So, at the end of last week, I made le Voyage back to le Hometown. Or le Town of Growing Up. Having been born in Milwaukee, it is my hometown, however, I spend most of my growing up years in Green Bay. I’m not sure there is really a word for that.
The Ol’ Girl is lookin’ much the same these days, not much changes. A bit of a bummer that the east side movie theater is gone, replaced by a grocery store and fitness center, but that happened long ago. The big news is that the late Brutalism (aren’t they all? Or most.) downtown Mall, the scene of much trivial childhood and high school activity, is under demolition. The origin of many rumors and the situs of much drama (Guess who’s getting a makeover at Face Factory! Over there—at the Orange Julius! She told my sister she was sick and couldn’t go to the Library! I got shoes dyed there and they didn’t match.), a landmark of my childhood has succumb to the bulldozer. What will replace it? A traditional downtown had itself been subject to the bulldozer, and I guess I’m not a regular enough reader of the Press-Gazette to be in the know.
Downtown Development (Re or otherwise) aside, I think a more monumental discovery for myself was that one of my elementary schools was named after one of the founding fathers. (Of Green Bay.) It turns out that Whitney Elementary—a three story building thus doomed by history to see its use as an elementary school come to an end—was not named after Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin, but Daniel Whitney, an early migrant from New Hampshire who founded the town of Navarino in what is now one of the near East side residential areas of Green Bay. (Apparently, there is a “new” town of Navarino, Wisconsin, about fifty miles away in the next county. Not to be confused with.)
Who knew? The next thing you know, someone is going to tell me that Howe Elementary wasn’t named after Elias Howe. My Junior High had “Thomas Alva Edison” emblazoned over the main entrance, so I’m pretty sure about that one. It’s possible no one in Green Bay wanted to admit that after Pere Marquette and Jean Nicolet came some dude from New England with a British name who really founded the town, or maybe everyone just forgot. Last summer, I had a conversation with a staff person at a NPS facility who noted the lack of engagement of older students in state and local history. State and local history tends to be the purview of elementary school curricula, superseded in the upper grades and college by national and world history. Of course, unless you happen to be lucky, that doesn’t make for many field trips or sense of engagement, resulting in a dry curriculum which leads to bored students who don’t pay attention.
Who knows? The elementary school is now a community health center, but there is still a park named Whitney, and there is a sign now, with big bright letters. So, maybe you don’t learn everything you need to know in Kindergarten, but if you learn how to read, you can pick up a lot of what’s left one way or the other. Provided someone puts up a sign. 🙂