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Follow the red brick road: Denison forms committee to protect brick streets

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Until 2016, Chestnut Street was paved with characteristic red bricks. These were replaced by modern concrete pavement as a part of utility work on the road. Now, city officials are looking for ways to preserve the city's remaining brick roads.

For over a century, one of the telltale signs one was in downtown Denison was it's characteristic brick roads. While the heyday of these streets has long since passed, city leaders are looking for a way to preserve this part of the city's history.

The city of Denison announced recently that it is forming a committee to develop policy to preserve and protect the remaining brick roads in down.

The creation of the committee comes as recent and upcoming street projects have removed portions of the roadway and replaced them with modern asphalt and concrete roads.

"Each time we have to remove any bricks it's unfortunate for the historic sense of it," Main Street Director Donna Dow said. "So the Main Street Advisory Board is working to address that."

Denison's History as a brick road town

Many of the brick roads in Denison were first installed in 1907, with the first section placed between the railroad tracks and Mirick Avenue. Soon after, Main Street and Woodard were also paved in the characteristic redbrick.

At the time, newspapers including The Dallas Morning News reported  that Denison was one of the first Texas cities to focus on street improvements. Only about 3,250 feed of brick roads remain in Denison today.

Some of the road exists under the current road surface, Dow said.

The Main Street Board talks were spurred in part by a recent survey that found that the streets were an important feature to downtown stakeholders. 

"It just gives that historic feel and character to downtown; In our case, it supplements the buildings," Dow said. "If you ask people what they enjoy about downtown, it is the historic character. Not everyone can claim that, so we want to protect and highlight that."

John Akers sorts through bricks harvested from Denison's Chestnut Street, pulling out the damaged ones in 2016. The city is looking for ways to preserve its remaining brick roads.

Recent losses of brick roads

The survey also comes as a portion of the bricks are scheduled to be removed on Houston Street as a part of the Designing Downtown Denison project. City crews currently plan to used some of the bricks in a decorative intersection of the D3 project.

A major section of brick road roadway was removed four years ago during work on Chestnut Street. The majority of the street was brought up to modern standards as a part of infrastructure improvements under the road.

Over the years, the street had to be cut open  multiple times for water and sewer repairs. As a result the surface of the road had become a mishmash of bricks, concrete and asphalt from the series of cuts. This also affected the integrity of the roadway.

Dow attributed the decision to pave Chestnut to speed and the need to move forward.

"They couldn't find a solution and had to move forward," Dow said. "This is an attempt to find a solution when we do not have that urgent need."

At the time, other city officials attributed the decision to the cost — likely more than $3 million. 

"All things yield to the budget and this is what we can afford," then Development Services Director Gabe Reaume said in 2016.

Protecting what is left

The committee, will look for ways to protect and maintain the brick roads for years to come. Currently, the committee will feature downtown stakeholders, city staff and leaders, including Mayor Janet Gott and Council Member  Brian Hander.

"My goal is to bring awareness to our brick streets and how they help us tell our story. I want to find a path forward to hopefully preserve these assets while using taxpayer money wisely. Going in with an open mind is key for this committee and Ilook forward to the ideas all will bring to the table," Hander said.

One difference between 2016 and 2021 is that the city now has a resource to potentially fund  these projects. 

Since the Chestnut rebuild, Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone #3 has been established over much of downtown Denison. The zone allows a portion of property taxes within the zone to be set aside specifically for projects with it.

However, this could require the city to reassess the time frame for other downtown projects that utilize these funds — namely D3.

Dow acknowledged that there may not be a solution that is acceptable or within the city's means. However,  city officials will never know unless they take the effort to research and look into the options.

"We don't know the answer, we don't know if we will be able to save the rest of the brick streets," Dow said. "But at least by the time the rest of the committee completes its work we will have an answer that will bring finality and let us know if we can afford it or if we can't."