Unless you habitually go around with downcast eyes, you probably don't know that you're walking on a historic document. Yes, the sidewalk.
After a friend pointed out that early contractors stamped their names and the construction dates in the freshly poured concrete, I started watching for these signatures that tell a bit of local history.
Several points quickly stood out. The town developed in a patchy pattern, sidewalks don't always get older as you go away from the city center as you would expect; a single intersection may have sidewalks laid by four separate contractors; and there was an apparent lull in construction during World War I.
The oldest date in my collection so far is 1906, at the corner of Second Street and Madison Avenue in front of Phagan's Beauty College, where the builder left only the initials J.H. Most of the sidewalks downtown appear to have been rebuilt, wiping out the early dates, although the city's current policy is to preserve the dated slabs when possible, or to cut out the chunk with the date and reset it in the new sidewalk.
A revealing street to walk is Tyler Avenue, which includes most of the names that turn up elsewhere. Heading west from the river you will see: Third Street, W.S Burnap (1910); Fourth Street, H.H. Heuckendorff (1922); Fifth Street, E.D. Felton (1910); and Seventh Street, W.S. Burnap (1914). The bonanza is Eighth Street, where each corner had a separate builder: Heucken-dorff & Brown (1919), Corvallis Concrete (1924), Heiter & Brown (1926) and Lew Mellon (no date - Mellon never dated his work that I could find.)
Continuing west on Tyler, you see backward and forward jumps in time: 10th Street, A.J. Chesley (1925); 11th Street, Heckart & Son, (1923); 12th Street, W.S. Burnap (1917); 13th Street, W.L. Read (no date); 15th Street, Heckart & Son, (1928) and Heiter & Brown (1929); 16th Street, W.L. Read (1914); and 17th Street, W.S. Burnap (1914).
Sidewalks are our urban trails and like country paths, some are more appealing to walk than others - and herein lies the real subject of this column: Sidewalk Awards. If you have a favorite "sidewalk" experience, a place you love to ramble, to wait for a bus, to watch people, then here's your chance to share that spot with others and possibly win an award.
The idea comes from the Community and Design Committee, which in the past has brought great speakers to town for da Vinci Days, mainly to talk about good urban design. This year the group has decided to draw attention to the same subject by highlighting our public "living rooms."
"If you do a good job in design, people will want to be there," said committee member Jerry Davis, director of parks for Benton County. This kind of "smart growth" aims to create good human environments not only to improve the urban setting but to help protect natural environments by making people want to be in the city.
The Sidewalk Awards are meant to publicize what already is lovable about Corvallis' "built environments," its streets, plazas, courtyards, corners, alleys - any spot accessible to the public. As the committee describes it: "These awards should be about calling attention to spaces and places that are important to members of the community."
Awards will go to those who nominate the sites because public spaces often have no clear-cut individual owners, and will include public recognition at da Vinci Days as well as a reward that has yet to be decided but could be a nice picture of the space. More detailed information about the contest will be publicized soon.
But now back to sidewalks themselves. Apparently local contractors have stopped leaving a signature and date on their work. The only recent-looking one I found was an undated symbol of an eagle, for Double Eagle Construction Co., on a cul de sac near Kings Boulevard and Van Buren Avenue. If you see a sidewalk under construction, urge the builder to sign and date it - without such evidence I wouldn't have found Ed Burnap, the great-nephew of W.S. Burnap, of wide local sidewalk fame.
"Sometimes people say, 'I saw your name the other day
,' " Ed said with a chuckle. He's glad the city now preserves the old pavement signatures.
As one who uses a car about once a week, I spend a lot of time on sidewalks and now I know my smooth walking is thanks to Burnap, Heiter, Heuckendorff, Read, Chesley, Brown, Mellon, Ash, Heckart, Keller, Hogue… Their work endures.Wendy Madar, a longtime Corvallis resident, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 752-5211 or 529 N.W. 31st St., Corvallis