Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1858
THE NICOLSON PAVEMENT—While our citizens have been discussing the perspective merits of boulder and block stone paving during the last two years, the specimen of the Nicolson pavement near Wells street bridge has been quietly gaining the approval of all parties, and proving possession of all the requisites for a good and desirable roadway. It covers that portion of Wells street between South Water and Lake streets, and was laid in November, 1856, and July 1857, by Messrs. Harper & Greeley, of this city, under a contract with Messrs. Allen Robins, George Smith and Ogden & Fleetwood, the proprietors of the adjective lots.
It consists of rows of wooden blocks, standing endwise upon a broad flooring, The rows are placed one inch apart, and the spaces between them are filled with a preparation of coal tar and gravel. The flooring underneath is well covered with coal tar on both sides. The tar excludes moisture and prevents decay, and the whole structure is impenetrable to frost.
We think the cleanliness and freedom from noise must commend it to the occupants of the stores fronting upon it, and we know from our own experience that it affords a very smooth surface for wheels, and an excellent footing for horses.
Methods of the Nicolson Block
Illustrations from “The Nicolson Pavement, Invented by Samuel Nicolson,” 1859
The blocks in this specimen are of pine, and yet, after eighteen months’ use, including two winters, the surface is not perceptibly worked. We think that if composed of hard wood, this would be the pleasantest and most durable paving yet tried in this city.
Its cost, we learn, is about the same as that if the block-stone pavement, and about forty per cent more than that of boulders.
We shall be glad to see several blocks of the Nicolson pavement included in the programme of improvements for the coming year.
Putting down the Nicolson Pavement at the crossing of Washington and Clarks streets
Illustration from “The Nicolson Pavement, Invented by Samuel Nicolson”, 1859
Guide to the City of Chicago, 1868, T. Elwood Zell and Co.
As Chicago was the first city to adopt this style of street pavement, it may be proper to give a brief description of it. It is considered far superior and more durable and economical than stone, which is so popular in other cities.1
In laying down this pavement, the ground it’s first levelled or rounded off, so as to conform with the grade, then covered evenly with a coating of sand. Next comes the sub-structure, which is a flooring of pine boards an inch thick, laid close together in courses lengthwise of the street. The flooring is well tarred on both sides with hot tar and pitch. Upon this substructure the upper stratum of blocks is placed. They are of pine, sawed three inches thick, six inches long, and from six to ten inches wide, and, after being dipped in coal-tar, are set up on end across the street from curb to curb, with their broad faces fronting up and down the street. The first line of blocks being thus set, a line of pickets or strips of board, three inches wide, are placed on edge between the rows, every row being nailed through the picket into the blocks and penetrating the board below, thus making the whole- close and tight. Then another row of blocks dipped in hot coal-tar as before is set up against the strip, and so on alternately until completed. There is left between each two consecutive rows of blocks a continuous groove or cell, seven-eighths of an inch wide and three inches deep, extending from curb to curb. The filling of these grooves is the next operation, and this is done with the use of screened gravel and hot coal-tar.
The gravel is heated hot and then filled into the cells level with the surface ; the coal-tar, after being heated, is poured upon the hot gravel until the cells are filled. The composition thus formed is compactly rammed down. The whole surface is then thoroughly covered with hot coal-tar mixed with pitch, and immediately covered with fine gravel and common sand, mixed in about equal proportions, three-quarters of an inch thick.
When this is done, the pavement is complete and ready for use.
Chicago Bicyclists on a Nicolson Paved Road in 1895.
In an article published in the New York Times on March 2, 1868, a plea was made for its use for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The pavement was much easier on horses’ feet.
Nicolson Pavement was far from perfect, but it served its cities well till technology brought on the modern paved road.
1 Samuel Nicolson was the superintendent of Boston when he invented the process of the Nicolson Pavement in 1848. By 1856 his product made it to Chicago where it was widely appraised.