No one knew Greenwood was going to be paved, and one day the asphalt trucks showed up and paved it. The next day when they came back to do Woodlawn, a group of neighborhood women sat in their lawn chairs, preventing the heavy equipment from coming in and paving until it could be stopped. Eventually, when the asphalt was stripped back off of Greenwood, women prisoners turned bricks by hand to hide the damage done by the scraping machines. It was discovered that the streets of Potwin were 3 layers of brick thick. (Dan and Helen Crow, Ken Strobel, Ralph Skoog)
Laid in April of 1900, Potwin streets like many others in Topeka were dirt and the sidewalks were made of wooden boards—called boardwalks. Quite obviously this created a lot of mess, and the boardwalks connected houses and made fires even more difficult to contain (this was exacerbated by the balloon framing style of many houses of the period. In the 1870’s Topeka, no longer a frontier town but a bustling, prosperous city began to pave the streets and sidewalks with brick. Brick was the obvious choice of paving material. Fired at temperatures of up to and above 1600 degrees, (depending in the kind of brick), it was harder than concrete, durable and the shale needed to make it was available in abundant supply.
Brick had always been an important building material, so much so that the early city leaders, known as the Topeka Association in 1856 gave east half a block of land at Jackson and Van Buren to Leonard Horne and the west half of the block to Enoch Chase, to be used in both cases for brick yards. Leonard Horne had already been making bricks, near the river (lot No. 3, section 21, township 11, range 16), three houses were constructed of this brick, and continued to do so. (Fry, p. 24)
Chase sold the rights to the land almost immediately to the mercantile firm of Gordon and Allen for $200, never producing a single brick or building any structures. Soon after they acquired the property, Gordon and Allen enlisted the services of G.G. Gage, from Ohio to make bricks, and the first brick was produced on Sunday, June 8th, 1856, it was ascribed as such and used to help construct the chimney for the Topeka Mills Company (KSHS, Biennial Report, Vol 12, p. 74, confirmed 30 Years in Topeka, Fry Giles p. 24). When the Mill was torn down in 1874, this brick was returned to Mrs. Gage.
Within two years, Gage, was no longer working for Gordon and Allen and had a brick kiln of his own. With the outbreak of the Civil War he enlisted, putting his business on hold, returning to after the Civil War for about fifteen years before he turned his attention to real estate development and other ventures. (King’s History of Topeka)
By 1888, three brickyards were operating within the city and another just to the north by Soldier Creek. Producing roughly 16 million bricks per year for streets, sidewalk brick, fire-proof terra cotta, and terra cotta drainage tile. Brick production was at its zenith in 1893 when the Capital City Vitrified Brick and Paving Company received “the premium offered for the finest vitrified brick at the World’s Fair (in Chicago). Mr. J. W. Boltz, who successfully operates the plant, is one of the men, who, experimenting in Illinois about ten years ago, found that by exposing a certain kind of clay to the heat for a longer time than common brick was kept in the kiln, caused vitrification to take place. The clay found in Kansas is said to be the best in the world for making vitrified brick….Vitrified brick is becoming a favored material…adopted generally for its hardness and durability. “(Paving and Municipal Engineering, Vol. 4-5; 1893). In 1894 they received a first prize at the Omaha exhibition and at the St. Louis fair. (Topeka Daily Capital July 29th, 1906). Sales continued to be predominantly in Topeka, but in Oklahoma and Nebraska as well.
While the office for Capital City Vitrified Brick and Paving had several locations there main brickyard was three miles west of town past the asylum (today this is where the KDOT facility is just west of the water plant) where they operated fifteen kilns. Bricks that were produced are embossed with the name Capital City and still can be readily found. Capital City Vitrified Brick is also known for being the first brickyard to produce bricks engraved with Dr. Crumbine’s famed “Don’t Spit on the Sidewalk” phrase that was part of his campaign to eliminate tuberculosis.
Although, brick streets and sidewalks are currently revered, they fell out of favor with the introduction of asphalt. Asphalt was quieter, smoother and cheaper to apply than brick. As early as 1894 visitors, such as Laura Ingalls Wilder were extolling its virtues “In the very midst of the city, the ground was covered by some dark stuff that silenced all the wheels and muffled the sound of hoofs. It was like tar, but Papa was sure it was not tar, and it was something like rubber, but it could not be rubber because rubber cost too much. We saw ladies all in silks and carrying ruffled parasols, walking with their escorts across the street. Their heels dented the street, and while we watched, these dents slowly filled up and smoothed themselves out. It was as if that stuff were alive. It was like magic." (http://www.asphaltpavement.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=21&Itemid=41)
Topeka’s brick industry was dealt a crippling blow by a landmark legal case involving the city of Topeka and E. M. Warren—the patent holder of “Warrenite” a type of hot mix asphalt. Mr. Warren held the patent on a hot mix of asphalt containing up to 2” pieces of aggregate, the city of Topeka was also using a hot mix with aggregate not paying patent fees on it. Mr. Warren claimed that this was patent infringement. The courts found that the city of Topeka’s mix contained pieces of aggregate being ½” or less and therefore this did not infringe on Mr. Warren patent. This case changed the course of asphalt history in the U.S... Road makers everywhere began using the “Topeka hot mix” which they did not have to pay patent fees on and a legacy of this is still in evidence today by the smaller aggregate found in most asphalt.
By the 1920’s ads in the newspaper denoted “Paving brick being vitrified is tough, dense, can’t absorb water, Laid with sand cushion, over any good base, and bound with asphalt , brick surface has resilience “gives”; keeps itself from injury and protects the pavement base…” (TCJ, 1927) and city had begun to pave over bricks with asphalt because of people’s preference for smooth streets.
The reign of brick streets and sidewalks ended. Topeka would only have the one brickyard, Capital City which by the 1930s combined with a lumberyard located at 320 W 1st. The book closed on Topeka’s once thriving brick business in the 1950’s shortly after it was flooded. At this time it was known as Capital City Lumber Yard and Planing Mill, no reference had been made for years to the product from which it started.
Sidenote: The city is currently in the process of returning a section of Clay to brick. (as per Karen Hiller)
http://www.topeka.org/pdfs/Brick%20Street%20Map.pdf--- Great map of the brick streets current and past in the city.
1910--Warren v. City of Topeka opened up asphalting companies across the country so they did not have to use patented hot mixes, which made asphalting even cheaper.