Alpha Chi Nu Chapter

Phi Theta Kappa at Southern Maine Community College

Why Seattle has potholes in sidewalks

Posted by alphachinu on April 19, 2006

Yesterday, we went to The Underground and got to see the part of Seattle that was built on the mudflats when Seattle was first built. The businesses were all on the coast and up on the bluffs is where the houses were. There was a fire started in a glue factory, oil product, and it grew like crazy when the 24-year old who was working threw water on the fire. Then, it spread to nearby businesses.

Since the firechief was in San Diego at a firefighters' convention, the second-in-command fire official decided to create a dead zone around the fire by blowing up the buildings the fire was near. However, the fire was moving so fast that it was igniting the dynamite instead. So, the fire was raging and buildings were being blown up by the fire, sending flaming peices of wood through the air onto other nearby, wooden, buildings. When the fire officials realized they were not going to be able to contain the fire, they decided to let Seattle burn.

Next came the rebuilding. The city officials decided to build the city on a grid like Denver and Washington, D.C. and they decided to build it on retaining walls higher than the mudflats to assist with sewage removal. The retaining walls surround each city block and were filled in with sawdust from the lumber mills, trash, dead animals, and the remains of the Californian town ravaged by arson fires at that time The landfill was placed in the streets and then paved over with cobble stones.

The townspeople started to rebuild their businesses as well between the retaining walls. So, you had really high walls, eight to 30 feet, with a sidewalk below and no guardrails. If something fell from street level, it could kill a person, especially if the something was a someone. There were ladders at each corner of each intersection to allow townspeople the opportunity to climb up, walk across the street, climb down and continue with their shopping. This was okay for the men, but the ladies wore huge skirts with many layers of petticoats and slips. Can you imagine trying to climb a ladder in a getup like that? Especially with very helpful, lecherous men at the base of each ladder.

This continued for three years. In one year there were 18 deaths from falling onto the sidewalks or something falling onto someone from the sidewalks. The townspeople had had enough. The town decided to raise the sidewalks to Street level. They put girders from the retaining walls to the buildings and used barrel vaults to pave between the new sidewalks. Since businesses were still accessible from below the sidewalks, the city installed prismatic glass in blocks into the sidewalk to allow light into all corners of the lower sidewalk. The townspeople abandoned the lower sidewalks in favor of the street level sidewalks when the town condemed the area in 1907.

So, why does Seattle have so many potholes in the roads and sidewalks? Do you remember what the streets are made of? Sawdust, trash, animals, and building remains, all of which are biodegradeable. The roads are sinking, causing the sidewalks to buckle towards the road and where the stress is greatest the sidewalks and roads break — potholes!

I hope you enjoyed this version of the Under Ground. If you want to know about the Sewing Circle Ladies, ask me! 🙂
Jennifer Cragen
Public Relations Secretary


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