Saturday, February 23, 2013

Breakfast in Philipsburg

Over the years, around the time of my birthday, I have taken a day off from my routine, whatever that might be, to do something different. Maybe something I have never done before. I'd never had breakfast in Philipsburg. So the plan was to walk around this small town that is 20 miles from home, a place I have just driven through on the way to somewhere else, take pictures and look for a local diner serving breakfast.

It's 9:00 AM Friday morning and I walk down the main street, Front Street, and nothing is happening. No traffic, no pedestrians. I step into the middle of the street to take a picture of nothing happening. Almost all of the storefronts are Closed, For Sale, For Rent or Lease, their windows papered over or displaying junk and debris. A few of the once grand old buildings show signs of previous renovation but are now abandoned once again. Fayes Place, a diner I thought had potential, is closed, for sale. The Rowland Theater, built in 1917, one of those ornate theaters with red velvet seats, now owned by the town and operated by volunteers, has been reduced to nightly showings of "Escape from Planet Earth".

I think this is the tale of so many a small town these days. If there is commerce it is happening beyond main street, at the mall, the big box stores, the Wal Marts. In Philipsburg even this is not happening. The inhabitants work and shop else where.

But an inquiry does lead me to what I was looking for a few blocks away on Pine Street, a place called the Retro Eatery established just a year ago by two sisters. With good funding they created a pleasant space in retro style black and white and red with a menu offering the expected mac 'n cheese local fare but stretching into salmon florentine salad. I order eggs benedict, drink coffee, and observe a table of ten men enjoying each others company over a late breakfast. I hear one say, "I won't be here next Friday, I'll be driving" , and wonder if this gathering is a regular thing.

I leave with my feelings for local businesses re-enforced. Here is a bright spot amidst the ruins. A place offering a service to neighbors and much needed employment to a few. The exchange of goods and services for monies stays within the community and supports it.

Notes: I met a "newfie" walking her man to the post office and a 350 year old "heritage oak" standing in a graveyard where 13 civil war veterans are buried.

A few more images. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Westtown Plates

Click images to enlarge. 

Westtown School, founded in 1799,  is a Quaker coeducational boarding school located 25 miles west of Philadelphia. Westtown plates, made by the Josiah Wedgewood and Sons Pottery Co. of England, were sold by Westtown School's Alumni Association beginning in 1935. The plates were designed by George G. Whitney, Westtown's Director of Fine Arts from 1920 - 1956. The first editions were available in four colors(rose, green, mulberry, and blue) in twelve scenes of the school campus. The 7th edition in 1956 was only offered in blue and the 1976 8th edition reduced the number of scenes to six. The 10th and last edition was made in 1990.

This set of twelve plates is from the 7th edition. I have never seen the green or mulberry colored plates but am told they are on display in the Westtown School dining room.

A side note: the Wedgewood company story is coming to a sad ending. Founded in 1759 and family owned for much of its lifespan, it struggled, merged with Waterford Crystal in 1987, and then was bought by an American firm, KPS Capital in 2009. It has now filed for bankruptcy. In a worst case scenario it is possible that the Wedgewood Museum artifacts, considered by many to be a very significant historical collection, will be sold to cover the firm's £134m pension debt.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

U-Store (Too Much)

Middlesburg, Pa
Once we were hunter gatherers, light of feet and load. Constant movement and a limit to what we could carry kept our accumulated possessions in check. Agriculture, that watershed event in our species' evolution, meant we could stay put along with our stuff. And so we may no longer be hunting but we surely have not stopped gathering.

The closet is full. In this country the closet as we know it, a small room with a door, was very uncommon prior to WWII. People stored their clothing in trunks, or chests, or hung on wall pegs. But now the closet is full of outfits for each season, each day of the week, each activity we do. It's filled with the covers and cloths and towels and blankets and pillows. Some of it will have to go to the basement.

Lewistown, Pa
The basement is full. It's full of the things you put here before. The clothes that no longer fit, the toys that no longer play, the tools that you use every once in a while. The food stuffs that won't fit in the cupboard, the pots and pans that saw better days. The old television and stereo sets, an extra refrig and the laundry appliance. The treadmill and elliptical stairclimber bicycle rowing machines. The table and chairs from Grandmother's house. We'll just have to see if there's room in the attic.

Old Fort, Pa
The attic is full. It's full of more stuff and it's being abused. It's freezing in winter and humid in summer. There are boxes of books and boxes of papers and boxes of boxes. There are boxes of clothes now turning to rags. It's cramped and dusty and mouse-ridden dirty and it's really the place where stuff comes to die. The garage would be better by far.

The garage is full and the cars are outside. It's filled with the lawnmower tractor, and the walk behind kind, the weedwacker, snowblower, edger, and tiller. The clippers and cutters and spreaders and movers. The ladders and two dozen cans of old paint for the house. The tent, the coolers, the kayak and croquet and badminton sets. The tricycles bicycles from kids through the years. There was every intention to clean it all up, but it just didn't happen, there just wasn't time. So I guess what is needed is a little more space…..

Clearfield, Pa
U-Store It Self Storage Units

Some time ago I became aware of the proliferation of these storage businesses and realized they were a phenomenon of my lifetime. Sure enough the first enterprise in the US began in 1958. These businesses grew steadily through the 90's but took off in the millennium.  From 2000 to 2005, over 3,000 new facilities were built every year. At year-end 2009, there were a total of some 58,000 self storage facilities, owned by 30,235 companies. Not surprisingly, when it comes to stuff, the US rules the planet. One report states in 2006 there were 1.6 billion rentable square feet in the US compared to #2 Australia with a paltry 22 million.*

Port Matilda, Pa
More stats from SSA (of course there's a Self Storage Association):
One in ten households in the US uses a self storage unit. There is 7.3 sq.ft. of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation; thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand – all at the same time – under the total canopy of self storage roofing.(That's so beautiful.)
Potters Mills, Pa

I try not to be judgmental about this but it's hard. What is it with our culture that we need this? Why do we have so much stuff? Something seems askew. One reason given for the industry's meteoric growth was its filling the needed niche for a mobile society. Temporary storage for those in transition. The average American will change residences 11 times in his life. The average rental period is 15 months. Here is a good article on the subject:
 Self Storage Nation by Tom Vanderbilt 
Warriors Mark, Pa

The photographs here are of storage units in rural settings. It further complicates the story for me that these are in places where people are just getting by. And in some instances they are in the "middle of nowhere". Space for rent in a spacious place. 

 Click images for enlarged view.

*Self Storage - Wikipedia