Chasing Cobblestones: Underfoot and Smothered in Asphalt in the Jersey City Heights
When I was on my recent Red Squares walking tour of Jersey City, I happened upon some street construction that gave me a chance for an aesthetic and professional mulligan: Exposed cobblestones on their way to disappearing again for three decades!
I whipped out my new iPhone 5S and awkwardly began taking photographs to make up for a previously lost opportunity articulated here in a comments stream from two months ago:
I did not take photos of the cobblestones! Gah! I was always mesmerized by them and felt such sadness that the beauty would soon be covered up. I’ll have to look for another street in the area to document! …
Our cobblestones were like square granite bricks and they were put in the street end down — creating a long-lasting, and deep stone that would never wear away. …
I only know the cobblestones here are so massive because I tried to dig one out to keep! I couldn’t do it. Too massive. Too heavy. Too deeply seated in 1600 soil! …
They just covered up the old cobblestones again. They’ll be hidden for the next 30 years until they re-pave it all again.
Here we go! Caught, in situ, exposed cobblestones half-dead under hot, new, asphalt — and a burning morning sun — but now also half-alive for forever and a half-life, exposed, and memorialized here in this article!
As I stood on a Jersey City Heights corner, one angle on the sun provided this bright street exposure of the living cobblestones that had been exposed a week or so ago. Uncovered and un-dug from antiquity to present a whole new face of life.
Turning up the street brought a more shadowy view of the cobblestones.
Straight out of my iPhone, this image was just a dark, black, mess. Using PhotoShop, I was able to get the true character of the stones to surface in the image and one can see the real color of the stones. They are black, like the asphalt above them, and those scratched by the asphalt-removal machine show their birth color was a lighter, brighter, granite.
These cobblestones are set in the street “end up” and not in a traditional flat-brick position. That sort of setting gives the cobblestones a longer “up and down” life even though it takes three end-up stones to equal the coverage of a single stone in a thinner, flat, plane.
It was fascinating watching the men and machines work. They would roll two blocks of new asphalt at a time, working half of the street at a time.
Prepping the cobblestones consisted of a whole lot of hot tar drizzles all over the exposed street and at each juncture of where the new asphalt would meet what was already in place.
What I failed to realize in my awkward attempt to record the lives of cobblestones was that hot tar is sticky, and liquid, and even if you try to avoid not getting hot tar on your shoes, the hot tar will find you and ruin your new Crocs anyway and curse you for chasing cobblestones!
I was lucky a bristle brush, warm water and dish soap helped me remove most of the yuck.
Within an hour of my final image of the cobblestones, they were, once again, buried for another 30 years. While I was sad to see them disappear again, I imagine riding on streets of unforgiving, hard, stones must have been noisy for transportation and even more dangerous for pedestrians as a tripping risk.
The new asphalt carpet does improve the neighborhood. The black ribbon makes the cars whisper-quiet and the smooth sheen of the streets makes everything up and around the ground look refreshed and prettier. Can important urban renewal be as simple as repaving the streets?
I would love to live in a cobblestone world, and I understand there are certain advantages to leaving the past behind, but protected, and still standing. Previous lives and dreams of the city patiently wait for us to recover them, even if momentarily, to help refresh the present, and to remind us how to the true text of the city is always paved in granite.