In 1983 I visited a little town on the North tip of the Chesapeake Bay. The little town was founded in 1650 and was one of the original and longest lasting of the towns. It is also a perfect example of what happens to a town when you refuse to change and you “wall” yourselves away and refuse to make sustainable growth because you want to keep it “just the way it has always been”. I fell in love with that little town. It felt like home the moment I stepped into it. There was something about it. My father, Step-mother and grandmother moved there first and I was visiting them. I moved there later with my then husband and daughter. I still loved it and missed it when I had to leave. And was so happy to move back in 2003. I lived in the house my father built for my grandmother for 7 years. Then disaster happened and we had to move out of that house and into a house in town. That house was built in the 1600’s with additions built in the 1700’s and 1800’s. Lewis of Lewis and Clark lived there before starting his journey with Clark. It is beautiful and situated right on the water. The main street is picturesque and hosts art and craft fairs and there is one large festival once a year. “The Oyster Festival.” They used to use their own Oysters from the bay, but overfishing and pollution has stopped that. Although there is a movement to pay people to “grow” oysters off their docks and then transplant them.
My husband was just talking to someone that is now moving away from the town. They were long time residents and supporters of the Volunteer Fire Department in town. This person said the Fire Department and Rescue Squad are just about “defunct” because there are no volunteers. There is no one left that is young enough to volunteer, or very few people. It is also sad because they have sold their home to a developer that has been going around and buying up all the properties in the town to turn them into vacation homes.
The town won’t be a town anymore in any real sense of the word. There will be strangers that summer there and people who do not care about the schools or supporting the fire department or other volunteer services because they don’t live there. They have no real investment in the area. All because residents refused to allow business and reasonable and sustainable development. There is no tax base to support the schools and other services and older people that moved there don’t want to raise taxes or pay more money to support the schools and other services “because we already have done that in our lives.” They wanted to move to a retirement community, that wasn’t a retirement community. There are no young people around there anymore. There are few children. The schools have trouble staying open. The median age of the area is 65. And the majority of people that own property have had families in the county and town for over a century. They don’t want to bring in “come here’s”. They can see their small towns dying and still refuse to do anything to attract businesses that could sustain the area and attract a younger crowd.
It is a fact that there were several businesses that could have come to the area but were shut down because they “could bring undesirables” to the area. One of them was a hospital, the other a community college. Even Target was shot down. If they could have brought these into the town they could have attracted younger families and increased the tax base and survived what is coming. The eventual deaths of these long term property owners and the selling of their property to investors who are not going to care what happens to the town and the heritage of the area.
It is difficult to see this happen. It is difficult to see a town that I cared so much about falling apart. Some say we ran away. Perhaps we should have stayed and tried to fight the good fight, but it was so easy to see that as long as the majority refused to do anything about the problems nothing was going to change. Anytime changes that needed to be made were brought up they were voted down. Both by the town council and the County Board of Supervisors. There was a 96 year old woman who was still complaining about the loss of the corn field in town that became the Methodist Church over 40 years ago. That is the mentality of so many there. And because of that mentality the town will die right along with the residents that are still there. I want to ask them if this is the legacy that they wanted to leave behind? Why couldn’t they have opened their eyes and seen that there was a greater legacy to leave behind? If they had attracted younger families and children then the town would have survived and gone on long after them. If the tax base had been increased and been sustainable with stable industries they would not be having the problems they have now.
A town is a living entity and I can relate what is happening with people in general. If we refuse to grow and create new experiences how can we expect to survive? What kind of legacy do we leave for those that come after us? I know we can. If we open ourselves to creativity, to caring for not just what we want, but what is good for all there is no limit to what we can do and the legacy we can leave behind.