Historically Speaking: Dodge City history is under our feet

Kathie Bell
Dodge City's miles of brick streets were constructed between 1912 and 1925

One of Dodge City's most historic features lies under our feet or, more precisely, under our tires. 

This feature is Dodge City's miles of brick streets constructed between 1912 and 1925. 

Only the downtown brick streets are on the local register of historic places. In 1982, a city ordinance was enacted to protect the historic streets. 

These historic streets are in area bounded by Cedar Street on the north, Avenue B on the east, Front Street on the south and ending at, but excluding, Third Avenue on the west. 

Built around 1916 when W.E. Baldry was city engineer, strict guidelines are in place regarding their repair and reconstruction ensuring their preservation. 

There are more brick streets outside the protected zone, but their preservation is not guaranteed. 

Dodge City's brick streets aren't among the oldest in America. Bricks were first used for paving in 1870 in Charleston, South Carolina. This was well before the invention of the automobile. By 1900, this practice was widespread. 

There is a difference between structural or facing bricks, which are used in buildings, and bricks used for paving. Those used for streets are much bigger, more durable and, at 10 pounds, heavier than facing bricks. 

In street construction, two-inch-thick paving bricks overlay six inches of concrete. A one-inch cushioning bed of sand lies in between the brick and concrete. 

One hundred years ago, bricks were sealed with roof tar or asphalt to fill the joints. This left the street looking like today's asphalt streets. In most cases, traffic has worn off the asphalt, exposing the bricks. 

Today, rather than covering the bricks over, workers fill the joints with a mixture of fine sand and cement. The cement initially gives the streets a grayish cast which wears off quickly. 

At intersections, a cross-diagonal weave design prevents heavy vehicles from tearing up the streets when making turns. 

Brick streets hold up well and aren't subject to potholes, but they don't handle snowplows well. Their biggest drawback is that when brick streets have to be dug up for repairs or to fix underlying infrastructure, replacement can be tedious. 

Since the majority of Dodge City's brick streets are not protected, from time to time brick streets are converted to concrete or asphalt. Recently, many of the bricks were removed from Central and First Avenues north of the downtown. The city retains ownership bricks that are removed and reuse them in building sidewalks, accenting landscape and for construction of other city projects. Somehow a few of Dodge City's street bricks have ended up in businesses and private residences. 

In the last few decades brick streets have made a minor comeback in the U.S. as more cities and individuals have worked to preserve and restore their past.