Yesterday's Light

Images in Space and Time

The Pain of Cobblestone


There are, as I’ve said, a few cobblestone streets in Charleston, SC.  People drive on them, ride bikes on them, walk on them, and not surprisingly, they photograph them (yes, I’m guilty).  If you want texture in a photograph, a cobblestone street can be just the thing.  If the light’s right, you can get some interesting shadows.  Hey, how many street surfaces do you know of that actually throw shadows?

They do have a downside, though.  Walking on them can be uncomfortable.  I saw a woman park her car on one side of this street, get out, and walk the 15 feet or so to the other side as if she was barefoot and walking on hot asphalt.  She was wearing flats of some kind, so there probably wasn’t much between the stones and the bottoms of her feet.  Obviously, it hurt a little.

Heck, I was wearing running shoes with fairly thick soles and I didn’t like it much.  I’ve hiked on mountain trails in the southwest that are smoother than these things.  So who the hell designed them, anyway?  Did they do it to keep horses and buggies from going too fast (18th and 19th century speed-bumps), or were they just being sadistic?  If they could make buildings with smooth walls, why not roads with smooth surfaces?

I’m sure there’s a simple, logical reason.  I just can’t seem to think of one.


6 Responses to “The Pain of Cobblestone”

  1. Markus Spring

    Paul, isn’t it possible that the really old streets of those type were smoothed by iron horseshoes and iron-clad cart and coach wheels? Besides that, the pattern that those stones form, and their colors, make up for a good visual experience. Here in Germany we can find some of those streets in areas renovated to meet their historical impression.

  2. Cedric

    Hi Paul, great pic. Love the way the arches along the wall match the curves of the cobblestones. I think that cobblestones were used because back then it was te best way to make roads that didn’t crack from rain and soil movements. The methods that were used to make smooth walls would not have withstood the hooves and metal cart wheels as well or as long as cobblestones. At some points cobblestones were replaced by setts which were much kinder to all types of traffic.

  3. Steve Weeks

    From a construction side, I think you have found a prime example of low bid awarded to the inspectors bother-in-law, or in other words shoddy workmanship. Of the cobblestone roads I have seen, this may be the worst example I have seen. Only slightly better than wet gumbo clay almost up to the axles. What I notice is the width of the mortar/concrete between very unmatched stones. Sand and cement must have been more plentiful than somewhat matched stone.

    From the photography/seeing side, well done my friend and the sepia tone works well with the subject.

  4. Paul Maxim


    It sounds like you’re suggesting that this street has been redone to match the original street. I don’t know for sure, but I think this may actually be the original. This is Chalmers St., a street that runs parallel to Queen St. and perpendicular to Meeting St. If anyone knows more about this street’s history, I’d love to hear about it. And yes, the patterns and texture are remarkable.


    I get the impression you know something about these kinds of streets. So what exactly is a “sett”?


    You raise a good question. While sand is extremely plentiful (Charleston is, of course, a coastal city), I’m not sure about the stones. Cobblestone streets would have been easy in New England (with very rocky soil), but not so easy in the “Low Country”. That’s one reason agriculture was so dominant here – good soil easy to cultivate. Maybe they had to import the stones – who knows.

    Oh, and it’s not exactly a sepia tone. It’s more the old silver gelatin look. I like the warmth, and it seems to add depth.

    I see it’s finally starting to really warm up back in Sin City. I still miss the place, but I won’t miss the triple digit heat!

  5. Cedric

    I only know a little from when I used to live in Europe. The terms setts and cobbles are sometimes used to refer to the same thing but generally setts are flatter more evenly shaped (usually square or rectangular) granite stones. Cobbles, as in your picture, are rounded and not so evenly shaped.

  6. Steve Weeks

    About the tone, I am somewhat color deficient, so the subtleties are lost on me.

    Yes it is getting warm here and we are making plans to flee the valley for the summer. This looks like the year for the big R and I have to say I am looking forward to it. Expect postcards from SW Utah if I don’t get a travel blog up and running before we head out.

    Extend and enjoy your stay where you are. You are producing some wonderful images combined with a witting commentary. Good food for thought.


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