Friday, January 8, 2010

1937 Road Surfaces

This is pretty neat. I got aholt of a "Street Surface Survey" from 1937, showing the 7 different road surfacing surfaces then in use in downtown streets. The 4-page survey has a list of all the streets within the city limits. For each street, the surveyors noted how many feet of which material was used. Most streets had more than one material.

So Dusty D got out her lovely Berol colored pencils, color-coded the material categories, scanned and cropped a map, and contentedly colored all evening. Er, for research! Research! While admiring the French names, printed in gold, on the pencils: vert pre, bleu ciel, lavande, ocre orange, brun dore.

METHODOLOGY: The streets with only one material were easy. I went through and did those first and they are the vast majority of streets on my colored map. I only did a few multi-material streets--only when I could make a good and supported guess where each material was on the road. If I couldn't, I just left it blank.

INTERESTING BITS: As you can see, downtown Ypsi had a heart of gold. Gold signifies brick pavement. You can still see a tiny remnant of this brick on the east side of Huron just south of City Hall. Look at the sidewalk. The brick sidewalk is well over 70 years old.

Another interesting bit comes out of the materials totals for the whole city. As measured in miles, they were:

BRICK: 1.13
ROAD MIX: 2.78
GRAVEL: 11.80
UNIMPROVED: 3.40 (48.78 miles of road all told--stretched out, it could reach Toledo)

Road Mix is a technique of roadmaking whereby existing gravel is scraped up, mixed with tar or bitumen, and reapplied to the road surface. Sometimes new gravel is used to mix in.

Another item of note is that the materials as listed in the survey are a hierarchy. BRICK is the absolute best and most expensive, and UNIMPROVED obviously the worst.

Yet another item of note (we could talk about this all day, couldn't we? Sure!) is that the most common form of road surfacing in 1937 is Dust Layer. This is basically a dirt road sprayed with a thick oil to control dust. There were quite a few City Council meetings back then involving wrangles over where to oil the roads and who gets to have oiled roads, and one meeting when one councilman was accused of oiling the road his house was on, at the expense of needier roads.

Wouldn't it be nice though completely impractical to restore Ypsilanti's beautiful brick-paved heart? Bet you dollars to doughnuts all those bricks are atill right under there, just waiting for a brighter economic climate. They've likely been preserved quite well. Not all the brickage is on the map, due to the aforementioned problem of multi-material streets. And I put a dotted gold line on Washington between Michigan Ave and Ferris--that seems like the logical choice, and I know Washington had one more block of brick, but I wasn't sure if it were north or south of the brick Peal-Michigan ave. section.

So if you were driving around town in the late Depression, you faced a constant kaleidoscope of ever-shifting road surfaces in a system cobbled (heh) together since the town's beginnings.

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