To Sprinkle – Or Not To Sprinkle (A Glimpse into Corpus Christi’s Past)

Corpus Christi, Front Page, History, Local history
First State Bank, Corpus Christi, Texas, corner of Mesquite and Schatzel,           ca. 1900 (Source: TexGenWeb Project)

     When a citizen of Corpus Christi is asked about nagging problems in the city, it is almost guaranteed that street maintenance will come up.  They hold the Street Operations Department to its mission, which states it is “to manage, maintain, and develop the City’s street system. This is accomplished by maintaining street pavement; operating and maintaining traffic signals, signs and markings; and planning and developing the street system.”  At least it is clear that the City is responsible for upkeep of city thoroughfares.  However, in 1898, just 52 years after the incorporation of Corpus Christi, the mayor and city council were at odds about whether or not the city should take an active role in tending to the streets.

People’s Street, Corpus Christi, Texas, ca. 1900 (Source: TexGenWeb Project)

      The following article from the January 28, 1959, Corpus Christi Caller-Times relates the kinds of issues facing the Mayor Oscar C. Lovenskiold and the City Council of 1898.

“In 1898 dust was a serious problem in a Corpus Christi that had no pavements.  In May a special meeting of the City Council was called to devise ways and means of sprinkling streets.

“Captain C. C. Heath of the Board of Trade, fore-runner of the Chamber of Commerce, advocated street sprinkling.  The water company agreed to furnish the water free.  Citizens offered to provide a sprinkling wagon if the city would permit its two horses to be used and provide a driver.  An ordinance was passed putting this arrangement into effect.  But the mayor vetoed the ordinance.

“He raised many objections.  He said street sprinkling was not one of the purposes for which the city was chartered; that it would be unfair because all streets could not be sprinkled equally; that the city couldn’t afford street sprinkling; and that it was an unnecessary luxury.  

“The city council passed the ordinance over the mayor’s veto.”

     It seems that our problem is not a new one, nor is it one that city councils of the past and present have failed to discuss.  If we couldn’t get it under control in the early days when only a few dirt roads existed…

Don Patricio Road, Flour Bluff, ca. 2014 (Picture by SevenTwelve Photography)
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The Road Not Taken

Corpus Christi, Front Page


     Just as Robert Frost expressed in his poem, choosing the right road makes all the difference.  For the Corpus Christi driver, it means choosing a road that won’t damage the vehicle or passengers while traveling from Point A to Point B.  This city, like so many across the country, is cursed with bad roads, a result of years of both physical and fiscal neglect.  Add to that the Coastal Bend environmental extremes, such as long periods of drought followed by extreme flooding, it becomes very important to choose the best road-building materials, contractors, and technology to get the job done right and in a timely manner.  But, most citizens don’t really care about how the roads are constructed, what PCI (Pavement Condition Index) garners attention, or who does the job; they just want a smooth, safe ride.  That is exactly what the nine-member Ad Hoc Residential Infrastructure Committee concluded after seven months of digging into every possible aspect of street construction, reconstruction, and maintenance.

PCI Turn Edge Damage

     This dedicated group of volunteers tackled the 150-year-old problem of streets in Corpus Christi and came to the realization that “fixing” the streets could not happen even if the city had all the money necessary.  As in many areas of construction, Corpus Christi does not have enough skilled labor to get all the jobs completed.  For many years, the craftsmen who are now nearing retirement have voiced this concern to schools, governments, and industry leaders.  Though the pendulum seems to be swinging the other direction from “a college education for everyone,” all cities are experiencing an incredible shortage in people who are masters of the various crafts, including the craft of road construction.  This results in work done at a much slower pace and often for a much higher price.

     To make matters worse, developers who filed for permits before the new street construction standards went into effect in 2013 are oftentimes grandfathered, which means inferior streets are probably still being built.  A street that starts off in less than good condition will be a boil on the butt of taxpayers for years to come.  Though the SPMP (Street Preventative and Maintenance Program) method for maintaining streets through overlays and sealcoats should ultimately extend the life of the street, the data doesn’t necessarily support that claim.  City staff has already implemented some of the strategies and techniques suggested by the committee because they just make good sense.

Street Committee 2

     The lengthy – and sometimes heated – discussions that took place at the meetings between staff and the committee were good for all.  The information gathered and discoveries made by the committee that led to the 41-page report presented to the City Council in May of 2016 could easily serve as a “how to” manual on taking care of all streets, including arterials and collectors,  for many years to come.  The document goes into great detail the way the work is done now, what a Targeted Reclamation Area approach can accomplish, how to prioritize street rebuilding, what to do to finance the mammoth problem, and how to communicate to the citizens what needs to be done and how.  The best way to go about the problem is to understand that the street issue will never end.  To make the customer happy, it requires that City staff use the creative thinking of the committee and choose the road they paved with blood, sweat, and tears – not tax dollars – to head in the right direction.

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Chicago, 1855: Digging Down to Reach New Heights

Corpus Christi, Education, Flour Bluff, Front Page, Government and Politics, National Scene, Opinion/Editorial, Travel

The stories of Corpus Christi battling its streets problems reminds me of another story…

Chicago River Clark Street Bascule Bridge
Chicago River Clark Street Bascule Bridge

     A man who was passing through Chicago discovered another man buried to his neck in mud. “Sir, it appears you have a problem. You must need some help,” the passerby said.“No, thank you, I’ll be all right. I have a fine horse beneath me,” the man in the mud replied.

    People have proven many times over that while under the influence of necessity and behind the power of many, a whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. As the old adage goes, “Together, we can move mountains.”  A brief look to history shows us how Chicagoans demonstrated the truth of this idea during the mid-19th century. Only they weren’t moving mountains; they were moving the entire city!

     At the time, Chicago was young – a mere 20 years – and it had a severe drainage problem. Streets became impassable in wet weather. Chicago is situated along the southwestern edge of Lake Michigan – a body of water the size of a small ocean.  The elevation at the time was essentially no different than that of sea-level. Besides being an annoying living condition, health and sanitation issues quickly became a major concern. The people needed an answer if they hoped to see their city grow and reach a point in which it could eventually become home to nearly 3 million people and one of the tallest skyscrapers the world has ever seen.

    After several failed attempts to plank over the streets and redirect standing water into the river, the Chicago Common Council (i.e. City Council), behind the plans of E.S. Chesbrough, determined that the only hope was to manually elevate the city (anywhere from 4-14 feet, location pending) and install the country’s first comprehensive storm-sewage system to solve the drainage quagmire and ensure the city would not become a permanent cesspool and breeding ground for cholera.

     A solution of such extreme measures, however, stimulated a greater and far more interesting obstacle: How in the world would they lift a city full of large buildings, homes, hotels, and not to mention – people – 14 feet in the air?  Enter George Pullman. Pullman developed a method employing hundreds of men turning thousands of jack screws beneath building foundations. Over the course of two decades, they jacked buildings up like cars (many with people still inside them) so that new foundations could be successfully poured beneath them, leaving both the city and its structures permanently elevated. Smaller homes and businesses were placed on rolling devices and wheeled to new locations. The streets were then leveled up to new heights to meet the level of front doors. New sewage drains were installed and designed to run from the streets down to the river and lake in an amazing effort which lifted Chicago from a wasteland of sludge.

     A report by the Chicago Press & Tribune in the March of 1860 issue:

“The entire front of first-class buildings on the north side of Lake Street between La Salle and Clark streets is now rising to grade at the rate of about twelve inches per day. It will be at its full height by tomorrow night, when it will constitute a spectacle not many of our citizens may see again, if ever, a business block covering nearly one acre, and weighing over twenty-five thousand tons resting on six thousand screws, upon which it has made an upward journey of four feet and ten inches.”


Raising of Chicago
The task of raising the Briggs House, a hotel at Randolph and Wells Streets, in 1857 involved the coordinated efforts of hundreds of workers. During the raising, the hotel remained open for business. (Chicago Historical Society)

     Cities, they say, develop a persona of their own, all of which is nothing if not indicative of the spirit of its citizens. Ultimately, when problems arise, people become faced with choices: accept your collective fate, ignore the coming future, or act accordingly. Mid-19th century Chicagoans proved early that they were determined to create the possibility that their city might eventually become the megalopolis that it is today. Little did they know that shortly after they were able to ascend from the squalor of sewage, the citizens of Chicago would be faced with yet another test in 1871, The Great Chicago Fire.  This time they would be forced to ascend from the ashes.  Ultimately, the people, like their story, now belong to the ages. But, such as any good anecdote – if remembered and studied – it can offer deeper answers for particularly troubling problems of the present. Perhaps Henry Ford said it best: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”


Chicago Today: Chicago River from Lake Street Bridge

Articles about Corpus Christi streets:

Takin’ It to the Streets: A Highly Qualified Committee

Takin’ It to the Streets: A Man with Questions

Takin’ It to the Streets:  Addressing the Status Quo

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