Let it not be said I’m too proud to admit stupidity. I’ve been reading Tolkien for a couple of decades now. Not as long as many of the better scholars out there, but still: a long time!
The number of times I’ve read of Bilbo’s arrival at Lake Town I wouldn’t hazard a guess at. Yet somehow I always mistook the reference to the remnants of “…another, greater town” as a reference to Dale itself. The only reason for this I can think of is because I knew Dale was destroyed by Smaug, and I just…assumed the ruins of this “greater town” was, in fact, Dale. When Bard moves on to re-establish Dale, I presumed this is where he went. What I do not know is why I didn’t pay more attention to the provided map and to the description of the Dwarves’ arrival at the ruins of Dale only after they’d disembarked on the Long Lake’s western shores and came near to the foot of the mountain.)
Thror’s map alone makes it completely obvious that they cannot be one and the same (as Long Lake is not even on the map). Whereas Lake Town is described poetically as being “under the shadow of the distant dragon-mountain”, Dale was literally in the mountain’s shadow.
I feel completely foolish. Yet somehow liberated for having learned something ‘new’.