Ottumwa's Streetscape: Main Street Archaeology
Ottumwa's Main Street Streetscape project is underway. The two-year project will include road reconstruction, utility upgrades and the removal of existing sidewalks and street pavements. These will be replaced with new concrete, pavers, plant beds, lighting and site amenities.
In the first weeks of the project, there have been many discoveries revealed below the surface of Main Street. Here are the details of just a few.
The Trolley Tracks
On the second day of the Streetscapes project, the original tracks from the first street cars were unearthed. Street cars first came to Ottumwa in 1881 and were horse drawn at the time. The tracks went from McPherson Street to Cherry Street right down Main Street.
On Thanksgiving Day 1889, the first electric street cars started running on those same tracks.
For the next 40 years, the street cars would help with the development of Ottumwa as new lines were added to each new area of town that was built, providing wide-spread public transportation.
Looking toward the future, Main Street Ottumwa is planning to save some of the tracks for future use, perhaps for a public garden or public artwork downtown.
Two Layers Of Bricks
The next discovery underneath the asphalt on East Main Street was the old brick streets. Rockford Construction was awarded the streets contract in July 1890, and part of the contract stipulated that the project – East Main Street, parts of Second Street and up to Central park on North Court Street – would take two months to complete.
Rockford Construction used horses to lay three-ply rock that would be the foundation for the bricks. Along Main Street, one of the first streets completed, there are two layers of bricks, which made it last longer and provide a nice, flat surface.
The Sewer Project
As Ottumwa grew in the mid-1800s, concerns were raised about public health and safety. Cities throughout the Midwest began creating extensive sewer systems to help control outbreaks of disease such as typhoid and cholera.
In an Ottumwa Courier article dated March 1870, Ottumwa’s city engineer requested sealed proposals to build brick sewers on Green and Market streets. On May 3, 1870, construction of lateral sewers along the northeast side of Front Street (what is now Main Street) between Court and Green streets. They constructed a stone pipe 12 feet in diameter to intersect the main sewers between Market Street and Green Street.
The Courier reported on May 20, 1870, that the contractor was rapidly putting in the main sewer on Green Street toward Main Street. It was made of hard brick and Louisville cement measuring 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 feet and was 13 feet from the surface of the ground.
Downtown Businesses And The Ottumwa Community
Main Street businesses remain open for normal hours during Streetscape. Support them through this time of construction and progress.
Sidewalk access remains unchanged, and ample parking is available. Follow the signage throughout Downtown Ottumwa to easily find parking and walkways.