Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

David P. Schuyler

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The Housing Committee of the Post-War Planning Council highlighted the 700 block of Southeast Avenue (Barney Google Row) as an example of the worst housing in the city.

The name Barney Google Row probably refers to a Billy DeBeck-King Features comic strip character: Barney Google was a citified hillbilly and engaging ne'er-do-well. The character was also the subject of a popular song written by Billy Rose and Con Conrad in 1923.

The designation Barney Google Row may have functioned as a humorous, a denigrating, or a dismissive characterization of residents in terms of a comic strip character who came from a poor rural area, spoke a catchy vernacular slang, and was unprepared for the new circumstances of life in a city. Unfortunately, the association of residents with a comic strip character enabled public officials, the press, and citizens to depersonalize the issue of substandard housing, to think in terms of stereotypes rather than of human beings.

These were the first buildings demolished following organization of the Lancaster Redevelopment Authority.

 


Barney Google Row, 1944

 

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Barney Google Row consisted of fifteen frame buildings erected c. 1922. The 1945 Comprehensive Plan for Lancaster, prepared by Michael Baker and associates, described Barney Google Row as "a solid row of one-story, flat roof units, each covering an area approximately sixteen feet square. Four are two room units and eight are three-room. Water is provided in the kitchen space but no other conveniences of any kind are provided. Sanitary facilities are located about twelve feet from back doors in a yard sixteen feet square." Buildings demolished 1957. Photograph from the Lancaster New Era, May 13, 1944. Courtesy, Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.

 


Barney Google Row and Surrounding Neighborhood

 

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This Sanborn fire insurance map depicts Barney Google Row and its environs. The yellow indicates that the structures on the 700 block of Southeast Avenue were wood. A row of modest brick houses (pink) fronted on South Duke Street, facing an automobile junkyard. Other nearby structures included gasoline stations, an aluminum and brass foundry, and several concrete block buildings (blue). This was a neighborhood in transition, with a concentration of frame structures rare if not unique in a city dominated by red brick. Courtesy, Shadek-Fackenthal Library, Franklin & Marshall College.

 


Barney Google Row, 1939

 

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View of the rear of the structures, with rear of brick houses fronting on South Duke Street visible above the row. Photograph by Lewis Hine, 1939. Hine, who visited Lancaster as part of the Works Progress Administration effort to document conditions of labor in the United States, described Barney Google Row as a "settlement in which live many poor inhabitants of the city including some silk and linoleum workers." Courtesy, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D. C.

 


The Demise of Barney Google Row, 1957

 

 

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On July 10, 1957, a crane with a clam-shell scoop began demolishing the structures along Barney Google Row. Retired city Health Officer Benjamin F. Charles, who had battled to eliminate these substandard dwellings, was present with a movie camera to record the event. "At last the day has arrived," Charles told a reporter for the New Era. "I have worked 20 years to accomplish this. I'm glad I lived long enough to see my fondest dream come true." Three days later the site had been cleared except for the fifteenth house, owned by Noah Striver, which would be demolished on August 26, 1957. Photograph from the Lancaster New Era, July 10, 1957. Courtesy, Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.

 


The Human Side of Demolition: Noah Striver and Family, 1957

 

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Noah Striver, 57, built and owned the fifteenth house along Barney Google Row, number 730 Southeast Avenue. Striver and his wife were the parents of 27 children, eight of whom still lived at home. When the city condemned the house in 1957, it paid Striver $1000, at which time he arranged to lease-purchase a residence at 449 Atlantic Avenue. Forced relocation meant that Striver would have to pay a significant part of his income for housing and taxes. Moreover, the house on Atlantic Avenue lacked hot water and interior toilets, and there was no yard for the children's play. "I can only do each day what I can," Striver told a reporter from the New Era. "I don't know all the answers about the future." Photograph from the Lancaster New Era, July 31, 1957. Courtesy, Lancaster Newspapers, Inc.

 

Other Blighted Residential Areas

Part II: Imagining a Revitalized City
Part III: A New Commercial Center
Part IV: New Neighborhoods for Old
Urban Renewal in Retrospect