One of the most recognizable landmarks of downtown Minden is Main Street with its bricks. We often like to mention Minden’s brick streets, but as was pointed out to me by a relative newcomer, we now only have a single brick street.
The bricks were, of course, removed from Broadway (or Back Street) during the 1970s so the plural usage is now incorrect. In today’s Echo we will look at the history of the bricks on Main Street.
The brick paving of Minden’s streets was part of a series of civic improvements carried out by the town government and local businessmen in the years between 1916 and 1918. The first step in this campaign was to have the downtown section of Minden curbed and guttered. The dirt streets in Minden had become a severe drainage problem. According to the Webster Signal of January 26, 1917, the Board of Aldermen of Minden first addressed the situation at their meeting of December 4, 1916. Aldermen at that time were: J. S. Maxwell, Connell Fort, W. L. Winchester, George S. Carroll and W. C. Fields (not that W. C. Fields). Matt W. Lowe was serving as Minden’s mayor. At that December meeting the Board authorized the Streets Committee, chaired by Connell Fort, to get estimates for curbing Main Street through the business district. In addition to this step, the board approved the construction of a concrete bridge over the branch on Pine Street “on the way to the bottling works” (just past the present intersection of College and Pine). Work progressed slowly on this project as at the Aldermen’s meeting of February 5, 1917, the Streets Committee reported that estimates on the cost of the project were not yet complete. When the Board of Aldermen reconvened on March 5, the Town Attorney was instructed to draw up an ordinance to begin work on the curb and guttering process.
However, public opinion among civic leaders was moving at a faster pace than the board’s progress and soon even more energetic planning for street improvement was underway.
The Webster Signal of April 6, 1917, (the same day the President Wilson delivered his message to Congress calling on the United States to enter World War I) contained two articles dealing with problems relating to the streets in Minden. The first was written by Editor Thomas W. Fuller of the Signal. Fuller called for stricter enforcement of the automobile speed limits in the town of Minden. He cited safety as a major reason, but included among his arguments the problems created by dust. The passing of speeding cars through the dirt streets in the downtown area was causing excessive dust to be thrown on local businesses and shoppers. Fuller hoped town leaders would respond to his complaints. Apparently he had previously voiced this opinion to the proper sources because the same paper contained a warning from Town Marshall J. F. Maddry. The Marshall announced a stricter enforcement of the speed limit, which was being ignored, particularly by “’jitney’ operators and young men.” Maddry reminded motorists that the speed limit in Minden was 15 miles per hour, except in downtown, where it was 8 miles per hour. Violators could expect to face charges.
On May 8, 1917, the Board of Aldermen made a formal call for bids to curb both sides of Main Street from Chaffe’s Drug Store on the corner of Pine and Main, eastward to Will Fuller’s Garage, at the corner of Murrell and Main. When the curb and guttering process was completed the street would be covered with Monroe gravel, donated to the town by Thomas Crichton. Even in those days bureaucracy apparently slowed down public works. The bid opening, which was slated for May 23, did not actually occur until August 7, 1917.
In the interim, the problem of dust was becoming more and more severe. The dry weather of that summer was making the dust clouds in town a major nuisance. In the Signal of June 22, Fuller called for the town to purchase a street sprinkler to west down the streets and prevent the clouds of dust that were such a health hazard.
Even as the street project lagged, the appearance of downtown Minden was beginning to change. The Signal of August 3, mentioned some of these changes. The new Federal Post Office, valued at $50,000 was being completed at the corner of Main and Union (today’s site of Capitol One Bank.) This was Minden’s first official post office building, as previously space had been rented by the Post Office Department in private businesses.
On the eastern end of downtown, W. R. Fogle had begun construction of a new Ford Garage on two vacant lots next to Chaffe’s blacksmith shop. The building he erected would eventually serve as home to local Ford dealers from 1917 until 1972, and every Minden Ford dealer, including the present J. C. Johnson Ford, Inc. was at one time housed in that building. Today the location is the quick care clinic of the Minden Medical Center.. Next door to the Fogle Garage, Will T. Fuller had torn down his wooden garage and was building a concrete block structure that was torn down a few years ago.
In other parts of downtown, Webb Hardware and Furniture was building a large new warehouse, on the corner West Union and Green Street, where today the Willis-Knighton Heart Center is located. On Broadway, adjacent to the Town Park, Joe R. Miller was renovating and modernizing his antebellum home. Today the home still stands behind the Webster Parish Courthouse and was the home of Mr. Miller’s daughter, Roy Miller Inabnett until her death a few years ago. In addition to announcing all of these developments, that issue of the Signal reported that the contract for curbing and guttering the streets of downtown had been awarded to the Rockbridge Construction Company of Shreveport.
In the spirit of progress, town leaders began to think of other improvements that could be made. A petition was circulated calling for a more drastic street improvement program. Since placing gravel on the streets would only be a temporary solution, this petition suggested that property owners be requested to pay for paving the street in front of their property from the curb to the middle of the street. The town would pay for the cost of paving the intersections and the problem of quality streets would be solved for a much longer period. (Although I wonder if anyone expected the bricks to still be in use 101 years later.)
In the Signal of September 4, 1917, local physician Dr. Luther Longino wrote a letter to the public. He proposed that now was the time for paving. The cost would never be lower. He felt that the only question to be resolved was what type of surface should be used and how the paving should be funded. Longino felt that brick paving was the best answer, for, despite their high initial costs, the bricks would prove cheaper in the long run since they would last for years. (Perhaps Dr. Longino did expect them to be in use 100 years later.) He cited the support of local merchants and property owners to pay part of the costs. Additionally, he pointed out that by law the city could go ahead and pave the streets and bill the property owners for two-thirds of the cost.
At their meeting on September 4, 1917, the Board of Aldermen received the petition from the citizens. It had been signed by over half of the property owners in the downtown area. In response, the board approved a resolution to receive bids for paving the section of Main Street that was currently being curbed and guttered. The new street would be constructed from paving bricks, placed on a “proper” foundation. This project moved forward much more quickly, spurred by public impetus. On October 2, 1917, bids were let on the project. The job was awarded to Kennedy & Olsen Construction of Kansas City, Missouri. They were the lowest of three bidders for a job. The specifications requiring paving bricks set in cement on a concrete foundation. Under terms of the contract, the job was to begin immediately and was to be finished by January 1, 1918.
While the paving project was underway, civic-minded residents began another project to modernize downtown Minden. A committee was formed to secure street lighting for the newly constructed Main Street. The members of that committee were: A. D. Turner, Chairman; Arthur F. Dupuy, Treasurer; J. B. Flewellyn, A. M. Hough, A. B. Moreland, and Dr. S. M. Richardson. In the Signal of November 17, the committee announced that adequate funds had been raised to purchase 20 lights and poles to place in the area from Fuller’s Garage to Chaffe’s Drugstore. Additional funds were to be raised to purchase poles and lights to cover the area from Chaffe’s to the L & A Railroad Depot. Work was planned to being immediately. As soon as sections of the street were paved, poles would be put into place. The lights and underground cable wiring would be installed as soon as the entire street was paved. The streetlights would be placed on alternate sides of the street, with the installation paid for by the town. After installation the system would become town property.
Bad weather delayed the street paving beyond the original January 1, 1918 deadline. However, by February 15, 1918, work was nearing completion. On that night, another group of citizens approached the Board of Aldermen with a proposal. These citizens requested that funds be appropriate to continue the paving project on from Pine Street to the L & A Depot. The leaders of this group were Dr. Longino, B. F. Griffith, J. R. Miller, W. R. Fogle, J. M. Miller, T. W. Fuller and W. B. Wiley. Citing the presence of the contractors in town with equipment and adequate supplies on hand, the men pleaded with the Board to continue the project and allow another combination of public and private funding to pay the cost of continued construction. In a prophetic note, Longino, speaking for the committee, warned that if the town didn’t take action now, it might well be years before any other steps would be taken to improve local streets. The Board appointed a committee to study the plan.
While that paving project was being considered, on the other end of downtown another extension was requested.
Representatives of the First Methodist Church, upon seeing how well Kennedy & Olsen had done the job in the rest of downtown, came before the Board of Aldermen and requested that the bricks be extended for another block, paving the area in front of the church and its parsonage. The city was unable to fund this request but a compromise was reached between the town and the church, with the assistance of the Crichton family, which also owned property in that block.
The city agreed that if the church would allow the extension of the street to be made on gravel, rather than concrete, the plan would be considered. The Crichton family agreed to provide the gravel for the base and the church accepted the modified plan. Two-thirds of the cost of this extension was paid by the city while the church paid for the other one-third. So from 1918 until the bricks were removed and put back into place during the 1990s, that one block of downtown was on a gravel foundation, rather than a concrete base.
By May of 1918, no action had been taken on the request to extend the bricks to the L & A Depot. Two events in that month killed the chances of that ever happening. First, the contractors removed the equipment, as the city had shown no inclination to moving ahead with the added paving. The second event came on the evening of May 25, 1918, when a devastating fire destroyed Minden’s largest industry, the Minden Lumber Mill of the Bodcau Lumber Company. For the next few years, Minden’s economy languished and few civic improvements were undertaken. Perhaps the only one of any note was the construction of the town power plant to provide electricity for Minden. Prior to the fire, the power plant of the Minden Mill also provided electricity for the town. After the mill was destroyed, Minden was literally “in the dark” for the part of that summer of 1918, until an emergency power apparatus could be set up in August 1918.
The notion to pave Main Street on to the depot was never fulfilled. Proving Dr. Longino’s prediction true no further bricks were added to Minden’s streets for nearly seven years. Finally, in 1925, brick streets were added to Broadway (Back Street), but by then it was felt that placing paving bricks all the way to the Depot was no longer practical.
So the era of building brick streets in Minden ended.
For the next 50 years Minden retained its two brick streets. However, on July 9, 1975, the bricks on Broadway were removed, as part of what the Minden Press-Herald called the “brick street compromise.” When Mayor Pat Patterson first announced that plans were being made to overlay Broadway, City Hall was bombarded with complaints that the bricks should not be covered up. So, in a compromise, Patterson and Streets and Parks Commissioner Jack Batton announced that the bricks would be removed, cleaned and stored. A short time later plans were made to construct a bandstand or gazebo in Jacqueline Park, to somewhat replace the much beloved wooden bandstand that stood in City Park from 1908 until the construction of the Webster Parish Courthouse on its present site in 1952. The bricks from Broadway were used to build the present gazebo and the brick sidewalks and flowerbeds in Jacqueline Park as part of a project celebrating our nation’s bicentennial. So that’s the story of one of the first things mentioned in any discussion of downtown Minden, the brick street.
Minden Historian John Agan’s column appears Tuesdays in the Minden Press-Herald.