Thursday, August 9, 2012

Brick Streets of Cherryvale

Cherryvale is a small town in southeast Kansas, named by the railroads after the wild cherry trees that used to grow in the area.  I don't ever remember seeing a cherry tree, but, oh my, those red brick streets!  As a little girl, I loved those streets.  My town of Coffeyville used to have them, but they had all been paved over in the name of Progress.  It was 1970 and Urban Renewal destroyed many a picture postcard town in Middle America.

You can imagine the thrill I got, when two weeks ago (and  thirty years later) I once again drove through this pixie of a town and realized  those charming old brick streets were still there! 

Not only did southeast Kansas have large deposits of shale and limestone, but fuel was cheap because of an abundance of oil and natural gas.  Consequently, several brick factories were built between Coffeyville and Cherryvale in the early 1900's.  As many as 700,000 bricks a day were made and shipped all over the world.  Today, many of these bricks are sought by collectors, especially if they are stamped with "Coffeyville" on them.  Why "Cherryvale" didn't get its own stamp of recognition remains a sore point among the locals.

The "Don't Spit on the Sidewalk" brick is another collectable one.  Dr. Samuel Crumbine started a campaign to stop the spread of tuberculosis.  He was a member of the Kansas State Board of Health and fought to get laws passed in the state legislature for better food sanitation practices and more stringent inspections.  This brick kicked off the campaign.  The whole country followed suit and indeed, tuberculosis began to decline.

The brick factories closed in the 1930's.  An area of our nation which held such promise of industry was further hurt by the deregulation of the railroads in the 1970's.  Depots closed.  Rail service stopped.  Today, Coffeyville has half the population it had when I grew up there.  With so many vacant old buildings, I am deeply worried about the future of these charming Midwestern towns.  I did see glimmers of hope.  Some restoration is taking place.  A renewed interest in regional history is being actively promoted by Chambers of Commerce.  Bravo Cherryvale!  These charming brick streets may lead you down a road to recovery.  Please.   Never, ever, pave over them.

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