History of Street Paving Bricks

Posted on March 29, 2013 by Dave Spence | 0 comments


Some inventions, some foundations of our society are so fundamental, so common, so ''underfoot,'' that we often fail to understand their significance. Such is the case of the under-appreciated paving brick. Without the unsung paving bricks, some of our ancestors risked perishing in the mud and muck that were streets. Paving brick brought the end of mud, the end of dust, and the start of mobility, culture, and civilization to many small prairie towns. Paving bricks, well, ''paved the way'' for automobiles.

This is a very typical representation of why brick came into use for paving streets.

In a state of sand and wood, brick streets framed by granite curbstones exuded prosperity and urbanity. The abysmal state of unpaved city streets exasperated mayors and citizens.

``Main Street is a disgrace to a civilized community,'' complained The Morning Tribune in 1898. ``The odor arising from the filth and mud is simply terrific.''

At times, downtown resembled a lake. Referring to the intersection of two streets, the Tribune demanded in 1895, ``Either fill it up, dig a dam, or run a ferry boat!''

The story of paved streets emerges when details gleaned from news clippings of the period and a 1978 Tribune article are pieced together. Streets were a constant source of consternation.

Residents debated endlessly about how they should be paved. To the dismay of future archaeologists, early downtown streets were covered with shells - and occasionally skeletons - excavated from nearby Indian mounds.

Brick was the answer. But not just any brick. By 1900, technology had developed a type of paving brick that was cheap, impervious to water and nearly indestructible. Manufacturers created vitrified brick by heating kilns to such intense heat that the clay and minerals turned to liquid and then hardened when cooled.

The patent for laying brick pavement

The method of laying the first brick pavement in the U. S. was invented by Mr. M. Levi, a Charlestonian.  A piece of it was first laid on Summers Street in 1870 as an experiment. In 1873 the entire block was paved by this method and Mr. Levi was also the contractor. Dr. Hale, his business associate for many years here, financed the paving by public subscription. 

The original patent for the paving method invented by M. Levi is in the possession of a grand-daughter of Mr. Levi, Mrs. Robert Cassady of Charleston. It bears the official seal of the U. S. Patent Office In Washington, D. C. and is signed by the Assistant Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioner of Patents. It "grants" to Mordecai Levi and his heirs or assigns for the term of seventeen years from the twenty-third day of April, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine, "the exclusive right to make, use, and vend the said invention throughout the United States and the Territories thereof."  The patent number is 401.752.

There were literally thousands of brick companies that sprang up in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Consequently millions of bricks were made to pave thousands upon thousands of miles of streets throughout the United States.  Now, these beautiful pieces of history can be part of your history through Antique Brick Warehouse.




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