As Rural Towns Struggle, A New Generation Looks To The Past To Keep Them Alive
From coast to coast small rural towns have been fading away since the turn of the Twentieth Century. Especially those who’s existence is originally based around agriculture. Yet for every Danzig, North Dakota & Peacock, Texas there is a Pawnee, Oklahoma. And in those towns like Pawnee, are people like Amy Hedges.
Amy runs a popular Facebook page & group called Forgotten Oklahoma, which focuses on some of the less traveled and abandoned, or forgotten places across the state. Besides that, she also has a small business she runs and was interested in finding a building to buy and move into in one of the local towns in her area. After some searching and conversations with some local civic leaders she purchased the old Pawnee County Bank that sits right on the corner of the town square in the town of Pawnee.
The building had seen several tenants over the years, but the upper floor has been vacant for decades. A leaking roof and masonry deterioration almost sent the building to the ground in 2016 after a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit the area, but the building was still in good enough shape to save.
Amy, is part of a growing trend in more than a few small rural towns, where adults like her who want to stay in the small town they love, but are not close to retirement, so they are finding ways to keep their livelihood and keep the town the grew up with in tact. Through her business and some donations, Amy plans on funding the restoration of much of the old building back to how it once looked. First things first, a professional masonry crew will work on restoring the south wall which lost much of it’s stone facade. A lot of the inside is plaster and lathe and she jokes that her husband Ryan will be taking care of some of the more labor intensive, but her and a few friends and local volunteers will be doing a lot of the cleaning out of the building.
While most of what has been left behind is just crumbling plaster and random junk, there have been some gems, like the walk-in safe, original light fixtures (although some are damaged), and an engraving set from way before most of us were born. While Amy plans to run her main business from the old bank lobby, along with being a base for her Forgotten Oklahoma photography, eventually part of the upstairs will be rehabbed for use as a possible room on Air B&B.
Beyond Amy’s bank, there are a few other businesses on the main square that have, or are saving their old buildings. As someone who has gone into restoring old houses before I know Amy & the others will probably get their fair share of folks upset that they removed some aspect of the original building, but the fact remains these places & towns will be off with the buildings being occupied, than being exact museum restorations.
Amy’s bank is one of several Rural Places That Matter and I’ll be writing about more of others as 2019 progresses.
Do you know of any rural places that are asking to be saved. Pass them on through our “connect page.”
Do you think the Pawnee Bank is worth saving? Here’s a link to the Pawnee Bank restoration GoFundMe, or if you really want to keep up with the giving, look at making a small monthly donation via The Forgotten Oklahoma Patreon.