Life Magazine - August 28, 1950 - pages 93 - 97
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Bradgate's population shrinks to 188 because of too much mechanization and too little plumbing.
The American small town is dying. In the past 10 years, according to the 1950 census reports, thousands of rural communities have lost 10%, 25% or even half their population. Whether this is good or bad is moot - it has happened. The people have gone to live in the suburbs of big cities.
Bradgate, in northwestern Iowa, is such a town. since 1940 its population has dropped from 261 to 188. Big gaps have appeared among the buildings in Main Street, making it look as though it had lost half its teeth. Most of the people who remain are old--if their house decay, they seldom rebuild. If a storekeeper dies, his shop remains closed.
"The fastest thing that goes on," says Dewey Lanning, "is watching the snails go by." Lee Malcolm, the 73-year-old mayor, says, "This isn't modern. There's nothing for the young people--no water works, only a dozen septic tanks."
But, while the lack of plumbing has something to do with it, it is the car and the tractor which have done Bradgate in. With more mobility, people do their shopping in bigger nearby towns. A man and a boy and a tractor can handle a 160-acre farm. There is no need for many hired hands. Thus, with commerce taken away and the vigorous young people leaving, Bradgate is dying a slow death. The local elevator, which last year handled a million dollars' worth of business will keep the town alive for quite a while. But over against that is the relentless fact that farmland around Bradgate sells for a high as $300 an acre. "If the town gets any smaller," said the mayor half seriously, "we'll have to plow it up and plant corn."
TOWN COUNCIL, which includes a weed commissioner, meets to hear complaints. There were none, so they sat still for a an hour and then went home.
THE OLD MEN of Bradgate--almost 50% of the citizens are over 50--sit on a bench in front of the pool hall in the early evening discussing crops and fishing. Third from left is Theo Benjamin, who tried his luck in the west branch of the Des Moines River and reported, "Nothing was biting but the mosquitoes."
THE OLD SCHOOL HOUSE is now inhabited by House Painter Charlie Harris. He does most of his work out of town because few local people care about appearances now.
At monthly dance in the opera house some of the town's few young people
sit on the sidelines waiting for music to start.
MINISTER Joseph Share preaches in town's one church (Methodist), "When I
came here last year," Share says, "they thought I was a little peculiar because
I wanted a bathroom. But they put one in..."
Community Club, Townspeople see "Blondie Has Servant Trouble."
Popcorn is sold by Ladies Aid. Screen is the back of town Honor Roll.
Much of Bradgate's life is occupied with waiting -- for the movie once a week,
the dance once a month, the church picnic once a year. Some of the old folks, who made money farming, wait for winter so they can go to California for a while. Bachelors, who outnumber the single girls,wait for a pretty new face to show up. But, for all the waiting, most of the people who live in Bradgate live there because they like the town and would not live anywhere else. Even
though they see the handwriting on the wall, they cannot bring themselves
to leave. Daniel Vote, a farmer and war veteran, is not sure why he came back to Bradgate to live. "I don't know. Because I lived here, I imagine. I was all over, England, France, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, with the Third Army. I don't know. It's a nice town, got a lot of good people in it. It's an Iowa town, sets
by the river, I guess."