The Society for Industrial Archeology is a diverse group of members, interested in industrial heritage, manufacturing, the built environment, bridges, transportation and more. In its own words:
The Society for Industrial Archeology was formed in 1971 to promote the study, appreciation, and preservation of the physical survivals of our industrial and technological past. The word “archeology” underscores the society’s principal concern with the physical evidence of industry and technology-the study, interpretation, and preservation of historically significant sites, structures, buildings, artifacts, industrial processes, bridges, railroads, canals, landscapes, and communities.
Each year the SIA meets for an annual meeting, field sessions and paper sessions. I had the privilege to attend the SIA 2010 in Colorado Springs. Read Parts One, Two, Three, Four. This year the SIA is meeting in Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN. After a few years hiatus, I’m excited to be attending the conference and honored to be presenting about a topic dear to my heart and my preservation interests: The Giant Stride.
My research on the giant stride started as a paper in my graduate school class titled “History on the Land” taught by Bob McCullough (one of the best classes of my entire education). This is a playground apparatus that you will seldom find on playgrounds now due to safety regulations. However, if I found one I’d give it a try!
As you can read in the abstract booklet, my presentation is as follows:
INDUSTRY ON THE PLAYGROUND: MANUFACTURING AND DEVELOPING THE GIANT STRIDE
The American playground movement of the early twentieth century focused on the health, social habits, and organic strength of children, manifesting itself in the tall, challenging playground equipment comprised of gymnasiums, ladders, poles, merry-go-rounds, swings and including one particular apparatus referred to as the “giant stride.” Best described as a tall pole with a rotating cap from which long ropes hung, children held on to the ropes and ran in circles around the pole fast enough for their feet to leave the ground as if they were flying. Like the other apparatus elements, the giant stride required strength and would look quite unfamiliar on today’s playgrounds. The giant stride stands as a good example of the collaboration between manufacturing advances, social and health trends of the early twentieth century, and do-it-yourself imitations: all contributing to the shared history of technology and resourcefulness.
Despite the popularity of the giant stride, it faded from the playground scene due to safety regulations; few remain in existence today. The giant stride experienced its greatest evolution and popularity in the first decades of the twentieth century. Though its origins remain uncertain, primitive versions appear in publications from late nineteenth century England. In the United States, its ubiquitous use on playgrounds is well documented in 1909-1929 issues of the periodical, The Playground, and its development thoroughly illustrated by United States Patents from 1904-1928.
Advances to the giant stride followed two patterns: manufactured and homemade. Manufacturers focused on function of the apparatus, specifically the revolving head or cap, the ropes or ladders (i.e. handles), and promoted the hot drip galvanized steel used in the equipment. More than one company manufactured the giant stride and variations of it. Companies include the Medart Manufacturing Company, Giant Manufacturing Company and the National Playground Apparatus Corporation, among others. While manufacturing advances continued to improve the giant stride, not everyone could afford the steel apparatus. To remedy that factor, people employed their own creativity and constructed homemade giant strides using materials such as wood poles, wagon wheels and rope.
This presentation will include a discussion of the giant stride’s development within the social and industrial context, complemented with historic images, advertisements, patents and present day photographs.
Aside from being excited for my own paper, the panelists on all sessions have many familiar and respected names, including some people I’ve only had the opportunity to converse with via social media such as Raina Regan. A few days of preservation related chatter, exploration and new and old faces – what a time we’ll have! And although I’ve been to Minneapolis briefly in 2009, it was only a few hours, I’m looking forward to exploring the city more. And maybe it will be sunny this time.
If you’re going, let me know. I’d love to meet fellow preservationists. See you all soon – next week!
Doesn’t everybody love swings, young and old alike? As long as I live, I’ll swing on the swings. My sisters will be sure to join.
This swing set below is definitely an older model. Based on the size of it, it seems like it was always meant for young children.
Are you out swinging in the sunshine? See any old playgrounds? Send some photographs my way, please! More playground posts on PiP.
Bloomfield, VT is a small crossroads on the Connecticut River. Across the bridge is Stratford, NH. The general store is closed and not many houses populate this town. This church sits next to the town offices, the former school. Based on the piles of boxes in the windows, the church is abandoned or sorely neglected and used for storage. This poor thing has seen better days (note the missing steeple). The neighbors’ stuff is piled in the rear and on one side of the building, so I didn’t snap photos of all elevations.
Churches seem to be common abandoned or neglected buildings. What can we do about these? Another topic for another time, perhaps.
Preservation ABCs is a series that will work its way from A to Z, bringing words into conversation that are relevant to historic preservation, whether it’s an idea, feature or vocabulary term. The idea is to help you see preservation everywhere you look and wherever you go. Enjoy! See previous letters.
T is for Trees
When talking historic preservation, the instinct is to think of buildings and architectural styles, even though we know by now that preservation goes far beyond architecture. And the built environment encompasses streets, buildings, landscape, objects and unique characteristics of its setting. Aside from the benefit of providing oxygen to us, trees play an important role in historic properties. Often trees are contributing elements to the historic significance of resources.
Trees vary from region to region. A sugar maple in Vermont, a palm tree in Florida, a long leaf pine in North Carolina – trees aid in creating the setting. They provide a human scale, as well as a connection between the natural and built environment. Historic neighborhoods and towns often have tree lined streets, filled with trees that have matured. Historic farmsteads can have trees 100+ years old, planted when the house was built to mark time or provide wind protection. Newer properties and developments have smaller trees, planted with the intention that they will grow large and provide foliage and protection from the elements.
When streets lack trees it can be for a few reasons. Some species of trees suffered blights, wiping out entire cities of trees. The Dutch Elm disease struck the United States as early as the 1930s. Over the course of a few decades, American towns and cities lost their beautiful Elm trees. Historic photographs of a town might show beautiful tree lined streets, whereas today there might be very few trees on those same streets. In other cases, trees have been removed for construction reasons, whether road widening, sidewalks, parking lots, demolition, etc. Fortunately, trees are earning more respect as contributing to historic districts and properties.
Take note of the trees where you are. Streets look wider without trees, but perhaps the openness is less inviting. Trees provide shadows and tell nature’s story as the seasons change. Without so many trees (and other plants/bushes) would the seasons mean as much? (Certainly, my excitement for warm weather would not nearly be as great as it is!) Can you imagine your favorite street, campus, or park without its trees? Next time you’re describing a historic resource, a house or a district, pay additional attention to the trees. Chances are that they contribute to its setting and historic integrity.
Historic schoolhouses are commonly found throughout Vermont, some converted to residences, some as museums, some abandoned, some creative rehabilitations, and some remain in educational use. In the 1930s schools faced state regulation, and had to comply with standards in order to become a Vermont “Standard School.” These regulations were for the quality of education. Schools were also required to have a certain amount of light (which is why you see the bank of windows on schoolhouses). When schools met these standards they displayed a plaque (see image below).
Very few have historic playgrounds in the school yard, most likely because of change in use and change in playground regulations. What an exciting find to see this playground at a school in Craftsbury, Vermont.
The date of this playground equipment is likely the 1920s/1930s. I’ve yet to find a giant stride; have you?
Found off Vermont Route 100 in Warren, this mill has gone through many reincarnations, but sits empty today. A brief history of this site, from History of the Town of Warren compiled by Katharine Carlton Hartshorn.
Fire, as well as high water, plagued the mill business. Palmer and Wakefield lost a mill by fire. Henry W. Brooks lost his by fire in 1947 and again in 1949. And the Bobbin Mill originally built by Erastus Butterfield in 1878 burned down in the early 1930′s when owned by Parker and Ford. They began rebuilding on a shoestring in 1932, but fire struck again before completion. It was finally rebuilt and run as a mill for twenty-five years. Under the ownership of Barry Simpson and David Sellers in 1974, the Bobbin Mill was again damaged by fire. It was rebuilt and became the birthplace of several manufacturing businesses, including Union Woodworks, Vermont Iron Stove Works, Vermont Castings, North Wind Power Company, and Dirt Road Company.
Take a walk on the trail while you’re in the Mad River Valley. The water is blue and the rocks are worn from the falls, and even in the late fall, it was a peaceful (albeit chilly) place for a stroll.