Saturday, February 7, 2009

Appreciating its past, town slips into exurbia

Shaila Dewan's story in yesterday's NYT features the dateline Hernando, Mississippi, population 6,812. She tells of how Hernando residents are trying to get the town's water tower placed on the list of Mississippi landmarks. Dewan describes the tower as a plain one, which looks a bit like the head of the Wizard of Oz's tin man, with only the word "Hernando" painted on it, in plain black letters.

Never mind that it's plain, though. James Gabbert, a historian for the National Register of Historic Places observes that nothing keeps "a workaday water tower from winning historic recognition." He notes “the growing awareness of the importance of what we call the vernacular, the ordinary, things that represent ordinary people and workers.”

Later in the story, Dewan describes a recent period of transition for Hernando:
In recent years, Hernando, once a Southern classic with a courthouse square, stately white houses, spinster shut-ins and a pair of aging sisters who ran the well-known Shadow Hill Tea Room on their porch, has undergone significant development pressure. The housing boom, and the town’s proximity to Memphis, pumped the population from fewer than 3,000 in 1990 to about 15,000 today.
This transition may shed light on why Hernando's residents are now looking to hang on to, and preserve, this symbol of their past, which might also be seen as "workaday" and "ordinary."

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