Ah, that iconic New York City cobblestone. Well, technically, as die hard New Yorkers are keen to correct, it’s known as Belgian block. The Historic Districts Council (HDC) recently a study on New York City’s Belgian block heritage, in the context of providing policies towards a more accessible historic streetscapes.

Here are 10 fun facts from the report about this historic paving in New York City:

1. Belgian Blocks Typically Date to the 19th and 20th Century

Belgian block on Broadway and 42nd Street, now Times Square, between 1898 and 1900. Photo from Library of Congress.

Although there is Belgian block in New York City that supposedly dates to the Revolutionary War, such as on Clove Road in Brooklyn (featured in Untapped Cities’ recent book Secret Brooklyn: An Unusual Guide), most of this type of historic pavement dates to the 19th and 20th Century, writes the HDC. The organization also attests that “what’s under foot matters,” and that “amid the ongoing work of protecting and celebrating civic heritage, paving materials, so often neglected, deserve their due as irreplaceable historic assets.”

At the same time, the organization recognizes that the mobility needs of today are drastically different from that of the 19th and 20th centuries, which was dominated by travel by horse-drawn carriage and street car. Today, pavement must accommodate a “new influx of local residents and modes of transportation necessary to create a walkable, bikeable, sustainable city of the 21st century,” attests the HDC.

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2 thoughts on “10 Fun Facts about NYC’s Belgian Block (Not Cobblestone) Streets

  1. Ships exporting American goods to Europe, returned, using the blocks for inexpensive, quickly loaded ballast, that were unloaded without need for sorting and warehousing in the U.S. This was noted in one of the texts we used in Junior High School P.S. 45, in The Bronx, that I used sometime during 1947 – 1949.

    At the time, I recall many streets paved with Belgian Blocks. There was one street, south of The Bronx Park Zoo, that was beautifully paved with red ceramic bricks. Such a roadbed still exists on Grand street, in Newburgh, N.Y. It was locally referred to as Brick Street, and on the corner opposite the Newburgh Post Office, is the venerable Brick Street Grocery. If you are in the neighborhood, try them, they make very good, moderately priced lunch time sandwiches.

    Newburgh itself has many historical sites, including Washington’s Headquarters and Museum, the nation’s first historical site. Nearby is the West Point U.S. Military Academy,. There is an interesting commercially operated tour of the historic grounds and museum. During weekdays, an excellent, inexpensive lunch, open to the public, is served in the historic West Point Community Club, overlooking the Hudson River. West Point has consistently placed number 1 in several degree granting disciplines, as rated by Newsweek. On Sundays, there is an excellent brunch buffet in the Hotel Thayer, located just inside the Main Gate. Note that picture I.D. is required for admission to West Point.

    If Untapped Cities were so inclined, it could charter a bus, passing historical sites while traveling to the area, and after a full day of sightseeing, culminating at an incredibly excellent and inexpensive Chinese buffet dinner.

    The whole area abounds in historical sites. But that is another story.

  2. This first image cannot be any earlier than 1898 and no later than 1902. The “The Moth and the Flame” starring Herbert Kelcey and Effie Shannon, opened on stage in 1898 at the original Lyceum located at 4th Ave., between 23rd and 24th Streets. Founded by Thomas Edison, the Lyceum was the first theater in the world to be wired for electricity. The original Lyceum was torn down in 1902 and the much grander structure you see today completed in 1903 at 149 West 45th and Broadway. The closing date of “The Moth and the Flame” at the original location is unknown. One theory explaining why no date is recorded is that the play may have ran right up to the original theater’s demolition.

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