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March 2, 2006 10:28 AM   Subscribe

What interesting small towns should I visit on a cross-country travelogue/photo trip?

This thread on the blue got me thinking about how many curious, unique, bizarre small towns there are all over America, and the fact that I've seen virtually none of them. I want to set out and document small towns with an interesting story or notable feature (preferably something deeper than "Has World's Largest Ball of Twine"). What small towns have you visited or lived near that I should check out for a possible book/photo essay?
posted by TunnelArmr to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Lower Peachtree, Alabama is an interesting town.

There are many "towns" that are actually just the dead ends of dirt roads in Alabama in which the descendants of freed slaves still live in the slave shacks of their ancestors and work the fields that their ancestors worked in bondage. Cox's Quarters and Frog Level, if you can find them on a map come to mind.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:50 AM on March 2, 2006

Pick a common place name - Springfield, for instance - and visit every town in the country with that name. You'll see a fantastic cross-section that way.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 10:55 AM on March 2, 2006

Two of my favorites:
Warren, New Hampshire has a roadside missile with an interesting history (but I won't spoil it for you here), right next to the town church. Also lots of cold mountain streams and blueberry bushes.

Bemidji, Minnesota has a giant (giant) Paul Bunyan and Babe.
posted by whatzit at 10:56 AM on March 2, 2006

Saucy Intruder's idea is great. Another couple names to try would be Hudson and Newton.
posted by whatzit at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2006

Bemidji is a fantastic stop! You may have heard some of it if you watched any of the curling coverage during the olympics; all of the men's and women's curlers representing the United States are from there.
posted by charmston at 10:59 AM on March 2, 2006

Tombstone, Arizona, the town too tough to die, pop. 1504. Home of the O.K. Corral, Boot Hill, and the world's largest rose bush.
posted by ldenneau at 11:14 AM on March 2, 2006

Paxton, Nebraska. But only to stop at Ole's Big Game Bar. (Recently merged with Swede's Cafe next door)
Ole was a big game hunter back in the day and the bar is full of his stuffed trophies. Only polar bear you'll see in Nebraska, I guarantee.
posted by Eddie Mars at 11:27 AM on March 2, 2006

Wellsboro, PA, is a sweet little town and you can visit the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:52 AM on March 2, 2006

Try visiting Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA.

Also, there's a wonderful and weird little Texas town that turned itself into a sort of dadaist art colony several years ago, can't quire remember the name of it now ... that would be a neat stop.

Pick up a couple of copies of Saveur magazine - they do a good job of covering roadside food across the country, and maintain a calendar of cultural/food events all over the world.
posted by luriete at 12:20 PM on March 2, 2006

I really liked the Garden of Eden in Lucas, KS, though it's really far away from anything. It's definitely more interesting than something like the World's Largest Cedar Bucket.
posted by MattS at 12:33 PM on March 2, 2006

I don't want to sabotage the question, but I'm taking a road trip in less than two weeks with this express purpose. Can anyone recommend anything in North Carolina, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina or the Florida panhandle?
posted by borkingchikapa at 12:37 PM on March 2, 2006

borkingchikapa: there was a really neat thread a while back about destinations for a civil rights road trip. You might look for that one.
posted by whatzit at 12:48 PM on March 2, 2006

Best answer: Sinclair, Wyoming (population 408) is based entirely around a Sinclair oil refinery. Everyone in the town works at the refinery or at an establishment serving refinery workers. If the refinery shut down, the town would die.
I have stopped in a lot of small towns and this is one that always sticks out in my memory.
posted by zonkout at 12:54 PM on March 2, 2006

Williams, Arizona seems to have devoted itself to the 1950s and Rte.66. You can take a train from there to the Grand Canyon, too.

Williamstown, MA has Williams College, including some nifty sculpture.

Tunbridge, VT is a little dairy-farming town that hosts the Tunbridge World's Fair every Fall, complete with tractor and ox pulls and auctions of all kinds of stuff. Equestrian events, cow and pig judging, and more! How could you miss it?

Wiers Beach, NH is a smallish town on Lake Winnepesaukee. A quiet resort, except during one week in June.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2006

Playing on SI's earlier idea, you could go to places named for other more famous towns and find out how they got named what they did. For example, sticking to Middle Eastern names:

Damascus, MD
Lebanon, TN
Cairo, IL
Moab, UT (too obvious)
Bagdad, CA
posted by Pollomacho at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2006

re: luriete

the town that you're talking about is most likely Marfa, TX [wikipedia]

it's a neat little town, and Ft. Davis is not too far away, which is also a pretty interesting town with its astronomical observatory in the mountains.
posted by scalespace at 1:54 PM on March 2, 2006

Response by poster: These are all great suggestions, guys. Keep em coming! Pollomacho and zonkout's suggestions are probably closest to what I'm looking for. Moreso than places with specific physical attractions (although that's helpful too), I'm more interested in American gothic/Coen brothers-esque funky places, places with a cool history or lots of interesting stuff going on under the surface.
posted by TunnelArmr at 2:49 PM on March 2, 2006

Echo, Utah is an interesting little quasi-ghost town. Started out as a stage coach stop, then a pony express stop, then a rail road stop, and then it died during the Depression. I visited several years ago and the gas station had those old style pumps and a sign directing people to this restaurant You go to the restaurant and the old man working there flips the 'Open' sign to 'Closed', rides his bike the 100 feet to the gas station, flips the 'Closed' sign to 'Open' and then pumps your gas.
posted by catdog at 3:08 PM on March 2, 2006

Eureka Springs, AK is an interesting place my wife and I discovered last summer while vacationing with her parents. If you like animals visit Turpentine Creek Wild Animal refuge seven miles south of town. Lions, tigers, bears, oh my.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 4:34 PM on March 2, 2006

Monticello, New Mexico is really isolated...in the middle of the mountains, not on any main roads. It's mainly a ghost town, but about 1000 families stll live there. It's a really beautiful setting & had a cool,unsettlingly-pastoral vibe last time I was there a few years ago. EVERYONE seems to grow flowers & so it smells really good in the summer. Everyone seemed very secretive. It's about 25 miles from Truth or Consequences, which named itself after a game show.
posted by octavia at 8:19 PM on March 2, 2006

Also, I've never been to Acrosanti, an experimental utopian community in the Arizona desert, but I want to someday, it looks fascinating...built from scratch by Paolo Soleri, an Italian architect who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, based on the concept of arcology (architecture + ecology).
posted by octavia at 8:30 PM on March 2, 2006

Parkfield in California. Its claim to fame is that it runs along the San Andreas Fault and there is a lot of earthquake activity. There is a Bluegrass festival in May and a Rodeo competition in the first weekend of may as well.
posted by andendau at 10:58 PM on March 2, 2006

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