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Preservationists, City Engage In Talks Over Freedmen’s Town Brick Streets

Advocates hope city changes plan to remove historic bricks for street repairs.


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Dorris Ellis, president of the Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition, addresses Houston City Council.


It was the sixth straight city council meeting that members of the Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition spoke at.

Catherine Roberts is the president of the Rutherford Yates Museum and one of the leaders of the preservation movement. She was one of several preservationists that addressed Council.

Roberts has long pointed out that there are other methods available to repair the underground pipes in the historically African American neighborhood.

“Many cities who have historic streets have ordinances in place with very clear descriptions of how they repair in place without totally removing all the streets,” she said. “So, it’s your challenge. Do you want to take this opportunity right now, put Houston on the map to create a really fine historic district?”

She suggests a so-called trenchless method that would use micro-tunnels to get to the underground pipes.

Council member Larry Green responded, asking Roberts about the restoration of the Yates House in the 1990s.

That historic building was moved from its original location in the Fourth Ward to Sam Houston Park downtown.

“Was the historical significance because it had to be moved in order to shore up that foundation, did we lose it with regard to Yates?” Green asked.

Preservationists say too many bricks would get damaged if they are removed and put back afterwards, which is what the city wants to do.

The bricks were paid for by former slaves and their descendants more than 100 years ago and in some cases were laid in distinct patterns.

Dorris Ellis, president of the Freedmen’s Town Preservation Coalition, said she feels like council members are listening to the group’s concerns.

“I think it’s tough when you’ve already put yourself out on an issue, and they had gone ahead and made serious decisions with financial impacts and now to step back and to look at it,” she said. “But they can do it because the city charter gives the mayor the opportunity to do such.”

The city says using the methods preservationists are lobbying for are too expensive.

The group was to meet with Mayor Annise Parker and some council members Tuesday night to talk about the issue and possible next steps.

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