Writings by Susan Dickinson

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DAY, FEBRUARY 24, 1905.

Samuel Bowles Opens the Discussion.

The vital and impressive lesson which
Mr Holden's highly interesting and val-
uable exposition of a great subject conveys
to us is twofold. First, it makes clear the
fact that a movement for civic improve-
ment on broad and beautiful lines is mani-
festing itself to-day all over the civilized
world, a movement of much importance
and significance. Second, the address elo-
quently suggests to me that Springfield
must bestir herself, and improve the op-
portunities which are coming to her, to
participate actively and notably in this
general movement, if she is to maintain her
position of prosperity and leadership among
the American cities of her class.

Of the general, widespread character of
the movement for the development of more
interesting, attractive and beautiful towns
and cities, as well as more healthful, clean-
ly and convenient for living and commercial
purposes, there can be no doubt. A person
who became acquainted with the cities of
Europe 35 years ago and who visits them
now will observe marvelous changes in the
appearance of most of them. Places that
then were characterized by narrow streets,
high walls, and shut-in water courses or
harbors are now made open and attractive
by broad boulevards, abundant urban
parks and public gardens, free and open
approaches to the water, with parkways
or streets frequently skirting the water
fronts for long distances.

London and Paris, where our friend
Judge Long delights to spend his summer
vacations, offer conspicuous examples of
such development. In Paris it was of
course inaugurated during the regime of
Louis Napoleon, under the leadership of
Baron Hausmann. It has proceeded, how-
ever, uninterruptedly and splendidly under
the republic, because the people would have
it. These changes are to be found also,
in striking measure, in the cities of Ger-
many and Italy, not merely in the great
capitals, such as Berlin, Vienna, Rome and
Naples, but also in the smaller cities, as
Strassburg, Ulm, Salzburg, Mainz on the
Rhine, Florence, Genoa, Siena and others
too numerous to mention. If you will
travel to the distant cities of Russia on
the Black sea, as Odessa and Sebastopol,
you will find municipal adornment and
beauty that will excite your wonder and
admiration. At Tifflis even, way up in
the Caucasus, almost midway between the
Black and the Caspian seas, there are
boulevards, splendid opera houses, picture
galleries, both urban and suburban parks
and gardens, both urban and suburban parks
and gardens, which reflect a civilization
that cannot tolerate the maintenance of
autocracy, as we are now witnessing.

This movement for civic betterment is,
as we see, taking a firm hold in America.
A society called the American civic asso-
ciation, with headquarters in Philadelphia,
has been organized for promoting the
cause, and its officials testify that its serv-
ices, as a bureau of information and ad-
vice, are increasingly utilized in all sections
of the country.

What is the meaning of this general
awakening to the desirability, the need of
improving urban conditions? To my mind
it is significant of the progress of democ-
racy, of a growing recognition by the
masses of the people that they have a
right, in their co-operative living, to pleas-
ing and healthful surroundings; and an
increasing recognition as well, upon the
part of the more fortunate and wealthy
elements of society, of their responsibilities
toward the communities in which they
dwell. The movement stands thus for a
more general enlightenment, happier phys-
ical and therefore spiritual conditions, a
higher development of community life, a
frank recognition of our increasing de-
pendence upon each other, a more general
cultivation of the co-operative and civic
spirit, which is but another name for the
Christian spirit. Do any of you say that
these things are without practical value?

Then are you sinners against light, deniers
in effect of the Christian faith, and traitors
to the fundamental principles on which
this nation rests.

Now as to Springfield. Where in the
world is there a city more fortunately
conditioned than ours, both in respect of
its physical situation and surroundings,
and the character of its population, to de-
velop into a real city beautiful, as well as
a city prosperous and wealthy, not merely
in individual holdings of stocks and bonds,
but in happy and useful and fruitful lives
and noble institutions? Who will say that,
in the growth of the city thus far, such
efforts as we have made for the spiritual
enrichment and physical adornment of the
town have failed to bear fruit of the high-
est practical value? Have not Forest
park, our public library, Art and Science
museums, our excellent schools, our beau-
tiful churches, our smaller public squares
scattered through the city, our St Gaudens
statue, added materially to the value of
our real estate, promoted the growth of
population, increased the revenues of our
merchants and manufactures? Surely our
experience hitherto should lead us to pro-
ceed wisely, confidently and broadly on
these lines, in preparing for the larger
population, the great development of our
local business interests which are to come
to us if we are responsive to the oppor-
tunities which time unfolds.

You remember the old saying that "God
made the country and man made the
town." With our present knowledge,
through experience and observation of the
world about us, should we not seek to give
God as free a hand as may be, as we
proceed with the building of our city? In
other words, should we not preserve and
glorify, and prepare to enjoy, more and
more, both within the city and around it,
the beautiful natural features which God
made when he created this lovely con-
necticut valley? In the last 60 years we
and our predecessors have done all that
we could to degrade and dishonor the glori-
ous river which flows by our gates. Is it
not time to change the policy and to begin
to honor and preserve and enjoy this most
beautiful of all the natural features that
we possess?

The opportunity now seems to lie open
to us, not only to recover our river for the
uses and pleasure of our people, but at
the same time, by the proposed change in
the location of the railroad, which skirts
the river bank, and the attendant develop-
ments which would follow such a change
of location, to vastly improve our facili-
ities for carrying on business. Shall we
not then stamp ourselves as plain fools if
we do not improve this opportunity?

With the steady growth of population
in the city and its contributory territory,
it becomes increasingly important that we
should soon make provision of another
first-class street for retail business pur-
poses. Such a thoroughfare our Water
street would naturally become if the tracks
were removed from the river front, and the
new bridge were to end on this side of the
river in an open parkway stretching from
the railroad bridge to Elm street. It is
easy to conceive that there would be an
early development of the east side of
Water street, under these circumstances,
for retail business and a later develop-
ment of a similar character south of Elm

Notwithstanding the present somewhat
degraded and uninviting conditions which
prevail along the railroad track below
Elm street, it seems assured, if the ex-
perience and example of other cities, much
older than ours, count for anything, that
an attractive and desirable street would
ultimately be developed along the river
side where the track now runs.

If it be suggested that we are to lose
taxable property by the removal of the
railroad across the river and of certain
industries that may be dependent upon it,
the answer is that it is merely a question
of time when West Springfield and Chico-
pee will again become a part of the old
town. The absorption of West Springfield
would naturally soon follow such a change
in conditions as we are contemplating.

S.H.D. Commonplace Book (16:35:1),
Martha Dickinson Bianchi Collection,
John Hay Library, Brown University Libraries

Springfield needs more room for the de-
velopment of its business center. Is it
not the hight of folly to maintain indefi-
nitely our gas works, our electric light
station and street railway power house al-
most within a stone's throw of our prin-
cipal thoroughfare? These important plants
of our public service corporations belong
on the outskirts of the city where they can
have room for growth, as it is needed,
without encroaching upon the rights of
residents and merchants in the very heart
of the town. And of course, they would
go ultimately where they belong, if the
railroad were taken out of its present
narrow and contracted location between
Main street and the river.

Who then can doubt that the change of
the railroad would, within not many
years, result in a large addition to the
city's taxable property rather than in its

It is not permitted me to discuss the
subject in further detail as it invites, but
in closing I venture to recall to you Sen-
ator Ingalls's beautiful sonnet on oppor-
tunity: --

Master of human destinies am I;
Fame, love and fortune on my footsteps wait;
Cities and fields I walk; I penetrate
Deserts and seas remote, and passing by
Hovel and mart and palace, soon or late
I knock unhidden once at every gate.
If sleeping, wake, if feasting, rise before
I turn away; it is the hour of fate
And those who follow me reach every state
Mortals desire, and conquer every foe
Save death; while those who doubt or hesi-
Condemned to misery, penury and woe.
Seek me in vain, and uselessly implore;
I answer not, and I return no more.

Springfield has the opportunity to become
famous, honored and envied among the
cities of the world. Shall she let it pass?

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Transcription and commentary copyright 1998 by Martha Nell Smith,
Laura Elyn Lauth, and Lara Vetter, all rights reserved
Maintained by Rebecca Mooney  <rnmooney@umd.edu>
Last updated on January 25, 2008

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