Cobbles and Rails

by Josh on March 18, 2011 · 9 comments

in Journal

Before April showers and May flowers come March potholes. But in my neighborhood, potholes aren’t just a seasonal inconvenience, they’re also a history lesson. Just take a look at what lies beneath the veneer of modernity that is two inches of asphalt:
Paving Bricks and Rails

That is a streetcar rail set in amid granite street pavers at an intersection near my house. The asphalt usually flakes off a bit at this spot over the winter, but this year the exposed area is enormous.  And beautiful.

This is one of those “they just don’t build them like that anymore” things that accompanies living in an older neighborhood.  But even more mindblowing than the idea that nearby streets were paved with hand-laid granite blocks is that this was how suburbs were built 100 years ago.  Of course, in those days the only cul-de-sacs around were u-turns for the streetcars.

Minneapolis is gradually erasing scenes like this. When a local street gets rebuilt, any old rails and pavers are torn up and replaced with modern concrete or asphalt.  Plenty of Minneapolitans recognize this buried treasure for what it is , however, and descend with wheelbarrows and pickups to street construction sites after the work crews have departed for the day to pick pavers for their backyard patios or garden edges.  I hope to be one of them someday.

But what I’d like even more than my own private street paver patio is to have some places around town and in my neighborhood where the charm and history of streets like this is preserved for all of us to enjoy.  I’m convinced these streets can be functional, too.  Look at how level those pavers are and consider that the only maintenance anyone has done on them for 60 years is cover them with asphalt.  People 100 years ago couldn’t afford to rebuild their streets every few years any more easily than we can now. (Though they probably didn’t anticipate commercial deliveries by semi trailer in the Model T-era.) If we can see the value in maintaining older houses and neighborhoods, why not also the value of the historic streets that served them?


{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

bungalowbliss March 18, 2011 at 11:07 am

Oh, I completely agree with you. Only during the pothole-filled winters do we get to see glimpses of the beauiful old roads and streetcar rails in Indianapolis. I’m just a few blocks off what was the Old National Road (Hwy 40), and whenever I see these patches of the way it used to be, I try to envision the entire stretch done like this. And while we patch and fill, year after year, those cobbled streets have withstood all this time (granted, with some layer of protection…). We do have certain sections of the city that still have the old streets, and they’re always a treat to drive down.


Adam March 18, 2011 at 8:56 pm

I saw a small patch of brick road a few blocks north of my house where the asphault has worn away. It reminds me of my semester abroad in Italy, where all the city streets were cobble stone. Check out this Dutch automatic paving machine which inhabitat featured a short while back!


Josh March 19, 2011 at 8:59 am

Adam, that paver laying machine is brilliant– thanks for the link.


Holyoke Home March 20, 2011 at 9:42 am

Funny story-a few years ago a (not so smart) local police officer was fined/fired/punished for picking up pallets and pallets of granite pavers at construction sites he was supposedly monitoring for traffic safety and SELLING THEM.



threadbndr March 21, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I wish our city would stop asphalting over the brick streets in my bungalow neighborhood. All but one of the sides of my block have succumbed to the evil black tar and that one is patchy as the when they do work on the watermains or drains, the city will tear up the brick and they don’t replace it.


beth Haiken March 21, 2011 at 10:17 pm

As someone who once took a road trip just to retrace what we could find of Route 66 I totally agree – the old streets are gorgeous but there are so few left!


Mark Peters March 29, 2011 at 10:44 am

You could work with your city’s historic preservation department to get these restored.


roni April 5, 2011 at 8:20 pm

They are indeed beautiful. Just like the old covered bridges, they are a glimpse of the past. When in Paris a few years ago, I noticed that my back did not hurt as much after walking on the pavers as it did on cement!


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