I think most of us have seen Belgium block.
For those who haven't, its a gray granite block approximately 6"
x 6"x12". Most of the streets in Newark and elsewhere
were paved with them. For example 18th Avenue ( formerly Ocean Avenue
) was paved with Belgium block. As a matter of fact 18th. Avenue
and many other streets still have them quietly sleeping under a
couple of inches of macadam.
Where did they come from? I always wondered? Though intuitively
you would think Belgium. I guess that would be correct because they
have granite quarries in the Ardennes. But why? The answer to that
I found out to be for ballast. This country back then was shipping
a tremendous amount of raw material and manufactured products to
Europe. It was all one way, nothing was being shipped back to this
country. The ships needed weight to make them sea worthy for the
return voyage. They needed ballast. The weight provided by the Belgium
blocks filed that void. Hence the abundance of blocks and the paving
of our streets with them rather than gold.
My father told me the following story about his father and his
grandparents. Back in the 1880's during the Post Potato Famine my
grandfather's parents were being evicted from their shanty in Cavin,
Ireland. They were tenant farmers on a large English farm. In Ireland
at that time there were two types of Irish, the Catholic and the
Protestant. The former were called Shanty Irish. He told me that
his father gave the evicting landlord a terrible beating. It was
thought that he may have accelerated his life. He also went on to
tell me he was shipped out of Ireland in a coffin to escape imprisonment.
This was the family story how he arrived.
The attached site shows a typical heartless eviction and the also
the origin of Down Neck feet:
Family Evicted by their Landlords
Source: Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland
In doing research over the years I have come to the conclusion
that the "coffin " that my grandfather escaped in wasn't
a casket but rather a coffin ship.
My grandfather came to this country from Ireland in the late 1880's
in a coffin ship. It is my understanding that these ships were used
to ship lumber to Europe. Some unknown ship owner came up with the
brilliant idea of replacing the need of Belgium block with Irish
immigrants. They would pay for their passage and they simply walked
off the ship when it reached the States. The Belgium blocks were
no competition. And that's why many of us Irish are here today.
I knew at times we were looked upon as being thick. But I never
knew we were better substitutes for ballast than granite blocks.