Brick by Brick: New York Street project uncovers and restores a piece of Lawrence history

Block by block, between 1960 and 1976, the historic bricks of New York Street, in one of Lawrence’s oldest neighborhoods, were paved over with asphalt.

“It was the convenient thing to do back then,” said David Cronin of the Public Works Department, noting that the ’60s and ’70s weren’t generally a good time for maintaining ties to the past.

“Now, people see the value in historic preservation,” said Cronin, the engineer on a project to restore the brick surface of the east Lawrence street.

Here’s a snapshot of the months-long project as it moves into its final phase.

How many blocks are being rebuilt?

Three: 900, 1000 and 1100 blocks of New York Street. This includes four intersections: Ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th.

Three blocks of brick are being rebuilt on New York Street. The months-long project will use about 430,000 bricks.

How many bricks are being used?

About 430,000.

Each brick is generally 8 inches long, 3.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches thick, though irregularities are common and complicate the rebuilding process. The bricks are not laid flat on the street, but on their sides.

Where do the bricks come from?

They are salvaged from the original street. The bricks are 100 years old, having first been laid in 1909-1910. The original street had two layers of bricks. The new street will have only one layer.

What’s the process?

The original street was entirely removed, down to a dirt bed. The bricks were separated from the asphalt that had been laid over them. Then crews rebuilt the street from the ground up, starting with 9 inches of fly-ash-treated subgrade, 7 inches of asphalt base, 1 inch of sand and one course of salvaged brick (3.5 inches).

Why do the intersections look different?

The bricks in the intersection are laid in a herringbone pattern, while the street is a running bond pattern. The herringbone pattern, with bricks on the diagonal, can better accommodate the force exerted by turning cars.

When is the project expected to be finished?

Late October or early November. Two-thirds of the project is complete now.

How much did the project cost?

$576,842 was the contract price. All the money came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the federal stimulus program. A new stone curb — instead of concrete — will be installed in the 1100 block that will add another $18,000 to the price. The stone was requested by the neighborhood to replace the crumbling historic stone already there.

How many jobs were created or maintained?

The project has provided work to about 50 people.

How many brick streets are in Lawrence?

The city has 24 miles of brick streets, but only about 3.5 miles of exposed brick. The rest are paved over.

What are the advantages to brick as a material?

Brick is a natural traffic-calming device. One of the reasons this street was chosen is because it is in front of New York School. Brick streets don’t get potholes like paved streets; generally there is less maintenance. They are also a good fit aesthetically for historic neighborhoods.

Were any interesting discoveries made while excavating the old street layers?

All the bricks are different shapes and sizes. Most of the brick on this project has the “Lawrence, Kansas” stamp. The Ohio Street project (of 2008) did not have that many stamped. Some streets were originally built with the bricks mortared together; some just have sand between them. The original streets were built with a parabolic crown, meaning the closer you get to the curb the more the elevation drops. Maybe this was to facilitate/hold drainage from when horses were used for transportation.

Source: David P. Cronin, project engineer, Public Works Department