previous next

High water.

This phrase we have chosen for a heading to this article, which is devoted to a consideration of high prices, inasmuch as we know nothing better illustrative of the one than the other. The rising, whirling and eddying waters cause a great disturbance of the ordinary pursuits of life, and drive people to desperate exertions to save themselves and their effects from being swallowed up. In like manner a community struggles to sustain themselves in the midst of high prices — to keep their heads above the high-water rates which have invaded and are rapidly submerging everything about them. They retreat from point to point, parting with their movables for safety, until, unencumbered and homeless, they take refuge in the tree-tops and await the falling of the waters!

The contemplation of that condition of things, in which all the necessaries of life are high, and rents still higher, while occupation is limited and vast numbers of people are without anything to do, is painful enough; to be one of those, laboring under its effects, quite insupportable. This is the condition of this city at the present time. The high water prevails, and people are sorely troubled to escape it. Rents are beyond all precedent; even under the Confederacy they did not reach the present climax until 1864, we believe. Landlords could not keep pace with the depreciating Confederate money, and it was only in the latter part of the struggle that they elevated themselves to the extreme indicated by the rapidly falling financial thermometer of Mr. Memminger. But having gotten at last to this elevation, they seem to be entirely unable to come down; they are like the sailor at the top of the mast — they cannot safely look down, but keep their eyes towards the horizon across the waste of waters.

Rents are from three to five times the reasonable rates which could be sustained by the business of this city. Immediately after the surrender of the city, speculators and adventurers flocked thither under the impression that there was a field for fortunes here without precedent. Business stores were scarce, and the demand for them became so great, landlords found that any price they would ask was readily paid. Indeed, they often regretted, after renting at enormous prices, that they had not asked more, since others had possibly obtained higher prices. The adventurers brought large stocks of goods and exposed them to sale to a community little better than one of paupers. People beheld the display who had no money to buy. But for the presence of the army, with its disbursements, and the sale of a little tobacco that had been saved, the new-comers' would have sold no goods and taken in no money. The result was that some failed and others left with their goods in disgust, while few that were the first in the field have remained to endure their disappointment.

Unfortunately for that commercial community which has taken more the appearance of permanent residents, rates are but slightly diminished. They have to bear up under the extravagant rents which the adventurers established. Not only are they oppressed with the rents in the business part of the city, but private dwellings are no less expensive. Families are compelled, to some extent, still to pursue the economy of sub-renting and room keeping, which was introduced under the refuging and scarcity of the Confederate times. Board is also dear in proportion to rent, and business and enterprise of all sorts are burthened and straitened in a manner highly injurious to trade, as it must be, under the re-action which will come, to landlords also.

We know too much of the history of high prices and financial troubles to expect an easy solution of those we now complain of. The remedy must come in due time. The landlord is seldom disposed to reduce the rent to a tenant that is in his house. A failure and a change of tenants — the old one going out and the new one coming in, with the advantage of the reduction as a condition precedent to his occupation — is the only mode in which the change can be well established. But that the reduction must come is certain. The business of this city, nor any city that we know of, save, perhaps, New York, can justify such rents. If it does not at this time justify it, can we be encouraged by contemplating the future? Certainly not. There is no tobacco made this year in Virginia, and we have absolutely not a single staple article in sufficient abundance for exportation, and cannot have until the ensuing wheat crop, the character of which no man can foretell. What are to be our resources then in the interim? None that we know of, save the money that may flow in by the sale of lands to emigrants, speculators, and mining and manufacturing companies. This would be immense, if the wealth of Virginia we fully understood among the men who have money to invest. Whether fully appreciated or not, there will be a large incoming revenue from this source, but not in a current sufficiently rapid, nor yet so immediately concentrated in this city, as to authorize or maintain the present high rates of rents and all the articles which support life. That there must be a great reduction, every one must know, and the sooner we prepare for low water the better.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Memminger (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1864 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: