Thursday, June 16, 2016

These Old Walkin' Shoes: The Sidewalks of (Lockport) New York

I’ve been going for morning walks for about two months. This week has been a little off from normal. I’ve been slacking. Hopefully next week I’ll get back in the groove of my morning walks. Still, I’ve had a lot of time to basically daydream. And that’s what we get each Thursday with “These Old Walkin’ Shoes.”

I pretty much walk the same route each morning, so I’ve gotten pretty familiar with some of the area. After about a week or so of strolling the streets, I noticed something very cool. I debated whether to actually write about this. I was afraid that some unscrupulous people would pry the artifacts loose and try to sell them. After careful consideration, I decided that to hide away a little interesting history because of what an idiotic minority might do was unfair to the rest of us everywhere. So, without further ado, I present “The Sidewalks of (Lockport) New York.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learned while on my walks, it’s that I kind of understand why I see people walking in the streets. I do not condone it, but I understand. Lockport is a relatively old community. When the sidewalks were first laid around the first two decades of the twentieth century, they were works of art. With newly planted trees lining the grass between the sidewalk and the roadway, our neighborhoods were beautiful. In many places, Lockport is still a very beautiful city. I love living here.

Over the last century, those trees have grown into behemoths. Some have been cut down, leaving behind only a stump, or in the case of my front yard, a hollow that seems to attract every drop of rain. As part of that hundred year cycle, roots have pushed and pulled at the ground beneath the concrete walks. Additionally, the freeze and thaw cycles of northern winters have wreaked their own inevitable havoc. The result? We have sidewalks that pitch and yaw in various directions, and in some places they are completely missing.

Trust me. I am not complaining about this. I am intrigued by the history of these old sidewalks and the people who walked them one hundred years ago and all the years since. Those trees grew from saplings to stand sentinel over the homes and families who lived in them. Sometimes, all that remains of them are the crooked sidewalks. The wonders they must have witnessed.

To me, each crack, bump, or crumble is another story. Young families striving to raise their children in a loving environment of a Lockport neighborhood walked and ran along these concrete paths. How many bicycles were learned to be ridden? How many scrapes and bruises were inflicted unintentionally? How many young lovers held hands on strolls? How many aged hands were held for the last time?

Sometimes, the history of that particular stretch of sidewalk is announced for all to see. We all probably have passed by these things without giving them much of a second thought. Some of the walks in Lockport have stamps or inlays on them denoting who was pouring the concrete. People used to be proud of their work and wanted their pride to last longer than a simple yard sign. So, they left their names in their masterpieces.

I’m not talking about a kid writing his or her name in the new concrete pad in the backyard, or sneaking down to the end of the block where a new square of fresh sidewalk beckoned for their initials. I’m talking about actual stamps advertising the business.

A lot of the sidewalks on my normal route have stamps in them that have worn mostly away over the years. While it’s easy to tell that it is writing, what is written is not so easily discernible. Of the half dozen or so of these on my walk, they are virtually unreadable. Perhaps someday soon I will figure out how to decipher the writing.

In other places, there is a plaque that was placed in the wet concrete and allowed to set as a permanent memorial to the people who laid the sidewalk. One in particular on my route, as shown in the photo, was laid by W.J. Deibert of Lockport. I tried to do a lookup on Mr. Deibert  in our office, but came up mostly empty. In the city directories, William J Deibert is listed as a concrete worker in the mid-1910s into the 1920s. Mr. Deibert thought so highly of his work that he left behind his business card for people to see. If you wanted a sidewalk, call W.J. Deibert. A century later, his name is still known. How many of us will still be remembered for our day to day work a century from now?

These are just some of the things I think about when I’m out on my walks. Sometimes a sidewalk is more than simply a sidewalk. They may have their own stories to tell. The sidewalk in front of my parents’ house has plenty of stories. The one uneven piece was the perfect spot to try to pop a wheelie on our bikes. My sister once tried it and ended up head-first in the tree at the edge of the driveway. It sure wasn’t funny then, but we all laugh a little about it now. I’m sure there are great stories all over the city. If only those sidewalks could talk.

Craig Bacon enjoys his morning walks. It gives him time to think of interesting things to write. And it’s great exercise. Now that summer is here, he will take different, longer walks and discover more Lockport history.

Next Week: Neighborhood groceries.