Wooden Alley - Chicago, IL
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member adgorn
N 41° 54.638 W 087° 37.691
16T E 447902 N 4640044
Quick Description: The most widely known wood block alley in Chicago is in the Gold Coast, the alley between State and Astor less than a block south of North Avenue, behind the mansion of the Archbishop of Chicago.
Location: Illinois, United States
Date Posted: 1/26/2010 12:21:26 PM
Waymark Code: WM84J9
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member Big B Bob
Views: 7

Long Description:
Because it was so cheap (Chicago had an abundant supply of Wisconsin lumber), wood block was one of the favored early methods.

Excerpted from the National Register submission at
(visit link)
The alley was constructed between Oct 29 - Nov 23 1909, paved in cedar wood blocks treated with creosote, at a cost of $3346.96. It is located in the National Register Gold Coast Historic District and is bounded to the north by the residence of the Cardinal of the Archdiocese of Chicago, built in 1880. The alley is a rare example of the technique of wooden street paving that was predominant in Chicago in the later half of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This style replaced the prior method of planking that was used for "improved", that is non-dirt, streets. But as lumber accessibility declined, and (superior) asphalt became cheaper, the city moved on to asphalt paving.

From ForgottenChicago (visit link)
Wood block pavement was more commonly called Nicolson pavement. Samuel Nicolson was the superintendent of Boston and Roxbury Mill Corporation when he invented the process in 1848. The wooden blocks used for Nicolson pavement were four by five inches wide, and twelve to fifteen inches long. These were laid together loosely on the four inch side. Before laying the blocks, a sand foundation was put down, upon which boards serving as stringers were placed. The blocks are then laid on the boards, and the spaces between the blocks was filled with a mix of gravel and coal tar.

Chicago’s Civil Engineer in the 1850s, Samuel Greeley, was enthusiastically in favor of Nicolson pavement, writing in an 1859 Tribune article: “Wooden pavement…might have great advantages in a city, where suitable stone was scarce, where lumber was the great staple of the market, and where the foundation was new and yielding.” However, wood pavement was not long-lasting on heavily trafficked streets, good for at most a decade. By the 1890s, wood pavement was considered by many to be an anachronistic failure. During this period, more durable and cost-efficient pavement methods like Macadam and Stone blocks came into use.

See a movie of the alley here:
(visit link)
Street address:
1535 North between Astor and State Streets
Chicago, IL USA

County / Borough / Parish: Cook County

Year listed: 2002

Historic (Areas of) Significance: Architecture/Engineering

Periods of significance: 1900-1924

Historic function: Transportation

Current function: Transportation

Privately owned?: no

Primary Web Site: [Web Link]

Secondary Website 1: [Web Link]

Season start / Season finish: Not listed

Hours of operation: Not listed

Secondary Website 2: Not listed

National Historic Landmark Link: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
Please give the date and brief account of your visit. Include any additional observations or information that you may have, particularly about the current condition of the site. Additional photos are highly encouraged, but not mandatory.
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