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Posts Tagged ‘Streets’

Need a Dress for Octoberfest?

Need a Dress for Octoberfest?

12th Century Interior Door

12th Century Interior Door

Park/Cathedral Garden in the City of Speyer

Park/Cathedral Garden in the City of Speyer

Flowers on a City Street

Flowers on a City Street

Christmas Store Soldiers

Christmas Store Soldiers

Standing on a 12th Century Floor

Standing on a 12th Century Floor

Lovelocks - Padlocks Pronouncing Love Along a City Bridge

Padlocks Pronouncing Love Along a City Bridge

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Street life

For this challenge, document the movement (or stillness) of a street: tell a story with your snapshot, capture a scene that reveals a bit about a place, or simply show us where you live – or a path you often take.  In a post created specifically for this challenge, share a photo that brings a street to life.

Street Lines

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A visit “downtown” always gives me a jolt because I feel I am peeking at the past.  Lexington, Virginia (no, not Kentucky!) was the county seat of Rockbridge in 1778, and is a place steeped in history and charm.  In fact, the historic core of the city is a Nationally Registered Historic District.

In 1993 a film crew, actors and actresses came here from Hollywood.   The town’s main streets were quickly transformed for the filming of a quick segment in the movie, Sommersby, starring Jodie Foster and Richard Gere. The story is of a confederate soldier returning to his wife and home at the end of the the Civil War.  If you have seen this movie, do you recall the hanging scene?  The hero’s ride to the gallows (supposedly in Richmond) was actually shot right here in Lexington.

In preparation for the scene, the city’s main streets were quickly covered with layers and layers of dirt and building facades were dramatically changed to reflect another era.  Long-skirted women moved around town, busy with their daily lives, and the streets were alive with the comings and goings of horse drawn wagons and carriages.  It was magic. For a moment as I stood on the sidelines, I actually felt I had really traveled back in time.

Store Sign Saved from the Movie Sommersby
Main Street Lexington, Virginia

Sign from the Movie, Sommersby

But 1993 was not the first time the streets of Lexington were transformed.   Am I treading where so many others have gone before or is this a different street entirely?

LOWERING MAIN STREET BY EIGHT TO TEN FEET!

Even before the American Civil War, downtown Lexington, Virginia was a city of steep hills with crude unpaved roads.   Goods and people were transported through town by horse drawn wagons.  Can you imagine the transportation problems encountered during wet weather when Virginia red clay roads became sinkable quagmires?

Lexington was known to bottleneck at the hilltop intersection of Main and Washington Street, because in inclement weather the clay road became almost impassable.  Goods were hauled in by large covered wagons which would stall when they sank into the mud up to the horses’ knees and sometimes to the axles.  In 1852 a project to lower the town’s hill by eight to ten feet was finally completed.  That project left the currently standing Alexander-Withrow House on Main Street with an extra floor (once a full basement, but now suspended as a third story), requiring the owners to reorient their entrance.  There were other such changes to entryways around town that can still be seen today.

Alexander-Withrow House
Was 2 Stories – Now 3

An Artists’ Cooperative in the Once Full Basement
of the Alexander-Withrow House

Below is a photograph I took of the Stonewall Jackson House.  It was the pre-Civil War home of Confederate General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson and was built in 1802.  If you join a docent-guided tour, you will come close to experiencing how life was before the war in an ordinary house in an ordinary small southern town.

Stonewall Jackson House
Front Entry No Longer at Street Level

From 1907 to 1954 the “Jackson House” was utilized as the area’s only hospital (the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Hospital).  In 1954 the house was converted to a museum, now open to the public.  In my time there as a docent I met many visitors who were born or were treated in the house when it was a hospital.

But, back to streets – do we even notice the uneven elevations of front doors in a city?  Why do I have to climb to get into one building and step down to enter another?  How did they lower the main streets by ten feet without modern machinery?  I have asked around, and although some people claim to have heard the story about lowering the streets in Lexington, they aren’t quite sure how or why and haven’t really noticed the cattywampus foundation levels.

Here’s a Front Door That Used to Be at Street Level

Entrance was Once at Street Level
Virginia Born & Bred Gift Store

I am drenched in images of downtown Lexington in the days of wagon travel and unpaved roads.  Surely city streets are as much a part of history as the wood stoves used for cooking, the rope beds, and the horse-hair-stuffed furniture found in restored homes and museums.  But every time I go downtown, I am struck by the unusual variations in entry way access.  Perhaps our roads and streets should be considered the infrastructure of the past and noted on city plaques to be remembered as they once were and for what they eventually became.

As I drive into downtown Lexington,  I am reminded that I am once again on a Time Traveler’s Road to a colorful past.

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