VOA Special Report

Fading Small Towns

The history of the United States is one of urbanization: at its founding, only five percent of Americans lived in cities; a century ago, half of the population did; today, the number stands at 80 percent. Yet the idealized vision of rural and small town life lingered far longer in the popular imagination than reality.


I’ve been living in this town since I was 9 years old. The town was really booming with the college here back in the 60s and late 70s. There were clothing stores. There were shoe stores. There was a Coast to Coast store. There were hardware stores. There was a barber shop. There were restaurants. Felt like you were walking in downtown Chicago.

When Shimer College closed, the businesses suffered. This store here, I used to come here when I was a young boy. My parents used to bring me here to get my hair cut. And when you’d walk in the door there’d be 10, 13 people sitting in the chairs, all talking about business that happened during the day and waiting in line to get a haircut.

Today, the stores are closed and the people are gone. I feel real sad. Yeah, real sad that all the shops are gone and buildings are empty. It just feels like it’s a ghost town now.

Just lot of elderly people now are around. And you don’t see many young kids. They are all gone.

There’s just not much for them here to do. I still like it, yeah. I like the small towns. I’ll be here until I’m gone.

—Roger Brashaw, Retired Factory Worker

Mount Carroll, Illinois