Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


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Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

American Houses: Brunswick, Maine, fanlights, & Van Morrison "Cleaning Windows"

I've been spending time In Brunswick this fall, working out of the library at Bowdoin College. The first cotton mill in Maine was in Brunswick. The textile industry produced much of the wealth that went into these mostly nineteenth-century houses on Federal Street, Cleaveland Street, and Park Row. Bowdoin College is a big factor in the town's history, and I plan a separate post on the campus architecture.

Train service from Brunswick to Boston was restarted a few years back on the old Boston & Maine line and has been reasonably successful but this portion of line, looking north from Brunswick station, is still defunct.
That's the old mill complex, on the Androscoggin River, at the end of Maine Street. The problem with most main streets in Maine---or Maine Streets--is too much traffic. The road ends up feeling like a highway, and pedestrians are intimidated--it just doesn't feel good to be there. Brunswick's downtown is livelier than most but it still doesn't compare to the urban bustle you'd find in a town this size in Western Europe, where planning tends to manage traffic better, and keeping towns alive as civic space is a widely-shared value.  
The fact that Maine Street is lined with three-storey 19th century commercial buildings is a problem that Main Streets all across America have to deal with. How to use those buildings in the 21st century, when people don't want to walk up flights of stairs to visit say, the dentist, or a lawyer. And of course parking's an issue, especially in a country where so many people are so overweight that they can't imagine walking a block or two. It's a sad fact that the only walking of any sort most people do is in...a mall. 
Maine Street doesn't have the exhuberance built into Main Streets of prosperous Kansas towns in the late nineteenth century--check this post on Ottawa, Kansas. The19th office spaces above those storefronts is hard to adapt to the way we live now. Downtowns need a mix of new lively modern architecture with the older street front for civic life to prosper in our 19th century townscapes. They can't all be "Arts Districts" and tourist zones. Candle shops do not a downtown make.   
early 19th c. Federalist

 Maine houses grow and grow, with ells and summer kitchens stretching out toward the barn.

This is the house where Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin.  
I like these row houses, late 19th c. Rare in Maine, outside Portland's West End

19th c. multi-units, probably housing for factory "hands" then, students now.

With standardized lumber--4x4s and 2x4s, it was easy and relatively cheap to expand Maine houses.

Those Federalist (Georgian in UK and Ireland) fanlights...listen to Van Morrison "Cleaning Windows"!

ex-fanlight. Too bad.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful, Peter. Thank you. I read this blog when it was first published, but it resonates differently now that I will have more of a connection to Brunswick!