Work crews will soon arrive to repair the dilapidated Rochester street in front of Kathleen Meyerle’s house, and it’s long overdue. The road got so bad this year that the city erected signs urging people to find another route.
If it was just another asphalt paving job, maybe it would be done by now, but the road surface for this one-block section of Ninth Avenue is exposed brick. It’s the only one of its kind left in Rochester, and the people who live here want to keep it.
Enter the work crews: Thanks to an agreement hammered out between residents and the city, a specialist contractor will tear up the street, replace the damaged bricks, and reinstall the original brick.
The cost for that historic preservation will be passed along to the six houses that sit on Ninth Avenue between SW. 6th and 7th streets. The total cost came to $558,101.38, said Russ Kelm, design engineer for Rochester’s Public Works department. The city agreed to pay a sum equal to what it would have cost to lay asphalt on the block as long as the homeowners agreed to pick up the rest of the tab. The extra cost came to $309,719.
The result is likely the highest assessments handed out to any homeowner in Minnesota this year: $57,000 per house. The homeowners can pay it up front or have it added to their property taxes over the course of 10 years at 4.5% interest.
Meyerle said neighbors first learned the street was due for an asphalt overlay in late 2017. She said city staff worked overtime to help the residents figure out how to preserve the street’s historic character. “I have to say it was all very professional,” she said.
And even though some of the residents originally hoped the city would help cover the cost, all six properties eventually agreed to pay for the brick restoration work themselves.
The block is situated in the city’s “Pill Hill” neighborhood, a National Register of Historic Places district that’s home to handsome, historic houses built for the staff of the Mayo Clinic, including the Plummer House and the Mayo Foundation House.
Many of Rochester’s streets were originally paved with brick, but most have been covered up with asphalt over the years. That the city’s only remaining exposed brick street is on Ninth Avenue is fitting: It was there that early settlers in Rochester discovered a red clay deposit ideal for making bricks.
The Whitcomb Brothers Brick company built a factory nearby, producing more than a million bricks a year. The city’s first commercial building built with Whitcomb bricks still stands at S. Broadway and SE. 4th Street. Now home to the Patterson Dahlberg law office, it’s near the former site of the Whitcomb Brothers brick factory.
The neighbors’ efforts to preserve local history thrilled the staff at the History Center of Olmsted County. So much of the city’s history has been lost to the wrecking ball, said researcher Sean Kettelkamp, that preserving some of it in the form of a brick street marks at least one victory for historic preservation. “We’re coming down to almost nothing now,” Kettelkamp said of what remains of old Rochester.
No start date has been announced, but the contractor, Pember Cos. Inc. of Menomonie, Wis., has until mid-October to finish the work.
At a City Council meeting in late July, when it was apparent the project would get done, some of the residents who live on the exposed brick street showed up at the meeting to thank the city for listening to them.
“This neighborhood has come together over this project and this process,” said Jan Daly.
Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329 • Twitter: @_mattmckinney