Sunday, February 14, 2010

The brick sidewalks of Main Street

The sidewalks of Main Street, Alfred are currently laid with an uncommon red brick pattern. Anne Acton, a village resident, secured the grant to fund this brick-laying project. The pattern, "Symmetry" manufactured by Unilock Inc. in Buffalo, was discontinued about five years ago due to a drop in sales. Although these bricks are not quite as simple to produce as a standard brick, technology makes it plausible (Richards). However, because they were not a big seller, it was most likely impractical to produce them in small quantities. In his Stephan Richards opinion, rectilinear designs give ease to people while the diagonal lines and hexagonal shape in the Symmetry pattern can cause uneasiness. Maybe this contributed to the distaste for the pattern by Unilock's consumers. On the other hand, the bricks were laid by many local volunteers that live in the Alfred community(Mcnulty), so even if it is not the most traditional or appealing pattern to some, it does not undermine the connection, appreciation, and feeling of community that resulted from the project. Unless a similar pattern can be found with another manufacturer, the sidewalks of Alfred may look very different in the future, showcasing a more common pattern such as the Herringbone pattern, or possibly reverting back to concrete walkways.

The Symmetry pattern by Unilock consists of two elongated hexagonal bricks placed side by side, the longest edges touching, with a smaller square brick nestled between the tops of the other two, altogether creating the outline of a short pointed feather/arrow shape. The square and the long hexagon are both unusual and nontraditional brick shapes, adding to the unique quality of the pattern. The sidewalks are framed by buildings on one side and curbs on the street side. On both sides of the road, the brick stretches from the Main Street light down to the far corner of West University Street. The pattern also can be found on Church Street. There is a different brick pattern on the Alfred University campus; the walkways cut across the grounds and provide people with predetermined paths on which to travel from building to building.

One could deduce that the first brick sidewalks consisted of standard bricks made in or around Alfred from local shale, as it was an abundant resource here in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Minard). The convenience and economy of the local clay may have influenced the town to produce the brick in the early 1900s. It is probable that the Celadon Company, established in 1889, was the company to first produce these bricks, especially if the first bricks were in fact made here in Alfred (Bouck). The most basic tools to produce brick at the time were some sort of mold/molding process, a mixer, a pug mill to remove air, and a kiln to fire the brick (Brick Unlike some bricks, there is no visible trademark on the individual bricks; they have a plain face.

The history of Alfred brick making led me to my first conclusion -- that the brick walkways have been a long kept tradition -- but after doing more research, I was surprised to find that all of the brick walkways on Main Street are less than ten years old! Furthermore, when the bricks were laid, there were no signs at all of brick pavers ever being laid here before (Mcnulty). Jim Mcnulty, a twenty-five year Alfred resident, said that before the brick went down, there were concrete sidewalks for as long as he could remember. This undermined my entire idea of the bricks having a local connection to Alfred as they were never produced here. Unilock Inc. has been the sole manufacturer of these brick walkways all along. What does this say about the locals' ideas about the authenticity of this aesthetic? Is it important that the bricks only feel connected to the history Alfred clay? Maybe the town used brick paving for practical reasons over historical clay connection. An advantage of the brick walkway is its durability and easy repair. With concrete cracked sidewalks need replacing, with asphalt roads pot-holes need patching, but with bricks smaller sections of walkway can be removed and repaired as needed, which in turn helps with costs as well. Also, the tread created by the brick and mortar combination aids pedestrians during wet days. Seeing as Alfred experiences many of these, the brick walkway is ideal for this location. Historically, brick paving was often used on roads, but the speed of cars causes the grip of the bricks to get smoothed down over time. According to Stephan Richards, in certain cities brick paving is coming back to some roads that necessitate slower moving traffic. If brick is making a comeback, then maybe Alfredians agree: Brick may be more about the aesthetic and practicality than authentic history.


Bouck, Warren L. M.D. "The Celadon Terra Cotta Co." Herrick Memorial Library. 14 Feb. 2010 .

Brick Ads by Google. 14 Feb. 2010 .

Mcnulty, Jim. Village road master and 25 year resident.

Minard, John S. History of Alfred, New York: A Centennial Memorial. W. A. Fergusson & Co., Alfred, NY 1896. 14 Feb. 2010 .

Richards, Stephan. Assistant professor of Masonry Building Trades at Alfred State College school of Applied Technology and local resident.

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