George N. Bell
Proceedings of the Engineers' Club of Philadelphia 7 (May 1890):322-324.
With the population of cities constantly increasing there has been created such a demand for rural homes as to suggest consideration of the subject of this paper.
In the development of suburban property, it is to be assumed that the ultimate object to be attained is the establishment of a community wherein an opportunity will be given for the inhabitants to come together for the single purpose of enjoyment, unembarrassed by the limitations with which they are surrounded in their city homes.
To accomplish such an end, and still enable the individual to be possessed with all the conveniences he enjoys in his city home, is the work of the engineer. The adaptation of natural circumstances should be the first consideration in the development of a plan of improvement. The too common method of dividing up farm lands, appropriated for suburban residences, into town lots has often destroyed many of the pleasing features and characteristic topography of the rolling country around Philadelphia, and in many cases with no just reason for the extra expense which such a division generally exacts, laying aside the inconsistency of promoting one of the objects we should seek to avoid by destroying the rural character of the property. Cottage sites need not be perfectly rectangular to accommodate the requirements of country houses, and the rural mansion can be just as appropriately suited to a triangular lot as to one with four sides.
The main point to ever hold in view in connection with a residence in the country is to consider its advantages over that of living in the city, and the promotor of such an enterprise should seek to enlarge upon them.
One of the ideas with which one seeks a country home is to be enabled to enjoy a view farther than across a sixty-foot street, and the greater the expanse of view obtainable from a building site the more will its value be enhanced in the eyes of the purchaser, provided other sites are so planned as to prevent obstructions to that view.
The available building sites, with their characteristic advantages, should then be taken into consideration before any roads are planned. While one site may afford pleasing views to the south, another may present an attractive outlook to the eastward, though it is generally the case that the better view is obtainable in the direction of the slope of the country, or towards the valleys.
With a complete topographical map, showing contour lines for every five feet elevation, the building sites may be jotted down, and by study on the ground the best manner of facing the house determined, so that each site will have its own characteristic advantage.
Roads of approach to such a line of building sites will definitely follow natural passes, and afford pleasurable drives with varied scenery, as derived from vistas through the valleys, or views of landscape in skirting the hills. The plan of the roads is generally such as to need no vast amount of grading in their construction for laying them out on the contour system; a trotting grade may be afforded on the natural surface; and, while circuitous--abrupt turns, however, being avoided--the route will probably be the quickest, if not the shortest, communication between the railroad station and the house. The advantage to be gained by laying out the property in this way lies in the preserving of the rural character of the grounds, instead of assuming the rectangular forms of a village.
With adequate water supply and proper restrictions regarding the disposal of all kinds of refuse made, and, may be, a lighting plant established, the essential features to be arrived at in the development of suburban property are attained.
To make such a plan of improvement requires a complete topographical survey from which to study, and on the completion of study the roads should be staked out by regular curves on the ground, and the boundary line of all subdivisions measured definitely and defined by stakes. It will then be practical to make an accurate plan showing the course and distance of all lines with accurate areas calculated, and such a plan to be filed and used in transfers.
A complete display-drawing, for advertising purposes, should show, in addition to the lines of roads and subdivisions, the general topography with contour lines for every ten feet, and indicate the most advantageous site for a house within each subdivision, with approach-roads to same.
With such plans of improvement designed, the projectors of any enterprise may operate to advantage.
The pioneers of the property will expend a certain amount on immediate improvements, to open up certain roads, and the expenditure with a marginal profit for further improvement must come back to them by the success of the enterprise.
In addition to this, an annual tax of something like ten dollars an acre may be levied upon all who build, for the purpose of establishing a fund for the maintenance of the property. Eventually, on the sale of all lands, the community is organized into a company of itself, and a neighborhood free from nuisances and free from the embarrassing turmoil, confusion and discordant din of town life is afforded, which is the one pleasure and advantage of living in the suburbs.