Detroit Block Club brings together 118-year-old brick cobblestones


Detroit – Nearly 20,000 bricks destined for landfill were diverted this week by a Detroit bouldering club that plans to use the paving material to preserve the historic integrity of Virginia Park Street, one of the last paved roads in city ​​bricks.

Jeff Cowin, president of the Virginia Park Block Club and head of the restoration project, rallied volunteers for three days to move donated bricks to haul them to Virginia Park Street, where after 115 years of wear, the cobblestones of original brickwork are full of cracks, potholes and suspension-destroying ruts.

The 10-pound bricks, which date from 1904, were removed from a street near Vernor and Charlevoix to make way for a new substation on the east side of town in a joint venture between ITC Holdings and DTE Energy.

Once the bricks are collected and transported to the Virginia Park neighborhood, residents hope to raise additional funds to complete the restoration efforts, Cowin said.

“It was a joker. Where do you even find worthwhile bricks?” Cowin said on Saturday as volunteers dug bricks into piles of dirt around him. “The root of this project is to preserve the value that already exists in the road. There are no modern substitutes for these materials…We don’t want to lose the value of this neighborhood. People have moved into houses just as old as these bricks”

A close up of one of the undamaged glazed 'Nelsonville Blocks' among the approximately 20,000 bricks.

Cowin said the city’s Department of Public Works and Midtown Detroit Inc. were working on estimates for engineering and contractor work.

Volunteer Tim Soboleski, a resident of Virginia Park, said the three brick blocks in front of his house were in disrepair for several reasons.

“One block – the block between Third and Lodge during the riots – an M-60 tank and an armored personnel carrier rolled down the street. Now you can see the damage and see the tracks,” Sobileski said. . “When GM was redoing the neighborhoods, they diverted traffic through there. There was a lot more traffic and now there are massive ruts. People are using it as a passageway.”

Volunteers and residents begin their efforts to save one of Detroit's last brick-paved streets by separating, stacking and moving 20,000 brick pavers to preserve the integrity of historic Virginia Park Street in Detroit, Michigan, on July 8, 2022.

Soboleski says Virginia Park is the northernmost brick street in Detroit.

“These brick streets were built before cars were built. One thing that drove it was cyclists. Before there were cars, biking was a big thing in Detroit. They wanted smoother, more navigable roads. To improve the roads, they laid bricks. years,” he said.

The donated bricks, 8 inches wide and 4 inches deep, are high-end salt-glazed Nelsonville bricks fired in individual salt kilns, Soboleski said.

“Very labor intensive, more durable. A modern brick won’t last,” Soboleski said.

DTE employees Michael Brandon, Dawn Shreve, Senzola Moore and Julie Jozwiak volunteer to save one of Detroit's last brick-paved streets by separating, stacking and moving 20,000 brick pavers to preserve integrity of historic Virginia Park Street in Detroit, Michigan on July 8, 2022.

Soboleski estimates that to repair the three blocks of Virginia Park, the group will need more than the 20,000 bricks it hopes to salvage.

“The thing is, it shows the effort on the part of the people who are there who want the street fixed. They go out. They found the brick. They bring it back there. No one tells us pay for it,” he added. he said.

Volunteers like Cathy Fitzpatrick spent Saturday morning digging by hand through a pile of dirt for bricks. Fitzpatrick, 33 from Sterling Heights, wore work gloves and jeans and knelt in the dirt to reach by hand for his next brick to examine.

“I saw this on Facebook and I saw a need. I love the story and I saw someone with a dream and a passion and I’m happy I can help,” she said. declared.

Volunteers are still needed to move bricks and can find information through Facebook, Cowin said.

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