• Last modified 804 days ago (May 27, 2020)



This view of Main St., probably captured in 1909 from the roof of Rogers Hall, later part of the old Wolf Creamery, reveals a dark, muddy street with electric and power lines but without street lights or paving.

When city streets were as bad as county roads

As automobiles become more commonplace in 1909, Marion faced a muddy problem.

The city’s macadam Main St. was a high-maintenance, sloppy mess not unlike some lesser-used rural roads today.

The macadam surface was a base of small pieces of angular rock, crushed, rolled, and covered with finer rock and rock dust. It wasn’t tarmac, like modern chip-seal roads, though the macadam name often applies to both.

Years of excessive grading and accumulation of dirt from rains and flooding essentially made it a mud street. It was a street born of 17th century technology as the town was a decade into the 20th century.

As more horseless carriages began to appear along with motorcar dealerships like Hirschler’s Overland Motor Cars (under construction at right in the accompanying photo, in what’s now a parking lot at Marion Auto Supply), mud in wet weather, dust in dry weather, and ruts in both forced the city to do as other cities did at the time and consider paving.

Initial paving of Main St. from Walnut St. to Cedar St. and of 3rd St. from Main to the Santa Fe depot (now Marion City Library) was approved in 1912.

The old macadam base was torn up by a router, a new base of 4½ inches of concrete was installed, and it was topped by 1½ inches of cushioning sand and bricks held together with asphalt.

Portions of the original 1912 paving were visible last week during resurfacing of Main between Walnut and 1st Sts.

Most of the cost of the original paving project was paid by property owners along the street. Taxpayers picked up the bill only for paving intersections. Each property owner was responsible for paving in front of his or her property.

Cost was $1.82 per square yard (the equivalent of $48.11 today) and a bit less than expected. For a typical 25-foot downtown lot, between 86 and 110 square yards of paving were needed, bringing the total bill per lot to between $156 and $200 (the equivalent of $4,125 to $5,300 today).

To save money, the street was narrowed and wider sidewalks, at roughly half the cost of paving them as part of the street, were installed.

Although the city’s primary water main was allowed to remain under the street, lines feeding individual businesses were shifted to alleys to make future connections less disruptive of the new paving.

The city considered several other technologies before choosing brick. Concrete would have been the least expensive, at $1.10 per square yard. Bids for asphaltic concrete ranged from $1.50 to $2.55 per square yard.

The project was extremely popular with townsfolk. City council members originally had planned to pave only from Walnut St. to Luta Creek. Property owners petitioned to add two blocks of S. 3rd St. and to add Main St. from the creek to Cedar St.

Businesses shown in the accompanying photo include the following, left to right on the north (left) side of the street:

  • A hardware, implement, and buggy store in a now-demolished building where Western Associates is located.
  • A dry goods, millinery, and grocer’s store in adjacent surviving buildings now used by Western Associates and County Seat Home Décor.
  • Across 2nd St., a hardware store in a building that most recently housed Country Lakes Café.
  • A barber shop where Martin’s Barber Shop now is located, and a tailor shop next door.
  • A jeweler and electric supply shop in a building now occupied by JR Hatters.
  • A grocer in a building that’s now home to Cazadores Mexican restaurant.
  • A dry goods and clothing store in the old A.E. Case building, which housed Duckwall’s variety store until it was destroyed by fire in the 1960s. Case & Son Insurance and Security 1st Title now have offices in the building that replaced the Case building.
  • Another jeweler and another grocer in the Bowron building, now being used by Expedition Wind.
  • Across 3rd St. is Marion National Bank, in its present location but former building. Also in that four-storefront building were a restaurant and a meat market, where Bearly Makin’ It Antiques is located today. Edward Jones Investments is in a newer building that replaced one of the four storefronts.
  • A now defunct bank in the vacant Donaldson and Hosmer Building.
  • A hardware store and tin shop where Great Plains Computing now is located.
  • A plumber is the building recently vacated by FamLee Bakery.
  • Across 4th St., a newly built Masonic Temple, now home to CiboTech Laboratories.

Note that virtually all buildings on the sunny, north side of the street had awnings but none on the south side of the street did.

South side businesses, not as clearly visible, included (not in order) furniture, music, book, feed, and variety stores; four more barber shops; three more restaurants, two drug stores, two more grocers, two more tailors, another dry goods store, a movie theater, and the Marion Review newspaper office.

Last modified May 27, 2020