What Lies Beneath: Cobblestones, That’s What

GM happened to notice this weekend that a couple small patches of asphalt on 31st St.29th st. have eroded away to reveal the wonderful cobblestones that lie beneath (alright, if you must be a stickler, they’re really called Belgian blocks or setts, but let’s not get hung up on that).

GM tried to do a little research to find out how many of Georgetown’s streets still have these stones underneath the asphalt, but came up empty-handed. At the very least 31st street does (Update: an astute reader pointed out that this photo is of 29th st., not 31st. But GM does remember seeing Belgian blocks on 31st when they repaved it last year). Obviously there are cobblestones on O and P where you can still see the streetcar tracks, but (for now at least) those tracks and the stone continue underneath the asphalt along the route’s old loop by the University. (The tracks currently under asphalt will be removed during the streets’ rehabilitation, which is set to begin later this year).

But could it be that the rest of Georgetown also still has Belgian blocks as their foundation?

GM has argued before that some streets should be permitted to convert back to cobblestones. They’re attractive and are a highly effective way to slow cars down. While O and P streets are a hazard, they are a hazard because of the streetcar tracks are elevated over the settled stones. Once the tracks are made flush with the stones again, the roads will be safe. (And, to head off a likely counterargument, there is much debate about whether it’s better for a ambulance to drive fast in the first place).

Belgian blocks are incredibly durable and would cost significantly less to maintain than asphalt after you take into account the cost of periodically resurfacing. And yes, they can be plowed in the winter.

Georgetown preservationists are so rigid about so many things, yet seem to disregard history as soon as it means a slight inconvenience to their driving. Here’s a chance to be true preservationists and restore a real part of Georgetown’s past. It’s just a few inches below our feet.

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8 Comments

Filed under Preservation

8 responses to “What Lies Beneath: Cobblestones, That’s What

  1. During the (at least) six times that Cecil Place has been scraped and repaved over the past year, the cobblestones have been revealed. It always seems a pity to cover them back up. One of the best still-uncovered expanses is 35th Street between Prospect and M, which is a rather steep place to park.

  2. Randy Roffman

    I would venture that many of Georgetown’s streets are still cobblestone beneath the ugly blacktop which continually develops potholes and suffers being torn up frequently for various reasons. You are correct about the Belgian blocks (or setts) being not only more beautiful and suited to the architecture of Georgetown, but which also act as a natural ‘speed check’ for the neighborhood. If people still want to use the streets of Georgetown for commuting, they should slow down anyway. Speed bumps are so unsightly and dangerous to negotiate due to poor placement and lack of markings. Georgetown should celebrate its history and charm with the return of the cobblestones.

  3. Maggie

    I see cobbles on the corners of N & 27th. So even Herring Hill benefited from street improvements despite the circumstances of it’s residents.

  4. Old Georgetowner

    In one of the histories of Georgetown, it’s written that the residents of N Street between Potomac and and 34th kicked in a cumulative toll of fifty thousand dollars to have a special design employed on the stones that were laid down in the years after the civil war.

    In the course of thirty years watching the various infrastructural atrocities committed by local authorities, I have seen absolutely no evidence — anywhere — that any of this remains intact.

  5. EastGeorgetowner

    I would be all for going back to cobblestones — I actually noticed the same spot as GM. They are beautiful, and it might dissuade commuters from using streets such as 28th as cut-throughs.

  6. GM

    Wow, I expected more objections. Glad to see I’ve got company in wanting this.

    I still think it’s a long shot but maybe I’ll try to do a little research to see what it would take to get this actually done.

  7. Bey

    “I still think it’s a long shot but maybe I’ll try to do a little research to see what it would take to get this actually done.”

    So, what did you unearth;) ?
    Is it feasible?
    Where else has it been done?

  8. GM

    Oops, I forgot to look into it. Thanks for the reminder!

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