Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Historic American Towns along the Atlantic Coast

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

Historic American Towns along the Atlantic Coast

Article excerpt

Historic American Towns along the Atlantic Coast. By Warren Boeschenstein. (Baltimore and London: Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in cooperation with the Center for American Places, Santa Fe, N.M., and Harrisonburg, Va., c. 1999. Pp. xviii, 331. $39.95, ISBN 0-8018-6144-6.)

Architect Warren Boeschenstein is intrigued by America's old coastal towns. His book presents the natural and manmade histories of nine selected towns, ranging from Maine to Florida, together with his architectural judgments of the factors that have made these places models of good community landscape design. The towns are Castine and Kennebunk's Port, Maine; Edgartown, Massachusetts; Stonington, Connecticut; Ocean Grove, New Jersey; New Castle, Delaware; Edenton, North Carolina; Beaufort, South Carolina; and Saint Augustine, Florida. Aside from Ocean Grove, which began as a Methodist camp meeting in the nineteenth century, the towns were colonial ports. They are typically located on small spits of land and are surrounded by marshes, rocky cliffs, or waterways that contained their development and caused them to lose trade to larger ports such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. By the mid-nineteenth century they had become backwaters in the robust nation. Wealthy urban families discovered the towns' spectacular views, quaint village greens, and stately homes after the Civil War. They became seasonal residents, summering in New England towns and wintering in the South.

More profound changes came with the population boom after World War II. Suburban sprawl reached into former marshlands that had previously protected the integrity of the coastal towns. A seemingly endless stream of short-term seasonal visitors clogged streets and forced towns to provide parking lots. As well-heeled retirees discovered the delights of town life, land values rose. Tourist-centered businesses replaced services for residents. …

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