Chicago Pavers

I have a feeling you may have been expecting that the first pictures we'd post from
Chicago would be of the amazing skyline, or a detail from one of the city's architectural gems.

[Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Instead you have before you a paved section of an old alley that sits behind the Cardinal's
(as in Roman Catholic Cardinal's) Mansion
, at the southern edge of Lincoln Park. I was hoping this small stretch of alleyway was still there after all these years, and found it a little worse for age, but still intact. Why paving blocks in an alley you may ask? Because of the unique quality of the material that was used to pave the alley - wood blocks.

[Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Yes, those are thousands of wood blocks and they once covered hundreds of miles of

Chicago's streets. Samuel Nicolson inventor of the Nicolson Pavement System, started laying wood pavers in Chicago in the 1850s. The pine blocks were soaked in creosote, an oily tar substance, that made the wood resistant to water and insects. They didn't last long under the stress and wear and tear of horse hooves and steel rimmed wheels, so they were eventually were replaced with stone or brick blocks, but this alley, and one or two others, still survive.

It's amazing how many great buildings are torn down and converted into asphalt parking

lots. Isn't it ironic that a surface, which would seem destined for asphalt, has remained in its original condition after all these years? I was happy to see this little alley still tricking the eye of the casual observer.

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  • 5/4/2009 9:35 AM Sharon wrote:
    This is the kind of thing that sparks my imagination; What happened here, who walked here? When I visit a museum and see a plate or perfume bottle or coat, I imagine the backstory or wonder about the life of the owner. Wonderful picture and post. And, welcome to Chicago!
  • 10/29/2009 12:23 PM Tom Martin wrote:
    I lived at 1263 Leland Ave. (4700 north) from 1937-1959 and the alley behind our apartment building was paved with wooden pavers. The article brought back many childhood memories.
    1. 10/30/2009 6:49 AM designslinger wrote:
      Thanks for writing. Have you been back to the neighborhood since '59? We live near Leland and Magnolia, so may have to wander over someday and see if there are any remnants of the old alley remaining.

  • 5/12/2010 5:03 AM wrote:
    That is so interesting! Thanks for posting the photos! Why on earth did they use wood in the first place? It seems that with all the cutting and fitting - not to mention the soaking process - stone would not have been more expensive in the end. And wouldn't common sense suggest that hooves and carriage wheels would tear it up pretty fast?
    1. 5/12/2010 9:32 AM designslinger wrote:
      Wood was cheap and readily available. It seems so counterintuitive though, and provided lots of fuel for Chicago's Great Fire in 1871.
      But even after that experience, they still paved alleys with creosote soaked wood! It actually stood up well to horses hooves and wagon wheels and was much more sound proof than the hard surfaces of brick or stone. BTW thanks for the visit and taking the time to comment. We love the feedback.

  • 5/17/2010 11:37 PM wrote:
    There is as much history in a city's pavements than in its buildings. Older cities which kept original pavements in their "old towns" are really neat, I think.
    1. 5/18/2010 4:04 AM designslinger wrote:
      It's true - history can be found in the most unlikely places. Thanks for visiting!
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