What a couple of years it has been in Fayette County. Little Round Top blooms with new ventures, shops, restaurants, cottages visible from county roads. Four miles away the Winedale Complex shines with new polish—much needed restorative work on the stellar Lewis-Wagner House coupled with a new pollinator garden among other landscaping improvements, and more to come, topped by the Sommerabendfest fundraiser next August.
Look at the real estate activity, here. I’ve lost count of the number of realtors and associate realtors busy showing property to prospective buyers.
We, ourselves—LH and I—are beginning our thirty-third year on this small patch of woods and grass, thanking providence for every moment.
Why are we here? Why do the city people keep coming? Keep buying? What’s the attraction?
There is fantasy involved, of course. Some of us grew up in a gentler world of less densely populated cities and family farms. Recapturing a small part of one’s youth is a potent dream. A small town, rural environment, where community is real, tangible, accessible; where neighbors know each other, help each other—this seems more valuable to us every day.
Beauty, too. Our cities separate themselves from nature. Heavy traffic, floods, pollution. Trees die in the oldest neighborhoods, ruined by oversize houses. Finding beauty in the city takes work, effort, time.
Here, however, it’s a given. The rolling countryside between New Ulm and Highway 237, between LaGrange and Old Washington, once resembled places of fabled beauty like Bucks County, PA or the Berkshires of MA.
Every day, as I walk the length of our long, thin house from the bedroom to the kitchen, I see beauty through every window. Light slants through the trees, casts patterns, highlights a brilliant leaf, green or red, depending on the season. Sometimes it’s a sheaf of leaves, a streak of pale grasses in a pasture. Creatures appear, squirrels, rabbits, the occasional chicken snake. Deer move, gray and silent, across our front field.
It is why we’re here, this quiet communion with a place that has been inhabited by Europeans for almost two centuries. But lightly, still, as compared with larger towns, cities.
One thing is certain: None of us, new resident or old have been drawn here by the desire for a shopping mall to obliterate the small scale, neighborly feeling.
We know that the month-long Antique and junk extravaganza that overwhelms the area twice a year brings a welcome infusion of money. The profit to local business benefits all of us, even those who stay far away from Highway 237 while the festivities are underway. Because of it, we have better restaurants, a better selection of comestibles and necessities—even luxuries—in the markets, and so on.
Success, however, quickly slides into excess. Too many tents left behind, too many absentee landowners, too little care for the effect on year-long residents. I remember a conversation with the late Jack Finke, the stonemason/artist whose work contributes so much to the visual atmosphere of Festival Hill. The Finkes have been in our area a long time and Jack deplored the “junky” look along 237 north of the Round Top city limits. This was ten years ago.
He should see it now.
We’ve been lucky that much of the new permanent development has been carried out with understanding of vernacular style. Henkel Square Market, the Compound, Rummel Square—despite being somewhat overcrowded—each contributes to the appeal of the area. (If only some shops didn’t clutter their appeal with junked up porches…)
The gateway into Round Top, however—the much traveled highway 237 between 290 and FM 1291—has been less fortunate. Outside city limits, no entity offers standards and suggestions. Minus those understandings, the ugliness of urban sprawl proliferates.
The Friends of 237, a new local organization, hopes to improve the situation. They’re drawing on the better nature of the vendors who leave the ugliness behind when they go to their homes, often out-of-state, after the shows.
Cooperation, freely given, benefits everyone, because it contributes to keeping the Round Top-Warrenton-Carmine area appealing all year. Businesses cannot survive only on the Antique Show experience. There are ten more months during which people live and work, hoping to preserve the reasons they remain here.
We can help the Friends of 237 in their effort. We can join as a member, as a volunteer. We can contribute our skills, our support. In return, we can get credit for our community spirit, which creates the firm foundation for everything around us. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s keep our golden goose fat and happy and alive.