Sunday, March 29, 2009

My Rural Travelogue (Part X): Central Kentucky

A few days ago, I drove Hwy 52 from Richmond, Kentucky to near Harrodsburg, passing through Paint Lick, which is not even a Census Designated Place. As I drove through this part of Central Kentucky, I was struck by the distribution of homes and farms across the landscape. There seemed to be fewer of the tiny centers of commerce, with post offices, that we had seen a day or two earlier as we traversed West Virginia. So, it was odd to come across the narrow bridge over a river that separates Madison (population 70,872) and Garrard (population 14,792) counties and find myself in the middle of Paint Lick with all of a half dozen commercial buildings. On one side of the street was the community center, so identified by some hand-made signs pointing upstairs in what appeared otherwise to be a vacant building; a tiny medical clinic; a U.S. Post Office sharing a building with a barber shop; and an auto mechanic. On the other side of the street, in a somewhat better kept building, was a bank. I didn't note the bank's name, but it was a hive of activity at about 9:15 am when we passed through. How odd, I thought, for such a tiny place to have such an active bank--indeed, to have a bank at all. I assumed it was a branch of a larger bank based, perhaps, in the county seat.

When I saw this story in yesterday's New York Times, it reminded me of the bank I'd seen in Paint Lick, and the role that bank must play in its community. Shaila Dewan writes in her story, under the headline, "A Small Town Loses a Pillar: Its Only Bank," of the federal take-over of a bank in Gibson, Georgia, population 694, 120 miles east of Atlanta. Among Dewan's observations: "Elderly people, used to cruising over in their golf carts to make a deposit, fretted about driving 14 miles to the nearest bank." Her story is worth a read also because of its description of how the bank operated for years as a strictly local, family-owned institution, making loans to folks based on their reputation, often without collateral. But that was all before an Atlanta mortgage lender bought the bank in 2000, a transaction that ultimately led to its demise, a casualty of the mortgage crisis.

In any event, reading this story made me wonder what the folks in Paint Lick would think (and do) if they lost their bank, a physical anchor--and surely also a symbolic one--in their tiny community.

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