Cobblestone buildings

At last, spring has sprung, and I got to go to River Lea during daylight hours, instead of in utter darkness. It is wonderful to see the gardens that are filled with spring flowers around River Lea.

The presentation at the meeting on May 7th featured Frank Gallagher, town historian of Wilson, New York, who spoke about cobblestone buildings. His interest in cobblestone structures is quite personal. He lives in a cobblestone house. He said that his house was built in 1843-1844 of lake washed cobbles. His house is known as the “James Morse house.” It is listed on both the national and New York State’s register of historic places.

There was no uniformity in construction of these buildings, Frank said. Each house was unique to the personality of the building’s owner and/or designer. 

The biggest downfall to these houses is that they are “hard to heat,” Frank said.

The topic of cobblestone buildings was quite fascinating. These buildings were the last to be built entirely by hand before the industrial revolution. Ninety percent of all cobblestone structures were built within 70 miles of Rochester, New York.

Approximately 700 cobblestone buildings were constructed between the years of 1825 and 1860. The era of cobblestone buildings ended abruptly with the start of the Civil War. By then, there were fewer cobbles available. Also, the economy was in dire straits with inflation and other economic issues. The majority of the houses were built in the Greek revival style.

A few of these houses were built in Wisconsin and Illinois, mostly by people who moved west from New York State. There are other cobblestone structures in Paris, Ontario. These structures were built, mainly by Levi Boughton, who was a master mason, and by masons whom he trained. The structures included houses, churches, garden walls, basements, and a smoke house. For more information about the cobblestone buildings in Paris, Ontario, take a look at this website.

Glaciated fieldstones were used as building materials for the first cobblestone structures. The fieldstones were rough stones. These houses were considered to be very primitive. In fact, a few structures still exist that were built before 1830. Later, smoother stones from Lake Iroquois were used. The walls that were built with the lake stones were known as “rubble walls.” 

Lake Iroquois later became known as Lake Ontario. Lake Iroquois, however, was a larger lake. It was formed after the end of the last ice age, about 13,000 years ago. There are remnant shorelines both in New York State and in Ontario, Canada. The smooth stones were also remnants of Lake Iroquois.

Frank Gallagher found things, such as this china above, that are reminders of an earlier time. The china depicted above, which was found in pieces, was manufactured in England.

The treat after the meeting was the sight of the reflection of all of those lights on the Niagara River.

It was an enjoyable meeting. I am now retired as recording secretary of the Grand Island Historical Society, but I will continue to share stories about these events.

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