The Yellow Brick Road Returns to Cambridge

 

The Return of the Yellow brick Road

In 1913 Main Street in Cambridge was paved with yellow bricks. In the name of Progress, the bricks were paved over in the early 1960ís, though they are still clearly visible by Tannery Pond in Coila. Now, in 2009, history repeats itself as a yellow brick path is being laid as part of the Freight Yard restoration.

 

 

The Original Yellow Brick Road

Paving began in March 1913 but encountered numerous problems. The out-of-town contractor was shady, the weather uncooperative, and the Italian workers brought in from NYC were wild (parties and gunshots reported in the newspaper). Beneath it all lay the century-old feud between the East End and the West End.

As construction began, property owners took some dirt as fill to raise their properties to the level of the new street. However much of the dirt from the East End was hauled to the center of the village where it was used to fill in the Cambridge Swamp. On the West End the dirt was used to build up South Union Street.

By July 1913 some of the concrete bed and curbing had been laid so bricklaying began. Village president Charlie Tingue placed a time capsule under the first brick near Dorrís Corners, the current junction of Route 313 and East Main. Cambridge had a village "president" from 1866-1927 when the office was renamed "mayor".

By the end of July the brick road extended from Dorrís Corners to Park Street. But on the West End no bricks had been laid, only the concrete bed and curbing. The ongoing feud between the East End and West End resulted in a construction plan to lay some bricks on one end of the village then move the entire operation to the other end of the village. All of this so neither end would have an advantage.

In August 1913, William L Hitchcock took control of the paving project. The first problem he faced was the heavy traffic trying to get to the Cambridge Fair. The portions of the road that were paved had not been opened to traffic yet and the remainder of Main Street was a dust bowl.

In September 1913 the first traffic was allowed over the Yellow Brick road. The Cambridge Fire Muster marched on a Main Street that was part brick and part mud. In past years parades held following rainy periods often allowed the marchers to walk on the slate sidewalks while the viewers stood in the mud of Main Street.

In the midst of the ongoing construction battles, in November 1913 the village of Cambridge voted to become a dry town. The Prohibitionists held a victory parade on the finished portions of the Yellow Brick road.

As 1913 drew to a close the Yellow Brick road was complete from Dorrís Corners to the RR tracks and from Coila to Blairís Brook (now known as the Owl Kill). The next time you cross the green Victorian footbridge in front of VARAK Park note the raised level of the ground above the brook. The original lower level of the ground resulted in the brook routinely flooding making it nearly impossible to get from the East End to the West End.

Finishing this section of the Yellow Brick road was important but had to proceed cautiously to avoid flooding the abutting houses. Another problem arose when a section of the completed Yellow Brick road cracked from curb-to-curb where Cambridge Creek crosses West Main (in 2009 this is next to the West Village Market). Another large crack appeared on West Main near Academy Street, much to the howls of laughter from the East Enders.

All of these problems were addressed in December of 1913 and the completion of the Yellow Brick road was cheered by all. In April 1914 an early Spring snowfall and driving rain storm made all roads impassable, all roads except the Yellow Brick road. There was literally "dancing in the streets" as villagers rejoiced in having a paved Main Street.

The New Yellow Brick Road

A memorial to the yellow brick road is being laid, this time in front of the restored Freight Yard. Inevitable hassles with the NYS Dept of Transportation delayed the start of the project in the Fall of 2008 followed by the hindrance of bad weather, but finally this month yellow bricks are once again being laid in Cambridge.

As you walk down East Main Street youíll soon be able to turn north onto the yellow brick walkway between the Cambridge Diner and the Wrigley Building.

As you stroll north on the yellow brick walkway, you'll see the old Beacon Feed building that now serves as the Hubbard Hall dance studio. Just north of that, you'll walk past the old Lovejoy Building that houses the local agricultural businesses and Farmers' Market. The famous Cambridge Plow that was used extensively in settling the West in the late 1800's was made in the Lovejoy factory at the corner of East Main and Rt 313 and shipped from this Lovejoy building.

North of the Lovejoy Building, you'll see the Freight Depot that will host scaled-down Hubbard Hall presentations during the winter months. All of these buildings have been lovingly restored as part of the Cambridge Partners project.

On the west side of the RR tracks is the Passenger Depot that has been purchased by the Cambridge restoration committee and will be returned to its former glory. Inside is an old carousel that's also being restored.

On the East side of the RR tracks, between the Lovejoy building and Freight Depot, is the Community Oven. It's an outdoor wood fired clay oven. A formal dedication is planned this Spring as they bake pizza and bread for the entire village. Cambridge.

Cambridge, what a great place to live or visit! Cambridge, what a great place to once again stroll down the Yellow Brick road!

 

The material for this article was compiled by Ken Gottry from Dave Thorntonís writings, from Washington County Post articles, and from family folklore as William L Hitchcock was his great grandfather. If you have any corrections or additions to the information presented here, please contact Ken (ken@gottry.com).

 

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