If you are familiar with United States history you know that the latter part of the 19th century is labeled “The Gilded Age.” The moniker was created by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Charles Dudley Warner for a novel they co-wrote in 1873, just as a period of unparalled wealth accumulation began, as the U.S. became a world leader in producing steel & refining oil, as well as numerous other industries exploding during that era. You know the names: Rockefeller (oil), Carnegie (steel), Harriman and Vanderbilt (railroads), Morgan (banking and finance). The wealth, of course, was concentrated in New York City (home of the Stock Market, created in 1792) and their mansions lined Fifth Avenue in particular. Starting in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s the wealthy began building their “summer cottages” (their term) in Newport, Rhode Island. You can take the tour of “the Breakers” today to see what Thorstein Veblen termed “conspicuous consumption” in his Theory of the Leisure Class (published in 1899 and highly recommended reading) --- one of the first great critiques of social class and consumerism ever written (and actually quite relevant today).
The Robber Barons/Captains of Industry (you can choose your title for the magnates) realized, by the 1890’a that they could build summer homes along the Long Island Sound in Fairfield County, Connecticut --- homes they could live in year-round, if they chose to, and easily commute to New York City on the brand new New Haven Railroad! So, from 1890 to about 1930 (when the Market crashed) Mansions and Estates sprung up in Greenwich, Stamford, Westport, Darien, Ridgefield, and other Fairfield Country towns. You can still see some of these impressive homes when driving around the country.
As we got to the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century there was a new wave of “migration” to the Suburbo, with the newly wealthy looking for that same easy access to NYC (where the $$$ i$) but r o o m to build a new generation of “mansions.” Of course, there are no longer the master craftsmen who do the woodworking or masonry that good, cheap immigrant labor could execute in the late 19th & early 20th centuries. The mansion materials of those days are too expensive except for the wealthiest nowadays. As a result, we live in a landscape that, more and more, is populated by “McMansions” --- large, unsightly, egregiously hideous domiciles.
And that’s what today’s Suburbo depicts. Thanks for reading and I hope it’s amusing.
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