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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government


The Washington Herald
October 10, 1913

Modern-Day Experts Return to Experience of the Romans.


Department of Agriculture Issues Bulletin on Subject—Chevy Chase Construction.

The office of Public Roads of the Department of Agriculture, a bureau of the government, which exercises an advisory capacity over the entire country, giving information and instruction to local roadbuilders in every State and county, as to how best to build their highways, has just issued a publication treating of the merits of brick as a roadbuilding material. The tract is technical in nature, but the subject is broad.

It is an interesting consideration that by following the history of roads, one may learn the history of the progress of civilization. This is true in a large measure, except as to the United States. In this nation good roads scarcely can be considered a concomitant of our civilization, we have few good roads. Even those jealous Europeans, who up until a very short time ago, were accustomed to inquire of New Yorkers if they did not fear the Indians when traveling from town to town in this country, are beginning to concede our civilization, but everywhere, foreigners condemn our roads.

The office of Public Roads, many societies interested in the subject, and numerous members of both houses of Congress recently have taken up the task of breaking the news to the people of this country that their roads are something to be ashamed of when compared with those of other nations.

And the argument is a sound one. Everybody, of course, points to the advancement of Roman civilization, as representative of all such advancement. It is safe ground, and certainly so in this case. Very early the Romans learned that if they expected to keep the provinces they conquered in subjection, it was necessary for them to have the quickest possible communication between them and Rome itself. To have such communication it was necessary to build roads. They built them.

Now, what is interesting about the old Roman roads is that some of them are built largely of brick. The brick, carefully laid, has in many places outlasted centuries of wear. Now comes the Department of Agriculture with the proposal that brick be revived as a road building material. For a long time, hundreds of years, the use of this material was discontinued, but the road office says that it is destined to come into use again, possibly as the almost universal road building material of this country.

The paving brick, of course, is not the same sort of brick as that used in the walls of buildings. It is a vitrified brick and much harder. Also, it is larger.

The brick roads around Cleveland and in the other cities where they have been tried have proved successful. Euclid Avenue, in Cleveland, one of the most famous thoroughfares in the world, is brick paved. Experiments with brick paving have been made by the Road Office at Chevy Chase, a suburb of Washington. Success has been met there, and the Road Office recommends construction of this sort of highway wherever it is possible.

Its cost is something in excess of macadam or gravel roads, but its length of life without repair is much greater. In the end, according to many county commissioners and road experts who have had experience, the brick road proves economical. The Road Office gives the following reasons for recommending the brick road:

It is durable under heavy traffic conditions.
It affords easy traction and good foothold for horses.
It is easily maintained and kept clean.
It presents a very pleasing appearance.

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