A Tale of Two Cities
ONCE upon a time there were two towns in the same broad rolling country as different as two towns could possibly be. One was named Gogettersburg and the other Peterpanville. As with the characters in morality plays, their names betokened their dispositions. For Gogettersburg was one of those up-and-coming towns whose citizens believe in growth. Its only ideal of a desirable city was a big one. It organized an energetic chamber of commerce and placed at the head of it the town’s most energetic citizen, J. Weatherby Grier, and immediately things began to happen. Advertisements appeared in newspapers offering inducements to foot-loose factories. A string of yellow bulletins lined the railroad tracks crying, ‘You are now entering Gogettersburg, the fastest-growing city in Endymion County. Watch us grow — 20,000 population by 1935.’
And Gogettersburg grew. Its population increased. Crowds filled Main Street Saturday afternoons, and rows and rows of cars parked in the public square made it look as though paved with pantasote. The fields and meadows which surrounded the town were crisscrossed with incompleted roads, muddy in wet weather, lined with white stakes, and interrupted here and there by forlorn groups of pine twofamily houses of an uninspired design and distressingly alike. Occasionally a new smokestack shot up and added its soft-coal smoke to the pall that hung over parts of the town, for no one was so undiplomatic as to suggest imposing any restrictions on the new industries so diligently sought and hospitably welcomed. They built where and how they pleased, ran spur sidings up to their factory doors, burned soft coal, dumped their waste in the handiest spot, and the yards around the factories were strewn with rusty castings. The river which had once been a feature of the town was covered with an iridescent scum from the chemicals discharged into it.
But Gogettersburg grew bigger and J. Weatherby Grier was complimented on his energy. The local newspapers praised him and his work, published the census figures with discreet additions, and argued with the papers in rival towns over their respective claims. The new inhabitants continued to arrive in detachments, with union cards in their pockets and tightly rolled overalls under their arms. They moved into the monotonous two-family houses, and sometimes moved out again — as when the National Metal and Cornice Works received a better offer from a bigger city.
It was characteristic of the Gogettersburgers always to seek and use the more magniloquent word. They spoke of their town as a city even while it was still a village. Hamlet, village, town, city, metropolis, the slope up which every self-respecting American municipality seeks to struggle, shade into one another, and no one knows the invisible line which separates them, just as no one knows when the infant becomes a child, the child a youth, the youth a man. Gogettersburg continued to grow and grow until it crossed that invisible line which separates a large town from a small city. It became more crowded, noisier, dirtier, but each year the census showed bigger figures, pay rolls increased, and bank clearings mounted. It was an exact replica of hundreds of other rapidly growing towns, incomplete, sprawly, without plan, its natural beauties desecrated, and with not yet enough so-called improvements to hide the desolation — for all the world like an awkward boy who grows too fast. It had an advertising club, weekly luncheons of Rotary, an imposing but ugly Elks building, and a community chest. It was known as the fastest-growing city in the state.
On the other hand, Peterpanville seemed actually more concerned in preserving the charm of its broad, treelined main streets and its wide village green than in filling the surrounding meadows with factories and real-estate developments. The meadows were starred with dandelions in the spring, and the river, the same river that farther on became the sewer for Gogettersburg’s factory waste, was here a winding mirror for overarching willows. About the time that Gogettersbnrg established its chamber of commerce Peterpanville organized a town-planning commission, but it was called the Committee on Beauty, This committee was not interested in mere size. There were other forms of growth. Nature had been kind to Peterpanville. Its broad shady streets were sentineled by arcades of ancient elms, behind which stood old houses of the style called Georgian Colonial, lived in so long that they had become homes. Most of them had been skillfully modernized to close the gap between our ancestors’ standards of living and our own, but outwardly they continued to compose the picture that was Peterpanville. It was the aim and purpose of the Committee on Beauty to preserve as much as possible of the natural charm of the town.
In spite of its determination not to grow up after the model of its enterprising neighbor, the population of Peterpanville increased. The new inhabitants did not arrive in neat batches of workmen. They came one by one in the course of nature. Peterpanville preferred the stork to the chamber of commerce. Such new arrivals were gradually assimilated into the life of the town without distorting it, and even though they went away as they grew up they always came back again. Peterpanville was their home town.
Gogettersburg’s ideal was numbers; Peterpanville’s, individuals. Between them they split the popular slogan ‘Bigger and Better’ — Gogettersburg getting bigger, Peterpanville better. The Committee on Beauty paraphrased the famous prayer: ‘Make others great; let this be a good place to live.’ And it was. When Gogettersburg secured a new factory, Peterpanville added a park. It preferred a vista to a spur track. Instead of putting more smokestacks in the air it put telephone wires underground. It had a community house instead of an Elks Club, and the high-arched stone bridge across the river gave it more satisfaction than all the new clayey suburbs of its neighbor. Its school was famous, and the children could walk the streets with little danger from motor cars, for the state road had been carried clear around outside the town, with a parked and shaded drive connecting it with Peterpanville’s high street.
But in spite of everything Peterpanville grew — not so rapidly as Gogettersburg, but with that surer growth in which each new unit is added because of its fitness. The fame of Peterpanville spread beyond its state. It became known as the City Beautiful, but the phrase smacked too much of the city booster to be adopted by the townspeople. Visitors who came to inspect the industrial activity of Gogettersburg nearly always stopped over to view the charm of Peterpanville. Some sought to remain and were accepted under certain conditions. The conditions were imposed by the Committee on Beauty and concerned what the newcomers were allowed to do in the way of tearing down and building up. If they accepted these restrictions, then they were the kind of people Peterpanville wanted.
And so the broad shady streets gradually extended farther into the green meadows, and the new houses somehow acquired the atmosphere of the old with their lawns, trees, and gardens. Most of the newcomers who were making Peterpanville grow in spite of itself were from Gogettersburg. They were the merchants and manufacturers who found they could live in Peterpanville and go back and forth by motor car between their work and their homes. One of the most gracious of these new houses, standing on an eminence just outside the town where it commanded a view of the winding river and overarching willows, was acclaimed by all as a most satisfactory addition to Peterpanville’s beautiful homes. It belonged to J. Weatherby Grier, the man who put Gogettersburg on the map.