FOLLOW THE RED BRICK ROAD
Evansville businessmen and government leaders were motivated by civic pride to improve commercial and industrial
development in the community. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the City had developed a water and electric
company. There were prominent people in the community pushing for a sewage system and a new depot to greet
visitors to Evansville who arrived by train.
There were also people advocating for paved roads. The streets of Evansville were dirt covered pathways, little
improved from the 1800s.
Unpaved roads were a problem for the traveler, residents and businessmen. The dirt roads needed constant
maintenance due to damage caused by winter snow, summer rains, freezing and thawing.
Evansville’s dirt covered roads had always been maintained, first by the Village Street Commissioners and later by
employees of the Street & Alley Committee. The men filled holes and graded the streets. Although their efforts
improved drainage and removed ruts created by weather conditions and wagon wheels, the repairs had to be
repeated over and over again.
Citizens complained about the road conditions. Depending on the season, dust, mud, snow, and ice were problems.
During the spring and summer months, the city streets were sprinkled with water in order to keep the dust from flying
off the dirt roads. Wagons, buggies, horses, and eventually automobiles sent clouds of dust into the air and into the
homes and businesses along the dirt roads.
In the winter, crude scrapers pulled by horses were used to clear the snow. Ashes were thrown on the crosswalks to
prevent pedestrians from slipping on the ice.
In the summer a man was hired to sprinkle the streets with water to control the dust. If the City did not tax for the
water sprinkler, it was the responsibility of the individual property owner to hire the street sprinkler. If he was not paid,
the street sprinkler would halt operation and move on to his paying customers.
By 1910, Evansville's Commercial Club, with a membership of many prominent businessmen, wanted to promote
Evansville as an up-and-coming community. The forward thinking businessmen in the Commercial Club wanted new
industries and business to locate in the City and improve the tax base and employment opportunities.
The Club produced an “Illustrated Prospectus of Evansville, Wisconsin” to highlight the best buildings, businesses,
educational and civic improvements in the city. There was no mention of road conditions.
Evansville’s promoters knew that good roads would make Evansville look more attractive to the “captains of industry
and hosts of labor” that might visit Evansville. The local paved road advocates, believed the dirt roads were a
hindrance to commercial and industrial development.
One of the symbols of success in the early 1900s was the automobile and those who owned automobiles began to
demand good paved roads. Several people suggested there was good and cheap paving stone in a gravel pit owned
by Byron Campbell near the park. Campbell was willing to sell the land to the City and supporters of this project said
that when the pit was dug out, and the roads improved, the gravel pit could be turned into a city park.
Two referendums were on the ballot in the spring of 1910, one for purchase of the Campbell land and the other for a
sewer system for Evansville. A referendum to allow the City to purchase the land was defeated by 113 to 85 votes. A
proposal for a new sewage disposal system was also on the ballot and the sewer proposal was approved.
Paved roads were considered a luxury that the Evansville tax payers could not afford, if they also had to pay for
improved sanitation. If the City would not pay for road improvements, then some residents decided to experiment on
their own. They tried several new techniques to keep the streets in good condition.
In 1910, Dr. Fred Colony, who lived on the 4th Street hill going west out of the city, decided his household would no
longer tolerate the dust from farmers and other travelers going past his house. He was the first to hire the street
sprinkler to put oil on the street in front of his home.
City residents were so impressed with the results of the oiled dirt, that they urged the City of Evansville to do the same
with the city streets. Two years later, in 1912, the City Council took the citizen’s advice and authorized the purchase of
a sprinkling machine to oil the dirt streets. George Acheson was hired to drive the oil sprinkler. The Council also
passed a resolution to tax each property owners for the oiling.
There was an immediate protest from Henry Pease, a resident of the east side’s third ward and manager of the John
Brand Tobacco Warehouse. Pease and several other unnamed property owners hired a Milwaukee attorney and
brought suit against the city. He claimed the Council had acted hastily and without public input. The suit charged that
oiling the streets and then taxing the property owners was illegal.
His lawsuit claimed that the Council had misappropriated $3,000 of City funds by not consulting the property owners
before making an assessment for oiling the streets. He named several City officials as responsible for the
misappropriation, including Mayor, Charles J. Pearsall, City Treasurer, George Pullen; City Clerk, Fred Gillman, and
three aldermen, Erwin Gabriel, Chester Miller and O. D. P. Chapin.
Pearsall had planned to retire from the Mayor’s position, but was so angered by Pease’s lawsuit that he ran for re-
election. The voters gave Pearsall another term and he stayed on to fight Pease’s lawsuit against the city.
To avoid further litigation, the City Council decided that they would require that property owners petition the city if they
wanted to be taxed for the street oiling. So street by street, property owners submitted their signatures on petitions to
have the dirt road in front of their property oiled. Despite the protests and litigation, the oiling of most streets
continued for many years, but the City Council annually asked citizens to petition for the sprinkling of oil.
Although the oiling of the streets had brought some relief from the flying dust, some businessmen and residents along
East and West Main Street wanted a permanent solution. Despite the efforts of the Public Works crew, the road was in
poor condition for most of the year.
In 1913, a group of property owners on Main Street, between 4th Street and the railroad tracks petitioned the City
Council to consider paving the streets. The Councilmen indicated that they were “in sympathy with said public
opinion” and considered the question at several sessions.
Some of the property owners who had signed the original petitions for extending the brick pavement as far as Fourth
Street, had apparently changed their minds. There had been some misunderstanding about the cost to the property
owners and the City Council decided to pave the street in the business section and one block in the residential area.
At the January 13, 1914 City Council meeting, a resolution was passed that included the major portion of the citizens’
request, to pave Main Street from the right of way of the Chicago & North Western Railway tracks to the intersection
of Main Street and Second Street. Four Councilmen, Verne Axtell, Jones, Miller and Winston voted for the resolution
and the Councilman representing the ward on the east side, O. D. P. Chapin, voted against. Mayor C. J. Pearsall
voted to approve and signed the resolution.
The resolution called for an assessment against the property owners for the cost of the paving. The paving of the
intersections was to be paid by the City and it was estimated that the cost would be $3,000.
At the next Council meeting the men voted to approve the issue of $3,000 in bonds to pay for the City’s portion of the
paving. This time both Winston and Chapin voted against the motion and within a few days 73 voters had signed a
petition asking that the question of issuing the bonds presented to the voters in the next election.
Early in March, the Evansville Review printed an editorial favoring the issuing the bonds. The assessed value of the
property in the city was $2,032,770 and by dividing this by $3,000, the editor noted that the taxpayer would pay
$1.50, if the property was assessed at $1,000, the average value of a home in Evansville at the time. Urging support
for the referendum, the editor wrote, “Surely the argument of taxes ought not to stand in the way when the increase
will be so very small.”
A vote for the bonds “will mean a better Evansville, with better business, better streets, and the beginning of lasting
improvements,” the Review editor told readers. The editorial also said that owners of property bordering the paved
street would bear the majority of the cost. “Of course the real expense is borne by the property owners themselves,
but $3,000 is all it will cost the city as a whole.”
At the spring election in 1914, there was a simple referendum. The voter’s choice was “For Bonds” or “Against
Bonds.” The referendum passed by a vote of 175 to 109.
Announcing a successful election the Review said that Evansville had taken a progressive step. The Council acted
immediately to implement the voters’ wishes. The election was held on March 24, 1914 and on March 25th the City
Council held a special meeting and hired E. B. Parsons, of Watertown, to act as their engineer for paving Main
Street. His fee was five percent of the contract price of the paving. Parson received a payment of $500 at the July
meeting of the Council. At the same meeting, they hired the Janesville law firm of Jeffries, Mouat, Oestrich & Avery to
defend the City against Pease’s law suit.
The Street and Alley Committee included E. Gabriel, Chester Miller and O. D. P. Chapin. They were given
responsibility for working with the engineer to determine the specifications for the work, including the curbing,
foundation, and pavement.
Parson was to “prepare the necessary plans, specifications, profiles, etc. for the paving and do the necessary
engineering work for completing the pavement.” Parsons’ first brought several experts before the Council to offer
opinions on the best material to use for paving. The original resolution called for a concrete foundation. The type of
material used for the paved surface was “to be determined at a later date pursuant to the provisions of the statute
There were three types of paving commonly used in road construction in 1914. The Council met with three
consultants and each preferred a different paving. One preferred creosote blocks, another concrete and a third one
preferred brick. Although it was the most expensive paving, the Council decided that brick was the most durable.
A Mr. Welch from Beloit was the winning bidder for the contract for performing the work on the brick street. The
project began in late July 1914, at the east edge of the intersection of West Main and Second Street.
A five-inch base of concrete was poured. Problems with a broken clutch on the cement mixer delayed the work for a
few days. While the concrete was being placed on West Main, the contractors were improving the grade of the street
in the first block of East Main. They removed a shoulder on the road and smoothed the grade.
The Street and Alley Committee also improved the grade on several other streets in the City, using the dirt removed
from the Main Street project to fill low spots. According to the Review report, the best piece of work was done on
Stone and dirt were hauled to Water Street and used to straighten a horse-shoe bend in Allen’s Creek. Then the
workers used more of the Main Street dirt and stone to raise the height of Water Street above the “high water line.”
Maple Avenue, Montgomery Court and Grove Street had also been repaired, although these remained dirt streets
and property owners continued to petition for oiling the streets from spring to late fall.
The contractor, Mr. Welch, was praised by local officials of the “quiet and orderly” way that he went about the work of
building the road. They were so pleased with his work, that there was no criticism of him when there was another
delay in the work.
The railroad had misplaced an entire carload of brick and was several days late in making the delivery. The bricks
were red in color and marked “Purington Pavers.” The missing bricks arrived in early September 1914.
Once the concrete base was poured and cured, it was covered with a layer of sand. Then the brick was carefully laid
on top and a hot asphalt seal was poured over the bricks and smoothed into the crevices with an iron to seal the brick
into place. Thus each brick was cushioned from the others by the asphalt seal.
The work was finished in the September and Welch presented the Council with a maintenance bond at their October
1914 meeting. There was hope that this would be the first of many public improvements to the city. As the Evansville
Review editor noted, “Evansville has the reputation of being the cleanest and most progressive city of its size in this
section of the state. May she maintain it.”
The litigation about the oiling of streets did not reach the Rock County Courts until April 1915. By this time Pease had
become so determined to fight the street oiling that he ran for City Council and earned a seat in the Third Ward. He
continued to oppose the Council’s street oiling plan. Once the new Council was seated, Mayor Pearsall immediately
resigned, rather than serve with the tenacious Pease.
The Rock County Court upheld the right of the Council to order the street oiling. Pease would not accept this ruling
and took the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The case was not heard until February 1916 and then the
Supreme Court ruled in the City’s favor.
The City’s cost of the litigation was $1,500. In his attempt to save the taxpayers’ money, Pease had inflicted
dissention upon the Council and forced the city to pay for the court battle. Pease continued on the Council and
protested against any public improvements. His tactic was to threaten a lawsuit, if the Council attempted to spend tax
dollars for restoration of Lake Leota and other city projects. His threats were taken seriously by the Council and
fearing the expense of more legal action, they delayed projects that Pease opposed.
Despite Pease’s protest, the oiling of the streets continued. Property owners made their petitions and the City
Council received a petition and referred them to the Street and Alley Committee. In nearly ever case, the petitions for
oiling were granted, but it was an annual problem that the Street and Alley Committee struggled with for many years.
The brick paved street remains nearly intact beneath the current asphalt paving. Over the years there have been
many projects to widen and repave the area of Main Street that was paved with brick. Utility work and other projects
have destroyed only a small portion of the brick pavement project of 1914.
The bricks were covered with asphalt in 1962. Brick streets were considered a thing of the past and hard to
The asphalt surface remained in place until 2007 when a new brick street project for Evansville's downtown was
underway. Each new road project has had the intent of improving transportation and infrastructure to make
Evansville appear to be a prosperous and vibrant City.
Using grant, private donations and local municipal funds, the City of Evansville decided to reinstall the brick surface
on two blocks of the commercial district. The construction for new brick paving began in April 2007.
From First Street, east to Railroad Street, the asphalt, bricks, and cement surfaces were removed. New water and
sewer lines were laid during the early part of the construction on the 1st block of West Main Street from the corner of
Madison and Main to the corner of West Main and First Streets. By late April the pipes were laid and the construction
crews placed dirt and gravel over the new utilities.
The sidewalks were left on both sides of the block to allow easy access to the businesses along Main Street. The
construction crews also made sure that the businesses had access to water during the time that the water pipes were
replaced. City officials made every attempt to bring customers to the businesses by posting signs at the three
entrances to the city. The signs read “Evansville Businesses Open” and encouraged people to park in the city
parking lots near the downtown businesses.
Businesses cooperated by opening doors that were normally used only by employees, so that their customers could
use rear and side entrances. Other businesses used the construction period to do remodeling and renovation of
In September 2007, the old Purington Pavers, cleaned and ready for reuse, were laid on a 12 inch base of concrete.
The work began at the corner of Main and First Street, just east of the intersection. Gina Duwe, a Janesville Gazette
reporter interviewed the work crew and an article about the work was printed in the September 29, 2007 issue.
The City of Evansville website keeps citizens informed about the bricklaying progress. http://www.ci.evansville.wi.gov/
WEST MAIN STREET ca. 1910
EAST MAIN STREETca 1950
Photos and story from The Evansville Review, September 27, 1962, p. 1
from 24 East
bricks on East
Ahner from 24
Brickwork completed on East Main
Street, October 2007 and Ribbon
Cutting Ceremony was held
November 16, 2007