Historical Markers Might Be The Nerdiest Thing Ever

I Pulled Over For This:

Historical Markers and the nerdyness it takes to pull over for one.

You have to be a special kind of person to pull over on the side of a road to read about some obscure factoid that’s relevant to the exact spot (possibly) where it was placed. Typically on a giant metal plate or stone monument, often with fading painted letters or a worn down surface. All while most likely traveling to get to a vacation destination, which is probably not close to the spot you just pulled over at.

If that paragraph describes you, or maybe how your father took road trips across America, then welcome to the club. Unless I’m pressed to make it somewhere for a hotel reservation, or we need to eat, if I haven’t pulled over in the last hour and see that wonderful brown sign “Historical Marker 1 Mile”, we’re about ready to pull onto the shoulder of the road and read about some folks history forgot!

This historical marker could probably have just been put on the side of the US Route 377, but the State of Texas put it on the actual site of the event. Which was great for me because it helped me find a couple of interesting places to photograph.
Thanks to the placement of the San Saba historical marker, I came across this long abandoned school.

While I make jokes about the seemingly randomness and sometimes vanity historical markers towns get erected; when the town is basically the surname of the founder followed by the word “burg” or “ville” and every car dealership, drugstore, and law office in town still have that surname. Well it’s not hard to figure out the descendants of John Weasel, probably helped get a historical marker from the state telling people who founded the town and how it got the name Weaselburg. As if no one could have figured that out. However, occasionally I’m truly surprised and you do learn about the history of the country.

In Missouri, not far from the confluence of the Mississippi & Ohio Rivers is a spot marking the site of the Sharecroppers Strike of 1939. There is a plaque and monument which tell briefly of what happened, but thanks to mobile phones and the internet I was able to pull up a wonderful retelling of the story along with images from The Library of Congress right on the spot along U.S. Route 62 where it happened.

Even foreign visitors love a good historical marker. This woman from New Zealand pulled over on part of her American road trip to read about the strike.
The Sharecroppers Strike of 1939 is well worth the read and look from this story via Mashable. Photo from The Library of Congress.  https://mashable.com/2017/03/25/the-people-out-on-the-road/

While in Texas last month I pulled over for one of what I’m sure are several markers along the Western Trail. One of the last old time cattle trails that started in Texas and went as far north & west as Montana. It too became a piece of Lost Americana as farmers fenced off their lands and the trail became interrupted. Sadly not only are the days of the cattle trail gone, but as you can see from the picture below, mother nature isn’t the only enemy to these markers have, vandals most likely at some point knocked this one over as it is broken and re-cemented at the base.

My oldest son taking a moment to stretch his legs read up on the Western Cattle Trail.

 

While I always suggest just finding historical markers along your next trip, you can always search out the more interesting ones, or even plan a trip around a point of history. Here are some websites to help you navigate historical markers.

by Vincent Johnson

Historical Marker websites

Waymarking

http://www.waymarking.com/

 

Historical Marker Project

https://www.historicalmarkerproject.com/

 

Read the Plaque

Beyond just historical markers, Read the Plaque looks at all kinds of monuments no matter how big or small through the world. Started by the people who do the 99% Invisible podcast, it is worth a look for an more artful & curated take on plaques of all kinds.

http://readtheplaque.com/

 

Wisconsin Historical Markers

Melinda Roberts, runs this website taking a look at the Badger State’s historical markers.

http://www.wisconsinhistoricalmarkers.com/p/home-page.html

 

Lost Americana – Historical Markers Flickr Album

Lost Americana Flickr album link

While not as extensive, this is maybe a little more curated, you can check out an album of historical markers on the Lost Americana Flickr page.

LostAmericana-0822

 

Population Decline; The Hardest Hit Counties In Each State Since 1990

Since 1990 These Counties Are The Hardest Hit By Population Decline In Their State

By 1990 the number of American farmers leveled off its decline around 2.9 million farmers, yet overall rural population numbers kept shrinking.

The 1990s are a significant time for Lost Americana, which goes beyond the fact that during that decade what was once known as “my abandoned barn project” got it’s start and later became the Lost Americana documentary. No, the 1990s are significant, because it was the first decade where the number of farmers in this country essentially stopped rapidly shrinking, or in more harsh terms “bottomed out. ”

By 1990 the number of farms and farmers in America had basically leveled out to about 2.9 million of each, after decades of steep declines that started after World War II when farming account for over 30 million jobs in this country, spread out over 6 million farms. And today it essentially sits in the same position as it did in the 1990s, just over one farmer for each farm on roughly 2.1 million farms. So from the 1990s on, people living in rural agricultural America were no longer being laid off, so to speak, as farms consolidated and technology advancements required less labor (not saying it didn’t happen, just not on the scale it did from 1950 to 1990). No, anyone who was left at this point would have been working elsewhere in the area, yet across the entire country just about every state had at least one declining county. And state with more rural agricultural areas saw many counties shrink. Why was that?

Towns Were Built For Farmers

This is not to say that towns were built only for farmers, but none-the-less these towns would not have existed if not to support the farmer. In a sad irony, the towns that sprung up, especially in the Midwest & Great Plains grew because of the commerce of farming & ranching and are now dying in-part to decreased support needed by farming & ranching. As farms needed less people, schools had smaller enrollments, houses went unsold, or unrented, grocery stores sold less, banks had fewer customers, tractor mechanics had less machines to service and with all this came the consolidation of commerce and not just farms anymore.

This is what it started to look like around the late 1980s on up; Your district closed schools and the kids in your town had to ride a bus miles to a consolidated school for the county. The hardware store closed a few locations in your county and moved everything to the county seat store. If your town had under 1,000 people you’d be thankful to have more than just a bar & a post office left in your town. Those lucky enough to be around retirement age stayed, while younger workers had to leave and the average age of the population increased from the state average by about 5, 10, sometimes almost 15 years in some counties. These along with a list of other issues has made financial sustainability in many rural areas almost impossible for most and in turn you’re still seeing a large outward migration and shrinking populations in most rural counties. Twenty fifteen marked the first time in U.S. history the overall rural population declined.

What Makes A Rural County?

Counties are designated by the size of their largest town and then their proximity to larger cities. A longer explanation of who, what, and just how rural a county is will be in a future blog post, but for now just know that if the largest town in your county doesn’t have more than 2,500 residents, chances are you’ll rural, but not always.

What’s In A Number?

These numbers that you see beside the represent the percentage of population decline and the difference in population between 1990 & 2016.*

Alabama – Perry County 24.9% (-3,185)
Arizona – Only population gains
Arkansas – Monroe County 36.7% (-4,164)

California – Sierra County 11.1% (-371)
Colorado – Cheyenne County 22.9% (-549)


Connecticut – Only population gains
Delaware – Only population gains
Florida – Only population gains
Georgia – Chattahoochee County 35.5% (-6,012)


Hawaii – Kalawao County 32.3% (-42)
Idaho – Butte County 14.2% (-417)
Illinois – Alexander County 39% (-4,148)


Indiana – Blackford County 13.5% (-1,899)
Iowa – Pocahontas County 27.7% (-2,639)
Kansas – Kiowa County 32.1% (-1,177)


Kentucky – Harlan County 25.7% (-9,406)
Louisiana – Tensas Parish 35.2% (-2,506)
Maine – Aroostook County 21.8% (-18,977)
Maryland – Allegany County** 3.7% (-2,816)
Massachusetts – Berkshire County 8.9% (-12,449)
Michigan – Ontonagon County 33.2% (-2,943)


Minnesota – Kittson County 24.8% (-1,434)
Mississippi – Sharkey County 35.5% (-2,514)
Missouri – Atchison County 29% (-2,164)
Montana – McCone County 25.3% (-576)
Nebraska – Rock County 31.1% (-629)
Nevada – Esmeralda County 41.2% (-554)
New Hampshire – Coos County 8% (-2,789)
New Jersey – 2.8% Salem County 2.8% (-1,858)
New Mexico – Harding County 32.6% (-322)


New York – Salem County 14% (-737)
North Carolina – Washington County 12.8% (-1,802)
North Dakota – Sheridan County 38.4% (-826)

Ohio – Jefferson County 17% (-13,594)
Oklahoma – Cimarron County 34.5% (-1,139)
Oregon – Sherman County 10.8% (-208)
Pennsylvania – Cameron County 21% (-1,236)
Rhode Island – Newport County 5% (-4,410)
South Carolina – Allendale County 22.8% (-2,677)
South Dakota – Miner County 30.2% (-991)


Tennessee – Haywood County 8.1% (-1,584)
Texas – Terrell County 42.4% (-598)
Utah – Emery County 1.1% (-116)
Vermont – Rutland County 4.5% (-2,832)
Virginia – Buchanan County 29.2% (-9,155)


Washington – Columbia County 2.1% (-86)
West Virginia – McDowell 45.6% (-16,092)
Wisconsin – Price County 13.3% (-2,083)
Wyoming – Carbon County 6.2% (-1,041)

 

*I could not publish this list without noting that while most, if not all,  of these counties are rural, not all are agriculturally based, some are affected by other factors, like a downsized military base, mining, or logging, but this only pertains to the hardest hit and shouldn’t take away that many other counties from each state not listed meet the factors for which Lost Americana is focused on.

**Technically Baltimore City, which is incorporated separately from Baltimore County was the hardest hit in Maryland, but given that the County of Baltimore has seen a 20% population increase in that time and that this is a look at a regional area, not just individual towns, I felt it was best left off the list.

 

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Photo graphics for other states can be seen in this gallery.

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