Great Plains Studies, Center for


Date of this Version

May 1997


Published in Great Plains Research 7:1 (Spring 1997). Copyright © 1997 The Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Used by permission.


In this excellent and unusual book, Richard Francaviglia traces the evolution of Main Street in America's small towns, examining patterns of growth, decay, and revitalization within the framework of Time, Space, and Image. No absolute "time frame" is offered, but an 1840s streetscape of London, Ohio, reproduced from Howe's History of Ohio, suggests a beginning date. Period illustrations and carefully chosen black and white photographs direct the reader on a 150 year journey to the present.

A discussion of the development of commercial establishments along the main thoroughfare begins with residential architecture. Ground floors were occupied by shops and tradesmen, while families lived in the upper levels. Residences often in Classic Revival style were gradually replaced by businesses and shops housed behind facades burgeoning with Victorian profusion. Francaviglia calls the late nineteenth-century store front the "first truly national building form in the history of American architecture." Nationalism did not eliminate ethnic characteristics imprinted on main streets across America. The use of regional building materials-brick, stone, wood, adobe-contributed to local identities, though this diminished with the onrush of railroads supplying all parts of the country with shipments of sheet glass, and iron and steel mass produced at distant manufacturing centers. In the twentieth century from the shores of the Atlantic to the Pacific, standardized aluminum siding and glass transformed store fronts, producing a dreary sameness. Large windows and signage visible to cars whizzing past advertised services and merchandise. The age of speed was altering concepts of both time and space.