Monday, July 07, 2008 -- near Beaver Dam, WI
I'm way past due for an update to the blog. On July 1, we arrived here at the farm near Beaver Dam. It wasn't planned, but coincidentally it was the same date last year that we arrived here at the beginning of our sojourn, having sold the house in Geneva and Dar wrapping up her duties and leaving her job.
I was born and raised in Beaver Dam. For 18 years, before going to college in Madison, it was my home. In the 1950's, the population was about 12,000. By todays standards, my childhood could be described as extremely stable -- our family lived in the same house my entire life... parents were married and stayed together and actually liked each other... Dad had a good job with the Post Office until he retired... Mom was the stay-at-home "chief operating officer" and made sure the household ran like a top... they had 4 kids -- 3 boys 1 girl -- and none of us spent even a day in jail -- all good, reasonably well adjusted, normal kids. During my childhood I knew there were people in town that had more money than we did and I knew there were people that had much less than us. I met my sweetie and my future wife here in Beaver Dam -- and, yes, they're the same person.
Come on... wake up! I know this is pretty boring stuff. People like tension, drama, scandal, mystery, and such... and this story sounds like a 50's family sitcom -- "Ozzie & Harriet", "Father Knows Best", "Leave it to Beaver" all rolled together into one and called my childhood.
During those years the downtown business district of Beaver Dam was an area of about 8 city blocks and it was busy and vibrant. There were department stores, clothing stores, shoe stores, dime stores, a movie theater, restaurants and soda fountains, drug stores, furniture stores, hardware stores, banks, a popcorn stand, and plenty of saloons. Friday nights it was hard to find a parking spot as people would "go downtown" just to mingle and be part of the scene. The few older kids and young adults with cars would cruise up and down Front Street while the sidewalks were packed with people of all ages, mingling, socializing, shopping, or just watching people. The stores would stay open until 9pm on Fridays to accommodate the crowds... or was it the other way around? It was a weekly celebration of the end of a work week and the beginning of the weekend.
Today, the population of Beaver Dam is about 15,000. The downtown is largely abandoned and in a serious state of decay. The Beaver Dam Mall, built in the 1970's on the north side of town... the beginning of the decline of the downtown... is now also abandoned, weeds growing through all the cracks in the acres of the asphalt parking lot.
Better roads and the easy drive to bigger stores in Madison -- only 35 minutes away -- have certainly drained-off many of the shopping dollars previously spent in Beaver Dam. And the rest are going after bargains at big-box retailers (WalMart, et. al.) in big stand-alone warehouse-like structures out on the edges of town. All that socializing that used to be concentrated in one place on one night each week is now spread-out and decentralized over a much larger area and over every day of the week. And there are so many entertainment alternatives available to everyone today, it's no longer is it necessary to go downtown to fill that need.
What I've observed in my old hometown we've seen all around the country. While it's easy to feel nostalgic about this and to yearn for the simpler times, it's progress -- it's the side-affects of advances in technology, transportation, and an increase in the general level of affluence in our society. Is it bad? Is it wrong? Or is it just the way it is?
Whatever it is, I sure think we've lost something valuable. And maybe, just maybe, the time of the small town will come again.