Travelogue: Part II – The Character of Small Towns

On my recent 2400 mile road trip on mainly “roads less traveled”, I was struck by the character of many small and medium sized towns I drove through along the way.

Clearly there are towns that are largely boarded up, with barely a pulse and a main street that maybe has a gas station/convenience store, but not much else.  Some of these towns have clearly given up and exist only in name with no effort given to even maintain the buildings.  This is a common story that has been written about extensively over the last couple of decades.  There is, however, another category of small towns that are struggling but still maintaining a sense of pride, community and patriotism.  The towns in this category had stuff going on – signs announcing 4th of July fireworks put on by the volunteer fire department at the local park, community dinner announcements at the well-maintained church on main street, and antique stores that likely sell legitimate antiques and draw customers from surrounding towns.  What I noticed in many of these towns was patriotism.  Driving through a few days before the 4th of July many had flags proudly displayed on every light in town.  These were not worn-out, run-down flags, but crisp new looking flags, even if the town was not.

There is another category of towns, sometimes small, some medium sized where there is clearly a vibrancy going on and often due to one or two successful businesses in the area.  One such town that was notable on my road trip was Eaton, Ohio.  This is a town of about 8500 in western Ohio.  I am not sure if 8500 counts as small or medium, I am going to say medium because when I was growing up outside a town of 792 in western Wisconsin, I considered a good sized town (medium) any town that had a Dairy Queen.  Eaton has a Dairy Queen!  The very noticeable successful business in town is the Henny Penny Company.  World HQ for Henny Penny is in Eaton, Ohio and I would guess it is one of the largest employers in town with an employee count of 600.  This company makes industrial restaurant equipment and sells their products in over 100 countries around the world.  Eaton’s main street is active, energized, and well-maintained and I am not sure how big a role Henny Penny plays in this, but I am sure it is significant in many ways.  Just one or two successful businesses can really make a difference in the character and vibrancy of small towns in America.


A Boomer In Transition


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