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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Savannah one of first Georgia cities to pave streets
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Roger Allen

Note: The following is one of a series of columns looking at the first road systems in Georgia and Bulloch County.


William Harden's "A History of Savannah and South Georgia" (1913) recounts Francis Moore's description of Savannah: "The town is laid out for two hundred and forty Free-holds...(and that) where the town lands' end, the (outlying) villages begin."

Captain Hugh McCall's "The History of Georgia" (1811) stated that the first road leading from Savannah was "opened...to the plantations of Captain Demere, Mr. Hawkins, and General Oglethorpe."

Documents in the city of Savannah Minutes of Council (1843) show that cobblestones were the first permanent pavement used in Savannah. In fact, Mayor Thomas Gamble, in his "History of the City Government of Savannah" (1900), reported they harvested cobblestones from discarded ballast from ships.

William Gillespie, in his "A Manual of the Principles and Practice of Road-Making" (1848) declared them a "common but very inferior pavement which disgraces the streets of nearly all our cities."

The Savannah Daily Morning News (April 6, 1855) stated cobblestones were first used to pave Whitaker Street. Then, in 1866, Samuel Nicolson's wooden-block pavers were used to pave parts of West Broad Street.

Next, the city of Savannah tried paving parts of Bay Street, West Broad Street and Wheaton Street with "Stow's Foundation Patent" pine wooden pavers. Inventor Henry M. Stow claimed his blocks could replace "the vehicle-destroying and animal-murdering stone pavement now in use."

Eventually, the city was forced to replace Nicholson's and Stow's wooden pavers with blocks of Hudson River "Greywacke" sandstone. These pavers were quite durable, remaining in use as late as 1912.

A "Map of City of Savannah: Pavement" (1906) revealed that 10 different materials, (asphalt, granite blocks, cobblestone, greywacke, brick, chert, gravel, shell, asphalt block and iron bearing rock) had been used to pave Savannah's city streets.

According to records, the city of Savannah granted the International Pavement Company of New York City "permission to lay down ... as an experiment ... a small quantity of their (new) patent ‘Asphalt' pavement." They started with the area in front of the City Exchange in 1881, for a cost of just over $2 per square yard.

Not satisfied, beginning in 1888, the city had 14 streets paved with granite blocks. R.B. William's article, "A Well-Paved City" in the Journal of the Southeastern Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historian (2013), indicated Savannah's Mayor Herman Myers pushed for a comprehensive street paving program in 1905.

The reason? In the Report of Hon. Herman Myers, mayor, together with the Reports of the City Officers of the City of Savannah, Georgia (1906), Myers reported that "lakes and lagoons appeared on Savannah's streets after each heavy rainstorm."

After the Portland Cement Company beginning selling "Portland Cement, Savannah's Chief Engineer Conant declared it "is not suitable for all streets and lanes, but is especially suitable where there is moderate traffic and where the grades are not too great."

In 1919, the city of Savannah adopted their version of the "Oklahoma Plan." This plan, adopted in the state of Oklahoma, required any paving of the streets to be paid for by the residents living on that roadway.

Not surprisingly, Savannah's city council was flooded with angry letters and petitions from its residents who were unhappy with the new fees, which the Georgia Supreme Court overturned on February 16, 1922.

Roads increased land values. Experts such as Purdue University's Prof. W.C. Latta declared lands along improved public roads increased in value $9 per acre. A tax of $1 per acre on land within 1 mile of a roadway was widely discussed.

Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at rwasr1953@gmail.com.

 

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