My glance fastens, in the old picture, on how the stone crops out of the dirt. (The dark spots in the dirt aren’t flaws in the glass plate negative; they’re horsier than that.) I’ve never been in a building of such scale and obviously long-term intent that wasn’t surrounded or approached by some kind of pavement. Barns and ruins, yes, but not a going concern in the center of daily phone calls, mail, and stamped and filed forms, where many-pocketed animals conduct their business. I think a sense of places as distinct from the land they’re built on, and a sense of moving between human and natural spaces, must have altered profoundly when asphalt or concrete were poured, especially in small towns where buildings were suddenly no longer the most massive human things but alveolar sacs appended to the respiratory system of highways joining them.
Whenever I wait to cross at this intersection—it’s interminable—I feel sure I’m going to get clipped by a careening Massachusetts (or worse: out of state) driver. I based a story around it.
There’s been money in this town for a long time. The town hall is as nice inside as out. Wood paneling lends the most tedious errands—invariably the reasons that take me there—a kind of civic grace.
Photo: Town hall, Amherst, Massachusetts, between 1900-1910 | Detroit Publishing Co., Library of Congress