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Cobblestones are stones that were frequently used in the pavement of early streets. "Cobblestone" is derived from the very old English word "cob", which had a wide range of meanings, one of which was "rounded lump" with overtones of large size. "Cobble", which appeared in the 15th century, simply added the diminutive suffix "le" to "cob", and meant a small stone rounded by the flow of water; essentially, a large pebble. It was these smooth "cobbles", gathered from stream beds, that paved the first "cobblestone" streets.

Note that Cobble is a generic geological term for any stone having dimensions between 2.5–10 inches. A cobbled area is known as a "causey", "cassay" or "cassie" in Scots.[1]

Use in roadwaysEdit

ItalianStones

Italian cobblestone-covered street in Isola Bella. Cobblestones such as these are designed for horses to get a good grip.

Cobblestones are typically either set in sand or similar material, or are bound together with mortar. Paving with cobblestones allows a road to be heavily used all year long. It prevents the buildup of ruts often found in dirt roads. It has the additional beneficial advantage of not getting muddy in wet weather or dusty in dry weather. A disadvantage is that carriage wheels, horse hooves and even modern automobiles make a lot of noise when rolling over cobblestone paving. In England, the custom was to strew the cobbles outside the house of a sick or dying person with straw, so as to dampen the sound.

Cobblestones set in sand have the environmental advantage of being permeable paving, and of flexing rather than cracking with movements in the ground.

Use todayEdit

Cobblestones were largely replaced by quarried granite setts in the nineteenth century. Cobblestone is often wrongly used to describe such treatment. Setts were relatively even and roughly rectangular stones that were laid in regular patterns. They gave a smoother ride for carts than cobbles, although in heavily used sections, such as in yards and the like, the usual practice was to replace the setts by parallel granite slabs set apart by the standard axle length of the time.

Cobblestoned and setted streets gradually gave way to macadam roads, and later to tarmac, and finally to asphalt at the beginning of the 20th century. However, cobble­stones are often retained in historic areas, even for streets with modern vehicular traffic. Many older villages and cities in Europe are still paved with cobblestones. In recent decades, cobblestones have become a popular material for paving newly pedestrianised streets in Europe. In this case, the noisy nature of the surface is an advantage as pedestrians can hear approaching vehicles.

In older U.S. cities such as Boston, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York City , San Francisco , Baltimore and Philadelphia, many of the older streets are paved in cobblestones and setts (mostly setts); however, many such streets have been paved over with asphalt, which cracks and erodes away from heavy traffic, thus revealing the original stone pavement. Also, utilities, such as ConEdison often dig up a street and don't bother replacing the stones. In Chicago, the cobblestones are often exposed during street or sewer repair on major arterial streets, along with old streetcar rails (all of which still lie under the street surface in many parts of the city), having simply been paved over.

In some places such as Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, as late as the 1990s some busy intersections still showed cobblestones through worn down sections of pavement. Many cities in Latin America, such as Buenos Aires, Argentina; Zacatecas and Guanajuato, in Mexico; Old San Juan, Puerto Rico and Montevideo, Uruguay, richly influenced by many European architectural features, are well known for their many cobblestone streets, which are still operational and in good condition. They are still maintained and repaired the old fashion way, by placing and arranging granite stones by hand.

Cobblestone roads are a decisive element in some of the biggest professional cycling races. The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix are especially well known for their many long cobblestone sections.

Granite Setts

A stone-covered street using setts instead of cobblestones.

Use in architectureEdit

Main article: Cobblestone architecture

In the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, the retreat of the glaciers during the last ice age left numerous small, rounded cobblestones available for building. Pre-Civil War architecture in the region made heavy use of cobblestones for walls. Today, the fewer than 600 remaining cobblestone buildings are prized as historic locations, most of them private homes. They are clustered south of Lake Ontario, between Buffalo and Syracuse. There is also a cluster of cobblestone buildings in the Town of Paris, Ontario. In addition to homes, cobblestones were used to build barns, stagecoach taverns, smokehouses, stores, churches, schools, factories, and cemetery markers. The history of building with cobblestones and 17 driving tours to see the remaining structures are found in "Cobblestone Quest - Road Tours of New York's Historic Buildings".

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. Scottish National Dictionary Association (1999) Concise Scots Dictionary . Edinburgh, Polygon. ISBN 1-902930-01-0
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