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Those Old Cobblestone Streets!

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This is the second installment in the series “Those Old….” which covers elements of the region that are part of its history. The first installment was Those Old Stone Walls. Of course, with all the articles we offer, we’d like it to be a topic of discussion with the sharing of information, anecdotes, and corrections. It goes without saying that the further one goes back in history the harder it is to find double and triple confirmations of facts. All mistakes, errors in grammar, syntax and spelling are the fault of yours truly. Corrections and suggestions are always encouraged. Suggestions for future installments are always appreciated.


For those of us who grew up in New Bedford or the greater New Bedford area, the “cobblestones” that comprise the streets in the historic district, are typically regarded in a fond manner. It’s a nice touch, a reminder of how things used to be, and keeps one foot (pun intended?) in the past. The old buildings, the 19th century – or 19th century style in some cases- lamp posts just wouldn’t convey the same atmosphere without those “cobblestones.” There is something too modern with asphalt paving. Can you imagine the historic district paved with asphalt? Me either. No thanks.

So what is the story behind the “cobblestones”? Why were they used or preferred over other methods that have been around for centuries or millennia? Were all streets paved this way or just downtown?

Let’s start with a doozy. Those cobblestones we mention to out of town/state friends and family and love so much (unless you are crossing the street in high heels) are actually not cobblestones! Nope! A “cobble” is specifically a stone that has been rounded by the slow erosion of water. It’s a naturally rounded stone or pebble. Not necessarily round stones – there are roads that are entirely paves with round stones – but rounded. These stones were specifically gathered from streams, brooks, and rivers. As we all know the pavers we see in the historic district are not round. The pavers used here are called “Setts” or Belgian blocks. More on those later.

Unpaved Pleasant and Market Streets; Appearance Shows Why Roads Were Paved – Spinner Publications Photo

Actual cobblestones were used at one time. It was a natural progression from dirt packed roads as frequency of use picked up. Horse drawn carriages would eventually, with time, dig a rut or deep track on any road used frequently enough. Not only did this slow travel down and make the logistics of repair an issue, but could make commuting somewhat hazardous. An unevenly eroded lane or one saturated with rainfall, could mean a toppled or stuck carriage. The waste from animals along the road once mixed with the mud was a haven for mosquitoes, flies and promoted illness. Bad for business. Bad for one’s health. Truth is horse drawn carts were brutal on traffic lanes and made it even more hazardous for pedestrians and horse riders. Besides, it just looked terrible.

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About Joe Silvia

When Joe isn't writing, he's coaching people to punch each other in the face. He enjoys ancient cultures, dead and living languages, cooking, benching 999#s, and saving the elderly, babies and puppies from burning buildings. While he enjoys long walks on the beach, he will not be your alarm clock, because he's no ding-a-ling.

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8 comments

  1. Great article, but, the date on the First photo (Acushnet Avenue and Coffin Streets) cannot be correct. The Allen’s Theatre at 1514 Acushnet Avenue was closed in 1940.

  2. THANK YOU Dorene! For the compliment and the correction. We’ll let Spinner Publications know. Allen’s Theater named after George W. Allen jr. on 1514 Acushnet Avenue was destroyed in a bombing in 1933 and fire in 1940.

    All the best!

  3. I wonder if cobblestone streets need less repair? I wondered this out loud the other day while driving on one of new bedfords streets in need of serious repair. I like the look of cobblestone, it really adds character to a street, and maybe even slows down speeding cars…..

  4. Really enjoy all your stories. All very interesting.

  5. Our firm just opened an office here in New Bedford and I came out from California to help set up. I have to say the “cobblestone” streets were one of the first things to catch my attention. Having grown up a military brat in Europe, I love the feeling and vibe they give off. I’ve been in California for years and completely forgot how amazing they can make a street look (anything more than 20 years old gets torn down in Cal, hehe ). Thank you for providing some needed back story and educating a newcomer that they are, in fact, Belgian Blocks!

  6. Thank you. I love these articles. I love learning about our city, but I don’t have the time to do the research. I’ve always wanted to know what the brick tower thing w/ all the stairs is that I see when I’m on 195 near the downtown exit. Maybe you know or could find out? I imagine there’s a cool story behind it & it must serve some function if it hasn’t yet been torn down.

    • becky, way back when, before fire alarms that was a sort of fire watch tower, that many fire stations had, someone would position themselves up there and look for smoke. You used to be able to have a great 360 degree view from up there.

  7. Thanks for this informational article.
    My fire place is constructed of the “so called ” cobble stones. It weigh over 9 tons and is a focal point of the home. These were the orginal stones dug up and disgarded many years ago by the city.

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