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Raleigh’s Missteps On Cobblestone Roads: A Painful Reminder

Have you ever walked down the cobblestone roads in City Market? Better yet, have you ever ridden a bicycle through those roads? If so, you’re aware of how rough and uncomfortable the path is. There’s a reason: the cobblestones — or more accurately, Belgian Block — are not in their original state. The only two (major) examples left of this once common way of road building were restored incorrectly, resulting in an uneven and bumpy surface.

The belgian block lot of the Depot today

During my interview with master landscaper Tom Mekus (Native Elements: Building a Better Residential Landscape) I learned of the importance of properly laid rock pathways, and the consequences of improperly doing so.

He explained that the reason the lot at the Depot (as well as City Market) is uncomfortable to walk on is due to a shoddy restoration. The workers dug up the rock and laid them back in haphazard fashion–erasing many decades of settling as well as erosion, which made the quarried stone smooth.

The Belgian block of City Market

Until speaking with Tom, I had assumed that the block pathways through City Market and at the Depot were completely original, dating back to the early part of the 20th century. The roads are one of the main talking points in literature of the district:

It is common to see couples walking hand in hand as they stroll along cobblestone streets lit by old-fashioned lanterns and illuminated trees.

— City Market web site

At one point in time, the original Setts at City Market were paved over with asphalt. The asphalt and blocks below it were dug up 25 years ago during restoration. Although they were re-laid with the smooth side up, they were cast with concrete between them, creating gaps and and a very uneven surface.

intact block on south Harrington Street

Sadly, the only example of intact Belgian block in its original form in Raleigh (that I am aware of) is on the west side of S. Harrington Street. Located in front of William-Cozart, it’s but a small sliver of what used to be.

Where did all of those beautiful granite stones go to that once lined the streets? Are there any other examples of “Cobblestone” roads in Raleigh?

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