Dotting the streets of historic towns and beloved in meandering garden paths, cobblestones are some of the most recognizable (and charming!) stones used in hardscaping. Simply put, cobbles are rounded stones that are traditionally used to pave roads and paths. They are usually between two and ten inches in diameter or length and are often taken from rivers, where the constant running water gradually wears away at the stone and forms those signature rounded edges.
The word cobblestone is derived from the English word “cob”, which means something round or lumpy. For thousands of years, they’ve been used in many different societies to create paved roads, which were a huge step up from dirt paths. Doesn’t sound like much an improvement, you might think? Sure, by today’s standards cobblestones can be lumpy and difficult to walk on. However, dirt roads were very easily washed out and rendered impassable by rain or floods, as the thick mud that was produced would easily stop horses and carts. On the flip side, when the weather was too dry the roads would get incredibly dusty, which could make it difficult to see where you’re going in extreme cases.
Cobblestones helped make early roads much easier to pass and helped pave the way for easier transportation of people and goods. The stones were usually set into a layer of sand and bound with mortar to create a relatively even surface that easily allowed carts, carriages, and horses to pass quickly and easily, all while avoiding the creation of mud and dust in inclement weather. In addition, the hard cobbles could withstand heavy traffic for decades and even centuries without needing replacement or repair — in fact, many historic cities still retain at least some of their original cobblestone roads and paths!
In addition to roads, cobblestones have historically been used to decorate buildings, walls, and fireplace hearths. And, while rounded, oval-shaped cobbles are what most immediately come to mind, they can also be square and rectangular. However, they always retain their rounded, irregular edges. While today homes and hardscaping features designed with these materials create a quaint, old-world feel, in earlier times they were simply the look of the day and primarily a way to make homes, walls, and roads a bit sturdier.
Cobblestones are still in use today primarily as a decorative accent. Although they were a sturdy improvement over dirt roads back in the day and they don’t warp or crack like modern asphalt, don’t expect to see a return to cobblestone roads today — they’re difficult and expensive to maintain and the bumpy, uneven texture causes a lot of wear and tear on modern cars. Still, cobbles are a popular choice for homeowners looking to capitalize on that old-world charm and are usually used to create pathways in the front and backyards, and they can be used to create beautiful retaining walls for gardening. They’re also still a very popular choice for fireplace hearths, as the charming, natural imperfections can give a room a little rustic elegance.
When shopping for cobblestones, there are tons of options. Antique cobblestones, reclaimed from real old-world buildings and paths, can be purchased and reused in your own hardscaping projects though they are often quite expensive. If you’re buying new cobbles, you can get them in nearly any stone you’d like, such as granite, limestone, and basalt. They also come in a wide variety of colors, such as red, green, gray, black, pink, tan, brown, and variations thereof. And, as we said above, think outside the oval-shaped stones! Square and rectangular cobbles can create beautiful outdoor figures, and many homeowners like the more regular patterns they can create. However, a popular recent trend is to use cobblestones in different colors to create patterns, such as swirls, zig-zags, and other simple designs.
There’s a reason cobblestones have been used for ages — they’re sturdy and have a simple, everyday beauty. If you’re thinking about using these unique stones in your next hardscaping project, you can check out some of the options we carry right here. You can also always contact us with any questions, we love to talk cobbles!