Since the beginning of civilization, man has felt the need to travel. Whether long distance or local, civilizations around the world constructed roads, paved with varied materials. Cobblestones have been a popular choice for streets and sidewalks for centuries. Chances are, if a city or town is more than 150 years old, there are cobblestones buried below layers of concrete and asphalt. If the citizens are particularly preservationist-minded, then some streets and sidewalks may be protected by the local historical society.
Cobblestones are made from highly durable stones, usually granite or basalt. They were usually dug from nearby areas and then cobbled, or roughly shaped into the size needed. The cobblestones were then set in sand or mortar. Sand allows the road to gently give to traffic, preventing the cracking associated with pavement or asphalt. Streets paved with cobblestones have proven their durability and longevity by showing up through worn out sections of paved roads throughout the world.
The term cobble is a geological term used to describe a stone of a particular size, which is approximately two and a half to ten inches (.64 to 256 millimeters). Colors range from grey to black to purple, depending on the origin of the stone. Patterns in cobblestone streets depend on the creativity of the workers who designed the streets and installed the cobblestones.
Towards the end of the 19th century, cobblestones lost their popularity to newer techniques in street paving. The smooth surfaces of asphalt and concrete quickly became preferred, as they were easier and cheaper to install. Some people estimate that a cobblestone road costs four times as much to replace as an asphalt one. Many people don’t like the bumpiness of a cobblestone road and complain about biking or pushing a stroller on a cobblestone sidewalk.
Although naysayers abound, there are many who believe that the quality and aesthetics of a cobblestone road far surpass blacktop. Many European cities, towns and villages never quite got on board with the asphalt revolution, and to this day maintain beautiful and unique cobblestone streets and sidewalks, much to the delight of tourists and locals. In fact, a tourist would be hard pressed to find a city or town in Europe that doesn’t have surviving cobblestone roads or sidewalks.
In the United States, preservationists have fought hard to protect what is left of cobblestone roads. Approximately 36 “lane” miles (58 kilometers) of protected cobblestone road exists in New York City, and many are fighting to add to it. Other American cities, such as Alexandria, VA, Huntley, IL and San Francisco, CA have grassroots movements to preserve their cobblestone roads. Many successful companies operating in the United States sell antique cobblestones that have been reclaimed from streets and sidewalks undergoing repavement or construction.
If aesthetics and durability weren’t enough, there has been a recent study supporting cobblestone streets for another reason. The study found that walking on cobblestone-simulated mats improved participants’ physical performances and balance due to the uneven surface. This led to an improvement in blood pressure, as well as other health benefits.