Friday, August 04, 2006

A sidenote (having to do with eating local)

So as part of my job, I do Phase I Environmental Site Assessments, which basically entails determining what hazardous materials a property has been exposed to and potentially contaminated with based on historic site usage and historic surrounding site usage. I'm working on a property not far from where I work, within the City of Harrisburg. It is a former Coca-Cola bottling facility, probably built in the mid-1940s. As part of the historic site usage research, we utilize Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps. These maps are the coolest things in the world (I'm sort of a nerd). I even would like to take a trip to the Library of Congress to see the originals (Hmmm...supernerd). They were incredibly detailed floorplan drawings of every building on every street in most of the cities and towns in the United States. In addition to little details like whether the building was sprinklered or if there was a night watchman, the Sanborn people also labeled the names of the businesses occupying them. Sanborns date back to 1867 and continue into the present. I took a picture of this particular on I'm working with because I was struck by the types of businesses that occupied this little area of Harrisburg in the year 1929. Hopefully you can click the image to enlarge and be able to read it. On this one block (center of the map) there is the Bon Ton potato chip manufacturer, the D.H. Kreider noodle company, a chocolate company, the bottling works, and some vacant buildings that were occupied a few years later by the H. J Heinz company (pickle people). There is also a large lumberyard and planing mill, a radio manufacturer, and a block north a feed and flour mill.

How easy it must have been then to eat local. You would probably have to make a concerted effort to NOT eat local. How did we go off course so badly? You could just take a walk and stop at specialty stores and buy everything you needed. Fresh. Today, this area is in a very poor, rundown part of Harrisburg currently undergoing revitilization. The Coca-cola bottling facility eventually moved a block north and is being looked at as a location for a grocery store and a hardware store. This area has not even had a grocery store within 5 miles for over 15 years. The only thing around were little corner convenience stores. The area to the northeast is also being revitalized and one of the most popular ideas is a farmers market with areas for community gardens. I hope this comes to fruition.

I could spend hours looking at these. Older cities are particularly interesting. Sanborns of Philadelphia had all kinds of intereting shops like millinery shops and lace shops and farriers and haberdashers. It's just such a window into what the past was like. Thank you Sanborn people for mapping out such a great picture of how we lived way back when.


Blogger EFB said...

That's really cool. I love looking at old stuff like that. So interesting to see the way people lived and what's become of it. There's so much cool old architecture in Harrisburg that has gone to pot.

3:29 PM  
Blogger meresy_g said...

Yeah, so much cool stuff torn down to build absolutely horrible stuff in the 60s and 70s. Hopefully we know a little better now.

3:50 PM  
Anonymous Sandy said...

That is very interesting. And what a resource. You must have a neat job, and one that makes a difference.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

How did we go off course so badly? We got addicted to cheap oil. It will be interesting to see how we cope as food from farther away becomes more expensive as the cost of fuel rises. I know we can do like Cuba and use our town open spaces in better ways to grow food in urban environments. I just wonder how Northeastern cities especially are going to handle it.

I love maps, too.

4:44 PM  
Blogger meresy_g said...

I used to think I make a difference. I don't think that anymore. If theres any difference made, its rare.

Liz, do you think that it is maybe kinda sorta returning to what things once were? With more and more local companies? Sometimes I feel like that might be the case. I hope so anyway.

10:07 AM  

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