As the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) work begins this coming month on a project funded by both the state of Ohio, the city of Columbiana, and the Restoration and Beautification Committee, it is timely and of local interest to look into the historic gutters.
What were the reasons Harvey S. Firestone and the WPA chose to use bricks for the gutters? Was it aesthetic? Functional? Practical?
Perhaps because the bricks were readily available? Supplied by a donor? It was of interest to explore their use, as they have been and will continue to be, a unique sight along the roadways of the park. and for many local citizens an important feature of the park which should be retained.
When the Reader’s Digest team came to town to interview many of us for the “Nicest Place in America” contest, I spent an hour in the park with Jeremy, the reporter who headed the project.
A part of our conversation, unexpectedly focused on the gutters. He thought they were wonderful…. attractive, unique even in their deteriorated state; he told me he was a runner and had followed them through the park on a morning run.
I explained to him the special place they held in many of the senior residents’ appreciation of the park. He wanted to know how important they were to the drainage system and what we had planned for their restoration.
He never really covered this in the articles about Columbiana, but it was a subject of some personal interest to him. Remembering they were a subject of some controversy during the early stages of project development, and with their upgrading due soon, some answers to his questions seemed timely.
According to Jay Groner, our local historian, using the bricks was not an unusual choice for the gutters as many brick streets were common in town at that time. The gutters themselves were, of course, for drainage; because open ditches carry more water than underground pipes, they convey(ed) rain water runoff to a piping system under the gazebo which flows to the football field and eventually to fill Mirror Lake. The gutters still serve that purpose despite aging and losing their compact appearance over the years. The factors contributing to their deterioration were several: with the advent of large riding mowers the original beds lost their shape as the large machines altered the edges of the beds and, time and erosion was responsible for the bricks losing their shape and placement as beds flattened out and/or deepened.
The current ODOT project, due to begin next month, will address the safety and deterioration of the gutters while maintaining their function. The city, HRG, and R&B received a very generous grant, funded at a 95% level, from the state to renovate them as well as eliminate the safety issues they present as they have deepened and become misshapen. The plight of park visitors walking along park roads where there are no sidewalks, and crossing the treacherous gutters figured strongly in the award of the grant. The pending project will keep some of the historic bricks and use them in shallower beds; in addition the gutters will have a vertical concrete curb between them and the lawn behind the curb. The pathways above will wind around the loop road (from the pool to Springfield Road) with interspersed landscaped bench areas. You could say the gutters have had a “brick lift” and can still play their historic role in park history. It should be noted, however, the job will only be half done as the remainder of the roads in the park will need the same rehabilitation once money or grants are available.