streets and street paving


  For information on road construction, I consulted the 1908 text Street Pavements and Paving Materials, a Manual of City Pavements by Geo. W. Tillson.
 The primary paving material used in New York at the end of the 19th century was rectangular Belgian block made of New Jersy trap-rock, set on a graded and rolled bed of sand and gravel and sealed against the weather with tar. This technology was a vast improvement over round cobblestones, which were subject to frequent dislodgement and impossible to seal, giving rise to vast potholes. They created an ear-shattering din as horses and carriages traversed them. Indeed, quiet-riding pavement was so essential to New Yorkers in the 19th century, that laws were passed stipulating more expensive and smoother pavements be laid in the vicinity of schools, hospitals and churches. Uniform grading for drainage was also introduced in this period, as were improved techniques for laying roadbed foundations. As traffic volumes increased in large cities like New York, new patterns were introduced for arranging the blocks, including diagonal and herrigbone patterns, which better withstood the large forces exerted by metal-clad carriage wheels.
 Tillson’s manual provides thorough discussion of such topics as the relative “¤non-slipperiness,”Łof wood, asphalt and stone pavements in dry, wet and damp conditions, calculated on the basis of the number of horse accidents per mile. (Asphalt does best, though slippery in the damp, while granite is worst but better wet than dry.)
 The first coal-tar pavement in the future New York City area was laid in 1867, in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, and provided a highly durable, smooth and long-lasting surface, the material was impractical for large-scale road building, as it had to set for 30 to 60 days. The first true asphalt laid in the United States was in Newark, NJ, in front of City Hall; in Manhattan the first asphalt was laid in 1871, near the Battery.

Stereo Opticon View of Paving
Stereo-opticon view of paving.
Men laying pavement, from Tillson.
Men laying pavement, from Tillson.