Can you recommend some Main Streets for me to shoot? : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

Hello to all architecture freaks and observant travelers. I am starting a new book on Main Streets in America and want to select 12-15 American towns or cities which have interesting, "authentic" (if that has any real meaning) main streets (don't have to be called Main). The photographer David Plowden has given me lots of good suggestions in the upper Midwest and New York State. I've also scouted many towns and have tentatively chosen Kutztown, PA (a college town with a great mix of residences & businesses, 18th-century houses, and Amish buggies rolling through), Abbeville, SC (unspoiled Main Street square), Bristol, RI (great maritime and patriotic character) and Bisbee, AZ (physically & historically fascinating - or at least it was in 1994 when I was last there).

I will be making B&W diptychs of the streetscape and subdued color pictures of individual facades, using an Arca 6x9 view camera. I will also interview residents & businesspeople for my text. I am not interested in the sort of gentrified streets that have nothing but cafes, boutiques, and gift shops for tourists. They could be streets in decline if there's a good story in the decline. Extra credit goes to streets with a hardware store, barber pole, and/or pharmacy (not CVS or Rite-Aid). I'll drive anywhere!

-- Sandy Sorlien (, July 25, 2001


Albuquerque. The main drag -- Central Ave., which is Route 66 -- is plenty visual for a number of miles, esp. in the area known as Knob Hill. Sort of 30s-pueblo-deco-contemporary-outrage style. Anyway, since you're going to Bisbee, you may as well swing through town and see what I mean. If you do, email me in advance and I'll help. -jeff buckels

-- Jeff Buckels (, July 25, 2001.

California Ave. in San Francisco - look for the steep inclines, maybe with trolley descending. As a contrast point, you may want to get a picture of the main street at Bodie (ghost town north of Lee Vining in the eastern Sierra Nevada with a lot of the original buildings still standing).

-- Guy (, July 25, 2001.

Middle America main streets? Try Iowa! First on your list should be West Branch, birthplace of Herbert Hoover. When I was there covering the Hoover funeral in the mid '60's it was like turning the clock back to middle America in the 20's. Other targets could be Mt.Pleasant, and Mt. Vernon, Ia. Although I am in Colorado now,....if you want to get a taste of Grant Woods' America...head for Iowa! Richard Boulware - Denver.

-- Richard Boulware (, July 25, 2001.

Keene NH its the lagrest main street in the US. Almost any main street in Vermont,New Hanpshire and Maine are gems to photograph becuse they all have some hishory behind them.

-- RTRitter (rrlg4mat@sover.neet), July 25, 2001.

recommended Main St/s---Silver Plume & Georgetown, Colo-"The Silver Queen of the West"----a Williamsburg of the West and her sister town, Silver Plume--approx 600 feet higher in elevation---earlier photographer, William Henry Jackson gave it a shot!

-- Raymond A. Bleesz (, July 25, 2001.

Main Street, Manasquan, NJ

Old world charm with many of the stores run by descendants of the original proprietors. They have a "real" jeweler, an old-fashioned hardware store, and old theater.

And it's just minutes away from the beach!

-- Richard M. Coda (, July 25, 2001.

I haven't been back in years, but the main drag in Chagrin Falls, Ohio is quite nice. There's an old hardware store, candy shop, nice kite shop, structures from the old mill that ran along the falls, the falls themselves, beautiful 19th-century houses, and if you approach from the right direction, there's a very dramatic hill from which to approach the "Main Street" area.

For a very different kind of "Main Street," try Court St. in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, New York, and get there quick before all the old Italian shops and the Italian "social clubs" are forced out by rising rents and replaced with 70's retro antique shops and nouveaux restaurants. You might wander around the neighborhood around Christmas, when brownstones will be decorated in full force.

-- David Goldfarb (, July 25, 2001.

Houston, Texas. Main Street here runs the gaunlet of modern urban life from poor neighborhoods that are gentrifying in the Heights and "El Northside" areas, into a dilapadated and in some places revitalized down town and midtown area, to a section where it is flanked by a major urban park on one side and a spledid University campus on the other, and then through the high density of the Texas Medical Center and then on out past some of the last "no tell motels" and then past the Astrodome and the new mammoth Football stadium (due to be finished in 2003 and declared to be ioutdated in 2012) to some more nightclubs and on out to suburban farmland. Oh and did I mention that there is a new light rail track being laid through the most urban part of Main St?

Besides if you come to Houston we can buy each other a beer!

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, July 25, 2001.

Houston, Texas. Main Street here runs the gauntlet of modern urban life from poor neighborhoods that are gentrifying in the Heights and "El Northside" areas, into a dilapidated and in some places revitalized down town and midtown area, to a section where it is flanked by a major urban park on one side and a splendid University campus on the other, and then through the high density of the Texas Medical Center and then on out past some of the last "no tell motels" and then past the Astrodome and the new mammoth Football stadium (due to be finished in 2003 and declared to be outdated in 2012) to some more nightclubs and on out to suburban farmland. Oh and did I mention that there is a new light rail track being laid through the most urban part of Main St? And yes hardware store, garages, barbershops (with poles) closed movie theaters a plenty, as well as some real architectural gems.

Besides if you come to Houston we can buy each other a beer!

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, July 25, 2001.

Pittsburgh PA has a number of well preserved and facinating old buildings in its downtown area. Market Square, and the street which has Dollar Bank.

-- J. Wolfe (, July 25, 2001.

Sandy...I would like to recommend the home of Antioch College... Yellow Springs, Ohio. The citizens are not overburdened with the need to have lawns immaculately manicured... that gives the side streets a wonderful "homey" feel. The liberal attitude of the citizens also makes them very receptive to artist's, so you won't have trouble getting permission to take pictures... And don't forget to stop at Young's Dairy for ice cream!!!

-- Dave Richhart (, July 25, 2001.

Another vote for Mt. Vernon, Ia. Beautiful. Having said that, I don't know if I could resist a place named "Chagrin Falls", unless it's What Cheer, Ia. .... jeff buckels (albuq)

-- Jeff Buckels (, July 25, 2001.

And how could I forget?--Beatty, Nevada, "gateway to Death Valley." Every home seems to have a patch of land in front of it where a lawn might go, but conditions there just aren't amenable to lawns.

-- David Goldfarb (, July 25, 2001.

sandy - please take a look at my last book, "oregon main street" (by james norman, pub by OHS (oregon historical society) press, available at, powells books, etc), which may give you some good ideas. i compiled a series of about 50 historic main street views from cities and towns across oregon, and went back to each location and reproduced each view as it appears today. the images were presented in the book as then and now pairs, and i had a team of four of my historian colleagues write descriptions of each pair of images describing the changes, both architectural and cultural, that had occurred over the past century, and a chapter on the development of cities in oregon. i wrote an introduction chapter that gave an overview of the rephotographic process. all the contemporary images were made with a 4x5 in black and white, with perspective control and vantage point matching the historic view as closely as possible. the project was immensely enjoyable, and the OHS museum in portland prepared a wonderful year-long exhibition of the materials that has now become one of their most rented-out traveling exhibitions around the state. also check out the dover book "main street usa in early photographs". there are several non-scholarly "then and now" books available for most of the larger cities in the US which can give you a good idea of what those city's main streets look like now. if what you want is towns which show little change from the past, look for places that have been bypassed by the interstate freeways, or even better, bypassed by the railroads when they were built in the 1800s - check out jacksonville in southern oregon in my book - the current views look almost identical to the historic views. good luck on your project.

-- jnorman (, July 25, 2001.

My suggestion is Main St. in Northampton, MA. Great town to begin with, cool main street as well.

-- David Munson (, July 25, 2001.

You'll probably never see Iowa mentioned 3 times in the same year here, let alone the same day........

David Plowden did a book a few years back, "A Sense of Place", in Iowa mainly in the farm country. He felt the river areas, Mississippi and Missouri, were a much different place than the heartland and being from there I fully agree. He had a good number of main street scenes in the book and they are an accurate look at the area then and now. Go to a map of Iowa, draw a circle 200 miles in diameter using the "hump" on the eastern edge as your center point (that's where I sit even now) and you will find hundreds of small towns in 4 states that are as varied as if they were in 4 countries. Let us know how you make out and drop a line if you get in the area!

-- Marv (, July 25, 2001.

Doesn't Disneyland at Anaheim have a Main Street? I think that would be a good shot to include. I'm wondering if you could get the photo before the park opens, or when it first opens. If you could get an elevated shot, perhaps all the people would add value to the photo.

-- neil poulsen (, July 25, 2001.

Just for reference sake, Tracy Kidder wrote a book called Home Town a couple years ago which has a photo of the main drag in Northampton on the book jacket. Not the best photo, and it doesn't include a whole lot, but a photo nonetheless...

-- David Munson (, July 25, 2001.

Hi Sandy, I saw this neat main street once, of course I can't remember the name of the town - right! But it is near the Mississippi River, and it is where U.S. Grant was keeping shop when the civil war began. I think it is Galena, Ill. There was a very interesting narrow main street of red brick shops as they must have been in the 1850s. Best, David

-- david clark (, July 25, 2001.

If you want to do Pittsburgh, do it quick before the local politicians rip down all the old buildings to put up city-financed over priced department stores.

-- Dave Mueller (, July 26, 2001.

Wow, this is exciting, I can't wait to get back on the road. Thanks to all for the suggestions so far. David, I know Northampton well, that's where my husband is from. It is indeed handsome and thriving, but visually I find it too dominated by cars. Of course, that will be the case in many places, and I'll have to work Early Sunday Morning like Hopper. On the other hand, Abbeville, SC is a 9-5 working town and the cars completely disappeared shortly after 5 PM, it was quite amazing. To another David: yes, I've been to Galena and that is a good one! I will definitely visit Chagrin Falls, OH, what a great name. I found Chillicothe, OH also very interesting.

Iowa freaks, you are right. The county seats with their fine courthouses are especially lovely.

James Norman, I will buy your book on Oregon Main Streets, thanks! I already have the Dover book on Main Streets, which has stupendous photographs.. They're not all "main streets," though. I plan to be fairly strict about what is considered a "main street." For example, in a large city like Pittsburgh or San Francisco, the street should either be called Main or be one of its two or three original main streets. Both Cincinnati and Philadelphia have gentrified, lively Main Streets.

RTR, is Keene's street wider than Fredericksburg, Texas? I find that hard to believe!

Richard, thanks for the Manasquan suggestion - that's not far from where I live (Philadelphia) so I will definitely scout that.

Ellis, I would love to come to Houston for beers. I might even look at the street.

Keep the ideas coming, this is great.

-- Sandy Sorlien (, July 26, 2001.

The small Alaska communities might provide something different and interesting. Not too many cars there, but rather four wheelers, snowmobiles, and small planes.

-- Q.-Tuan Luong (, July 26, 2001.

Pottersville, PA, home of Yuengling Brewery, the oldest brewery in America (if you define it by the 50 United States and leave out Canada) is charming and its streets are STEEP. I've always meant to shoot there. Scranton, PA is commercialized with Steamtown (NPS) and a mall but has some really "frozen-in-time" sections. As someone said, Keene, NH and many other such towns in NH and VT are very likely candidates. Flemington, NJ, where the Lyndberg Baby trial occured, has some amazing architecture (Victorian-era) and hasn't been too altered or too kitschified. Many such towns can be found in the Pinelands of southern New Jersey, but it is hard to name them off hand. Let me ponder some more.

-- Rob Tucher (, July 26, 2001.

Brigham City, Utah has a nice arch across Main Street proclaiming the it the home of the World's Greatest Game Bird Refuge. It is lit up at night with a neon duck on the sign. The old movie house, Hotel and other buildings are still in place to lend a nice look to the street.

-- Dan Smith (, July 26, 2001.

I'll just suggest my home town of Petersburg, Alaska. Unfortunately, you can't drive there, but you might enjoy the ferry ride from Seattle... it only takes 4 days.

Petersburg is a small (3500 residents) fishing town that is still relatively untouched by the mass tourism that has engulfed so much of Southeast Alaska. Downtown has the library, the bank, the drug store, and both hardware stores on it... all in 4 blocks. Wrangell, Alaska, is another similar town with even fewer people. It's the ferry stop before you hit Petersburg.

If you want me to put you in touch with someone, just ask.


-- Nathaniel Paust (, July 26, 2001.


You're welcome. If you go to Manasquan, you might want to wait until after Labor Day when all the tourists go home. Drop me an email if you go.


-- Richard M. Coda (, July 27, 2001.

St. Francesville, LA is a nice small town in the South. It is 30 miles north of Baton Rouge. There is an old "Motor Court" out of the 1930's that I always expect to see Bonnie & Cyde when I pass. There is another small town named Donaldsonville about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge with some very nice older building facades. A lot of the smaller towns around the Lafayette, LA area deserve consideration. Happy shooting. Pat.

-- Pat Kearns (, July 28, 2001.

I have to vote for Iowa too. When I did the RAGBRAI bike ride across Iowa we not only rode through small towns but frequently stopped for lunch and overnight at county seats. The county and town municipal buildings were classics! We also rode through the covered bridge of "Madison County". Email me if you want the names of the towns. George

-- George Nedleman (, July 28, 2001.

Just noticed the recommendation of Chagrin Falls, OH. I am at this very moment within 20 minutes of Chagrin Falls, and, high school football rivalries aside, I can recommend it wholeheartedly as a very visually pleasing place. I find it particularly nice in the winter. Small world, though, regarding Northampton, MA. I lived there and in the neighboring town of Williamsburg for 12 years. Now I live here in OH right next to Chagrin Falls.....

-- David Munson (, July 28, 2001.

Goldfield, Nevada. Not the highway but the old main street that crosses the highway. Across the street from the Goldfield Hotel is an old Ford dealership with a gas pump from around 1932 still bolted to the ground. The proprietors (junk shop now) will happily put the original Chevron globe on top which was only brought in for safety in about 1984. Name recognition plus++. And of course if you do get out in this country I'd love to shoot with you!

-- Jim Galli (, July 30, 2001.

Galveston, TX. All kinds of wonderful main streets and not just counting the "historic" (beautifully restored but horridly tourist infested) Strand. Lots of interesting off-beat locations which anyplace else would have been demolished 30 years ago. You could work there for a year.

-- Lad Perenyi (, August 04, 2001.

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