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Progressive Era to New Era
Cities During the Progressive Era
The Lure of the Past, the Present and Future

In the following excerpts, George W. Bryan describes several cities he visited while traveling from Indiana to California by train in the early 1900s. What qualities does Bryan look for in a "good" city? What bias clouds Bryan's observation of cities? As one who might have read these accounts in 1911, would you have been intrigued with any of the cities Bryan writes about? If so, why? If not, what might Bryan have included to stimulate your curiosity?

View the entire document from which this excerpt was drawn (the chapters are organized by city) from California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives, 1849-1900. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.


Indianapolis

If you ever visit the capital city of Indiana, you will be impressed with its wide streets and avenues, its splendid churches, its solid business blocks, its beautiful parks, used for rest and recreation rather than to beautify the city. Take a spin north from the monument and see the ideal homes; this is indeed a home city, clean and healthful. Compare the per capita net debt of seventeen dollars and forty-three cents of this city with New York City's per capita net debt of one hundred fifty-seven dollars and seventy-four cents, it looks like healthy finance in the home city. You could spend several weeks in this capital city and see things worth while, or if you are looking for a large city in which to make your home, this city will suit you, it is not immense like Chicago, but big enough for comfort. Two hundred and thirty-four thousand people is no mean city, wherever located.

St. Louis

This city is noted for several things worth mentioning, for its very narrow streets, near the river, its beautiful parks, its broad and well-kept streets and avenues on the higher ground, and it is the fourth city in population in the United States, six hundred and eighty-seven thousand and twenty-nine people living in an area of sixty-one square miles, when some cities with half the population are scattered over an area of a hundred square miles or more. A very compact city, indeed. But what impresses the stranger most forcibly in coming to this city is Anheuser-Busch beer, Liggett and Myers' famous brands of tobacco, and Swift Co. packing houses, just as we see Chicago a city of mail order business, New York City a distributor of emigrants and searcher for dutiable goods, and Philadelphia a staid, old and immaculate Quaker city. The people of Missouri are no doubt proud of their metropolis and do not have to be shown that it is a fair city.

Kansas City

Why a city of two hundred and fifty thousand people, and a great railroad center, must be humiliated and made ashamed of the facilities for the accommodation of the traveling public is more than we can understand. Such a mob! we hope never to be in another like it. It reminded us of the World's Fair at Chicago on Chicago day, not as many people, of course, but about ten times as many people as should have been in the station at one time for comfort. We said to a young lady whose home is in this city, we were not favorably impressed with the city and felt like we wanted to get away on the next train. "Oh!" she said, "you must not judge our city by the depot and its surroundings, we have a beautiful city. It is noted for its boulevards, its fine homes, its picturesque and fascinating topography, and I want to tell you in the near future we are going to have a new union station that will be in line with the present-day progress and one of which we will not be ashamed."

San Francisco

We are at the ferry slip and pass out through the commodious ferry building and stand looking up Market street in San Francisco, the metropolis of California. We must not judge this great city and its nearly half a million people by our first impressions. It would not be just or proper. Every nationality on earth, inhabitants from every clime seem to be around and we wonder what these thousands of loafers do for a living, dirty and blear-eyed denizens of the slums. There is a feeling of fear and pity that comes over us that we want to get away. Anywhere is better than in this good natured but motley mob. But there is something fascinating about the heterogeneous crowd of humanity, and as one strolls along the dock and for a few squares back and sees the vice and degradation on every hand one is filled with compassion for these poor, weak men, who are sorely tempted by the accursed saloons that seem to be the prevailing business in this part of the city. No wonder this city gave such an overwhelming majority against woman suffrage. No doubt thousands of these men have no higher conception of life than to drink whiskey or beer and have long since forgotten their mother was a woman.
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View the entire document from which this excerpt was drawn (the chapters are organized by city) from California As I Saw It: First Person Narratives, 1849-1900. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.