Seaside’s roads each come with a story.
In the early days of urban America as cities began to grow, streets were named after landmarks, like Church, Monument, Canal and so forth. The occasional direction might get added to further clarify. The idea being that streets were features, which is why one would rarely see a road named outside the village or town. In America, around 1850 a cultural change took place. Everything from literature to gardening shifted. People’s views on nature changed. Nature was no longer a grisly, howling force to be reckoned with. It was beginning to be portrayed in a romantic sense. Nature offered beauty, safety and cleanliness in stark contrast to the industrialized cities that were crowded and dirty.
There was a change in architecture too. The cool, rational, ordered and urban, Greek Revival style transformed to the picturesque, romantic, asymmetric Gothic Revival. This movement was inspired by John Ruskin and A.W.N. Pugin in England and carried in the U.S. by A. J. Davis, the architect of Lyndhurst, a famous Gothic mansion overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York. Streets began to take on different names, many with romanticized connotations.
If you have strolled around Seaside much, you will notice many street names and probably can associate some memory with them. Do you recall seeing Ruskin Street and Ruskin Park? They are named after John Ruskin, mentioned earlier, a 19th Century art critic and theorist most noted for his book, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, published in 1849. Three of the seven tenets he espoused in the book can be found in Seaside today. Beauty, life and memory abound in this idyllic village by the sea. Ruskin would most likely be pleased if he were to visit Seaside today.
Other streets here like Smolian Circle, Central Square, Savannah, Tupelo and others all conjure up images in our mind. Take for instance, Smolian Circle. Seaside founder Robert Davis named the street after his grandfather, J.S. Smolian, also known as J.S. Smolian was co-owner of Pizitz, a department store chain in Alabama. He purchased the land that is now Seaside in hopes of building a summer camp for store employees.
One can imagine where the name Central Square came. This busy street is the heart of Seaside, much like Grand Central Station is the heart of New York City. The hustle and bustle of life. People coming and going. Food, drink and dessert all within a short walk. It’s the epitome of energy, exuberance and for the romantics, hope for a better tomorrow. Everyone is going somewhere to do something. Fitting here don’t you think?
Then there’s Savannah Street. Chances are if you have visited Savannah, Ga., you can see how this street name is fitting here. Savannah is a laid back, unassuming, well planned city. There are lush parks, sidewalks for strolling and the ocean is close by. Not nearly as close as here, mind you, but close enough to hear the seagull calling for her young fledgling to come closer. Savannah is a place where one never tires of returning. So it can be said for Seaside.
No doubt if you hail from Mississippi, Tupelo will be in your lexicon. Tupelo is the “hub” of the state, much like Seaside is the hub of 30A. Tupelo also has a rich history in music being the birthplace of Elvis Presley. Central Square Records might just have a Presley tune or two.
Tupelo was also the first city in Mississippi to receive power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) back in 1934. Here at Seaside, if you are coming from the East, Tupelo Street is the first street to welcome you to Seaside, the first New Urbanist community in America. Lots of “firsts.”
There are many other streets here in Seaside whose names possibly connect with a distant memory you might have. That’s not by accident. The town founders knew that street names carried with them powerful memories and connections to times past. Remember your childhood home? You can probably recall just about every house on that street and the memories you made riding your bike, listening to music on the front porch with a friend, or waiting by the mailbox for a letter. That’s precisely what is expected to happen during your visit here. Whether you leisurely stroll through Ruskin Park, ride your bike around Central Square or grab a nap on your porch on Tupelo Street, it’s all good. There is nothing better for memory-making than spending a day or two on the streets of Seaside.
By Pratt Farmer