The antebellum South has been drawn largely as a map of contrasting extremes—a vast agrarian landscape punctuated by a few major cities. Small towns have either been viewed as sleepy villages that reflected the countryside or dismissed as urban microcosms. In Constructing Townscapes
, however, the small town emerges from obscurity to reveal its distinctive and influential role in the southern landscape.
Using existing architectural evidence as well as photographs, maps, diaries, letters, and newspapers, Lisa Tolbert shows how residents of four county seats in antebellum Middle Tennessee rebuilt and reorganized their towns in response to changing social and economic circumstances. She also illuminates the ways in which three seemingly powerless groups—women, young men, and slaves—influenced the arrangement of town space, vividly retracing the footsteps of members of these groups as they traveled town streets to perform their daily routines.
Through careful analysis of the relationships between the material and social contexts of town life, Tolbert shows that small towns, whose stories have usually been considered incidental to the course of southern history, should actually be understood as important components of antebellum southern culture.