Wednesday, January 28, 2009

January 28, 2009 - The Hill, Rockland, Massachusetts

"Faded glory" is the phrase that comes to mind whenever I walked Rockland's business district. I don't want it to be this way, but there's no doubt that the town's best days - yet - are in the past. But life can be cyclical, and Rockland may rise again.

It used to be that Union Street was the shopping center of the South Shore. There was no Hanover Mall, no Independence Mall, no South Shore Plaza. The main staple was shoes. Down near Union Square, Lelyveld's Shoes was the place to be. They had an x-ray machine for your feet, and kids used to stop there on the way home from school just to get another updated peek at how their bones looked each day.

But I was at the top of the Hill today, by the Rockland Trust building, built in 1907. The fire station stands on the same side of the street, from which numerous famous fire calls have been answered. Rockland has been known for some enormous conflagrations over the years, including the destructuve Brown Church Fire of July 16, 1890, that destroyed 14 buildings in all.

It's the building next door that got me thinking today, though, the Rockland Memorial Library. It was built partially with funds from Andrew Carnegie, a man who valued knowledge so much he spread his excess wealth around for the construction of such community centers. Now, just as we have finally elected a president that has made intelligence hip again, our economy is so bad that communities across the country are considering shuttering their libraries. Yes, the internet has changed the way we learn, but libraries are no longer just stacks of encyclopedias that are outdated the moment they are printed. Internet learning can be akin to reading a comic book in bed under the blankets with a flashlight. It's the exchange of ideas that drives greatness, and although dialogues can take place in many ways in the cyber realm, there's nothing like finding others with shared interests for face-to-face conversation. Libraries have more value than our local governments are giving them credit for.

Down Webster Street I passed the 1933 post office, another study in brick. I realized at that moment that I was as covered in snow as the buildings and cars. It was sticking to my big green parka, turning me into a walking snowman. Fun. Further on, the Joseph Stanley Turner house, built in the Second Empire style, shined through the snow, resplendent in a Victorian yellow.

I wove through the streets, searching out the ancient glories of the town. The Hurley Brothers Shoe Factory is still standing. That surprised me, as I had heard it was on the chopping block. This was the secret to Rockland's glory days. The factories stood just off the main drag, and while contracts were filled for big orders out of town, including for the military, there was always the direct retail sales to be made within walking distance. These shoe factories stand - tenuously - in about seven local towns.

On School Street I finally found that building for which I had been looking. Rockland's Grand Army Hall, is one of the most prominent of its kind, a massive, impressive tribute to our Civil War veterans. But the building is in a bad state of repair, reflective of the relative low times for the community at large. One good friend, Dean, told me about the days of the late 19th century when the Grand Army men, Union veterans, would gather for functions at the hall, sharing experiences only they could ever truly relate to. Among them was one transplant, a Confederate veteran who found himself in the north, but who still found camaraderie amongst his former enemies. He, too, had seen what they had seen. He would laugh with them, joke with them, and pray with them on Memorial Day, when they visited the graves of fallen brothers. But when it came time to take group photos, he would be politely but firmly told to step aside. Brotherhood could only reach so far.

I love Rockland, like all the South Shore towns, and I hope to see it continue to grow and prosper.

Time: 32 snow-blasted minutes.
New species: None.

Stranger hellos: None.

What else got done today: built a new toy for my baby boy with Michelle, which he took to immediately; shoveled the cars out, again; some media work with the regional daily newspaper; a day's work from home; posted a review on Amazon; wrote two magazine articles; learned that John Updike, the man who gave the commencement address when I graduated from college, passed away.

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