Revitalize A Village

Learn how to recycle old homes and deserted towns, and help give an entire village a new lease on life.


| January/February 1971


My wife and I were tooling along Interstate 35W on a vacation trip late last summer when I suddenly noticed that our car's gas gauge was teetering on EMPTY. Since towns are few, small and far between in northwestern Iowa, there were no farmsteads in sight and night was coming on, we quickly developed visions of being stranded on the freeway. It was a definite relief, at that point, to find the marker and exit for a small town only one mile off the expressway.

The tiny village of six or eight houses and a few weathered storefronts was little more than a wide spot on the side road. Main Street boasted two ramshackle garages but there were spider webs on the gas pumps at the first and its doors were locked. The second station was also locked but did show some signs of recent use and we pounded on the doors hoping to raise someone. No luck! A bit worried now, we looked around the village and found that it was almost deserted; a ghost town. Some of the homes were still in fairly good shape with windows boarded up for the protection. Others, with yards gown up in weeds, were clearly abandoned.

Down a little side street, one small cottage with an ANTIQUES sign in the yard offered us a last hope. We knocked on the door and an elderly woman came to greet us. Yes, her husband operated the second garage and sold gas but he had gone to Des Moines, fifty miles away, for the day. She didn't know when he would return. The gas pumps were locked and she didn't know how to operate them anyway. She was sorry, the nearest town where we might get gas was nine miles distant but we were welcome to wait until her husband returned and could help us. We thanked the lady and started a leisurely stroll about town to pass the time.

How is it with a population explosion, crowded city ghettos and housing priced out of reach of ordinary folk, that there are abandoned homes, ghost towns and near-ghost towns sprinkled all over the midwestern states and much of the rest of the country? There's no single, simple answer, of course, but—basically—the same forces of blind "progress" that pack so many of us into urban areas are also responsible for vacating these dwellings.

Within commuting distance of the big cities, land as you know is at a premium and housing costs have soared to astronomical heights. Beyond ready commuting distance (which may be fifty, sixty or more miles when freeways and interstate highways are available), the small farms have disappeared. Or, if not destroyed entirely, their houses and buildings stand idle and abandoned, vacant and worthless. The farmer who once provided for a family on forty acres must now farm 400 acres to utilize his expensive machinery at a profit. The big fish swallow the little fish.

Much the same thing has happened and is happening to small communities. In horse and buggy days, ten miles was a long way to town and the nearest post office. Country villages were located roughly ten miles apart as a result. Now, with good roads and modern cars, it is easy to travel thirty or forty miles to the larger towns and small cities with their shopping centers and other facilities. So the countyseat towns get bigger and the little villages in between are gradually starved out and discarded.





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