Street construction exposes the wooden cobblestones that formed Chicago’s roads more than a century ago

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Burim Baraku stood outside the Gold Coast building where he is the doorman and imagined the hairstyles, hats and horses he would see if he could go back in time perhaps 150 years.

It was not a random daydream. He stared at the unearthed wooden cobblestones as city work crews tore up the surface of Banks Street just west of DuSable Lake Shore Drive to repave the road.

“People have been coming all week and bringing back pieces of wood as souvenirs,” Baraku, 58, said.

Parts of the wood along Banks Street are rotting and crumbling. Other sections are in much better shape and look like brick until, upon closer inspection, the wood grain patterns on the surface become visible.

A garbage truck drives down a newly uncovered wooden road on East Banks Street between North Astor Street and North Ritchie Court in the Gold Coast district.

“They’re all over the place,” said John Russick, senior vice president of the Chicago History Museum.

“Lumber was cheap and Chicagoans wanted out of the mud, so it became the city’s paving system that was used and maintained before the Great Chicago Fire and well into the 20th century,” Russick said. .

Wood was used to build just about everything, setting the stage for the massive conflagration of 1871.

“There’s still a lot of wood under our car tires that’s been paved over, and from time to time it’s exposed during street construction,” Russick said.

Aldus. Michele Smith (43rd) said the city intended to repave the street, burying the wood again.

The wooden blocks are toxic because they have been soaked in creosote to prevent rotting, she said, noting that someone called her office to ask if they could take the wooden blocks away. She said no.

“It’s really just a fascinating piece of Chicago history,” Ald said. Brian Hopkins (2nd), whose neighborhood joins Smith’s neighborhood.

Anyone interested in seeing a restored stretch of wooden causeway can visit the driveway behind Cardinal’s Mansion at 1555 N. State Pkwy. The alley was repaired in 2011.

It’s not a scary alley, like Chicago alleys do.

But if you want to see the wooden cobblestones that were recently discovered, you only have a few days before they are paved again.

Hopkins came out early Friday to take a look. He brought a crowbar and pulled a piece of rotten wood from the street to take home.

“I’m going to put it on the credenza in my office at City Hall,” he said.

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