The view of the picturesque red brick road complemented by rows of oak trees on either side appears to come at the cost of comfort and practicality. The bricks on Juliette Avenue have started to once again fall out of alignment, quickly running motorists and cyclists alike out of patience with the historic Manhattan road.
According to an Maurice Roberts, Manhattan resident, the street has been a topic of debate as early as 1960, as traffic started to increase in the city of Manhattan, and the bricks slowly started to show shortcomings in terms of durability and practicality. This was all during a time when asphalt had been a fairly upcoming and comfortable solution, and other main streets like Poyntz and Bluemont had already been paved, raising the question of whether or not Manhattan should get rid of its few remaining trademark brick roads.
Present-day Manhattan residents also question why the city has yet to make a move to fix the brick road. A question submitted to The Manhattan Mercury and published last week in an article on the subject described commuting on South Juliette as “driving on a washboard.”
The city made an effort to restore Juliette in late 2013, applying for a grant with the Kansas Department of Transportation in November of that year. City records indicate an approval of the grant by KDOT in late 2014 and that the beginning construction date was to be set for either 2015 or 2016.
The article states construction will start on South Juliette Avenue in late 2016.
The initial total project cost in the application was just under $796,000, but the city budget for 2015 shows an extra allocation of nearly $65,000. The funding sources are grants and the city’s Bond & Interest Fund.
The grant money, however, covers only Phase I of the project, which is the 792-foot stretch extending between Bluemont Avenue and Laramie Street.
Cheryl Collins, director of the Riley County Historical Museum, said that the brick portion of Juliette is a piece of historic Manhattan and is a part of the city’s identity that needs to be preserved. She said that laying a new foundation under new bricks should be an almost permanent solution.
“The few historic brick roads left are a Manhattan treasure that we need to preserve and maintain,” Collins said. “The problem on Juliette isn’t necessarily the brick. It’s the base that isn’t sturdy anymore, given that it was laid in 1915. We can’t go back to all brick roads, but if we redo the foundation on this one and keep it a brick road, then we are preserving a piece of history. And we also wouldn’t have to worry about it for another one hundred years, so it would be lasting longer than pavement.”
According to papers filed with the grant application from the city of Manhattan to KDOT, the historic significance of Juliette Avenue lies within the fact that it is located within a historic environs district. Located on Juliette are properties of historic significance listed on the National Register, two of which are the Wolf House Museum, built in 1868, and the Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, designed in 1924.
More documents obtained from the City state that the proposed Phase I would reclaim the existing brick streets, a process which will include removing all the bricks and then placing them on pallets. After this, a new concrete base would be poured, a bed of sand installed, and then, the reclaim brick be placed back over the top.
Linda Glasgow, an archivist with the Riley County historical museum, said that while it may cost more now to restore Juliette, in the long run it means keeping a rare piece of historic Manhattan and a road that should last longer than pavement.
“As we embrace progress we also need to assess the long-term implications of our choices,” Glasgow said. “Capital expense now may be greater, but it lasts longer and it is a unique and historic feature of the city.”
Glasgow compared Juliette Avenue with another vintage attraction in a different part of the country.
“Its rarity, age and beauty make Juliette a historic Manhattan feature, much like the San Francisco cable cars,” Glasgow said. It only took one woman who put her foot down at the time when the mayor of the city wanted to do away with the cable cars to keep them, and they eventually turned into such a unique and vital piece of the city of San Francisco’s History, and even more so, a tourist attraction.”
Tom Logan, professor of architectural engineering and construction science, said part of the problem with bricks coming out of place on Juliette is the high traffic load on the street.
“Juliette is a main street in town given its surroundings, and it’s got quite the traffic load on it,” Logan said. “You see these large trucks that weigh in at dozens of tons when fully loaded that use the street, and that eventually ends up sinking the bricks in. One solution to that problem would be the city limiting the traffic flow of (large vehicles), but I don’t know if they would be willing to do that.”
Logan also said that building the foundation under the bricks is one of the most crucial tasks to be done if we are to see a brick street that would last a century.
“The durability of the new Juliette Avenue will depend entirely on the new base beneath it,” Logan said. “Now, whether or not it will last longer than pavement, again, that’s a matter of how good a job is done, and it’s a difficult one especially since not many people do it anymore and that method of road building is a lost art.”
The Juliette Avenue renovation project was proposed and submitted to KDOT by Robert Ott, director of public works and city engineer for the city of Manhattan. Ott has worked with the Riley County Historical Society to research and compile the data needed to present the project and apply for financial help from the state.