After years of deterioration, the Samson Heights area has seen a resurgence in recent years, as people move father down river, after having been priced out of the Downtown and surrounding areas. What in the mid-eighties was a run-down collection of crumbling buildings and abandoned storefronts has become a thriving neighborhood where families and young singles alike have brought it back from the brink.
The entire neighboorhood of 350 rowhouses, shops and public buildings was built from pretty much scratch in 1921 on empty land owned by Lemuel Samson, who owned a large manufacturing facility in the North Falls area of the city. Samson outwardly championed the development as a haven for his employees, but a stronger motivation certainly had to be the fact that, as well as serving as their employer, he would also be their landlord and be able to oversee virtually every aspect of their lives, from their grocery stores to the train line he had installed, leading directly to the plants every single day. This is not to say this early subdivision wasn’t pleasant- the development filled quickly and was hailed in many publications of the day as a model for future city planning.
By the time World War Two rolled around, Samson’s company had shifted its focus to aviation and was awarded several hefty defense contracts. Some of the work required specialized labor, so a call went out (emphasis mine)-
NEEDED! FOR WAR EFFORT!
Samson Aero. Mfg. Ltd. seeks MIDGETS and others of Small Stature for vital manufacturing work. Good wages. Reasonbly-priced housing available. Applicants accepted M-F, 7:30-10 AM, Admin. Offices, 1827 N. Godfrey Ave.
– Ad from Clarion-Standard , Sept. 17, 1943
You see, Lemuel Samson took a previously unused corner of his land and constructed ten homes (five single-family, five multi-unit) designed to specifically accomodate people no taller than 4’10”. These scaled-down buildings were arranged around a new cul-de-sac unimaginatively (some would even say insultingly) named Gulliver Lane.
Samson was able to meet his required quota of workers at that height, but not all of them moved into the specialized housing, as some had families of average height who did not want to spend their days crouching severely. The move did gain some publicity, with a couple of small articles in the Journal-American (both of which noted the odd confluence of the industrialist’s name and his venture, a similarity which was lost on Samson- “I’ve never read that book. Don’t care for agitprop.”) and a brief mention in a late 1944 issue of Life magazine.
Soon after the war ended, Samson’s fortunes declined rather sharply due to investment in his vision that personal helicopters would become as ubiquitous as automobiles. Samson died in 1955 and the company shut its doors for the last time soon after. By 1953, the dimunitive houses on Gulliver Lane had been abandoned and were more of a curiosity for locals than anything else. There was some talk of turning them into some sort of “Santa’s Village” attraction, but they were demolished for the construction of a community center in the summer of 1958.
But- if you were to go just beyond the edge of the Samson Heights Community Center basketball court and look through the weeded area, you’d be able to make out the remnants of the foundations left from the 3/4 scale houses of Gulliver Lane.
If anyone has any photos, please send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll post them.
– R. White