Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Maumee, Ohio

In the Preface of the book, I describe a series of aerial photographs that spurred my thinking about suburban environments.  For a variety of reasons I decided not to include those photographs in the book, but offer them here for your consideration.

These were sent to me by my cousin, Drew Sager, and show the same area of Maumee, Ohio at five different moments in its history.  The first is from 1938:

The rectilinear arrangement of farm fields is a product of the Jeffersonian system of township and range lines, which divided the Old Northwest Territory into sections and quarter sections for convenience of buying and selling.  Here, the grid is distorted a bit by the railroad line that runs from the bottom center of the image to center right, and by Michigan Avenue, which is not quite perpendicular to the railroad line.

To provide context, the historical center of Maumee, a city that once served as the political and commercial center of the region, lies to the south, off the bottom of the image.  Toledo, which has become the center of the region, lies to the north and east.

My cousin added the little white tag in the middle, which indicates what would be the site of my childhood home.

The second photo is from 1956:

That's the Ohio Turnpike cutting across the top of the picture.  The square pond just to the south of the Turnpike was created when earth was removed for building up the nearby overpasses.  That pond would become the setting for an apartment complex called, inevitably, Lake View Shores.

Some suburban development is starting to move in from the south.  The two parallel streets north of the railroad line define the northern boundary of the triangular field I describe in the book, the site of some notable adventures in birding.

The third image is from 1969:

Suburban development is now well underway, and my childhood home is under construction (on the lower side of the large horseshoe in the center of the image).  Houses in this newer development are notably larger than those in the older developments just to the south.  My elementary school is now well established: it's the E-shaped building just north of the triangular field at the bottom.  The high school is just off the image, bottom right.

What had been an oval track, center right, on the previous images has now taken shape as the Lucas County Fairgrounds and the Lucas County Recreation Center.  The well-defined baseball diamond in the center was, during my childhood, the home of the Toledo Mud Hens baseball team.  I would sometimes be kept awake on summer nights by the bright lights and the intermittent roar of the crowd.

I was most struck, when I first saw this image, by how close we were to open farmland.  I don't remember having a strong sense of that, growing up, with my sense of place being defined by the street itself, and the paths from there to the various places we would go: to school, to the mall, to town, to church, to relatives' houses.  My interaction with the real work of agriculture was limited to occasional raids of the triangular field by the elementary school for corn stalks, and, in my early teens, one ill-considered shortcut through a corn field when I decided to walk to the mall with a friend: I ended up breaking out in a rash, whether from pollen or pesticides I still do not know.

Other than that, the surrounding farmland was not even scenery.  It was a neutral backdrop for suburban life, something hardly ever noticed.

The next photo is from 1974:

The five years between this photograph and the previous one did not seem to bring much change.  When this photo was taken, my family had been living in the neighborhood at the center of the image for a few years.

The last photo my cousin sent is a smaller image from 1998:

Two things to notice about this photograph.  First, the farm fields are gone, and suburban development has solidified its hold on this small section of the landscape.  The rural-suburban frontier continues to move off to the west, though the advance has slowed somewhat with the current housing crisis.

Second, the trees have grown.  When I visit my old neighborhood, as I do from time to time when I'm in Ohio, I'm struck by how green it all looks: mature trees now shade streets that had been open to the sun when the developments were new.  The effect is aesthetically striking if not very significant ecologically: the area is now an approximation, at least, of the "cottages in a park" image of the pastoral retreat, which shaped the nineteenth-century elite suburbs at Llewellyn Park, New Jersey and Riverside, Illinois.

It's not a very good approximation, perhaps - I don't think Olmsted would approve - but the area has at least lost some of the feeling of barrenness that has characterized most new suburban construction in the United States since World War II.

And finally, here is the latest image from Google Maps:

View Larger Map


salguod said...

Interesting series of images. The 1974 image is only 2 years before my family moved to Maumee. Mom and Dad still live in that house, so I'm not going to ID it. We had a farm field directly behind our home the entire time I lived there and it wasn't developed until the mid 90's. It hadn't been farmed for several years prior, though. There was quiet a lot of empty land surrounding our neighborhood that gradually filled in over the years. The field behind their house was one of the last, I think. I rode my BMX bike all over the place back there.

Anonymous said...

i grew up on Dussel from 74 to 83, remember the expansion of dussel drive to reynolds, i live in California now, every time i go home the growth just amazes me.

Douglas Smith said...

Hi Bob. I was reading this with great interest not realizing you were the author. When you described your house being built, I had to figure out who was writing this as you were also describing MY house being built.

Fascinating article. I hope you and your family are well

Doug Smith