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.
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.