History of the Weird Utopia Roadtown Part 1

About the history of the weird utopia Roadtown designed by Edgar Chambless a strange train-like community.


Roadtown was a visionary conception of the early 1900s: a miles-long, two-room-wide, self-contained city, like a skyscraper-on-its-side/railroad system/housing development snaking out into the countryside and in harmony with it. Its inventor and promoter: Edgar Chambless, a pale, long-legged, obsessed individual. A journalist once described him--after an interview in a New York club--as being dull in person (because of his single-mindedness) but not on paper (because of the uniqueness of his ideas). Chambless was a person bitterly against big business, yet in love with technology and efficiency, and it all came together in Roadtown.

He wrote a book about it, which was published in 1910 and dedicated to--of all people--J. Pierpont Morgan. According to Chambless, this "straight player of a crooked game" was the man whose manipulations of the Central Railroad of Georgia securities in 1893 caused Chambless and other small investors to lose their life's savings. The misfortune, however, "proved to be a blessing in disguise, for it made me suffer first and then made me think .... "One thought came to him when, broke and out of a job, he sat on a hill in Los Angeles and wondered why it was not built upon although it was in the heart of the city. He figured out that it was because no transportation connected it to the city below. He later linked this transportation land-value relationship concept to what he discovered while working as a patent inspector in New York: that many useful inventions were shelved because they did not fit into "the present style of city construction."

Surprisingly, Chambless was able to enlist the help of a number of experts in making his extremely detailed plans for Roadtown. These included inventors like Thomas Edison, who donated patents, and engineers who made free cost estimates. In his mind, and the minds of other believers (and there were many), Roadtown was a technological utopia, a long but thin community in which people could control their own destinies (without capitalism's disadvantages) and have the best of both city and country.

In cross section, Roadtown would, beginning at the top, consist of: (1) a roof promenade--a glassed-in sun parlor in winter, shaded walk in summer, with bicycling and skating paths and towers housing schools, nurseries, recreation facilities, stores, and power plants; (2) a two-story, above-ground house, with a workroom at street level, a living area above it, and utility lines (electric wires and gas and water pipes) enclosed in a runway beneath the house; and (3) three below-ground levels of railroad lines for expresses and locals, to carry both passengers and freight.

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