Group seeks Walnut St. ideas
Friday, November 16, 2012 10:00 AM
Back in the day before asphalt and automobiles, Walnut Street was the only brick street north of Main Street, and horse-drawn trolleys took passengers to the far north end and back.
Walnut Street used to have the special vibrancy of being a combination commercial and residential street, with shops, bakeries, small factories and houses alongside each other. At one time, many German families lived in the neighborhood.
The street's early history also included having a key role in the Underground Railroad network that aided runaway slaves to reach freedom. At that time, many free blacks lived in the Georgetown neighborhood, including Walnut Street.
City preservation planner Camille Fife said that most Underground Railroad historic sites had been occupied by white people, and that to have so many sites owned by blacks in one area is unusual. Also unusual about Georgetown is that so many houses associated with the Underground Railroad are still standing, said Walnut Street Initiative Committee member Connie Partington.
The rich history could be the foundation for Walnut Street to be a tourism destination and lead to revitalization of an old neighborhood, Fife told an audience of about 20, many of them neighborhood residents. They were attending the third meeting of the Walnut Street Initiative Committee.
The meeting place itself, a new museum featuring Madison's volunteer fire companies inside a former fire house, was described as the type of attraction that could draw people to the neighborhood.
The committee came up with 12 ideas for revitalizing the neighborhood, and is exploring them. The ideas were shared with the audience. They include:
An Underground Railroad tour. There already is a walking tour, with brochures available from Historic Madison Inc., but Fife said residents are interested in being involved in the tours.
A Georgetown Memorial Park, which was described as a "pocket park" because of its small size. Partington described the types of flowers that could be planted in the park, and suggested a statue of an Underground Railroad leader such as George DeBaptiste, a neighborhood resident and Underground Railroad activist who later moved to Detroit, where there is a statue of him.
Return some of the street to brick and have a trolley.
Bring back the mixed uses of commercial and residential.
Develop a Walnut Street education program for the schools.
Support redoing the facade of the Salvation Army building, as it is located at the "portal" to the neighborhood.
Encourage and promote recycling to improve the appearance of the neighborhood.
Do what Fife called "an evaluation" of the trailer park at the north end of Walnut, near where it intersects with U.S. 421. "There is some concern about it," Fife said. "It's the portal to the other end of Walnut Street."
The neighborhood has some vacant buildings, trash in yards, run-down buildings and unsafe structures. Building inspector Mark Johnson handed out copies of the city's nuisance ordinance and unsafe-building ordinance, and talked about them and the building codes.
He demonstrated his "grassometer" - a homemade tripod to hold a yardstick in place while he takes pictures - that he uses to determine if grass is higher than 12 inches and thus in violation of city ordinance.
He and Fife talked about specific properties in the neighborhood that have been brought to their attention. He urged residents to call his office, 265-8324, or his cell phone, 701-9014, to report ordinance violations, construction without a building permit, trash on lots or around houses, and to check if people have permission to be installing siding or replacement windows. To have large items such as sofas picked up, he said, contact Gina Center at the street department, 265-8303.
The Walnut Street Initiative Committee is focusing on more than Walnut Street. Its boundaries are Main Street, Moody Park Lane, U.S. 421 and East Street, but Fife said the eastern boundary might be moved back to the north-south alley.