“Whose maps are we trying to read?” asks Rebecca Solnit in Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas. “And what are we trying to draw? It’s so common to live in a place without truly knowing its history, its systems, and the people who are different from you and who move through different versions of the city.”
I’ve been trying to read the different versions of Emory by viewing the maps stowed away in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. What do they tell me about the university’s history, systems, and people? Well, here is an example.
The map below bears the date 1950. Knowing what I do about the campus today, the first thing that strikes my eye is the vast vacancy to the right side of Clifton Road. Where now stand the law school and edifice upon edifice of clinics stretching from North Decatur Road up to the railroad tracks, there were, in 1950, a house, some apartments, a “grill & bookstore,” a “doctors’ bldg,” and a post office, which I happen to know also had a pharmacy next door.
What I glean from this is that some Emory folks lived conveniently closer to work and study than nearly anyone does today. Faculty physicians occupied modest space. And commuters or visitors to the campus needed not a single concrete deck in which to park. President Goodrich White probably walked from his home at the corner of North Decatur and Clifton to his office, which was in Candler Library until the Administration Building was constructed five years later.
At the top of the map, I notice the words “federal dormitories” and “federal apartments.” How odd, that word “federal” on a private, church-affiliated campus.
The dormitories were built to accommodate the enrollment boom after World War II. Thomas English, in his 1965 history of Emory, describes them: “[T]hree Federal Public Housing dormitories were brought in and set up beyond the railroad, in which 384 men shivered in winter and baked in summer.” A generation reading “Li’l Abner” in the comic strips dubbed the place “Lower Slobbovia.” These “eyesores,” as English called them, remained until 1955. It’s hard to know what students born in the middle of the Depression and weaned on war rations thought of their accommodations, but most likely the humble dorms made graduation “a consummation devoutly to be wished for.”
The “federal apartments” were what English called “plywood and tar paper barracks . . . erected for married couples farther out Clifton Road, long to be remembered without affection as ‘Mudville.'”
Anyone out there reading this who may have dwelt in one or the other of these complexes, let me hear from you. I would love to hear about your experiences.
More maps anon.