Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Now You See It, Now You Don't

I may live in the country, but my hometown and that of my birth is Port Huron, which is about 25 miles from our house. I grew up in Port Huron, attending school, college, church, spending time with family and friends, even met my husband (though he was not from there) in Port Huron. I've always had a soft spot for the town, even though it's not on America's Greatest Towns of All Time list...and as far back as I can remember, I've been intrigued by its history.

Lately, there are some things going on in town that have really gotten my attention, and sent my mind in a million directions. Every time I drive through Port Huron, I notice another building or house that has just been demolished. There is a very large project in the works, that has to do with the Bluewater Bridge (which serves as the border crossing into Canada at Sarnia, ONT.) It's been planned for many years, but just recently, they've taken over several properties all the way around the current bridge complex, moved out the previous owners, and they're pulling down the buildings. One of them was a church that I enjoyed attending youth group in, Blue Water Free Methodist. My good friend and her entire family are very active there. It's been there for as long as I can remember---not sure of it's original year but it was before 1900 I'm sure. My baby shower was held there....Kris' wedding was there...we had good ole' fashioned dulcimer jams there on some Friday nights over the years.

It's now a field.

The building that once housed a weekly publication, The Shopper, which was owned and operated by the daily newspaper company, is gone. What once was Kinney Shoes (and then several other businesses, lastly a Mattress Warehouse), is gone. Houses I've walked by as a child near the elementary school I attended, gone. Gas stations, gone. Car dealership, gone. A doctor's office our family went to, gone as well. I know they are far from being finished, and I know the government finds it necessary to enlarge the bridge complex, but it's still disturbing to me.

It has changed the landscape of the town that I've known my whole life, forever. It will never be the same. It's strange to take the same driving routes that I've been taking since I got my license, because it doesn't even feel like the same road anymore. And I keep thinking about how backwards this feels to me, compared to what the first Port Huron citizens were experiencing 150 years ago...The building of a city.

Back in those days, the main street was dirt, and that was it---ONE main street that led in and out of the town. It started with one school, a few churches, one jailhouse. It was the beginning of something new, something miraculous. Can you imagine the excitement people felt when THEY would travel in from the outskirts of town each time, to see ANOTHER new building going up? To hear that the children had outgrown a school, and ANOTHER school was being built? To know that the neighborhoods were filling up so quickly that they needed ANOTHER corner grocery? So much hope, so much promise. And it still is today---don't misunderstand me. Port Huron is a bustling city of 45,000 people and full of major businesses. It's not going anywhere, it's just changing ... the old is coming down and the new is building up....I just feel sad that so much of the old had to be pulled down to make way for new.

It's not like this in many other countries. They build something strong, and they continue to repurpose the building, and use it. It's rare to take down a building. So much goes in to making it in the first place. But in America, if it's in the way, tear it down. Don't like it? Tear it down. And put up another 10 cardboard houses in its place. Or another parking lot to house the dozens of cars Americans own and drive. More, more, more. New, new, new.

I'm not against the expanding bridge complex. Afterall, the border to Canada is part of what puts Port Huron on the world map. I just tend to miss the old days, the old ways, the old buildings....the old stories...what made the town what it is today. I hope there will always be parts of town that I can return to, and feel home again. Places that are left, untouched.

Now, to contradict myself, I must mention one little part of history that may have affected early citizens in a negative way. There are many rivers that run in and out of Port Huron, and one of them cuts through the original downtown area. To expand the downtown, a bridge was built over the river and the dirt that was cleared on either side of the bridge area, had to go somewhere. Do you know what they did? They filled the entire downtown area with dirt---and completely covered up the first floors of all the buildings on main street, forever. Most people don't realize it, but when we walk into a store downtown, we are actually walking into what used to be the 2nd floor. I worked in one of the shops when I was in college, and I was able to go down to the basement and see for myself, the original first floor entrance which was covered up from the outside to block the dirt, but from the inside, the fancy doors and window arches were still visible. The other interesting thing, is that there are tunnels downtown, that lead from one store to the other, all the way through the area! It must've been VERY strange, when that kind of construction was affecting the town.

Another thing that might have been disturbing, is when they had to move the city cemetery in 1850. Yes, I said MOVE the cemetery. They needed the space for expansion, so they literally dug up each grave, took the gravestone, and moved it a few miles north east to a new cemetery. That must've been a very depressing kind of operation. There is an intriguing story about something that happened in the cemetery. A woman had been buried in a very find coffin with a glass cover, which created an air tight seal. Her husband was present when her grave was dug up. He lifted the top, and there was his wife just as wehen she had been laid in the coffin. Overcome with emotion, he lifted the glass cover, and before his eyes, she crumbled to dust. (I've also read that the earliest coffins which were made of plain wood, were too disintegrated to in the area which had been the old cemetery, whenever a basement for a house was dug, bones would often be found.

Yes, Port Huron, like any old city, is full of history and very interesting little tidbits. Time marches on. Things change, the thumbprint has changed several times. Hopefully, those of us who know the old stories of the little port town will continue to pass them on, and folks will always be able to remember and hear about the old days. Good ole' Port Huron.

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