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Rebuilding One of America's Last Wood-Paved Streets

The restoration of a historic Philadelphia thoroughfare has proven more difficult than expected.
In 2015, South Camac Street's wooden pavement was in disrepair.
In 2015, South Camac Street's wooden pavement was in disrepair.Z22/Wikimedia Commons

South Camac is one of those old, narrow Philadelphia streets with buildings that hug the sidewalk so closely they seem to spill onto it. It’s made even more charming by the fact that it has hosted many of the city’s most venerable literary and art clubs since the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And if that isn't enough, until last year one section served as the only restored wood-paved street in Philadelphia.

South Camac was paved in wood in 1917. It and a few other streets in such cities as Pittsburgh and Chicago are the last remaining examples of this once-prevalent practice of the early 20th century. Wood was in greater supply than cobblestone and thus less expensive, but its real advantage was that it dampened the clip-clop of horse hooves. As a result, wood blocks were often used to pave streets in high-traffic areas as well as around buildings for which noise was particularly disruptive, such as churches, hospitals, and schools—and, in the case of South Camac Street, social clubs.