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History of Dade City appears brick by brick

The city removes asphalt along Church Avenue to reveal a brick street with an old-time feel.

By CHASE SQUIRES

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001


DADE CITY -- Four short trips may turn into a very long journey for Dade City.

The city's director of public works, Ron Ferguson, told city officials in January that four people tripped and fell along Church Avenue during the annual Christmas stroll in holes where the asphalt paving had worn through to the old brick street underneath.

That sparked debate. Ferguson said he needed to either patch the holes or repave the street. The city's Historic Preservation Advisory Board wanted him to pull up the paving to expose the brick.

Ripping up decades of asphalt and restoring brick streets is a huge undertaking, Ferguson warned.

"We did not want to do it, I'll be honest with you," Ferguson said Friday. "With all the work that has to be done just on a daily basis, we did not think we could do it."

But they did.

With encouragement from the historic board and marching orders from the City Commission, Ferguson's crews tackled Church Avenue on April 12. A week later they had cleared the 2-inch layer of asphalt along three blocks, exposing a layer of bricks laid more than 70 years ago. The work has won praise from Mayor Scott Black, commissioners and historic board members.

It has also gone a lot better, and a lot faster, than it might have.

Brooksville has been working to expose its brick streets for years. The city dedicates about $5,000 a year for equipment, then brings in prison labor to help chip away the blacktop.

Sometimes the work is so slow, crews have to chisel the pavement up in 6-inch segments, according to Brooksville's public works director, Emory Pierce.

Brooksville has used water cannons, pneumatic chisels, huge pavement-grinding machines, hand labor and other methods over the years and there's still plenty to be done.

"It's absolute trial and error," Pierce said. "I don't have any quick and easy answers."

Even once the pavement is up, replacing damaged bricks is a difficult task, Pierce said. The last generation of professional brick-street experts has passed away, leaving newcomers to relearn the art.

It's a dirty, backbreaking job, Pierce said.

But the rewards are great, said Jean Ward, vice chairwoman of the city's historic board.

Ward, who lives along Church Avenue, points out that the street is the only street in the county designated a national historic site. The exposed brick harkens back to a different era, she said.

"There's a warmth, there's a friendliness, there's a closeness with the brick streets that is not there where there is asphalt," she said. "To me, the brick street makes the neighborhood feel more friendly."

Pat German, a local real estate agent and a member of the historic board was a leading proponent of the restoration. She said she was impressed with the speed Dade City's public works crews have proceeded. She also was impressed with the department's ingenuity at solving a problem they've never dealt with before.

Brock also lives along Church Avenue, with work going on in front of his home.

He said the rougher ride of the old bricks hasn't bothered him, and he's pleased with the historic look the bricks add to the neighborhood.

The bumpy ride, he said, may even slow traffic in the area and encourage heavier vehicles to use other routes.

Ferguson said there are other residential streets that have brick covered with asphalt, but he'll need more direction -- and more money -- from city commissioners before expanding the project citywide.

Volunteers recently tackled the job of repairing brick streets in the Tank Hill neighborhood, and a mixture of volunteers and city employees might be a good way to repair brick streets in other areas, City Commissioner Bill Dennis said.

City Manager Doug Drymon said the matter would likely come up at budget workshops next month.

Dennis, known for watching the bottom line closely, said he wouldn't object to paying for more of the work, but only if priorities are taken care of first.

Of course, brick streets aren't the answer everywhere, Brooksville Mayor Joe Johnston III said.

"You have to remember, there's a reason some of these brick streets were paved over years ago. There's dips and places where the brick has worn through or settled or washed out," he said.

"Still, I think people like to have the brick streets back. In Dade City, it would give them a nice, historic feel. Our towns are unique in Florida: we have a history."

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