Remembering Albert Lea’s boardwalks, wooden paths

Published 11:15 am Saturday, April 3, 2010

Not long ago, Ken Keesling of Twin Lakes brought a century-old postcard to the Tribune and wondered if it indicated that Albert Lea once had a lakeside wooden sidewalk.

A closer study of this colorized card clearly shows planks for a wooden sidewalk, or what could actually be called a boardwalk, next to what was indicated to be Fountain Lake Drive.

At one time a walkway with wooden planks was called a boardwalk. Many of these boardwalks of the past were located next to the seashore, a river or lake in the eastern part of the nation. In fact, the most famous of these boardwalks, created in 1870, is in Atlantic City, N.J.

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An interesting detail on the card, reflecting conditions about 10 to 11 decades ago, implies that the local boardwalk or wooden walkway had a more solid surface than the unpaved roadway between it and the lakeshore.

This postcard also became the basis for a question regarding the city’s past history. Were there other wooden sidewalks in Albert Lea years ago? After all, wooden sidewalks were once popular parts of roadside and street life in the nation, especially in the western frontier communities. This last fact is still being verified with scenes in many western-themed films and television shows.

To get an answer to the question about the possibility of other local wooden sidewalks, a check was made with Linda Evenson, librarian at the Freeborn County Historical Museum. Within a few minutes she found three photos featuring the existence of wooden plank walkways that were once an interesting parts of local life.

Through those earlier years the walkways for pedestrians next to the then somewhat rough roads and streets were made of wood.

Those original wooden walkways could be considered to be temporary structures. In later years wood blocks, bricks, and sometimes even stone slabs were used to construct more permanent sidewalks. In time, the best material for constructing sidewalks was found to be concrete. And an alternative, especially for walking and biking trails, is an asphalt surface. This last part is certainly verified with several trails within Albert Lea’s city limits.