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PAVING. All the earliest paving in America seems to have been done with cobblestones. The first mention of paving is found in a court record in New Amsterdam in 1655, a reference to repairs of the paving in Pearl Street. Brouwer Street was paved with cobbles in 1658 and thereafter called Stone Street, even to the present time. Several other short New York streets were paved before 1700. In Boston, State and Washington Streets were cobble paved in the seventeenth century. In 1719, it was said that some citizens of Philadelphia laid stone to the middle of the street in front of their own property, but the city was notorious for muddy thoroughfares for many decades thereafter. Alongside some city streets very narrow brick or slab stone sidewalks were laid as early as 1700. Some macadamizing with broken stone or gravel and some cobble paving were done in the eighteenth century, but even in 1800 most city streets were still given over to dust or mud. In fact, some downtown business streets in New York were quagmires as late as 1850, and in Chicago streets remained dirty and muddy long after that.

In 1832, what is said to have been the first granite or Belgian block pavement in America was laid in New York. That city also introduced wood paving in 1835, laid in hexagonal blocks, a technique said to be Russian in origin. Later, cities lay square blocks. Although wooden paving was easy on horses, and the clumping of their hoofs was muffled on impact, wet weather caused the wood to swell and become uneven. When Chicago burned in 1871, the weather had been so dry that even the wooden paving burned. In New Orleans, built on soft alluvial soil, many streets were surfaced with thick wooden planks laid cross-wise—some streets until well into the twentieth century.

With the coming of the automobile and the decline of horse transportation, wood paving in urban centers declined. The first brick street paving was laid in Charleston, West Virginia, in 1870. New York first tried laying asphalt in 1877 and pronounced it a failure, though the technique quickly became popular. After 1900, asphalt paving began slowly to be replaced by concrete, which for some years had been vying with sawed Bedford stone in popularity for sidewalks. Various mixtures of crushed stone with tar, bitumen, asphalt, and cement were developed for streets and roads as the automobile era dawned, but for the main highways, concrete came to be the only material considered. Glass paving bricks were announced in 1905 but never came into use, and rubber paving was tried in 1923.

By 1970 the surface paving of streets in most major cities was a bituminous mixture from either asphalts (petroleum products) or tars (coal products). Modern roads require several layers of pavement to support heavy vehicles moving at high speeds. Modern paving engineers design highways and interstates with three distinct layers, which includes the roadbed, base course, and wearing course, the latter being either asphalt or concrete.


Hart, Virginia. The Story of American Roads. New York: Sloane, 1950.

Lewis, Tom. Divided Highways: Building the Interstate Highways, Transforming American Life. New York: Viking, 1997.

Seely, Bruce Edsall. Building the American Highway System: Engineers as Policy Makers. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.

Alvin F.Harlow/h. s.

See alsoCity Planning ; Interstate Highway System ; Roads .