Work will begin Monday to restore historic bricks in Freedmen’s Town that were disturbed two weeks ago by a city contractor who exceeded the authorized limits of a drainage project.
“This area holds so much historic significance for Houston’s African American community,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner. “These brick streets were laid by freed slaves and it made me sick to learn they had been disturbed in this unauthorized manner. We cannot undo what has been done, but we can move forward to repair the damage.”
At the time of the unauthorized work, the intersection of Genesee and Andrews Streets was being prepared for the reinstallation of historic bricks that had previously been removed by hand so the drainage work could proceed. The employee operating the machinery that day mistakenly disturbed others bricks that had not been part of the hand removal. It is believed that approximately 200 bricks were removed.
Starting Monday, additional bricks will be removed to create a straight edge and even transition from the existing bricks to the reinstalled bricks. The bricks will be cleaned, cataloged and stored as required. The contractor will then prepare the base, set the forms and pour the concrete foundation for the brick reinstallation. The final step will be reinstallation of the bricks. An archeologist will be on site at all times to oversee everything and prepare a final report documenting all work. Once the bricks have been reinstalled, there will be no construction traffic along Genesee for the duration of the drainage work.
Mayor Turner also announced that he is convening a group of stakeholders to work with the City to develop a plan for a cultural district in the Freedmen’s Town area. Although not as big in scope, the mayor’s vision is similar to the historic districts in Tyler, Texas; Savannah, Georgia; Wilmington, Delaware and other cities where brick and cobblestone streets are a focal point. His timeline for putting together a roadmap for achieving this is about six months.
“The story of Houston’s African American community begins right here in Freedmen’s Town,” said Turner. “This is where freed slaves came to settle once word of emancipation finally made its way to Texas. It was a neighborhood filled with churches, businesses and homes – a place where residents provided their own services and utilities. There were blacksmiths, doctors, lawyers, teachers and pastors. There was even a vibrant jazz scene and a minor league baseball team. It’s such a wonderful story and we are going to tell it!”