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Norwalk’s first sidewalks came into being in 1853

By Henry Timman • Apr 5, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Some people believe our ancestors enjoyed some “Good Old Days” and perhaps they did, since we didn’t know any different.

Among the conveniences we know they didn’t enjoy were indoor plumbing, central heating and cooling and electric lighting. Those aren't all of course, but I have a definite addition to that list: sidewalks.

Norwalk’s first sidewalks came into being in 1853 through a village council ordinance. Prior to that time, some of the uptown stores had a porch with a wooden floor which was a sidewalk of sorts, but it only extended the width of the building. The ordinance required that the proposed walks be built under the supervision of the street commissioner and at any cost to the village government would in turn be assessed to the landowner. 

The sidewalks were to be of “good substantial flagging stone” and were to be built on either side of the Main Street between Prospect and Hester streets, with a curbing stone along the street side of the walk. The rest of Main Street was to enjoy a six-foot walk sloping toward the street and covered with coarse sand or gravel to facilitate drainage. 

Milan Street (now an avenue) was the only other street required to be improved. Its sidewalks were built on the side streets, but these came to require maintenance. A plank eventually would deteriorate and become a menace to pedestrians.

Council provided that property owners could install their sidewalks privately at their own expense and some did. The very first walk was put down by Isaac Underhill, who then owned the American House hotel. This building still stand and now is John Flickinger’s insurance shop at 28 and 30 E. Main St. That building, by the way, is the oldest in the downtown area. It was built as early as 1835.

Another sidewalk was put down privately by A. J. DeWaldt, who may have been keeping a hotel at 54 and 58 E. Main St. This property was out of scope of the ordinance for stone walks, but DeWaldt may have put a walk down for the convenience of his patrons. We do know that that stone came from the Greenfield Quarry near Steuben.

All sidewalks need leveling or replacement at some point, and 1911 the city council ordered that a number of walks be repaired.

One of those walks was in front of the Stephen M. Young residence at 64 W. Main St. The house was owned by Mrs. Young and she firmly informed the council she wouldn’t replace the walk and wouldn’t pay for any repairs. At that time, Stephen Young was the sitting Huron County common pleas judge and two sons — Henry and Don — were practicing law in Norwalk ... so Mrs. Young had some competent legal advisors.

There was some public discussion of whether or not this 1911 sidewalk ordinance would hold up in a court action. After a month or so of deliberating, city council ordered the city do the sidewalk replacement and the property owner would be billed. I could fine no record of Mrs. Young suing over the matter and I also couldn’t find any record of the matter being settled by negotiation.

At the very least, this sidewalk repair gave the newspapers something to write about during the summer of 1911.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at New Directions Design, 20 W. Main St., in downtown Norwalk. These contain my earlier columns fully indexed and in permanent book form.

 

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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