The Mystery of the Second Curb

 

The Cross House when brand new. See brand new curb? See the sidewalk? See a SECOND curb next to the sidewalk? Click image to hugely enlarge, then click again. (Walter Anderson Collection ESU Archives)

 

The mystery curb, looking south.

 

The mystery curb looking east.

 

The mystery curb fascinates me. Why is it there? What purpose does it serve?

Well, I love my mysterious curb. Since buying the house in 2014, I weekly weed-wack the curb to glorious visibility.

 

This is a Sanborn map of 1893. The mystery curb is on the east and west side of the Cross House (left). The mystery curb is also in front of the adjacent carriage house. But…the mystery curb continues running south in front of 516 Union and all the way down to 506 Union.

 

I read somewhere that Harrison Cross built the three houses next to the Cross House, numbers 516, 506, and 502 (demolished). Was the curb a Harrison Cross signature?

I have never seen an “inner” curb anywhere else. Have you?

 

The curb in front of the carriage house.

 

516 Union. This circa-1880 house has been heavily altered outside but is amazingly intact inside; just glorious. I swooned when first in it.

 

The overgrown inner curb to 516.

 

510 Union (circa-1910 and perhaps by architect Charles Squires, who designed the Cross House) was an empty lot when the Cross House was built but…

 

…it is nonetheless curbed!

 

506 Union, late 1880s. The porch is decades later (replacing the original porch) and is, I suspect, by Charles Squires.

 

The curb to 506 Union.

 

Another mystery is why didn’t the curb extend to 502 Union (right)? The house was unusually close to the street; was there not enough room?

 

By 1899, 502 Union had been replaced with a new house, with a setback aligning with the other houses on the block. I wonder though. What if Harrison Cross only built 516 and 506? What if he never owned 502 (Cross died in 1894), which might explain why it, alone on the whole block front, had no inner curb.

 

 

THREE QUESTIONS

Before building the Cross House, Harrison and Susan Cross lived in a much smaller house on the same lot. This house was moved to a new location, and the Cross’ moved into 516 Union when their big new house was being constructed.

  • If it is true that Harrison Cross built 516, 506, and perhaps also 502 Union, does the mystery curb predate the Cross House? If Harrison built a mini-development on Union, was the inner curb a kinda signature?
  • Or were the curbs installed when the Cross House was built, and then added to 516, the 510 lot, and 506?
  • Or did 516, the 510 lot, and 506 already have inner curbs? With one then being added at the big new Cross House?

So many mysteries!

 

19 Comments

  1. Cindy Sundell-Guy on August 25, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    Our house had curbs that lined the long, circular carriage driveway. I think ours acted as a step to help a person get out of the carriage.

  2. Kerri on August 25, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    I have always noticed your second curb and just assumed it was a “Kansas thing.” I’ve lived in northern California, southern California, and now central California and I’ve never seen a second curb. The sidewalk is always right NEXT to the street and the sidewalk is where your property ends. If no one else in town has a second curb, it probably was something Harrison Cross put in to mark the lots that he owned. By the way, your lawn and your whole house is looking great!

  3. Barb Sanford on August 26, 2017 at 12:11 am

    I feel like I’ve seen a second curb somewhere else in Emporia. Maybe I’m just thinking of a retaining wall or some terracing. I’ll look for one when I’m out for a walk next time I’m in town.
    My walks usually cover random streets from West to East from the railroad north to 18th).

  4. nathan davis on August 26, 2017 at 12:32 am

    Many houses built during much of the victorian era had these. Its a way of elevating the house to above sidewalk level, It gave it a grander, more imposing look. This seems to have been fairly subtle here though, and has almost dissapeared over the passage of time

  5. kerri on August 26, 2017 at 12:35 am

    We have second curbs on many houses in our historic district (NC). As the other Kerri mentioned, the sidewalks are right next to the street. I have always wondered if this was a decorative addition…plants could be put in along the space between the sidewalk and second curb like flowers. Frequently, I have seen monkey grass. I suspect from the pictures that over the years your second curbs have sunk down from the original position they were in. This would have made the upper grassed yard several inches higher than the lower yard. My yard is higher then steps down lower with the second curb.

  6. Chaz on August 26, 2017 at 12:54 am

    I can tell you, what looks like another, inside, curb here is a cement structure that went along underneath an old fence on the house side of a sidewalk, which made for easier mowing. The fence was iron and that doesn’t give much to mow next to. An added plus was that the dog won’t dig under one!

    • Ragnar on August 27, 2017 at 7:56 am

      That sounds fairly plausible, except I don’t see any holes or obvious patches where a fence would have been fastened! I’d vote for purely decorative.

  7. Jonathan W on August 26, 2017 at 1:56 am

    I’ve assumed it was there as a terracing or mini retaining wall or a way of keeping the lawn flat. After looking at the old pictures of the house, I hadn’t thought much of it.

  8. Cory on August 26, 2017 at 6:00 am

    Is your curb made out of sandstone or granite? Or is it just plain old cement?

  9. Carla Windsor Brown on August 26, 2017 at 7:18 am

    I walked in front of those houses everyday of my childhood on my way to William Allen White Elementary. I remember walking on those curbs like a balance beam, but I never gave a thought to why they were there and no where else along the way!

    There was a beautiful, big old home on the NE corner of 4th and Market that actually had a little wall with beautiful steps going up to the lawn which was elevated, maybe 2′ above street level. I remember there were also concrete hitching posts there. It was torn down years ago, but now I wonder if that wasn’t also a Squires home???

    Isn’t it funny how being reminded of one thing makes other memories flow?!

  10. Cindy A. on August 26, 2017 at 7:18 am

    In the old picture, it looks as if the sidewalk goes up to the curb. I don’t see any green space between the sidewalk and curb. Were sidewalks wider back then? Maybe as the years went along, the sidewalks became less wide and the green space grew.

  11. Michael Bazikos on August 26, 2017 at 8:50 am

    My house has the 2nd curb, and it continues to the neighbors house next door. I don’t like mine, it makes it more difficult to cut grass and i’d like to grade the lawn to a gentle slope. I have not noticed this feature on many homes in Clayton, NJ.

  12. Dodi on August 26, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Ah the second curb! Frankly, it was the STYLE of the time. American cities have the interesting distinction of being the first cities to be actually mapped and planned by designers! Given that Washington, D.C. was the first to have an architect designing the layout the streets, the trend of having orderly, squared streets was a thoroughly “modern” invention. Your city was founded in 1857, so the trend of orderly layout was well established by the example of our capital. After all, it was only about 50 years from the building of the capital, so it was the trend at the time.

    By the time that Cross House was built, the plan to have “public” sections of the street…with walking paths…was a trend. Since my city was founded about the same time as your house was built, I’ve seen the exact same demarcation in my city along the older streets in town. Those weren’t “sidewalks”, they were promenades! They were a way for people to get outside, visit, be seen, and in general just socialize. Remember, the horse drawn carriage was the mode, and walking from place to place was normal. Since parks were not a thing, parading your new fashion in the neighborhood would be the way to quietly announce your status. So how to show your property to advantage? Have that second curb as the “frame” for the property, offsetting the “public” sidewalk. Visuals, my dear, visuals. No fence, that would be rude! A fence would imply that you were snooty at a time when people were very status conscious. The Crosses were very prominent, so fencing would not have been a democratic option…so the second curb. After all, we are very modern and civilized, right? Like everything else in the Cross House, this was just the latest, greatest advancement in modern house planning.

  13. Sandra Lee on August 26, 2017 at 10:49 am

    Second curbs are fascinating. I do remember a smattering of second curbs in hometown Toledo, Ohio (dates to 1820’s & lived there 50-60”s), or most recently KC (lived there past 40 years). However, this also included 3-story limestone & stucco home circa 1901 that my ex-husband has owned for some time without a second curb. Hyde Park & Southmoreland neighborhoods (1870-1890’s) had a smattering of 2nd curbs. The 1870’s & 1880’s Quality Hill area adjacent to KCMO downtown had homes w retaining walls raised up 1-2 feet & hitching posts attached. Hotels from that era (Kersey Coates Hotel & Corbin Hotel ) were flush to the city sidewalk so no grass or 2nd curb. I agree w Dodi regarding second curbs as the style & demarcation of status in fashionable neighborhoods. Also the Cross House was at the tail end of the era of walking downstown & walking to call on people before autos & ubiquitous telephones. This probably explains why it was no longer seen after those eras. I don’t recall the 2nd curb last week but I was focused UP & not at the lawn-haha. Lawn looks great by the way!! Using an edger or weed whacker must help with mowing along the second curb?

    • Sandra Lee on August 26, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Good grief punctuation & mistyping gone awry! ????

  14. Melody on August 26, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    Yes, I have seen these second curbs. We have them here in Ontario. Some are short like yours, others are more like small retaining walls.

    A lot of the streets were dirt (mud) and the sidewalks were actually boardwalks.

  15. DeAnna on August 26, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    I wonder if it marks the street easement. On my street the street easement is 60′ and the easement ends 2′ inside the the sidewalks.

  16. glenn on August 26, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    I would bet that the second curb signifies the setback that the city owns.

  17. Stewart McLean on August 26, 2017 at 7:39 pm

    I would guess that all of the properties on your street with the second curb were at one time one piece of property, which an owner defined with a curb. This may have been before there were sidewalks. Perhaps it was originally one lot when Harrison Cross bought it. Does your lot extend beyond the curb, or does it stop there?
    -When I bought my current house, I wanted a front garden. My lot slopes up a few feet before sloping down for close to three hundred feet to the back line. My house had the remains of a chimney that only went from the stone basement foundation to the second floor. It was about fifteen inches deep, by about ten feet wide. There was also about six inches of wall on either side enclosing the chimney. When indoor plumbing was installed, the plumbers removed the chimney above the first floor and gutted the two fireplaces, (one faced the kitchen and the other the dining room), to run both bathroom and radiator pipes, as well as a gas line to the third floor for a small apartment kitchen stove. I was removing the old chimney because I wanted to be able to use the extra twenty two and one half square feet of floor space it would give me. At that time I was starting the garden so I butted the bricks up to the walk to create definition for the new garden instead of hauling the bricks and mortar to the dump. As it turned out, there were just enough bricks to lay them four high. I used the old sandy mortar for fill, setting each row one half inch back from the one below.
    -The point is that I later had a full survey done and found out that my land actually starts approximately one foot back from the walk even though I am expected to maintain the land to the street. There were other unexpected discoveries for me on all four sides of my property when the final survey corners were staked.
    -Even though you maintain the land between your curb and the street side curb. Maybe the actual property ends at your second curb, maybe I just like to tell my story to your disciples, or maybe both are true. It is my hypothesis as to why there are two curbs.

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