Sharring experiences in urban infrastructure delivery.

Historic Street Brick–Reclaiming and Lessons Learned

By: Tom Davis Category: Recent Posts, Sidewalk Features, Special Surfaces

20030530 OldBrickStockatCOH_0038.JPGDuring the eight years of street reconstruction in downtown Houston Texas we found many historic street bricks that paved the early streets of Houston in the mid-1800s. The City’s policy was to save the bricks for use in future projects. Two projects have been identified and so there was a need to sort the stored bricks and finally return some of them to service.The bricks, installed in the 1800’s, were accumulated from 1999 to 2008 by over 30 contractors. The bricks were delivered to the City on standard wooden pallets and stored in an equipment yard on asphalt pavement that was in good repair. Despite the storage yard being paved the wooden pallets finally rotted and soon the pallets of old bricks became piles of old bricks.

CIMG1303.JPGThe City bought “plastic” pallets and re-stacked the bricks. The collapsing of the palletized bricks and the re-stacking caused even more mixing of brick manufacturers than what arrived from the job sites. You would think the pallets would have common sized brick from the same block of street that years ago came from the same factory. But, often there would be at least several weeks go by before a pallet was complete and delivered. In many cases in the oldest part of downtown only trench excavation for new utilities uncovered a narrow swath of brick; i.e. a large area was not exposed at one time.

Those conditions lead to the variety of sizes and types of clay bricks that were relatively the same size but in various degrees of wear. That lead to the need to carefully sort them into “common” sizes. To have your rebuilt final surface with consistent narrow gaps and an even walking or driving surface you will need to have bricks that are the same size and without missing corners.CIMG1302.JPG

In the end we found they fell into two sizes and many degrees of wear. This sorting discarded the brick pieces but kept those with chipped corners with the hope that many could be used as “cuts” to complete a course where a half or other partial brick would be needed.

You will note in the photos the frequent occurrence of old black asphalt still adhering to the brick. As that is on one side you can correctly assume that in the re-use you can put that side down. But that also means the other side has to have consistent edges without chips or other issues. Usually you can use the other side but you will have a higher percentage of unusable bricks when one side is stained from the asphalt.

As the common laymen’s or lay-woman’s anticipation is the new walking surface recreated with the old bricks will be smooth as in the old photos of brick paved streets I suggest you have them help with the sorting. First-hand experience will lead to an understanding of the issues faced with creating the new surface with the old brick.CIMG1298.JPG Certainly touching, holding and thinking about those heavy pieces of history is a meaningful experience and leaves one with the realization that a collection of 100+ year old brick may not go together and look like the perfect, computer generated grid the architect placed with a few clicks on the drawings.

If you are planning a project where old brick will be found then think about the contract requirements related to keeping together the brick that would have been installed at one time by your forefathers. Also require the bricks to be delivered to you on durable pallets that will support the bricks for many years in the outdoor environment.

Look for other articles at this blog that discuss our experiences with placing the bricks.


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