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Samuel Nicolson was the superintendent of Boston and Roxbury Mill Corporation when he invented the process of the Nicolson Pavement in 1848. By 1856 his product made it to Chicago where it was widely appraised.
Close-up of what a Nicolson paved road looked like
From the 1868 Guide to the City of Chicago:
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.
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.
Nicolson blocks of pine
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.
Putting down the Nicolson Pavement at the crossing of Washington and Clarks streets
Illustration from “The Nicolson Pavement, Invented by Samuel Nicolson”, 1859
In an article published in the New York Times on 2 March 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.