Stop 48: The Dade City Bricks
Howard Avenue original split brick road (Bonus Stop).
The Dade City brick streets are utterly charming. Part of the Flagler era, rustic red bricks replaced sand streets and even cypress pillars that anchored the frontier roadways. (Note that the Flagler era is generally parallel to the “Gilded Age,” a period of population growth and industry that created great wealth, roughly from 1877 to 1890) To fully explore the charisma of brick streets, gander surrounding towns such as St. Augustine, Ocala, Tarpon Springs, Winter Haven, and Brookville as Florida towns that have held onto their brick streets that accentuate their historical sagas.
The most glorious example of Dade City’s streetscape (a street divided by the original median island) is at Howard Avenue between 5th and 7th Street. Take a walk through this area at your leisure and envision the Model T’s meandering the area as they passed by the occasional horse and carriage or produce wagon with the methodical clicking of horse hooves coming into Dade City via the previous main thoroughfare into town, 5th Street. The streets remain narrow as they were laid to accommodate the early slender automobiles.
The local street brick came from the Southern Clay Manufacturing Company of Robbins, Tennessee. An area of coal mining, a railroad worker, Adam Ott noticed a large clay deposit in the 1880s, and soon Robbins, Tennessee was known for paving bricks as well as coal mines, as the Southern Clay bricks were sold to markets from Chattanooga to Miami. Southern Clay was prominent in the industry until 1937. The other major brick manufacturers at that time were Reynolds Brick and Graves Birmingham.
The brick used for roads possessed a large concentration of common brick clay, the result of geological circumstances that make it more malleable and able to be molded. Road paving bricks are also required to be vitrified–glazed at high temperatures.
The decade of the 1920s was a whirlwind for road building in Dade City. When one reviews the historical stops on our tour that address the early automobile industry such as Stops 8, 20 and 21, it is clear that dirt and sand roads which accommodated horse and buggies and wagons were not conducive to the fledgling motor vehicle industry. The Florida Road Department was born in 1908, and by 1925, Florida had 337 miles of rural brick in the highway system. The Dixie Highway became somewhat of a blueprint as it ran from Jacksonville to Miami.
Obviously, many towns were using brick because it was more durable than other building materials, although it required an enormous amount of labor and time to build. The bricks were transported by mule or train.
The trend in Dade City, particularly around 1926, was to replace the dirt/sand roads with brick. Turning once again to glimpse the chronicles of the Dade City Banner , one can look at the year of change, 1926:
- As of January 1, 1927, The Banner’s New Year’s recap of the previous year reported that Dade City had paved 15 streets during the previous year. A whopping $25,000 was spent on an extension of 7th Street to connect to the National Highway.
In summary of 1926:
- As of February 19,1926, The Dade City Council issued contracts for 14 streets (4 ½ mile with 50,000 square yards of vitrified bricks) that included Main Street from 7th to 14th; Live Oak, Pasco from downtown depot to 5th; Howard from Atlantic Depot to 17th; East Meridian, and more.
- As of March 19th, laying of nearly five miles of vitrified paving with the McLeod Construction Company was underway for $250,000. Upon completion, the project also doubled the water, sewer lines, and sidewalk paving in Dade City.
- A March 24th article stated a contract was given for laying five miles of brick paving in Dade City.
- An article of May 12th reported county paving had improved travel. Dade City was now said to be, five miles nearer by travel from Ehren to State Road 5, south of Drexel. It also stated that the rock base for the road from San Antonio to Wesley Chapel to Denham Road as well as five miles of Fort King Road had been rocked.
- As of August 15th, Pasco County Commission weighed in further to report that all of the roads being built under a 1.3 million-dollar bond issue were nearly completed. Dade City had a significant role, not only as the county seat but because former Dade City Mayor, Frederick Daniel Cosner (Stop 36) was the county engineer in charge of the project who stated that 100 miles of road in Pasco had been laid, with five miles of brick paving. Cosner was particularly proud of the road from Dade City to the Polk County line and the road from Dade City to Zephyrhills.
By late 1950, many of the brick roads in Dade City were paved over with asphalt. Workers who had the expertise to maintain brick roads were difficult to find. Neighboring Tampa and other Florida towns were selling off some of their supplies of bricks from the brick roads that were replaced with asphalt.
On July 19, 1960, the Dade City Commission with City Manager Charles Jackson proposed using prison labor to work on widening and resurfacing the brick on Pasco Avenue. There was a concern from many of the businesses on 5th Street who wanted the south entrance to Dade City to be reopened from U.S. 301 because the reconfiguration of entrance to the town had curtailed their business operations by lack of clientele.
In 1988, Dade City Manager Ben Golan and the Dade City Historical Preservation Committee, appointed by the Dade City Council, were on a mission to save the remaining brick streets in Dade City. Bolan researched the process and equipment needed to remove the asphalt that concealed the brick streets. Bolan said many residents preferred to live in houses with brick streets due to the ambiance although he expressed concern for unevenness that came with the aging bricks which slowed travel.
Resolution 462 was passed in 1992 by the City Commission to preserve the Dade City Brick Streets. They mentioned the last divided brick street in Dade City as Howard Avenue between Fifth and Seventh Street as representative of the once abundant brick streets that adorned Dade City.
Yet today, a walk down Church Avenue for the Church Street Christmas is enhanced by those incredible brick streets. As a part of the tour, the Howard Avenue space remains an excellent example of the masonry of the 1920’s. Historian Bill Dayton also explained that in the intersection of 7th Street and Meridian, brass stopples were placed between the bricks to mark pedestrian crossings. Dayton detailed that the plugs were placed about a foot apart and the brass dots were marked with “7-Up” as a promotion a popular soft drink at the time the bricks were laid. Another of the larger Dade City collections of bricks was in Tank Hill.
An article of May 25, 2016 written by Doug Sanders, former President of the Historical Association which was published in “The Laker/Lutz News”, discusses the fact that four people tripped on the brick street where asphalt paving had worn through the brick underneath on Church Avenue in 2016. He details that the Director of Public Works, Ron Ferguson reported that nobody was hurt but the incidents did draw attention to the need for repairs of the brick street. Luckily, the city’s historic preservation advisory board recommended that the city crews strip the asphalt and make repairs.
Stanley Burnside, who passed away at the age of 102 in April of 2023, and grew up in Dade City said as a part of Sander’s 2016 interview,
“I was 7 years old, but I still remember them laying down the brick by hand. From Meridian Avenue heading north, the brickwork was laid without any mortar.
You might say they (the historic bricks) last forever.”
(Notably, Stanley Burnside was elected and held the position of Clerk of the Circuit Court of Pasco County from 1949 to 1974, succeeding his father, Archie Burnside’s tenure of 40 years in the same position.) To learn more about Stanley Burnside, see: Stanley Burnside (2011) – YouTube (Note that you will also hear Mr. Burnside speak of the Colonial Silent Theatre mentioned in Stop 44.
Those brick streets have been a part of the Dade City ambiance for sure! The preservation will continue to be a challenge, but let’s hope the Historic Preservation Committee and citizenry champion the preservation.