Sunday, April 15, 2007

'Springfield Present and Prospective (1905), The Visible Charm, As It Was, Is, and May Be,' Excerpt IX

In this excerpt, we continue chapter one of 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' published in 1905 by Pond & Campbell, 'The Visible Charm, As It Was, Is, and May Be.' This is part two, 'What the River Asks and Gives,' of section three, 'Looking Forward,' written by Eugene C. Gardner.

Continued from: 'IV. Looking Forward, Part 1. Bedrock'

IV. Looking Forward

2. What the River Asks and Gives

If an earthquake should suddenly convert Enfield dam into a second Mount Tom, reaching from Wilbraham mountains to Blandford, the river at Springfield might possibly appear to be lost in an inland sea; but barring such an interesting cataclysm it will be safe to predict that the river will always be one of our permanent assets, as it always has been our most attractive physical feature. Whatever happens to our railroads, our streets, our merchandise and our morals, the river will never cease to run through the city. It is ours to cross, ours to embellish, ours to cleanse and navigate.

As to the crossing, the days for temporizing are over. We are too rich and too wise to build bridges that must be removed, re-built, or strengthened and enlarged during the next one or two centuries. Bridges over large streams should be among the most permanent of all artificial constructions. Established thoroughfares are supremely conservative institutions. The Appian Way, which has existed for two thousand years and more, the Bay Path, and a thousand more, indicate that nothing is more tenacious of life than a public highway. When these great viaducts, in sublime defiance of Nature's primeval arrangements, turn water into dry land, paradoxically closing a gap in the surface of the earth that never can be closed, their construction becomes a performance worthy of solemn consecration, and the thing itself a fit object for pious adoration.

In most emphatic terms, a noble bridge declares the courage and skill of its builders, and there is no grander illustration of the beauty of utility than a bridge of scientific construction and scholarly design. In no other artificial construction is there so little occasion for questionable compromise between grace and convenience, between economy and strength, between daily drudgery and perennial delight. Is it likely that Springfield will neglect an opportunity that has been a century in coming? Is it likely that the county, of which Springfield is the capital, will fail to recognize the benefit sure to follow the closer union and more intimate relationship of the parts of which the county is composed?

To say that a bridge should be built across the Connecticut river in this city in the form of a broad avenue, uniting the east and west shores as closely as Main street unites State to the streets and avenues a thousand feet to the north and south, is not a fantastic speculation, a day dream - it is the plainest common sense of the equine variety. To propose anything inadequate in breadth and strength for the multitudinous traffic sure to occupy it twenty-five years hence - fifty years - a century, - is to forget the lesson of the North-end bridge and waste the public funds by temporizing. To affirm that dignity and stateliness, graceful proportions and beauty of detail are necessarily more difficult to attain than their opposites, is to betray disqualifying ignorance. Certainly the river is ours to cross. It is also ours to cleanse and embellish.

If Adam and Eve had been left in their original state of innocence and happiness, nobody appears to know exactly what would have happened to the rest of us, miserable sinners that we are - in nothing more miserable than in our occasionally graceless fashion of introducing modern improvements, and setting up the standards of half-civilized civilization on the ruins of semi-barbarous barbarism. In spoiling the heathen we have too often spoiled our own heritage. 'Squire Pynchon and Deacon Chapin, of blessed memory, found the water of the great river as sweet and clean as that of the streams that fed and feed it still - Jabish brook and Little river, the branches of the Westfield, Ware and Chicopee. Could it possibly have occurred to those shrewd and far-seeing pioneers that their enlightened descendants in this adorable valley would be obliged to spend, for drinking water alone, money enough to have bought the whole of the royal grant from Nova Scotia to New Amsterdam, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, all on account of their own short-sighted perversity? Those pioneers may be pardoned for thinking - if they thought of it at all - that the broad, flowing river would no more be damaged by the impurities that escaped from their scattered settlements than is the sea by the wrecks that are rotting in its depths. We know better. We know that we have deliberately and selfishly polluted the noble stream; that its impurity is increasing every year; that it will go on increasing until in sheer self-preservation we shall begin the reform that ought to have been begun a generation ago, and which will cost more and more every year it is delayed. To cure the evil immediately would be as impossible as to eradicate catarrhal ragweed and malarial mosquitoes in a single season; but that fact does not exonerate us if we leave it unchecked. It does not justify us in bequeathing an unclean legacy to our unborn heirs.

Neither is this an idle speculation. In many cities of our own and other countries, sewage and rivers are not invited to occupy the same bed to the utter waste of one and the hopeless ruin of the other, and so long as we continue this offensive habit we deserve to be written down as among those who strain at gnats and swallow camels.

Cleansing naturally precedes embellishment; but if each waits for the other in this case, it is to be feared that we shall remain ragged and dirty for many years. We leave the river in its filth because the banks are filthy; we leave the leprosy of the banks undisturbed because the river is unclean. Under wise business management the salvation of neither would wait for the other.

The reclamation and embellishment of the river bank will not require its exclusive use for park purposes; quite the contrary. Its embellishment should be like that of a dining-table when it is loaded with an abundance of wholesome food; of a workshop decorated with the finest tools and machinery; of a fertile farm ornamented by flocks and herds and bountiful crops. The most beautiful effects will not be produced by treating the banks as ornamental pleasure grounds. The city can not afford such an occupation, nor would it be suitable for land so central and valuable for commercial purposes. We may have plenty of serpents, but it would cost too much to make a Garden of Eden between Main street and the river. Court square and its proper treatment will be a sufficiently expensive luxury in the business section. There is plenty of room for riparian parks between Springfield and Holyoke, between Springfield and Thompsonville. This land is also too valuable for railroad uses, for steam railroads not only spoil all the land they occupy, but they depreciate the value of property for a considerable distance on either side.

Doubtless this happy marriage of use and beauty would mean, except where wharves are necessary, an esplanade with the open river on one side and business buildings fronting it on the other. The expense of constructing heavy buildings at water's edge would be great, but a protected embankment suitable for walks and drives would be simple, affording ample opportunity for decorative features next the water without loss of room valuable for building.

Inseparably connected with the development of the river bank is the question of navigation. In navigation itself, rocks are objectionable, but they make good standing ground in forecasting the future of this subject. Among these bed rocks is the stubborn fact that heavy freight can be more economically transported by floating it in water than by any known contrivance of wheels on land, or wings in the air. Another fact is well established: commercial science abhors waste as Nature abhors a vacuum. Therefore when it can be shown that moving the freight, taken to and from Holyoke and Springfield, by water instead of land will effect an annual saving equal to a profitable percentage on the cost of making the river navigable for steam or other tugs and their trailing lines of barges, then the river will be made navigable to Springfield and Holyoke. Business common sense will not long neglect so plain an opportunity to save and make money, which is just as much a duty - provided it is done honestly - as eating. So in our treatment of the river and its banks, we must anticipate wharves on both sides with suitable approaches and conveniences for the attendant work. They may not come this year, nor this decade, or generation, but we can not help thinking they are sure to come. "The mills of the gods grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small," and they keep on grinding.
Next week: 'IV. Looking Forward, Part 3. Other Goals to be Gained.'

No comments: