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Cobblestone Houses

Folk Art Buildings of Western New York


Detail photo of cobblestone construction

Cobblestone construction became a folk art in western New York

Photo contributed by Sue Freeman
Building with cobblestones was a folk art that flourished for 35 years, from 1825 until the Civil War, in western New York State. In all, over 700 cobblestone buildings were built in this region. Many still exist and are in use today.

Stone houses can be found in many parts of the world, but New York's cobblestone houses are unique. Instead of larger rocks, builders used rounded or oblong cobblestones small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. (Click on the photo to your right for a detail view.) New York had an abundance of these stones because of the glacial deposits and lake wave action of prehistoric Lake Iroquois and the more recent Lake Ontario.

The stones were an impediment to the early settlers who tried to farm the land. Then, the farmers began to use these stones as an inexpensive building material. Cobblestone construction evolved into an art form with each mason developing his artistic creativity over time.

New York cobblestone buildings come in many sizes, shapes, designs, and floor plans. They differ from European cobblestones (or flints) in that full stones were used (not split flints). Western New York masons developed unique embellishments of the vertical and horizontal mortars. A few masons from New York migrated west and built a smattering of cobblestone buildings in the Midwest & Ontario, Canada. However, more than 95% of these interesting cobblestone homes are located in New York State.

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