A Brooklyn Square Memory

By Jeffrey L. Nelson

 I have been a physical workout kind of guy for a big share of my life. During the last few years, I often choose to walk instead of drive, which has enabled me to take a look at my surroundings – with a clear mind.

A few weeks ago I walked from my downtown office to an appointment at the JAMA Building in my former stomping grounds of Brooklyn Square. The walk offered me time to remember walking as an adolescent through our downtown and into Brooklyn Square. I remembered the buildings and businesses that lined the streets. Visiting the corridors of the JAMA building and seeing all those times passed in the displayed pictures of Brooklyn Square added a lot to my nostalgia.

From 1970 to August of 1974, I was employed by the Jamestown Urban Renewal Agency as the Deputy Director of Development for Urban Renewal, and was managing the Brooklyn Square Urban Renewal project – a job that included the removal of much of what is seen in the JAMA pictures of that bygone time. That day my senses were heightened and I wanted to hear the 1950’s noises of people, vehicles, and industry, smell the hot dogs of Johnny’s Lunch, and taste a root beer soda from Harvey and Carey’s.

As I left the JAMA Building, I headed for the Riverwalk. At the time when I participated in the transformation of Brooklyn Square, which began approximately 40 years ago, I was only 30. That job was exciting and challenging. Watching the change to Brooklyn Square that unfolded over those four plus years was a wonder. Many buildings and much public infrastructure were removed to make way for the new plan.

While walking the Riverwalk path I rounded a turn and found myself standing in front of the stone construction, double arched bridge through which the Chadakoin River flows. My thoughts rolled back to the first time I saw the arches. I was in my fourth floor office in the current City Hall building when a call came from the field. An excited voice told me to come down to the urban renewal site right then, as I would be surprised by what was uncovered.

The demolition contractor was tearing down the buildings along Main Street. Some of these buildings spanned the Chadakoin River on each side of Main Street. As the buildings came down, they exposed the twin arches supporting Main Street crossing the Chadakoin. A new replacement bridge was in the Urban Renewal plans, but saving the arches became of huge importance.

The plan became an effort to preserve and develop the arches into a bigger bridge while retaining the originality of the structure. One of the first concerns was finding a stone that would reasonably, if not exactly, match the existing stonework. A young friend, Andrew Scalise Jr., of Scalise Construction Company, was working in the area. He was immediately supportive and suggested asking Arlon Shick of Chautauqua Brick, a local building materials supplier, to find a source for the matching stone to expand the original bridge. He found the stone at the Cleveland Quarries Company, near Cleveland, Ohio and Chautauqua Brick was able to supply the stone. A local teenager, working with hand tools, exposed the stone face of each new block to match the original stone while leaving the outline of the original arches, though faint, still visible.

That teenager was Bill Briggs who is now an owner and officer of Chautauqua Brick.

Another concern was the bridge’s structural ability to support future traffic loads. The structural engineers working at the site checked the arches and recommended a process that would strengthen the existing structure’s ability to continue to support rolling traffic.

As the information came in, approvals to save the bridge were given. That is when the long term planning of the physical river walk began.

This experience of remembering the worthwhile effort made to save the arches caused me to wonder about its history. I made contact with Norman Carlson at the Fenton Historical Museum. I was surprised to learn that when we rehabbed the arches and added to the bridge structure, the original structure was approximately 100 years old. I wonder if the engineers and builders in 1872-73 were so farsighted as to know that their work laid the foundation for an enhanced historic bridge as part our current river walk development. I then realized the time for what we have today happened over not just my 40 years of memory, but of 140 years of community evolution.

Over the ensuing years the desire for a walking/biking path along the Chadakoin gained interest and support. Recently the walkway development was again advanced. I am struck by the time some community projects take to reach completion, and the variety of people involved in that process. The achievements over that time are often celebrated for what happened in a sliver of time rather than the wider span of years in a project’s ongoing development. It is good to remember and respect how we got to where we are.

I would like to encourage readers to view the pictures in the JAMA corridors, and then stand and reminisce in today’s Brooklyn Square. Can you find where some of the old buildings were located? A walk down Memory Lane, or Brooklyn Square, in this case, can take you to a different place and a different time and make you part of history.