Stroudsburg’s Bridges

Speaking of federal highways built after WWII (potentially through communities), Interstate Route 80 runs through Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg. President Johnson mentions the recent completion of this highway in his letter to Stroudsburg’s mayor celebrating the borough’s sesquicentennial:

The recent completion of the Interstate Highways through the Poconos has made Stroudsburg and the communities around it more accessible than ever before. The Federal Government is proud to have played an important role in this acheivement.

Letter from President Johnson dated May 31, 1965

I do not know if any communities were demolished to build this interstate highway. It is likely that the presence of this interstate is part of the reason why some New Yorkers chose to relocate here following 9/11. It is certain that some of the local bridges owe part or all of their existence to this interstate. Many of the local bridges also owe their existence to the several creeks in the area.

The Seventh Street Bridge spans both Route 80 and McMichael’s Creek. (According to signs on this bridge it’s name is Sherrifs Forrest B. Sebring and Todd A. Martin Bridge, but the Pocono Record’s article on the renaming of this bridge highlights the controversy and public backlash to this renaming which was led by a State Representative.) Further east, the freeway and the creek are farther apart and so two separate bridges carry Broad Street over both obstacles. Heading back west, another bridge carries Main Street over Pocono Creek.

Pocono Creek and its bridge (the J. Summerfield Staples Memorial Bridge) appear to mark the western boundary of the historic core of town. On the other side of the bridge, there is an uptick in the number and frequency of auto-oriented uses and building designs.

Seventh Street Bridge

Broad Street Bridges

J. Summerfield Staples Memorial Bridge

Urban Renewal in the Stroudsburgs

After WWII, while the federal government was building highways — sometimes through communities — and subsidizing and incentivizing the construction and purchase of detached single-family dwellings — that is, if you were of the “right” race, ethnicity, and economic level, — there was a growing sense that cities, and perhaps even towns, weren’t safe places to live. As people and jobs, or jobs and people, or some people and jobs starting leaving cities in large numbers, the cities started looking for ways to reinvent themselves to reattract people and jobs in order to survive. Pittsburgh was a leader at that time, inventing and defining the process of Urban Renewal. Other cities like Bethlehem looked up to Pittsburgh and tried to adopt the strategies and techniques of Urban Renewal used in Pittsburgh. Often these cities, as illustrated by Bethlehem, lacked the resources and power to pull off Urban Renewal on the same scale as Pittsburgh.

Revisiting the once familiar environs of Stroudsburg (pop. 5,950) and East Stroudsburg (pop. 9,669), I realized that even these small towns adopted practices and principals of Urban Renewal. And similar to the pairing of Allentown (pop. 125,944) and Bethlehem (pop.75,624), the larger of the two municipalities implemented more Urban Renewal projects while the smaller implemented more historic preservation practices.

Below is a very biased sample of the the Urban Renewal practices I believe I identified in the Stroudsburgs:

Urban Renewal Practice #1 – The Ring Road

Both boroughs contain a partial or complete loop of one-way streets around portions of their downtowns. This traffic pattern now appears to me as strongly reminiscent of the circles Pittsburgh built around important commercial neighborhoods – which subsequently nearly died, possibly because they were already dying, but probably aided by being choked off by these ring roads. In Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg, it didn’t appear that the ring road has the same sort of death grip on the commercial enterprises they encircled. Several of the business I remembered were still operating and I didn’t notice significant numbers of vacant properties – though the couple vacant businesses I noticed were in East Stroudsburg. However, they weren’t areas that were tempting to explore more closely because they were sites developed along the second Urban Renewal practice.

Urban Renewal Practice #2 – Auto-oriented Uses

Both boroughs contained drive-through businesses in the center of their ring roads. In addition, strip malls are off to the right as you enter each borough on the ring road. In Stroudsburg, the auto-oriented uses felt like they were tightly centered on the ring road; nearby and spilling into the ring road was a dense, walkable downtown. On the other hand, in East Stroudsburg, it felt like the auto-oriented uses were spilling beyond the immediate environs of the ring road and into what was presumably once a much more extensive dense, walkable downtown.

Urban Renewal Practice #3 – Demolition for Underutilized Parking Lots

Part of what made the experience in East Stroudsburg feel more auto-oriented was the larger number of visible paved lots, presumably for parking, but largely empty. While I was most likely day-dreaming about the plot of my latest story featuring either princesses or cowboys when I previously spent time in downtown East Stroudsburg, there was a feeling of familiarity in the near empty parking lots suggesting that I would have felt uncomfortable if they were actually parked to capacity in the same way I felt uncomfortable passing locations where trees I used to know had been cut down.

The Story of the Spires – Stroudsburg

One of the key ingredients for the stability component of “home” is safety. In the aftermath of 9/11, there was a concern about the safety of living in cities and living in New York in particular. The Pennsylvania boroughs of Stroudsburg and East Stroudsburg were among the places considered safe by those leaving New York City. Knowing this going in and comparing it to the lessons learned from Bethlehem, I assumed that the religious buildings would reflect a sense of stability.

Of the two boroughs, Stroudsburg has a more centralized concentration of religious buildings that was easy for me to explore on foot within the limitations of my post-injury recovery phase. The results of this survey confirmed my hypothesis. Of the seven buildings I found, only one was converted to a secular use. Another one appeared to be having a renovation of it’s primary entrance but was still looked actively used as a church. (Facebook confirmed that it is still active with a video of the Polish language mass from a few days before the date I looked it up.) A third building was a storefront that is a First Church of Christ, Scientist.

Comparing Stroudsburg with other Pennsylvania towns where I’ve explored the status of religious buildings, it fits the pattern well. Stroudsburg’s peak population was in 1950, the same as Pittsburgh and Wilkinsburg. Below is an updated chart of the population loss for these cities and a broad impression of the state of their religious buildings.

CityPopulation Loss Since Peak (Peak Year)Status of Religious Buildings
Bethlehem1% (1960)Primarily active sacred uses
Erie26% (1960)Primarily active sacred uses
Homestead85% (1920)Significant numbers closed or converted to secular uses
Pittsburgh55% (1950)Significant numbers closed or converted to secular uses
Stroudsburg14% (1950)Primarily active sacred uses
Wilkinsburg49% (1950)Significant numbers closed or converted to secular uses

Memory and Stability

I found myself making the sudden, sharp s-turn unto the Washington Crossing Bridge as a result of taking an opportunity to revisit scenes from my childhood. I have had a growing interest in returning to my first hometown partly to explore scenes the reflect concepts I encounter in my professional zoning life and partly due to the jealousy I felt when many of my friends were able to “go back home” in the early depths of the pandemic.

It’s been a quarter of a century since I had a place that I considered home in the sense of the homes that my friends found refuge in during the pandemic. While I’ve always had a roof over my head at a place where I lived and therefore a home, the deeper kind of home is a unique blend of people, place, memory, and stability. Pittsburgh is the closest substitute I have for a hometown, but one of my central themes when writing about Pittsburgh and the places within it is change. Last year’s Then and Now series focused on the changes to or around Pittsburgh’s bridges. The on-going Keeping an Eye On series is tracking major changes as they happen. And though I’ve researched lots, I’ve written less about the adaptive reuse of religious buildings in the city, a theme which also focuses on change.

There were changes when I went back to my first hometown. The house I grew up in has been painted, the backyard has been fenced in, and several important trees have been removed, including the one I crashed my bike into one summer.—They say once you learn, you never forget how to ride a bike. In my experience, once you crash into a tree because you forgot how to ride a bike, you never forget again.—Most of these changes I was already aware of from visiting a few years after we moved away. What struck me the most on this return visit was how much had stayed the same:

  • The chain link fence with slats that we used to love finding the gaps to peak through to see what was so secretly hidden.
  • The yellow safety rails were still there and still rusted.
  • All the houses on the block, except ours, were the same color with the same lack of fencing as I remembered, though one now has solar panels.
  • The year-round costume shop, the existence of which always fascinated me and that I still don’t understand how they survive 12 months in a row, let alone decades worth of 12 months in a row.
  • The bagel shop that made the best bagels, though apparently nobody orders just a bagel with nothing on it anymore and while the inside of the bagel tasted the same, it no longer had the smooth skin on the outside.
  • The local bank where I had my first savings account is still operating under the same bank name.
  • The ice cream shop with the best ice cream, though unfortunately its limited hours of operation did not coincide with the days I was in town.
  • The used bookstore, where I believe I bought my first Zane Grey novel and where I found several gems on this trip.

There is a narrow band of stability between stagnation and growth. This stability enables places like those listed above that are imbibed with memories to survive and provide a sense of the familiar, of comfort, and of home.

Washington Crossing Bridge

Last week, I unexpectedly found myself driving across the Washington Crossing Bridge. Once I got over the initial shock of finding myself driving on such a small bridge, I was struck by the parallels with other bridges I’ve encountered.

There was an immediate sense of deja vu having stumbled upon and walked across a similarly old and narrow bridge in 2017. The Market Street Bridge, Steubenville, bridges the Ohio River to connect Ohio and Pennsylvania; while the Washington Crossing Bridge bridges the Delaware River to connect New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Relying solely on my memory, I thought these two bridges were of the same design. However, looking back at my pictures, Market Street Bridge appears to be a hybrid suspension-truss bridge with the trusses painted yellow. The Washington Crossing Bridge is solely a truss bridge, with blue trusses. This leaves me with an unresolved sense of deja vu of having encountered a blue truss bridge of similar design somewhere once before.

The second parallel appeared when I stopped on the Pennsylvania side to figure out where I was and take more pictures of the bridge. A historic park made it easy to learn that this bridge and its surroundings were known as Washington Crossing. While I have a vague recollection of the story of Washington crossing the Delaware under the noses of the British Army, living in Pittsburgh, that crossing is eclipsed by his earlier crossing of the Allegheny River, when he fell in and had to spend the night on an island in the river before continuing on his mission on behalf of the British. The Allegheny River crossing is memorialized by the 40th Street Bridge‘s alternative name, Washington Crossing’s Bridge.