Uniting to Save our Hex Blocks!

To those of us who enjoy old house living, one of the features we like most about our streetscapes is the hex block sidewalks. These hex blocks have as much history as our neighborhoods. Unfortunately, like many things we love about our historic neighborhoods, these blocks are endangered.   The recent road infrastructure project at Five Points in the Cottage Hill Historic District resulted in several sections of hex pavers and granite curbing being replaced with poured concrete. Other sidewalks are in need of repair and threatened with the same fate.

001 - CopyAs early as 1885, these concrete six sided paving blocks (called Schillinger Pavement) were being installed downtown on the new business block of Commerce and Tallapoosa Streets:

Much of the sidewalk is already completed and it will be entirely finished within a few days. Work on the sidewalks in front of the Exchange Hotel has been begun the curbstones having been put down yesterday. – Montgomery Advertiser, June 6, 1885.

By the next month, these Schillinger pavers were also installed on both sides of Monroe Street between Perry and North Court Streets. Reports from that same year note that Schillinger pavers were being used for repairs in the developing neighborhoods. Highland Avenue was developing as Montgomery’s new streetcar neighborhood because of its easy access from the downtown area via the new electric trolleys. Hex block sidewalks extended in front of the Victorian homes stretching to the city limits. Today, Highland Avenue retains much of its original hex block pavement. As the Garden District neighborhood expanded southward, sidewalks sometimes appeared even before the streets were paved.

Capitol Heights incorporated as a separate city and began to develop the area just east of downtown right after the turn of the century. Its sidewalks were also laid with hex block pavers. Some neighborhood lore suggested that Mr. A. L. Clapp produced these blocks – the same person who built a home for himself on South Capitol Parkway made of concrete blocks made on the construction site. A decade earlier Mr. Clapp, in business with Mr. J. N. Curbow, had expanded their monument business on the north side of upper Dexter Avenue. Curbow and Clapp Marble Company was very involved in the creation and erection of the Confederate Memorial at the grounds of the State Capitol.

Cloverdale, also a separate city, did not include sidewalks in the original design and layout of its winding streetscapes.

During the last mayoral administration, Mayor Bobby Bright’s management created and supported a policy to protect and maintain the hex block sidewalks in locally historically designated areas. Decades of soil settlement coupled with creeping roots from the mature canopy trees had caused many of the  hex blocks to deteriorate. In these historic districts, maintenance crews pulled up the hex blocks and smoothed the area underneath, carefully reworking tree roots. They then carefully re-laid the concrete six sided blocks. A backstock of hex blocks were saved from areas of commercial development and stored at the city lot for repairs.

Recent observations have revealed that that Bright’s policy is no longer being followed. When a resident complains about sidewalks needing repair, the hex blocks are pulled up, discarded, and replaced with a poured concrete pad. This is unsympathetic to the historical character of the adjacent houses. To avoid endangering your hex block sidewalks, residents should keep their sidewalks edged and free from weeds growing between the blocks.

004 - CopyA new committee composed of interested folks from Montgomery’s historic neighborhoods is initiating dialogue with the City of Montgomery to redevelop a policy to maintain the hex blocks in Montgomery’s historic districts. The first step is to survey the streetscape for the existing hex block sidewalk inventory. We need to know where are they located, how many blocks still remain intact, the sidewalks’ current condition and major environmental threats. The plan for this survey includes using city-supplied block maps of historic neighborhoods. Volunteers will be trained and assigned areas to survey the streetscapes. They will document the location and condition of existing runs of hex block sidewalks. We will use this inventory to design a plan for the future maintenance of our hex block sidewalks. If the city accepts and implements the plan, hopefully we will improve and preserve the integrity of our historic neighborhoods.

For more information about the committee contact HEXpanel@aol.com or call 334.240.4512

Carole King (not the singer, just the hummer) enjoys midtown living from South Capitol Parkway in Capitol Heights where she has lived for 25+years. Carole has been the historic properties curator for the Landmarks Foundation that manages Old Alabama Town for 28 years and is passionate about neighborhoods, their architectural character, their people, and their preservation!

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  1. Jessica says:

    Randolph Street at McDonough has some of these hex block sidewalk pavers left – across from the Molton House.

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