progress often dims the way things used to be as things like brick streets fade into the bin of history.

 

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Wednesday. He can be reached by e-mail at jameshenrybailey@earthlink.net.