November 6, 2009
Time capsule highlights Sixth Street rededication
Well, if you really want to start at the beginning, Friday night's party on Sixth Street had its origins in 1848, when planks were first installed on the Janesville Plank Road, making it the gateway to Racine. There was a toll booth near Mound Cemetery; the fee was one cent per mile for a wagon and horse.
It wasn't until 1884 that the first pavers -- limestone blocks from the Horlick Quarry -- were installed; bricks didn't come until 1895, and they lasted until the 1940s.
This brief history was presented by John Busey, chairman of the Downtown Racine Corporation, as long-suffering merchants joined city and construction officials to rededicate Sixth Street, celebrating the completion of a two-year, $3 million project that officially began six years ago. Hopefully, it will last for another 50 years.
Busey and Devin Sutherland, executive director of DRC, presented 100-year-old "ceremonial bricks" unearthed during the project, to many of the local officials and workers from HNTB and Oakes Construction who were instrumental in the street's rebirth.
The first went to State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, who led the successful effort to get an extra $500,000 from the state, money that turned an everyday street into the attractive streetscape that is the new Sixth: with street furniture, ornamental lighting and brick pavers. For Lehman the day overflowed: he also celebrated the birth Friday of a granddaughter.
The nip in the air kept speeches mercifully short. Mayor John Dickert brought a proclamation, but said, "there are far too many 'whereases' in it; read it in 100 years."
The highlight of the rededication ceremony in the parking lot of Porters of Racine was the burying of a time capsule, full of mementos from Sixth Street merchants, the Racine Heritage Museum and DRC. There's a history of Sixth Street, a copy of the legislature's proclamation this week in honor of the city's 175th anniversary, a CD with 250 photos of the city, t-shirts from Joey's on Sixth and some other businesses.
The capsule -- an 8" in diameter tube about two feet long -- was built by Feiner Plumbling. Although it looked like stainless steel, in reality it was PVC pipe painted silver. The biggest problem with similar time capsules is that people forget about them long before, say, 50 years goes by. Sutherland said he's got that problem under control: there's a national register for time capsules, and Chris Paulson, director of the Heritage Museum, will geocache the location. (A lesser problem will be whether our descendants who open the time capsule during the street's next reconstruction in 2060, or whenever, will know what to do with a CD -- but that's their problem, not ours.)
The capsule was handed to Bob and Micah Waters of Porters of Racine; their store, which opened in 1857, is almost as old as Sixth Street itself. Bob gently lowered the capsule into a hole drilled by Feiner Plumbing into the sidewalk. Barely an hour after the ceremony ended, two workmen from Midwest Paving had cemented the capsule into place and covered it with one of the decorative granite inserts designed by Erika Adams.
By then, the party was well underway, with cheesecake and other snacks available at most of Sixth Street's galleries and eateries, and along Main Street, a bigger kickoff than usual for Downtown's First Friday celebration.