Lincoln Park Landmark Looks Like New, Because It Is

Wooden alley under construction

We were saddened and surprised this past spring when we saw that the wooden alley that runs behind the Cardinal’s carriage house (Officially, the Carriage House of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, 1550 North State Parkway) had been torn up (see photo above).  It was one of the few streets left in Chicago still paved with wood cobbles.

Recently we had a chance to pop by the area again, and we’re happy to report that the cobbles are back.  Not the same weathered ones that were put down in 1909, but brand new ones.  The alley is whole once again.

It’s surprising that the alley was replaced, considering that it is on the National Register of Historic Places.  But I guess even landmarks get to the point where they have to be repaired.  

There are still a few of the old cobbles in place.  On the west side of the alley, just before it joins the sidewalk, there is an area hemmed in by concrete that has the old, gnarled, black ones in wonderful contrast to the new ones recently installed.  Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about wood to tell if the new blocks are cedar, like the old creosote-soaked ones.

Here’s what I do know:

  • The alley was last resurfaced between October 29th and November 23rd, 1909.
  • The city paid the KRQ Company $3,343.96 to do the job.
  • The bricks are all four inches wide, but vary in length of six, eight, or 10 inches.
  • Chicago was the first non-East Coast city to use this method of paving, known as Nicholsonian paving. Cities stopped using the method because Samuel Nicolson started suing everyone, and a court ruled that his company was due royalties from cities that used the process.  So cities stopped doing it, and he stopped getting money from them.  Chicago started using blocks of different sizes to get around the patent issue.
  • Wood was preferred to stone paving because it was cheaper, and quieter.  Some web sites indicate that the city’s wooden pavers came from the woods of Wisconsin, but they actually came from Michigan.
  • Chicago changed to stone paving because of changes in the tax code that made it more financially attractive than wood.
  • The last new wooden street in Chicago was laid in 1904.
  • The city stopped repairing wooden streets with wood in 1934.
I found some documents indicating that there is one other wooden alley still in existence in the City of Chicago.  It runs south of West Webster Street, just off of North Hudson Street.  Sounds like time for a field trip!
Editor

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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