Honesdale news

An ode to alleys 

By DEREK WILLIAMS
Posted 8/19/20

What’s in an alley? Space and potential. What makes an alley? Opportunity and people.

In the iconic sense of pathways accessing garages behind blocks of houses, Honesdale has fewer alleys …

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Honesdale news

An ode to alleys 

Posted

What’s in an alley? Space and potential. What makes an alley? Opportunity and people.

In the iconic sense of pathways accessing garages behind blocks of houses, Honesdale has fewer alleys than many towns. In the non-traditional sense, we’ve got several gems that’d stand out anywhere. 

The 500-600 block alley behind the west side of Main Street is storied. Often referred to as Basin Street, this alley has existed for almost two centuries, used to be much longer and was designed in service of the former D&H Canal. Being a public swath of backyard, this alley holds a special place in my heart.

Before living downtown, I used to slide through here for backdoor pop-ins at darkened pub dance parties. Now, I listen to the birds with morning coffee, perched on my third floor deck. This is a fringe area: the point where the Main Street excitement begins transitioning to wooded quiet. Neighbors include our local baker, groundhogs, birds, deer, frogs and bees. Be Kind Bakehouse is excellent and starlings are sneaky, by the way.

Based on types of uses and types of creatures, this may be the most diverse neighborhood in town. Back in the canal era, the same could be said. Canal boats loading and unloading goods behind buildings would have created a parallel thoroughfare to Main Street out front, making this alley a lively street out back.

Things are more chill now, yet the fair use claims to this multi-generational space are many. Much of the area’s sense of place remains anchored here. If you’d like to see wildflowers and hear bird songs a half block from bustling sidewalks where drivers are delivering food to restaurants and shop patrons are parking their bikes, feel free to dip back for a stroll.

Directions: If you’re headed down Main Street, it will be on your right. Meander behind the buildings using one of three alley spurs. If you hit the railroad tracks, you’ve gone too far. The planned walking and biking trail between Honesdale and Hawley doesn’t fully exist yet, but looping around the sidewalks and this alley can give you a fun taste of slower-moving wonder.

The 1,000-block alley behind Gather (a great shop) is much younger in its spirit of shared identity, but it has brightly blossomed. Beginning as a path between two shops and an oasis backyard, this space became known as Maude Alley around a dozen years ago, when the adjacent buildings and their shared alley were transformed into a common outdoor gallery within a medley of shops all woven together.

Two of these excellent shops (Crazy Otto’s Vintage and Ba & Me) are currently planning a migration directly across Main Street to rekindle some alley energy between their future home and The Cooperage. Mount Pleasant Herbary’s gift shop and cafe can still be found back in what was, within recent memory, a secret, inaccessible garden. Pre-2010 seems like a lifetime ago, in vibe, for Honesdale. However, that relatively short amount of actual time yielded a reimagining of what we already had and transformed what we thought downtown Honesdale could be.

When a private yard few people knew existed becomes a publicly accessible grotto where dance parties happen in the off shop hours, you can’t unsee that creative spark. Such is the story of Maude Alley. It’s not even a teenager, but it reorganized our understanding of place as a toddler.

Directions: If you’re headed down Main street, it will be on your left. If you’re walking upstream and reach Gather, hang a right directly into the shop or the same after you pass the storefront. The former takes you through a charming retail space with an alternative back alley access. The latter takes you directly between two buildings, atop an unexpected boardwalk and on to a hideaway you can’t unimagine.

Alleys exist on the frontier, between uses and places, in a liminal space. Sometimes, they’re a way to and fro. Other times, they’re a destination unto themselves. More truthfully, they’re both.

In a world where minimum parking requirements, private property exclusions and strict zoning regulations limit a mix of uses, the organic, diverse nature of our towns are on glorious display in neighborhood alleys. Whether they’re baked into an 1830s street grid or overlaid atop old yards in the 21st century, alleys exist and are created for people. They represent what was, what is and what can be.

Hop on the foot leather express to see for yourself.

Derek Frey Williams, Archivist Alleyman, Canaltown. Visit interweb portals @canaltown552.com for more local landscape stories.

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