Towns and businesses across the midwest are celebrating their 100 year mark. Back in the early 1900s, the desolate region known as the Dakota Territory actually saw people who wanted to stay and call the area home. Many people on the coasts thought the settlers were fools.
Horses pulling a loaded wagon can comfortably go just so far per day. Small gatherings of people which became towns popped up about every ten miles apart. That distance jumped to about 20 miles apart when trails became the precursors of roads and when the railroads came through. Steam locomotives needed to refill on water about that often. Losing the status as a railroad water stop was as lethal to a town as a modern community losing its elementary school. The smaller communities faded into history. The early horseless carriages going over rough roads wore on a person's spine and a stop every 40 miles was almost a necessity. The towns in between began disappearing from the map and sometimes from memory. The term "ghost town" today brings thoughts of by-gone days, western novels, metal detectors and of ghost stories. Then, the term "ghost town" was a sad acknowledgement that towns can die. Cars getting better, roads improving, telegraphs and telephone party lines becoming private phones; all caused the distance between towns to expand even farther. Once thriving towns were now barely holding on. It now doesn't take a marathon trucker nor even a car driver with a huge bladder to drive across South Dakota without a stop. The great midwest had been settled, populated and expanded. It now seems to be releasing its deep breath of life. It is exhaling and shrinking.
A modern satellite photo of America during night is amazing. Because of the lights of communities, an observer can tell where the main transportation routes are. The areas that are lacking lights, mostly in the midwest, are the last strongholds of the pioneering spirit. People are still holding on to live where the distance between towns means something. What that means depends on the individual, the family and the tiny community - freedom to run your own life, ease of everyday activities, fewer people but more friends, family values, inhaling life rather than gasping from the speed of life.
One hundred years. That is something the communities of the former Dakota Territory should be celebrating. If New York, Miami, Seattle or San Diego turn 100, it may be a time to party, but not necessarily a celebration. We in the midwest know that a celebration can be a loud and raucous thing, or can also be a quiet warmth of pride.
One hundred years. We don't need a metal detector to unearth a trinket of our past. We can look through our photo albums, ask grandpa, or visit our neighbors over a cup of coffee and talk about the good old times. We do find history in a centennial, but we can also find ourselves. We don't study ancient pioneer spirit; we live it today.