Yesterday afternoon – Camera House and I visited a little local town for Christmas on Main Street.
It was cold and windy but this is the second such evening the town of Cullom, Illinois has hosted and as the light was fading the cars were arriving and the families were gathering.
The middle of America, down here in the poorer areas of the midwest, with a declining population, there is a great danger of losing the last of the small towns, with businesses and Post Offices and Bars closing one after the other. Many such towns around this area don’t even have a grocery store anymore. Many have even lost their churches – the saints loaded onto the backs of trucks and taken who knows where. Many towns are ghosts of their former selves. Their untended souls drying out, going grey. No, not grey, a bleached bony white.
Not this one though. This town and a few others in the area are fighting that trend.
To shop locally and even celebrate locally literally keeps a town alive. Literally. This is one of the most important things a country person can do. Go to the local store and the local library and the local bank, have lunch at the pub.
I heard a rumour last night that the local tavern in Cullom is for sale. If I could rustle up a few investors I would be thinking seriously about that as my next step. Farm to Table at its best. Good food, good beer, my own sausage on the pizza! And NZ steak and cheese pie as a special treat! Simple and Good.
When I lived here with John’s family, as an AFS student, when I was sixteen, all these buildings were alive with stores and businesses. Only one store is left opening every day – the grocery store. Imagine the awesome challenge of bringing a town back to life.
The light faded too fast as we were leaving town, to get busy with the chores but the cars were all pouring into the tiny Main Street. Every small town in America seems to have a Main Street. Christmas on Main Street.
Merry Christmas, Cullom. Happy Holidays. Take care.
Have a lovely day.
WEATHER: Getting a little warmer.
It looks very cold there! That’s such a shame about the small towns dying, a lack of industry I suppose.
We have the same problems over here with country town high streets, they are dying because of the big outlets on the outskirts of towns. The small independent shops can’t compete. Use them or lose them is a moto round here.
We have heavy snow here in my area for the first time in years. Lovely. Have a lovely day.
It is very true – it is not the fault of the big companies it is OUR fault if we lose our old town centres.
We are lucky to live in a state where the small farm movement is flourishing. Many local restaurants feature local produce and meats. But coastal Maine is a destination for tourists, so that helps. Many of the towns farther inland are having a tough time as the paper mills close. Do you see small farms like yours digging in to your area at all? Pushing back a little at the Big Ag?
No – Quite the opposite really – the show pigs and show cows are big but not the little farms. I am an anachronism here
Sad about the demise of the villages, they were always so much more fun to shop. We are the opposite here, most of the businesses moving out of the city centres with the result that our out lieing suburbs have huge malls and office parks on just about every corner. Laura
Kind of the same – moving out of the town centres – but at least the suburbs are flourishing..
You have beautifully illustrated for us one of the most pressing issues in our time in America. I’m glad all the people around were coming in to participate in celebrating Christmas season in their little town. Their stores still look well stocked, inviting & beautifully decorated. It will take more participation, and more imagination, such as your beautiful vision for the pub to continue as a lively & inviting community gathering place. I would come out often for your NZ pie & pizza (and be the stout old biddy local supporter at the bar). “Good on you, Celi”, to quote Roy in A Place to Call Home.
well, lack of funds will make my thoughts only dreams as far as the local bar goes however it is fun to dream
I used to drive around America looking for the little towns like that. I’ve read the biggest problem facing rural America is Walmart.
I’ve just been to a very Christmassy market myself. I expected to wake up to rain, but instead, London is covered in snow. I got on my bike and went to the farmers’ market, where at opening time all the vegetables were covered in an inch of snow.
Snow! Goodness. I never saw snow when I lived there but the old people said it used to snow all the time in London. People driving PAST their local store on the way to Walmart is the problem for sure.
It has snowed a few times in the last 10 years and it snowed in London sometimes when I was a child, but it’s not like the snow in Illinois or Michigan.
I believe there are action groups set up to help towns survive Walmart, but it’s a terrible shame that they suck the life out of communities.
Convenience is a science – and cheap! Cheap seems to be important
Good for Cullom. I looked on the map to remind me where it was located. I lived in Pontiac for 4 yrs from 69-73 teaching in the HS. The small towns you describe are all over the place. They are struggling. But, you see some here and there doing well. It takes a lot of work and investment of energy from the locals to keep them alive. It is the same near us in the Iowa City/Coralville area.
I recently listened to Blue Highways. The author traveled through a huge number of these towns in his epic journey off the beaten path around America. At times, it was so familiar and entertaining. Other times, it was very depressing. Many folks wishing for the ‘good old times’ whatever that means to them. They weren’t always good.
You noted being an AFS student. That’s interesting. We had an active chapter in my HS and hosted students in our rural community. My brother did a reciprocal visit to Europe when he was in HS.
Pontiac is one of the towns doing really well now – they are surging forward – the Route 66 thing helps them a lot I think. And that beautiful CourtHouse. Yes – the good old times – what exactly were the good old times.
It is exactly the same here in rural France. Our village of 454 has not one single store left. I am the strongest supporter of buying local and supporting small business. I would hate to see them all disappear and with them hundreds of years of traditions.
I think if we hold on and work hard the small towns must have a come-back. There is no way that this way of living is sustainable..
I think you should start a Go Fund Me and we’ll all pitch in and buy the bar. Dreaming, of course, but wouldn’t that be fun? Lovely photos and commentary.
Yes that would be fun. But you would all have to come and eat!!
This brought tears to my eyes. I grew up in a little town south of Springfield called Auburn, and all around some of the towns are okay and others are struggling with their squares abandoned. One near Auburn, called Virden, has always done well, with thriving businesses around the square–but I think the key is that the highway drives straight into that square on one side. Traffic comes in and has a place to stop, with shops and restaurants. Where the main road bypasses the square and there are shops along that, Main Street has a harder time. And a lot of them don’t have grocery stores and if they have churches, there’s one minister running around to two or three little towns covering probably 50 square miles. Good luck. I’ve always thought a restaurant would be nice, too, but I think it would be as much work as the farm, with a margin that might be less manageable.
The churches are doing it hard – people don’t attend the same as they used to. I have worked in hospitality before and it is very hard work.
You said it! My niece is in hospitality and whooee! she works all the time. Just like a farm!!
That makes me extremely homesick and breaks my heart. I love your idea though. I think it’s a great idea.
You must be due for another trip home soon – I will come and find you..
Looks like our Main Street of my local town. Struggling but hanging in there! Lately, some downtown Business Improvement Association sponsored “Pop-up Shops”. LOVE LOCAL!
Love those pop up shops!
Love this one. We’re in what felt very small-town when we moved here but had the built-in advantage of one large and one smaller university, so even though the population shrank considerably in the summertime it’s long had a reasonable economic base and even some tinge of the cosmopolitan. In our 8 years here it’s revived remarkably, but with the growth has come the typical growing pains of high demands on infrastructure and battles to create/maintain identity while still welcoming change. It’s always a very delicate balance. I’m so glad places like Cullom still have the passion and optimism and grit required to attempt such survival and maybe even thrive.
Our city now has a very lively square with tons of great eateries and independent shops, a good little farmer’s market, and an approachable keep-it-weird vibe that is attracting more attention and participation. Now we wrestle with the attached changes of massive housing developments that pop up like acne all over what was even rather recently wide-open ranchland. It’s far from losing its character and in some ways, even enriching that, but still a bit daunting to think what’s lost along with what’s gained. Not far south of us is Waco (TX), where instead of being the grim punchline of a brutal story from years back it’s now a pretty thriving revived city, thanks in large part to the efforts of entrepreneurs like Joanna & Chip Gaines of HGTV fame and the popularity they all helped bring to small-town revival through projects just like the dream one you mention of the Cullom pub. I’ve long shared that kind of fantasy and every time I go through even a sleepy section of an otherwise lively town, I itch to get my hands and ideas on every empty space or run-down building I see.
I hope that committed people *with* the funds to do so will help rescue and renew more of the city and town resources we already have and bring them back to life, rather than losing the rest of the lustre they once gave us. Thanks for the reminder, so sweetly presented here, to treasure what we have and foster the health and growth of more such genuinely communal values.
It sounds like you are living in a lively area – that is good. Very heartening. To save our local store a number of families got together and bought it – creating a co-op. It works!
Co-ops—an old concept that’s still wonderfully viable…maybe more so than for a long time since. Glad to hear it’s working where you are. Seems to me somewhat like the traditional Mom-&-Pop independents, but with the built-in strengths and buffers of communal support. I’m all for it.
Hope your overnight jaunt is delightful!
It looks lovely. I now much prefer small towns like this to big cities (although I do enjoy the thrill of visiting a city). The same problem exists in Spain, so many small towns and villages around us are becoming ghost towns. A vicious cycle of unemployment, less babies being born, less money, then less local businesses..such a shame.
We need to find a way to employ people – this is one of the most important things
As you know we are suffering this here in New Zealand. I drove through Eketahuna shortly and it is so sad. One shop and a bottle store is what renains of this little town.. Banks, post offices etc have all closed and left behind ghost towns
Oh no – that is sad – some little towns are blossoming – others dying. I always think the loss of the PO is the saddest – it seems to me
I wonder what it is that makes the difference. I think a strong sense of community helps hold a town together. It’s funny what you say about the highway diversions killing small towns. Here in NZ we have mostly seen the opposite. When the highway goes through the centre of town, nobody stops because there’s too much traffic. When the highway is diverted, the town can reinvent itself as a destination. Pokeno is a prime example, and I think Cambridge will be the same. Of course, it helps that they are both now basically suburbs of the nearby cities of Auckland and Hamilton!
I love Cambridge –
I delight small towns. I grew up in them. Even keen to embark on my adult life I knew I would eventually return to someplace like them. After many years in the city I now live in a village neighbouring a smallish town that the main highway is about to bypass. I hope it means a new lease on life for it, instead of semi-trailers thundering through. We have an advantage, Rachel Ward, the actor who is a local, encouraging its reimagining.
I love the idea of your tavern. I think the key to the success for any area is celebrating local. Our neighbouring region does this very expertly via its Macleay Valley Food Bowl enterprise.
Sounds wonderful – here in the US if the main road is diverted the town struggles – The old route 66 is a good example of this
Those snowflake lights on the street lamps… We have those here in Cleveland too, in the big city downtown and in our wealthy suburbs. Almost makes me wonder if they’re manufactured and sold on a large scale like some sort of collusion. All the municipal holiday lights companies get together and decide that these cities get the snowflakes this year, but next year those cities will get the Santa faces or something.
I bet they are sold by the million – but I like them!
I think the same thing is happening all over, no matter where you live. What happens next depends so much on the residents. There’s a town in central NSW that just featured on the news. They were down to just over a hundred residents, floods and droughts had done their usual work, and no-one could see a way ahead. The residents refused to lie down, agreed to donate a little money and a lot of time each every year, and got their shop back open. Then they built a swimming pool around their mineral spring, and a caravan park. Now the grey nomads come time and again and spend money in the shop and the pub and the pool and the park. The town is growing and new businesses are opening up.
That mineral spring sounds lovely – I am cold from chores and sinking into a hot pool would be bliss!
I’d love it too, so long as the minerals weren’t too stinky…
I <3 this! Beautiful pictures and sentiments. I hope you CAN buy that bar!! Our small town of Shelbyville is trying hard to revitalize.
Another concept–if you have a location–is to only have a special meal once per month. Make it an event and people buy tickets so your clientele is guaranteed. There is one here local who host a full moon evening, weather permitting, and people drive 2 hours to attend. I agree good fresh food is the best!
We LOVE our small IL town as well and support it as best we can! We are proud to help keep it thriving and beautiful.
I’m happy that Cullom is hanging on. My own small Indiana hometown is very slowly withering away. Many fewer farm families on the land as huge operations buy and lease vast acreages. The local consolidated school system now has fewer students than each of the two districts had before consolidation. It’s a hard trend to counter, but my best to you and the people of your town for putting forth a strong effort.
It is hard- and many of the kids in these country schools now are part of s mobile population- the teachers here say the kids move on very fast
we also live outside a small town of 3000 people. The lumber industry has been decimated and we truly need
a new industry to move in with well paying jobs. That will take a City Council and City Manager with a drive
to seek out new innovative businesses. Excellent post.
Merry Christmas Cullom … hang in there! Gosh wouldn’t that be a challenge bringing the town back to life… 🙂