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Learning from Lewisburg
4. Pre-industrial Lewisburg
11 Walk up S. Water St.:
  Note the houses at #s 37 & 27 S. Water St.  These are two of the earliest houses in Lewisburg (dated to 1786 and 1789 respectively). No. 37 was the first store and school.  Note the orientation of these houses toward the river. (Look at the houses across the street at #24 & 26 [built in the 1850s] and #18 & 20 [built in the 1860s]  — which way do these houses face? What does this say about the importance of the river and the outlook of the town 60 years later? Why didn’t people love the river then?)  The east/ west alley on the left runs parallel to Market St. rather than at a right angle to it, as does the mirroring alley in the first block north of Market. Note the flood gauge on the back of the garage nearest to S. Water St. Recall that was the height of the 1972 flood was 34 feet ... now look at the level of the houses on the river side of the road nearby. Hmmm.
  Why we call it Water St ... the 25 foot flood is expected every 15 years.
  Knee-deep living-room flood levels documented by strand line preserved on a basement door since 1972.
12 Turn right and walk out on the bridge until you are standing over the river’s edge:
  Note that the houses along the river have no alley or garages; in fact, their yards (and first floors, sometimes) lie within the flood plain of the river. The river rose over the lower yards of these houses in January 1996. Depending on the time of day you are here, you should be able to notice the high level of traffic (especially truck traffic) across this bridge and through downtown Lewisburg. The passage of Rt. 45, an important east/west corridor, through town is both a blessing and a curse — good for business, bad for sleeping.
  When the railroad was built beside the canal in 1855, a long covered bridge was built for a spur line. By these means the town, well connected to Buffalo Valley behind it, stayed moderately well connected to the rest of the world to the east and downstream. The derelict iron bridge upstream is the descendent of that too-flammable first bridge.
  One thing that is obvious from the bridge to the observant visitor is the extent to which Lewisburg is disconnected from the river. Only five or six houses don't have a road between them and water (even though much of this part of town isn't even on the statutory floodplain), and the borough has only a few scraggly parks on the river (even though it controls significant river-front land). Perhaps this is understandable for historical reasons. Historically the river was filthy — those houses you're looking at dumped their sewage directly into the river as recently as the 1950's. And this part of town was dirty, industrial, unsavory, smelly, or noisy at various times throughout its history.
  Panorama of Susquehanna from the bridge ... slack-water dam is visible in the river 150 yards downstream.
  The river-side lands have supported human lives since the stone age ... here at Slifer House soccer fields, five blocks north.
13 Walk back off the bridge to the corner of Water St.:
  Historic map of economic situation of Lewisburg in 1884 when woodwork and river access were premier. Note: canal boat works, the way industry and housing are intergrown (the tannery, e.g.), the covered railroad bridge, a log-raft moving downstream, the slack-water dam, the amount of unbuilt-up land, and the small size of university. A much larger (3 meg) version of this map at 1884 Bird's Eye View
Industrialization and de-industrialization.
  Some classic stages of the development of US city structure are visible around us here near the bridge. Soldiers Memorial Park, upstream of the bridge,is a reclaimed abandoned industrial site — see the round twin foundations of water towers right by the bridge which are also visible in bird's-eye, above, and the low, red former factory building of Pennsylvania House beyond the old railroad grade just past the park. Lewisburg is still a local center for handling wood and grain two hundred years after Derr built a saw mill and a grist mill on Mill St. A furniture factory is historically one of the town's biggest employers (even as jobs are leaking south from here).
  Established at the site of a canal boat works, this was the “Chair Factory” for decades, and has become an antique mall in the last few years … it’s the pre-industrial, industrial, and post-industrial story of the town in one building.  
  The preindustrial "city" featured numerous artisans working in small shops, with residential, commercial, and manufacturing activities intergrown. Low levels of class differentiation into neighborhoods or of differentiation of urban function is seen — rich and poor, business and home, are adjacent.
  In the industrial city, factories became more concentrated as capital and transportation advances favored larger operations. Workers' housing was confined to poorer districts, and the wealthy chose to live further from the polluting and unpleasant sites of industry.
  In the post-industrial city, factory jobs have been drawn elsewhere by lower wages or even better transportation conditions; service jobs predominate The automobile fractures the city, as wealthy move further away and take their purchasing power to accessible suburban and strip businesses, while cars and parking (usually) render the downtown congested, inaccessible, and unpleasant (although Lewisburg has largely escaped this fate, through a certain urban judo, by using post-industrial tastes to its own advantage).
  Preindustrial Lewisburg: the home was a also store; the one next door was a tavern.
  Preindustrial Lewisburg: a small mill every four miles served local farmers for grinding grain, like this mill west of town that is still powered by water
  Industrial Lewisburg: the railroad connected Lewisburg to the cities to the east, to the sources of raw materials to the north and west — and the line through town was the main access to Penn State, in the Nittany Valley (blue arrows).
  Industrial Lewisburg: the big Pennsylvania House furniture factory arrayed along the (abandoned) Pennsylvania RR line, west of Rt. 15.
  Post-industrial Lewisburg: the recycled Chair Factory shifted from manufacturing to low-margin sales about 12 years ago.
  Post-industrial Lewisburg: the second largest employer is the Big House, the Federal Penitentiary ... one of four federal prisons in the county and ten prisons within Union and the adjacent counties.
  Post-industrial Lewisburg: recycling the Reading RR freight terminal as Borough Hall; the functional (and once-ugly?) becomes the stylish.
  Post-industrial Lewisburg: the university sets the tone for gentrification.
  Deindustrialization in action: the former International Paper Factory gets torn down for restaurants and a Walmart; manufacturing jobs are replaced by service jobs on the same spot within just a few years.
  Deindustrialization in action: the parent company of Pennsylvania House Furniture announces that the local factories are closing while production is shifted to China.
  Post-industrial Milton, Sunbury & Williamsports: the next few towns up and down the river carry the burden of empty storefronts in their downtown — symptomatic of the movement of commerce to the highway strip, and a depressing signal to anyone thinking of investing downtown.
14 Start down Market St. away from the river:
  The Ionic architecture of the neo-classical Presbyterian church building on the right between Water and Front Sts.
  From its nucleus where Market meets the river, Lewisburg has grown more-or-less continuously toward the west for two centuries now. The progression of architecture from the river along Market St. is the town's chronology. Growth has average about a block per decade for two centuries (with obvious spurts and stops). It took four decades to fill in to Third St., and about 22 blocks west you can see new houses going up today (220 years later).
  The compact old brick and stone houses by the river along Water St. were built in the 18th Century by store keepers and millers. The bulky Federal buildings from the early period of commercial growth stretch from Front St. to Second St. The Hotel was built in 1831, two years before the canal arrived. Other fine buildings were homes for grain merchants and the schoolmaster.
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