We lived at 617 1/2 Olive St, a tiny one bedroom apartment above storage garages that didn't even deserve its own address. Our porch overlooked Mr. Piersol's Garage, which had long since seen its roof cave in, and longer still remained that way.
I would sit on our porch high above the pothole-pocked alley and imagine our home was a condo at the beach. I'd close my eyes in the evening breeze and almost swear to myself I heard gulls. We didn't have much but love, and we had that a-plenty. Our home looked sad from the outside but was filled with happy memories, if not some hard times, too.
In those days I was a student at Coatesville Catholic. I'd walk from our apartment nestled between Olive and Belmont, and in summer months, go so far as the Presbyterian church near Hennessey's for camp. Always ending the day with a strawberry mountain cream when my grandpop was feeling generous, and a downtown history lesson on the walk home. I have always been in love with the stories my grandparents shared: what buildings used to house the YMCA, the soda fountain, the five and dime. Who went to Prom with whom, and what they wore.
Most of all, I loved our home. As I grew older and started mixing with friends from outside of town, I sensed it was a place to be ashamed of. I learned that being from the City of Coatesville meant something about me, and my family. Something that I would spend the next decade of my life trying to 'overcome' or erase from my identity. I carried the burden of place-based shame around like a weight and it colored every one of my early adult choices.
In my 30s now, and much more secure in who I am, I can look at my upbringing in the city as a definitive part of my identity and one I am so proud of. The resilience of my family members, their grit in the face of hardships: that is so Coatesville. The ingenuity in the face of poverty, and the richness of love that surrounds us even when our stacks our down: this is Coatesville, too.
We are of steel, after all.
People look at Coatesville as a place with one story, and that story is a sad one. I hope to bring community members of all walks together to share the truth about their lives and about their home with the outside world, and to build a collaborative vision for the Coatesville of tomorrow.
BYPASSED is dedicated to the memory of Theresa Chille Puglisi and Dorothy Carter.
Sarah Alderman is a photographer and filmmaker who uses visual storytelling to capture social inequality and demographic change in a postindustrial America. Her project BYPASSED explores identities of place, race, and the notion of home through the stories of those living in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. A once-prosperous steel town, Coatesville was abandoned by many at the start of its economic decline. BYPASSED tells the story of those who remain, and will collectively re-imagine the future of the city as it stands on the cusp of revitalization.
Sarah is dedicated to creating positive social change through the creation of media and the sharing of stories. Her work moves fluidly across multiple media platforms to create visually stunning and compelling stories, with special attention paid to the reverent representation of her subjects.
Presently serving as a Leeway Foundation Artist for Social Change grantee and recently completed a term as the Dr. Mian A Jan Fellow for CCHS, both projects commit to storytelling within marginalized communities in SE Pennsylvania.