Monday, December 5, 2016

Chicago Common Brick and Street Paver Brick History.

Chicago was built and rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 using Chicago common brick. Also produced for roadways and fancy building brickwork were known as Chicago Street Paver Bricks," all of which were produced in Chicago from local clay. Although some people assume the streets were "cobblestone," Chicago DID NOT use cobblestone for public works.
Chicago Street Paver Bricks - These have been saved from street resurfacing projects.
Chicago bricks look different from bricks produced in other regions due to the geological composition of the clay in our area and the method used to fire the bricks. This clay produced salmon and buff shades of color when it was heated intensely in the old brick making process. These colors are uniquely different from the reds, creams, and browns found in other regions.
Original surface uncovered Trolley Tracks and Setts (see below) around the heavily used tracks.
Chicago Street Paver Bricks uncovered.
In the peak of Chicago common brick production, Chicago was home to over 60 different brick manufacturers, some of which started in 1872 to keep up with the demand for Chicago common brick after the Great Fire.
The Front and street side of 1363 N. Bosworth, Chicago. The front facade is the most heavily composed side, with stone and Chicago Street Paver bricks (heavily articulated finish brick). The street-side comes second, with a lesser grade of brick but still ornamented with considerable corbeled brickwork.
Street Pavers were much denser than the common bricks used for buildings, although some multi-unit properties use the Street Pavers for the front facade of the building. When the Street Pavers became worn under heavy traffic or damaged in some way, they were individually dug-up and flipped over, putting the previous underside on top which gave the repair a like-new quality.
The rear of 1363 N. Bosworth, Chicago, Illinois. The utterly plain backside is done in Chicago common brick.
Demand for Chicago common bricks eventually decreased with the increased use of concrete block and wood and the remaining brick production companies in Chicago were consolidated under one company name, the Illinois Brick Company. 

Then Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1970 and the newly established Environmental Protection Agency required the Illinois Brick Company to bring their kilns and processing facilities into compliance with new regulations. This would have cost the Illinois Brick Company millions of dollars so, rather than complying, they decided to shut down brick manufacturing operations.

As seen in this image, Sett granite pavers, cut like brick were used mostly by industry's where there was heavy traffic, for a business that uses heavy construction vehicles and around railroad track spurs and loading docks. You can see from this picture that cobblestone was not used in Chicago.
For people that insist Chicago used cobblestone on the streets, contact the experts at:

Colonial Brick Company at 2222 S. Halsted, Chicago.
"Specializing in Chicago Antique Brick since 1968.

They will verify that Chicago did not use cobblestone for street paving. They were Chicago Street Paver Bricks. They reclaim, clean, and resell Chicago Street Paver Bricks for commercial use.


  1. The setts came from Wales. They were used as ballast on ships that were coming here to pick up lumber.

    In 2004 I scavenged a sett with the help of a streets and sanitation worker who was one of a crew that had spent weeks digging a huge holes up and down Clark Street as part of an upgrade. These setts were about a foot beneath the layers of asphalt or cement or whatever was troweled on year after year. So at Clark and Wrightwood, I call down to this guy and ask him to pass me a good looking one. He lifted up a beauty and I almost fell into the hole with him because It weighed more than I expected. It is a great door stop!

  2. In Bridgeport, under the Canal Street viaducts, they are almost all pavers - not covered in asphalt or concrete...

  3. Reclaimed Chicago brick is very desirable outside Illinois. Florida, for example, imports it for new construction of landscaping, like driveways, walkways, fire pits, and barbeques. There's a reason why any old Chicago building that gets torn down, has a crew of people bundling the brick!

  4. The streets up in Jefferson Park area were not paved in brick. They were a large rough-cut stone in a rose or light red color. They were a bit larger that bricks and quite a bit heavier.

    1. I can concur, as I have some (granite) scavenged from Cortland St. in Bucktown. Very heavy.

  5. Thankyou Dr. Gale for a great article. I recall brick pavement in Melrose Park, IL as a boy in the 1960's. My Mother was a visiting nurse in Chicago where she was born and lived. She used to tell me about the brick streets and street cars in Chicago.


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