41 SUNDAY. OCTOBER 13, 1996 COMING HOME THE SALINA JOURNAL A STRUGGLING TOWN Photos by DAVIS TURNER / The Salina Journal John Smith, who has lived in Jamestown almost all his life, walks to his pickup in what is left of a once-thriving downtown. "I've seen a lot of things hurt these towns," he says. "They close the schools — first thing you know, you ain't got nothin.' " Some residents say the school's closing 15 years ago started the town's gradual deterioration. A STUDY IN In Jamestown, downtown is down but residents are upbeat By LINDA MOWERY-DENNING The Salina Journal Maria "Dixie" Meyer, 86, moved to her husband's hometown nine years ago when her husband died. She Is now a member of the city council. Jamestown * Jamestown GLOUQ NO SCHOOL This town of about 325 has lost its school and several businesses. The steeple of the closed Catholic church is reflected in the marquee of the United Methodist Church, which Is still active and has a large Sunday school program. AMESTOWN — The two churches J that stand across the street from each other in many ways tell the story of Jamestown. The downtown could be represented by St. Mary's Catholic Church, which closed two years ago. The town's residential area is better symbolized by the white frame United Methodist Church, which this past summer enrolled more than 40 children in Bible School. "Sunday school was nothing here a few years ago. Now we have a big Sunday school," said Carol Anderson, who has lived in the Jamestown area her entire life. "We have people come and go so much I can't keep track. There are a lot of young kids around here." Jamestown is a study in contrasts: vacant buildings, many of them sold for taxes, line both sides of main street in the two-block downtown. The buildings used to house cafes, grocery stores, implement dealers and other businesses. All that remains are city hall, a senior citizen's center, an antique store and a bar and grill that this day offered meat loaf as the noon special. The town also has a bank, post office, grain elevator with headquarters in Concordia, a ceramics store and a handful of other businesses. City Clerk Novella Trude said the downtown was full when she came to Jamestown in the mid-1940s. "It just makes you sick to think about it," she said. "A lot of the buildings are owned by people from out of town, and they have no desire to fix them up." The contrast to downtown comes in the rows of neat private homes and public housing that appears to be in demand from citizens who consider Concordia, 12 miles to the southeast, too big for comfort. Many work there, however. "We're kind of a bedroom community," longtime Jamestown resident Frances Swenson said. Concordia has more than 6,000 residents; Jamestown's population is about 325. "People have started to realize that they do better with their families in a smaller town," said city council member Maria Meyer, who moved to her husband's hometown following his death. "The cities scare them to death — and with reason." Jamestown has a proud history, much the same as other small prairie communities, only with a twist. The town was incorporated in 1883. More than a decade later, Jamestown received national attention when voters elected an all- woman city council and also selected a woman as mayor. Circumstances surrounding the unusual occurrence — women would not be allowed to vote in municipal elections until 1887 and in state elections until 1912 — have been lost to time, but local historians attribute the female landslide to the era's battle over demon rum. "l love it here. I can't imagine living anyplace else." - NOVELLA TRUDE Jamestown The women were against it. Another milestone came in 1911, when the town literally burned to the ground. "It was our Chicago fire," said Legouri Bombardier, who works part time at Cloud Co'mmunity College in Concordia. When the town was rebuilt, store owners decided to limit their costs by sharing a roof and wall. The practice has caused problems for the current council, which has done everything short of calling in a wrecking ball to spruce up the downtown. One side of a building may have a business, while the other side is abandoned. In some cases, the council can't even get property owners to accept a certified letter telling them their building has been condemned. , A. J. Herbin, whose family has owned the Jamestown bank for three generations, said Jamestown is not unique. As roads became better, as the size of farms grew, the down- towns of many small communities were no longer necessary. Then, about 15 years ago, the school closed and the town's youngsters were sent to Concordia. "Our school building was only 20 years old when we consolidated with Concordia," Carol Anderson said. "The town just gradually went downhill after the school closed." Still, it's difficult to label Jamestown a dying town. "I think we're holding our own," said councilwoman Meyer. There is the baseball field that attracts an annual state tournament. Almost. 7,000 books were lent this past year at the library, where all the town's school trophies are displayed, according to librarian Debbie Kearn. And physicians from Beloit visit the town weekly so elderly residents don't have to venture outside Jamestown for routine medical care. Novella Trude said the town's remote location is difficult for older citizens, but they can count on family and neighbors for help. Trude buys groceries in Concordia for her 98- year-old mother. Others go farther to Salina. "We have really good people here and I don't mind driving a bit," Trude said. "I love it here. I can't imagine living anyplace else."
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