Portage historians oppose plans to pave rare brick road

Mirror photo by Sean Sauro A rare brick road stretches along Portage’s Lee Street in front of the local historical society’s Portage Station Museum. Local historians worry that a pending paving project will result in the elimination of the historical road.

PORTAGE — Buzzing atop the century-old surface of Lee Street’s 400 block, tires rolled across bricks Wednesday to make a noise not unlike a zipper.

But in the late morning, local historians gathered at the Portage Station Museum, where they spoke about the road’s creation about 1913, and the clip-clop of horse hooves atop its oddly placed bricks.

Lee Street stretches in front of the museum, and Portage Area Historical Society President Irene Huschak said she sees the road as an asset and teaching tool that gives visitors a firsthand look at infrastructure of the past.

“We want everybody to know how important these bricks are to the history of our community,” she said.

But those bricks could soon be replaced with asphalt, as borough leaders have included the 400 block of Lee Street in an upcoming paving project.

Huschak, accompanied by society Recording Secretary Deb Novotny, led a tour of the museum Wednesday.

The station, which was built in 1926, once served dozens of passenger and freight trains each day, as they traveled what was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s tracks.

“This definitely was the busiest place in town,” Huschak said.

On Wednesday, the women pointed out a desk and ticket window that are original to the building and showed off displays of railroad, coal mining and home-life exhibits meant to give visitors an understanding of Portage’s industrial past.

They also showed off an elevated observation platform on which people can stand and watch the trains as they still pass by the station today.

However, conversation consistently circled back to the Lee Street bricks.

Huschak said infrastructure work throughout the borough has resulted in the removal of bricks from other roads. The bricks have been saved and are in the society’s possession for possible use on the ground below the observation platform, she said.

Despite the potential for reuse, Novotny stressed that local historians oppose any changes to the portion of Lee Street that stretches before their museum.

“You don’t often see bricks like this,” she said.

The road is odd because instead of being placed in the typical horizontal arrangement, the bricks on Lee Street are positioned vertically. The brick’s ends make up the driveable surface.

The rare placement allowed for lasting durability, as well as increased traction when horse traffic was common. During snowy days, grooves in horseshoes would latch into the additional cracks in the bricks, Novotny said.

“You know what? There are no potholes in that brick,” Novotny said of the road that has endured for more than 100 years.

Now, borough officials are considering a paving project, and Lee Street work is included in the plan, a borough secretary confirmed.

Lee Street is to be paved between North Railroad Avenue and Delancey Drive.

However, the project has not yet been put out to bid, and plans can be amended.

Macadam patchwork already covers portions of Lee between North Railroad Avenue and Sugar Alley, making the road uneven and bumpy for vehicle traffic.

Still, the historians hope to fend off plans to pave the entire road.

Huschak said she intends to speak at a Borough Council meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday to encourage local leaders to remove the 400 block of Lee from paving plans.

The issues have already garnered significant attention on social media, she said.

“This is really important to the history,” she said.