Wednesday, April 10, 2013
A River Runs Behind It
But if you'd told me this when I was growing up there, I would have looked at you askance. I suppose there is a river in Westport, I would have thought. But it's just...there. It's not a focal point. It's a thing we hide behind the buildings, like the dumpsters.
It took me a few decades of living in and traveling around the rest of the country, but I eventually figured it out. In other parts of America, towns were made to turn towards their rivers, opening themselves up to whatever traders and travelers might bring. In practical New England, towns were built with their backs turned.
I can't think of a single Connecticut river town or city where the fronts of the stores along the main street face the water. (Even coastal towns don't do this, Niantic being the exception.) I suppose an argument could be made for Pawcatuck, or Winsted, but mostly Connecticut towns are situated like Westport, where the Saugatuck flows parallel to the commercial buildings' back doors. Some towns are sort of perpendicular to a river, like Essex or Avon, and in some, like Glastonbury, the river is parallel but farther off.
And so, finding myself in Westport and awake early, when I knew Main Street would not be crammed with cars, I walked down it once again.
What I found was that it was even more of a drab, corporate, featureless landscape than it had been when I knew it. Which made for horrible photos! So I started hunting for whatever little bits of character I could find.
Savannah, where the doors almost open onto the water, or Madison, IN, one of my favorite underrated places in the country, where a wide green space connects the river, and activities taking place on it, to the main artery of the town a few blocks up the bank.
But Westport could do better than this narrow sidewalk (the parking lot with the dumpsters is to the left of the above picture), a few picnic tables, and the little raised boardwalk - a relatively new addition - from which I took the first picture in this post.
I doubt Poseidon would be pleased with that.
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There used to be that great jazz record store up at the top of the ave.ReplyDelete
This is a strange phenomenon that occurs a few times in CT. I imagine if you wanted to go deeper there could be some historical narrative to explain it. The CT towns are probably older than Savannah, or any Midwestern town. Maybe at the time these towns were made, the idea was, bring the goods off the river in the back door, and sell them out the front door, it kind of makes sense, from a supply chain perspective. And back in the day they didnt really have the aesthetic appreciation for the rivers like we do today. Its possible they were smelly, but at best, they were seen as a means of commerce, not a geographic gem to build the town around.
I am just brain storming, but it would be interesting to hear a more informed answer.
Also, visit All seasons down the river for all your outboard needs.