Agriculture Towns Looking to Regenerate Prosperous Past

7 years 1 week 6 days ago Tuesday, May 10 2011 May 10, 2011 Tuesday, May 10, 2011 6:30:00 PM CDT May 10, 2011 in News
By: Nick Berry
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MIAMI - Overgrown brush, abandoned buildings and junkyards make up Miami's skyline. Fewer than 150 people live here nowadays, and they spend most of their time outside of town.

"They don't even have a gas station anymore. Back when I was a boy, there were about four or five gas stations around here," Bill Hisle, Miami resident, said.

Bill Hisle is the oldest resident left in Miami. He was born here almost 90 years ago.

"I've seen nearly every building that was here, and every building tore down," Hisle said.

Miami was built around agriculture. But as technology grew, the town shrunk and now jobs are scarce.

"Farming's changed so much in the last few years. You don't need the men on the farm in order to farm," Hisle said.

Dwindling demand for agricultural labor is the main cause of depopulation in communities like this one. Thirty six miles away, Blackwater is facing the same problem. In 2000, it hit an all-time low of 200 people, down from 600 in 1950. But unlike Miami, Blackwater has begun to turn things around.

"Twenty years ago, the town was really on its last leg. But since then, there's been lots of grants and infrastructure that's come on. We have new utility services, we have new sidewalks, streetlamps," Mike Danner, Blackwater resident, said.

Main street was almost torn down to put up a landfill 20 years ago. But the 100-year-old buildings were spared and put back into use. The main difference between Miami and Blackwater is the infrastructure. Blackwater's old jail brings in tourists, which plays a big role in the town's economy.

"Back in the 70's, it was a mecca of antiques. That kinda died off and we're trying to restore that same theme as a place people want to come for getaway," Liz Elson, Miami council member, said. "I'd like to see new buildings, but I don't know if that will happen. It would be great if it could happen. Other little towns have done it, but I don't know if Miami will get that done or not."

While investors slowly return to Blackwater, Miami is waiting for someone to take interest. There's little expectation for Miami to return to what it was in the past. But the residents say they hope it remains a good home no matter what role it takes in the future.

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