Curbs have become controversial
By Jon Estridge, Editor
The origins of the Laurel limestone curbs in the residential portion of Main Street goes back to the Ice Age.
A glacier that graced this region stopped around Laurel. What it pushed in front of it was so heavy, it crushed the prehistoric sea shells that were left in this area. And this created the limestone Laurel was once famous for.
Around 1904, the Laurel limestone was put down as curbs in Brookville, according to historian John Newman.
Brookville is the final town which has curbs from Laurel limestone. Currently, the town is undergoing a large construction project where the town and state joined forces to put in new sidewalks, street lights, a repaving of U.S. 52 also known as Main Street and curbs.
However, in the residential section of Main Street the Laurel limestone curbs were preserved. Many in the town have called for the curbing to be taken out and replaced by the cement curbs, which have been put down in other places during the project. Others warn that when the Laurel limestone curbs are gone, they will remain gone never to be seen again.
Stone quarries were opened in the Laurel area around 1852. They were in Sections 17, 18, 19 and 20 of Laurel Township.
“It was prized because it was compressed in beds four to nine inches thick and separated by clay partings,” Newman said.
They were in slabs as large as 200 feet long and 50 feet wide, Newman said.
“They were used for windowsills, veneer curbing, gutters, etc.,” Newman said.
According to Newman, there were three main quarries, with the largest one named Secrest, which was in the southwest corner of Section 17.
The Manley family had a stone quarry in the area also. The Manleys built a railroad spur to its quarries. It can still be seen about two miles south of Laurel, Newman said.
According to a Sept. 16, 1970 article in the Richmond Palladium-Item written by Max Night, after the stones were cut from the ground, they were taken by flatbed wagons to yards laid out in Laurel. There, they were cut to size by men using chisels. They were then reloaded on wagons and delivered to wherever they were going.
The quarries were put out of business by cement, Newman said.
But in their heyday, Laurel limestone went all over the Midwest and went as far as Texas.
Newman currently lives on Main Street between Ninth and Tenth streets. He said curbing north of his house and to the side of his house was put down as early as 1880.
“It is still in excellent condition,” New-man said. “I’m amazed.”
However, the bulk of the curbing was put down during a massive construction project in late 1904 that extended through August 1905. At that time, a sewer line was laid down Main Street. At the same time, concrete sidewalks were laid as well as the curbs and gutters. The latter two were made out of Laurel limestone. In all, 14,167 lineal feet of Laurel stone for curbing at the size of four by 20 inches was used in the project.
Seven carloads of stone were shipped to Brookville from Laurel in December 1904.
According to Newman, stone curbs remain from seventh or eighth streets north. He said 50-60 percent of the curbing is in very good shape, 10 percent has some degree of deterioration and the remainder is in bad shape.
Brookville is on the historic register. Because of that, the Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division had to grant a Certificate of Approval for the current construction project. One of the conditions of that approval is the contractor has to save the Laurel stone.
“If they found pieces that were deteriorated, they were to reverse them 180 degrees and then try to reuse them,” Newman said.
Newman said when O’Mara is through with the east side of Main Street, the workers will go back to the north terminus of the project and work south on the west side of the street. At that time, there will be a meeting concerning the curbs.
Newman said the Laurel stone has all disappeared in other locations, with Brook-ville remaining holding the biggest and best collection of Laurel stone.
He said the existing historic curbing could be used as a tourist attraction.
“I’m not interested in obstructing anything,” Newman said. “If this stuff can be preserved, I would like to have it preserved. If it’s in front of a business, like the gas stations, if that curbing can be moved in front of the historic properties, I’m all in favor of doing that.
“I understand that some of the businesses are concerned because they want nice, clean concrete,” he continued. “I don’t blame them, but once this is gone, it is gone.”