You never know where or when you will come across an awesome historic playground! The small town of Waterville, Vermont is such an example. The current library and town offices are housed in the former Waterville Central School, which is a classic 1930s two-room schoolhouse (a relatively common building type in Vermont). The school sits on a hill above the road, with its playground in front, basketball court and playing field behind the school.
This ramshackle playground remains on the property grounds, though it’s fallen into disrepair. A passerby mentioned that a couple used to take care of the playground, but he’s not sure what happened in recent years. Still, it’s a great look at a historic playground. I call this one historic because it has presumably original equipment and it is located in its historic setting.
How old is this playground? Many of the apparatuses appear homemade, which makes it more difficult to determine. However, based on the type of equipment it is plausible to say that playground dates to the early days of the school, ca. 1930s. Anyone have any thoughts on that? Maybe there was even a giant stride on the playground (sadly, no signs of one). But, what a great playground, right? Now it just needs some TLC.
Sprawl and poor development decisions pop up everywhere; infill that adversely effects its surroundings can happen almost anywhere, even in a historic district in picturesque Vermont.
Let’s use Fair Haven as an example. Traveling through Fair Haven, VT on VT Route 22A or VT Route 4 you’ll pass well kept historic buildings; the highways lead to a large open town green surrounded by historic commercial blocks, civic buildings, and significant homes overlooking the green, including two historic residences constructed of marble. This area is the Fair Haven Green Historic District, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
While driving into town from Route 4A West, something jumped out at me. See below.
What? Dollar General sits next to the Fair Haven Free Library, a 1908 Carnegie Library. And on the other side is the Fair Haven Grade School – in another historic building.
This is located in the Fair Haven Green Historic District – a nondescript modern strip mall type shopping building sandwiched in between two architecturally significant buildings and adjacent to many more. It’s like a slap in the face – and it’s not even my town!
It gets worse. Take a walk further down the green and this is your vantage point:
Taken out of context, this library now looks like it’s the owner of the Dollar General sign. How did this happen? Granted it is just a sign, but in a state that outlawed billboards and in a historic district like Fair Haven, it’s unfathomable. You could say that a sign isn’t a billboard, but if you consider relative size to the building it’s in front of, that Dollar General sign might as well be a billboard. And to clarify, I’d have the same opinion regardless of the sign in front of the building. This is not an issue of Dollar General, although I was ready to be up in arms about yet another Dollar General. However, Google Maps shows the street view as a Ben Franklin store in the same building with an equally large sign in the same location.
Unfortunately, I cannot find any information about the development of this lot. The questions to ask are: (1) How did this happen? (2) Was it a question of zoning? (3) Why did no one stop it? (4) Why wasn’t a better infill design chosen for this lot? (5) Has the Town fixed the problem so this doesn’t happen again?
I’d consider this a cautionary tale, especially as small scale sprawl continues to be a threat. Since it’s not a strip mall, it’s easier to slip through the cracks. Chain stores are not necessarily the main issue here – poor “architecture” is the bigger problem of the moment. Be on the lookout, because poor development results in adverse effects to historic properties and districts and a decrease in quality of life (it’s all connected).
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Would that be considered optimistic or pessimistic? Is it really true or just one of those things people say in cliche form? While reading microfilm archives of the Harnett County News at the Harnett County Library yesterday, I found my evidence that many things do stay the same. Collectively, society changes and stays the same. Advertisements and news articles reveal very similar issues to those in today’s media. For example, an article in the 1934 Harnett County News questioned if movies are bad for children’s health, with subsequent articles following. I had to laugh in amazement and amusement; current articles about movies or television and the effect on children are easy to find. The 1934 news reported foreclosures, murders, new highways, community events, births, deaths, marriages, visitors in town. Advertisements proclaimed sale prices, quality, trust, and odd medicinal fads. The main difference, to me, was that most papers do not print social engagements anymore, or at least not as prominently.
While I have seen many old newspaper articles, I have seldom used microfilm in my research, partially because it was unnecessary and partially because it makes me terribly nauseous, and I suppose that only by scanning many weeks of the paper can one get a true overview of the issues of the time. While it would be nice to assume that problems of 75 years ago have been fixed by now, it’s comforting to realize that people are people and despite flaws, society continues to move forward and thrive in spite of the obstacles. And the tragedies of yesterday such as segregation, tuberculosis, child labor, etc. have been addressed and generally corrected, if you will. We have come a long way. Granted, they have been replaced by new tragedies, but it gives me faith that these, too, will be erased. For those who feel disconnected from history, perhaps browsing the old newspapers will bring a stronger sense of understanding and legacy and be able to relate to historical events and figures.
One note about newspaper research: just as today’s paper will misquote people and get information incorrect, historical news articles are likely to have the same problems. Don’t take every detail as an absolute truth. (I constantly find names and dates associated with Overhills to be incorrect, which is why I say this.)
Aside from these lessons, I discovered that microfilm no longer makes me nauseous and it is a lot of fun – not an everyday kind of fun, but a good research excursion when necessary. And I’ll take the opening statement as optimistic.