Not a brownstone in sight, but lots of bluestone underfoot

Here on Staten Island, a true brownstone rowhouse may be harder to find than a genuine egg cream, but another iconic natural material from the same period, slabs of bluestone sidewalk, are scattered throughout the North Shore communities. These neighborhoods were first developed during the age when bluestone was the material of choice for civic projects.

The brownstone for the homes that line the historic residential streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan may have come from New Jersey and Connecticut, but the bluestone that constituted the sidewalks in front of these homes came from quarries in the Catskills and the Poconos. According to Anthony DePalma, writing in the New York Times in 2008, the 19th Century bluestone business in New York was so lucrative that even Boss Tweed was getting a cut of the action.

Bluestone installation in New York City sidewalks has declined in the past 100 years, and most of the quarries in the Catskills closed. However, in recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in this paving material, with its aesthetic superiority over the dull, pedestrian look of concrete. Brownstone neighborhoods in Brooklyn and other restoration projects at historic monuments throughout the city have led the way for a resurgence of the industry and many quarries have reopened.

A neat row of bluestone slabs on St. Marks Place

A neat row of bluestone slabs on St. Marks Place

The North Shore of Staten Island has a large amount of bluestone sidewalks, albeit in small patches here and there. Most of these bits of bluestone are too inconsistent, damaged and poorly maintained to have much aesthetic appeal, but more extensive tracts such as the one pictured here, show the pleasing potential of these sidewalks. When brought back to their original state, they create an authentic context for the historic neighborhoods that they serve.

There are numerous contractors in New York City who can lay and repair bluestone sidewalks, though the cost is generally about four times as high as for more conventional concrete sidewalks. However, with renewed appreciation of the beauty of this material, bluestone sidewalks will eventually add to the value of the homes behind them.

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