Relics of small-scale urbanity
I write a lot about the urbanity of small towns. I’m doing this multi-part series photographing all the small towns in my little semi-rural central New Jersey home county, for example. I’ve written about the once-bustling hotel in the little town of Stockton, which inspired a Broadway show tune nearly a century ago. I’ve written over and over about my own hometown of Flemington, and how the new development going on there is picking up the spirit of the place that the old-timers simultaneously mourn and resist.
And I’ve done it, or intended to do it, not in a patronizing way. Rather, I’ve been fascinated with the idea that there is an old urban history and way of life in these quiet communities, an old civilization whose artifacts we walk by every day but do not fully understand. And I’ve come to see development today, in a way that respects the basic form and scale of these communities, as healing a break we made with ourselves—dusting off a project of placemaking that was hastily and mistakenly abandoned.
In this piece, I’m going to show you a bunch of Hunterdon County’s old hotels—local enterprises replicated in nearly every little place, often right near the passenger rail stations that many of these towns also once had. There was a connectivity, and a certain cosmopolitanism in these places, that is astonishing to me, and which I was utterly unaware of until I began to work in this field.
This time I’m not going to name the towns or give you any information. I’m just going to tell you that a quiet, sleepy, semi-rural county in the distant middle between New York City and Philadelphia was full of hotels over 100 years ago (plus one photo of a small hotel from neighboring, and even more rural, Warren County). While I’ve got most of them, this is, believe it or not, not absolutely comprehensive!
Here they are.
Few of these establishments are still hotels. In many cases the rooms have been closed off for decades. Now, they’re restaurants of a certain genre—oysters, rack of lamb, wine, a little stuffy a little modern. But the buildings themselves stand, and are a testament to who we used to be.
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