All that's left of Clinton College are columns. The town gave birth to five colleges.
At least, that’s what I thought before I moved to this tiny town almost as far as one can get from Frankfort and still be in Kentucky. (Fulton is farther.) Then we lived through the collapse of the old bank building across the street from straight line winds, numerous fires, (three in the last month), a hurricane and the ice storm of the century.
The good news? Scientists are saying that the New Madrid Fault may be closing. Whew.
Natural disasters aside, this small town is a microcosm of what’s happening to small rural towns across our state and our nation. Jobs move to urban areas. Young people follow. The population ages. The tax base shrinks. Government is asked to do more with smaller resources. Citizens cannot pay more because so many are on fixed incomes – but they still need services – ambulances, fire and police protection, snow and debris removal, potholes filled, roads repaved, bridges maintained, and on and on.
Small rural towns that were once proud centers of commerce are slowly falling apart. The façade of prosperity is peeling like the aluminum cover off Perkins Drug Store. Old folks remember crowded streets on Saturdays, department and grocery stores bustling, trains stopping in town and taking passengers to the city and back again.
That’s all gone now. Towns like Clinton, off the beaten interstate track, without a Wal-Mart or a McDonalds, face extinction. The evidence is all around. Oakton and Berkley, Water Valley and Arlington, once thriving communities are shades of themselves. It’s sad to see and scary to watch the town I have come to love slide from town to village to wide spot in the road.
Hickman County and its county seat, Clinton, is a laboratory of what is being done, what can be done and what not to do. The most recent interlocal compact is a positive step for sharing resources. A local leader recently remarked that the legislature doesn’t have the guts to legislate consolidation of cities and counties, but their policies are forcing local governments to pool what they have to survive. As Frankfort and Washington pile on administrative regulations and siphon money off to the east, local units of government are going to have to become craftier and sharper in their dealings with the “we’re here to help you” bureaucratic types from the big city.
Jobs and industry sorely needed in this area are chivvied by state government to easy for them to reach places in the Golden Triangle. Politicians declare their undying love for West Kentucky at the Fancy Farm Picnic, then pile back in their helicopters and tour buses, not to be seen again until the next election cycle.
We are Charlie Brown and the football, eternally hoping that this time will be different. Eternally left flat on our backs vowing that we won’t be fooled again.
The sad fact is that Frankfort is not going to save small towns. Washington may as well be on the other side of the planet. It is for local people who love their counties, their cities, their villages, their wide spots in the road, to come up with ideas and financial support to pull off a miracle to revitalize their hometowns. It will never be as the old folks remember it. But it can be better and more prosperous.
I can only hope that a miracle can happen here. Like many parts of Kentucky, this area has such a rich, untapped store of history and culture and just downright niceness that to see it fade into this old lady’s memory will be a crying shame.
Folks around here have taken on hurricanes, ice storms, the US Post Office and now are fighting with their water company. There’s strong stuff behind the smiling faces.
Nothing ever happens in Clinton? Stay tuned.