Emerging Ghost Towns of
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years, newspapers, locals and especially farmers have lamented the
downward spiral that agriculture has taken over the last century. I heard
it as I was growing up in Ulysses,
Kansas. I heard it in the
news when I moved away from that small town. I continue to hear it on
economic updates. But, what I don’t think I ever fully realized, were the
that agricultural decline has made across agricultural states.
We're all familiar with
and others that died industrial deaths. Many died when the railroads
were removed as the population moved to automobile travel. But, the farming
are something new to me, even though I grew up in the midst of them. To
consciously see these dying towns that litter the vast plains is a whole
other thing all together. I mean – really see them.
father still lives in that small town in southwest
Kansas* that I grew up in,
which is, fortunately for them, not one of the many
of the plains, as it has other resources such as oil and gas. (*update:
actually, he moved to Missouri right around the corner from us in 2014)
Dust Bowl farm near Dalhart,
by Dorthea Lange, 1938. This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
As to the many other towns without
additional economic venues, I’ve passed by them dozens of times on my
way back for a visit, without giving a second glance, much less, a
However, that changed recently as I
intentionally set out on a trip across
for a more in-depth look at
small towns, many of which I have to categorize as "emerging
My photographer’s eye sends flutters of excitement through me at the
opportunity for shots of crumbling buildings, old trucks and tractors,
and boarded up businesses. My mind thrills with the anticipation of
learning the history of these old settlements, checking out historic
cemeteries, and as always, wondering about the people that once
thrived in the paint-peeling houses, boarded up buildings, and
But, on this trip, the excitement is
dampened as these are "new”
Those people that once prospered in the now decaying structures might
very well be my father’s friends, they were certainly the parents or
grandparents of people I know, many are still alive – living down the
street watching their towns crumble around them.
Though I love to visit
and photograph old buildings, it’s so much different when you can
actually relate to the people who once lived and still reside there.
Definitely not the same as visiting an old mining town that thrived a
century ago. My heart aches for those people who put their lives into
building businesses, farms, and beautiful homes that now stand, paint
peeling and windows broken without a potential buyer in sight. The
farms are still there – most very big. A few "plots” are small; like
the ‘ole days, but of those, their homes are generally in the same
condition as the towns they are near.
Though this may the first time I’ve really
noticed these emerging "ghost towns,”
this is not a new phenomena. From
Panhandle, and to the east and the west, small towns of the Great
Plains have been declining in population for 75 years.
During the great days of westward expansion, the
West was born not only of
more importantly and often overlooked, were the many
and businesses who supported them, who provided the backbone of these
many dying communities.
For whatever reasons, I am enamored with old schools and playgrounds, so
often found in these
towns. This old playground in
sits silent today, as its swings and
teeter-totters sway in the gusts
of the Kansas wind. Kathy Weiser, March, 2009.
Rarely, do we hear about those hardy people in modern writings, but it was
their work ethic and values that were primarily responsible for
establishing these many Main Streets, schools, churches, and homes that
too often, sit abandoned today.
The decline of the farmer began in the 1930’s
after the great depression when many lost their land due to heavy debt.
The dustbowl days drove more from their lands, leaving in their wake,
thousands of acres of abandoned land.
On its heels; however, came progress – better
machinery, hybrid seeds, large irrigation systems. With enhanced
technology, those farmers who remained could handle more land than they
could in the past and the farms got bigger and bigger over the years. But,
the agricultural operations could no longer support all of the children,
as it took less manpower, and the offspring began to move away.
When farms get bigger, there are fewer farmers
on the same amount of land. This obviously affects the small towns that
support them – the grocery and hardware stores, the doctors and lawyers,
churches and schools. As the population falls, these operations eventually
close or move to other locations.
Continued Next Page
hasn't faired well over the years, Kathy Weiser, July, 2006.
Silent buildings stand on the prairie in
July, 2006, Kathy Weiser.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
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Legends' General Store
Towns (America's Lost World) 2 Disc DVD
Unearth America's Lost World! This 5-Part series ventures into the roots
of our nations high hopes and hard labors to discover the towns that
boomed fast and went bust even faster. Through original footage,
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First time on DVD! Legends of America's own Kathy Weiser-Alexander and
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time 5 hours, 34 minutes.