History that helps keep small towns vibrant and alive

When people move to a small town or unincorpoated commnity, they often ask if there’s any historical information available. Usual sources often include the local opr regional historical sociey, microfilm copies of old newspapers stored at the library, local histories that we often compiled by a local club or church and printed for residents in a small numbe of copies. Some clubs, often women’s clubs, would make their histories ongoing projects which they tried to update from time to time.

I think this is good work because as older residents die off, a lot of local knowledge is lost as well as some of the source materials our parents and grandparents might have used to prepare their local history book or pamphlet.

The Montana Historical Society newsletter’s latest issue mentions two researchers who’ve received fellowships to delve into local and regional history. This support might also be available from the your state’s historical society.  One of them, Janice Farkell, already maintais a website about her unincorporated community of Brady Montana with a population of 140 residents according to the WikiPedia entry.

From Farkell’s site

Farkell is a retired school teacher and a 5th generation resident Brady. She said, “Recently, I have continued  to research and collect Brady history to share with my community through the new website Brady Montana History.” She said that the site provides a place where people can share their stories, memories, and photographs for future generations. I like the site, my only caution being whether or not a library or other oganization will step up an maintain it when she retires.

The Internet is a wonderful place for dissemnating and sharing this kind of information that, even in an electronic age can so easily be lost. Kudos to Farkell and others who are trying to preserve the old facts and the old stories.


Why should my town look like every other town?

I’ve always disliked homogenized milk. There’s no cream on top. Dwight Young, in Preservation Magazine, laments the loss of distinctive and historic local names, stores, cafes, and hotels as chains sweep through homogenizing the country so that “everyplace gradually turns into anyplace.” The disappearance of local cream is a great loss.

In his article “Name Dropping” in the magazine’s September/October issue, Young speaks of the “homegrown flavor” that’s now long gone from Plainview, Texas where he grew up. He misses Bryan’s Food and West’s Pharmacy. When I return to Tallahassee, Florida where I grew up, I no longer find the Florida Theater or Leon Federal Savings & Loan or Duval’s IGA Grocery. While I accept change as a constant, I wonder if we’re often in too much of a hurry to replace the old with the new.

Sure, we can be part of what “everyone’s talking about” online when McDonald’s replaces the “Seven Steers” with its comforting, you-know-what-you’re-getting food no matter where you are. But the food really isn’t better, is it? Goodness knows, the streamlined, cookie-cutter architecture from everywhere else really isn’t the real Plainview or the real Tallahassee.

Towns with pro-active historic preservation commissions have, at least, been able to mandate that when the chains move in, they must move in to local architecture. No, it’s usually not the adaptive re-use of an old building, but the new that is built is made to appropriately fit in with the old that remains.

Anything else is, as Atlanta’s late historian Franklin Garrett often said, “municipal vandalism.” He ought to know, for Atlanta is famous for vandalizing its heritage.

Young is, I think, realistic when he writes that “we can’t resurrect all the long-gone institutions we once knew, but we can certainly cherish the ones that are left. Heeding the familiar admonition to ‘buy local’ is good for the soul as well as the economy.” To keep the cream, you might have to pay a bit more, but a greater percentage of the dollars you spend stays in town and helps local businessmen and local families.

And that’s better in so many ways than having to say goodbye to the Florida Theater, Rich’s Department Store and West’s Pharmacy.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of the new comedy thriller “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.” Read a free sample from the Vanilla Heart Publishing sampler at Smashwords.