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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: When Main St. was a dark and muddy mess years ago

Debate 110 years ago focused not on rural roads but on city streets — and, as it does again today, on downtown improvement.

For years, city officials had debated between various forms of asphalt, concrete, and brick to pave Marion’s macadamized Main St., but residents grew impatient with delays as Abilene, Wichita, and other nearby cities began paving their streets.

“There must be something done to improve the condition of Main St. or else abandon it and go with our business to the country, where the roads are good,” the Marion Headlight, which a few years later merged with the Record, reported in 1908. “Main St. is the worst piece of road in the 35 miles between Elm Springs (present-day 360th and Bison Rds.) and the Headlight office.”

Not only was it a muddy quagmire during rainy weather. Business owners continually had to be threatened with arrest by the town constable if they failed to clean horse droppings adjacent to their businesses.

The city council voted in 1908 to pave Main St. from Walnut St. to what is now Marion Historical Museum and to pave 3rd St. from Main past the new county courthouse to a planned new Santa Fe depot, now home to Marion City Library. The plan later was extended a block north to the Elgin Hotel.

But the city quickly ran into a problem. State law forbade municipalities to pay for paving projects and insisted that all cost be borne by property owners along the street.

As a result, the project languished for four years until the law was changed to allow for at least some contribution by the city.

In 1912, the city contracted for a scaled-back version. A steam engine tore up the old macadamized street, a 4½-inch concrete base followed by a 1-inch sand cushion, and bricks sealed with asphalt filler were added at a cost of $1.82 per square yard — the equivalent of $46 today.

To save money, the street was narrowed, and sidewalks widened. To improve appearance and prevent wear on the new bricks, hitching posts and telephone posts were relocated to side streets or alleys.

Electric lighting of Main St. also was approved in 1908 and installed a year later. Lights were hung from metal poles erected as part of a project that included construction of a city power plant at what is now the county waste transfer station and of a new water plant and water and sewage distribution system, paid for with a series of bond issues totaling $115,000 — nearly $3 million today.

After a public outcry about the ugliness of the unpainted metal light poles, the city ordered them painted black in 1911.

By 1912, the Record was bragging how the half-mile Main St. segment of the newly commissioned Ocean-to-Ocean Highway was one of the few fully paved and fully lighted sections of the transcontinental route.

The highway, also known as the National Old Trails Road, stretched from New York and Baltimore to Los Angeles and San Francisco and passed through Lincolnville, Lost Springs, and Marion.

Most of it still unpaved by 1926, it was replaced by various U.S. highways, including what eventually became US-56.

Last modified Nov. 1, 2018

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