Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Letter to the Editor: Brick Sidewalks

                This weekend I noticed the removal of the old brick sidewalks along the south side of High street. It reminded me of how those sidewalks came to be when one man took the initiative to give Baldwin’s pedestrians safe and lasting walkways. Previously sidewalks, where there were any, were of wood that would soon rot or give way.
                Then came a young man named William Melvin Clark, who came to Baldwin at the age of 14 with his parents who were intent on their children having a good education. Young William attended Baker Academy and graduated from Baker University in 1895 where he had trained to be a teacher. But fate wouldn’t take him in that direction when the Baldwin State Bank recruited him for a clerk position.
                While working at the bank, Clark became concerned about the wooden sidewalks that the City had ordered built in certain areas as early as May, 1885. They were made of pine planking, usually 1-inch planks in the residential areas and 2-inch in downtown. In March, 1891, Sidewalk Ordinance #41 had ordered the construction of sidewalks commencing at 6th & High, north to Dearborn and east side of Sixth Street, then along north side of Dearborn west to Eighth street, and then south to High street. From there the walk was to extend west to Baldwin’s west city limits on the north side of High. The walks along the south side of High from downtown to the depot were installed in September, 1903.
                The pine sidewalks had become deteriorated and unsafe. So, in 1906, Clark decided to replace the wooden walkways with red brick that would provide a much better alternative than the wood or having to walk in the then dirt streets. The downtown business district sidewalks were bricked. He then contracted with homeowners throughout Baldwin to install brick sidewalks along their properties. In October Clark’s first order for 30,000 bricks arrived at the depot in West Baldwin. More were ordered as additional sidewalks were contracted. His endeavors were so successful that about 75 percent of the sidewalks in Baldwin were brick laid with Clark as the contractor.
                The brick sidewalks in downtown were replaced with concrete walks in 1938. A mile and a half of concrete walks were laid. Replacement of residential brick walks where property owners had contracted for them were installed in 1940 as a WPA project. The bricks taken up were then used to construct the30x100 foot city building at 7th and Indiana, site of the old Presbyterian Church, in September, 1940. Some of the brick sidewalks now being replaced may have been in service for over 100 years.

Loren K. Litteer
Baldwin City, KS

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