A look at the past... or future?
Not far from where I live, the towns of Dana, Greenwich, Enfield and Prescott were evacuated to make way for Quabbin Reservoir in 1938. The people were scattered among various other communities, their houses removed except for the foundations, their cemeteries transplanted, their way of life completely re-arranged. The acreage of the towns themselves -- what isn't now underwater -- was ostensibly annexed to neighboring towns, but much of it is state-owned conservation land protecting the reservoir's feeder streams. Even a railroad and state Route 21 that used to serve that area are gone.
The maps are quite telling (look in the lower right-hand corner): 1938 vs 1939.
Today, I visited what used to be Dana Center. It's accessible by way of a generally passable, still paved road that's closed to car traffic, with grass and moss growing through the cracks and potholes. (On the 1909 map (the first link above), that's the route from Nichewaug through Dana and down along Pottapaug Pond, which still exists as a de facto arm of Quabbin.) A hike of a mile or so through forest that's still reclaiming old farmland at the edges takes you past a modern portajohn, a couple of small trails leading to stone house foundations, a locked hut containing some old signs, and a big rock outcrop I first thought had a stone wall atop it, but found to be a great place to write.
Typical of New England towns, Dana Center had several buildings focused on the town common. I can only guess at what they were from their foundations & my knowledge of NE towns, but I presume the one on the north side, fronted by horse hitching posts, was Town Hall, the one on the west side was a church, and those to the south were houses or shops (or both). The only modern element of the scenery is a stone memorial reading "Site of Dana Common 1801-1938. To all those who sacrificed their homes and way of life. Erected by Dana Reunion 1996."
What did those reunion folks think when they saw the foundations of their homes after all these years? How did that differ from the ideas of their kids and grandkids, who never knew Dana as even a place on the map?
Part of me wishes the reunion folks had also erected something (say a diorama) that would give visitors a guide to who owned the homes and what the Common area really looked like then. But most of me is glad they didn't -- this way we get to see what really happens when nature reclaims things. Dana 2006 is a nice escape from modern society -- lots of sound, but all of it wild: birds of various kinds, bubbling brooks, fish gulping insects on the reservoir's surface, wind in the leaves. The only sound of civilization is a passing plane; this place is far enough in the boonies you can't even hear cars on the nearest state highway.
In some respects, especially with the nonsense going on in the Middle East bringing to mind questions of what kind of future we'll have, walking through Dana today could be a tour of the past or a premonition of the future. Will there be a time when our descendents walk through modern-day towns and see them being overgrown or even crumbling in ruins? If so, why? Will it be because we consciously chose to move to cities or to reduce our population, because some illness struck many of us down, or because we went nuts and decimated ourselves in some brutal manner?
We'll find out ... maybe in the near future.