A Winter Tour of the Hidden Corners
of a Little Town in Upstate NY
With James Howard Kunstler
I moved here in November and have been exploring it
through this weird, snowless winter of 2012.
Greenwich After the Civil War. Before the war its name was Union, NY,
and before that it was called Whipple City
after its founder, Job Whipple.
After the Civil War, the name Union was deemed politically incorrect for a nation
wishing to heal its internal injuries.
(Click here or on map for much larger, navigable image.)
View of the Battenkill River from Salem Street, upstream of the town. A renowned trout stream,
this stretch of the river is about five miles from where it joins the Hudson River.
There were a half dozen factories along it in the village at one time. No active ones remain.
Grain elevator and railroad yard. All defunct. The abode of feral cats and furtive teenage drinkers.
It's sobering to imagine what this part of town was like when all this stuff was up-and-running – and new!
Generations now living have only known decline and sclerosis in their home places.
Back in the 1990s a lone gentleman was running a remnant of the Battenkill Railroad along this track. It amounted to weekend excursion trips along the river in summer. That venture evidently went bust and the condition of the tracks and equipment has been deteriorating ever since – except for a depot building (painted green in background, left).
People still park expensive pickup trucks outside of it, but there is no evidence of any ongoing enterprise.
Another view of ruined railroad infrastructure. We're going to have to fix the American railroad system
if we want to get around this big country in the years ahead.
The American people have no idea how soon their Happy Motoring adventures will be fading away.
These buildings started as a linen mill, then went through other incarnations, one as a cardboard carton factory.
Closed for good in the early 1970s. The Battenkill River runs behind it.
Here an old factory building has been converted into apartments
for an increasingly under-employed and impoverished former-working-class.
This was the passenger rail station until the 1960s. Now a tavern. Drinking is one of the town's remaining industries.
Imagine being able to catch a train here and be in Grand Central Station, NYC, three hours later.
It was possible once.
This was the concrete foundation of another factory along the river. Little remains but assorted plastic trash.
I don't know when these railroad trestles date from – probably late 19th century – but they are all that is left of infrastructure
that was in good working order one hunded years ago.
There are 2000-year-old Roman bridges in Europe in better shape (and still usable!) today.
Back in the late 1970s I bought some used office furniture out of this old factory.
The building, with some quietly graceful features, has been abandoned about fifteen years.
It's still a candidate for adaptice re-use... but not for long.
Row of factory housing. It was renovated some years ago and contains apartments,
not fancy but maintained in good order.
The building directly ahead used to be three stories, with nice details, but it got sawed-off
in the aftermath of a fire. Commerce has migrated to two strip malls outside the west end of town.
Some struggling businesses hang on, but the majority of storefronts are empty.
The building stock decays a little each year.
Too many buildings burdened with nasty plastic cladding materials.
Some of the buildings are just not good enough for the town's Main Street.
The chief characteristic of small town America these days is a lack of visible decorum.
The White Swan Hotel, 1961. If you look at that shot one photo back,
the hotel was located just beyond the traffic light,
where the drive in bank is now.
The hotel had a bar, a restaurant, and a movie theater in it, and was literally the heart of town.
It was never a great building, but it was good enough, and the exterior
could have been detailed and decorated better, the ground floor in particular.
Demolished a few years after this photo was taken.
Weep for yourself, America, and for the bad choices we have made.