Sunday, December 6, 2009

Looming on the Horizon

Yesterday I was thinking about Port Tobacco's loss of its port facilities as a consequence of unchecked erosion and sedimentation. One of the key questions that the PTAP team has asked of the town's archaeological and historical records is: How did the people of Port Tobacco, clearly aware of the destruction of the source of their livelihood, react? Had they considered ways in which the erosion might be slowed or halted? Did they consider means by which they might restore the creek and enhance its navigability? Evidence to date suggests that sedimentation clearly restricted commercial navigation by the late 18th century and completely destroyed it in the first half of the 19th century. This is the same period during which the country went through a 'canal craze,' with moneyed interests speculating and promoting all manner of canal ventures. The ideas and technologies were readily at hand to improve the creek.

As I mulled over these issues, it occurred to me that today's residents of Port Tobacco confront a different kind of challenge, different in its causes and likely outcomes, but no less destructive of a way of life. What are they doing about it? That challenge is real estate development. A new subdivision is planned for the Rose Hill estate just north of town and development of the Ellerslie property west of town has been abandoned, but probably only for a short while. Locust Grove, south of town, already has been developed and the residential subdivision of Mulberry Grove, also south of town, has been planned for several years.

Port Tobacco may well find itself squeezed between a series of suburban subdivisions, with all of the disadvantages--and advantages--of a denser population. Nothing can prevent the process: men and women make decisions about their property and how it will be used, within such constraints as various jurisdictions impose. Regulations will not stop development, they will only shape the outcomes. So, the residents of Port Tobacco now face new problems that will substantially and irreversibly change their town and way of life. The PTAP team can document their efforts as part of the town's centuries of unfolding history: we cannot, and should not, determine their response to this latest of social, political, and economic challenges.


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