Abandoned towns and shattered dreams

Any tour of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky or West Virginia seems like a trip through a fading past.  As I cruise the back roads and byways of our region, the rumble of my Harley’s exhausts too often echo off abandoned buildings, empty shells and remnants of long-lost prosperity and shattered dreams.

On recent rides, I’ve cruised through the devastated towns like War, West Virginia; Harlan, Kentucky; Eden, North Carolina and Basset, Virginia. In each case, the town stands mute as a monument to corporate abandonment, shifting economic priorities and lost hope.

Textile mills and furniture factories relocated overseas or moved south of the American border through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  The empty shells and abandoned buildings remain in various states of decay — reminders of manufacturing jobs that will never return, along with the prosperity that those jobs brought to communities.

Floyd County knows the economic bite of lost jobs. The textile factories that once boosted the area economy left long ago.  Agriculture in the county is not the driving force of years gone by.

Yet Floyd is fortunate because it has found some salvation in tradition and heritage — particularly music.  Tourists flock to town to visit the Country Store and clog away the night at the Friday Night Jamboree. Yet, too many county residents must still drive 60 miles or more for work but you don’t find many empty buildings or abandoned storefronts in Floyd.

But the main drag of Basset looks like a bombed out European town from World War II. The main street of downtown Eden, North Carolina is lined with empty buildings. The same is true in Fries, Virginia.

The current recession has turned the luxury McMansions of Smith Mountain Lake into abandoned eyesores. Some developments never opened but decay under the sun as weeds spout through the cracks in parking lots never used.

Blacksburg still struggles to find a formula for its downtown and retail areas. Books-a-Million is closing next week at the “manufactured main street development” at the entrance to the town.  An independent coffee shot on University Boulevard closed without warning last week.

Some areas still thrive.  Boone, North Carolina is packed with tourists.  Riding back from Rocky Mount, North Carolina Monday, I inched along in traffic jams from the Research Triangle Area of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill.

Feast or famine.  Little in between. That’s life in the area.


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8 thoughts on “Abandoned towns and shattered dreams”

  1. It is a shame that poor government policy has led American industry to move offshore. I’m a Pulaski county native now living in GA, and it saddens me everytime I come home to see how “dried” up everything is. I often wonder how anyone living there exists considering the lack of jobs, well paying or not. Until our .gov types ease tax burdens, defund the EPA, etc. we are doomed to more of the same. The “made in China” label on Pulaski furniture just doesn’t sit well with me, and I would imagine it doesn’t fare any better with former employees either.

    • Not sure how much any amount of tax-easing and deregulating at this point might help. The average Chinese factory worker makes around $500 per month, and in other countries it’s less than that. Any company focused more on the bottom line than the good of American workers isn’t going to see an issue with staying overseas.

  2. As a child, I remember driving down the NJ Turnpike with my parents – the smell was beyond description. Today, I know it was the oil companies releasing their unwanted side-products into the air. Now, when you drive through NJ, the air is good. So was EPA the only factor in losing jobs in VA? I doubt it. EPA is a good thing. I’ve spent a lot of time in China – and trust me, you don’t want that yellow haze over the cities. China may be low price now, but I really think the “environmental piper” is going to come calling soon. They can’t poison all their people (all 2 billion of them!) and not expect an unpleasant reaction. It may not solve our problems this minute (or this year, or this decade), but I think that it will in the long term.

  3. Danny, I agree with you to a point, but when we ship raw goods via boat to China and get finished goods back, I would think American industry could compete. But China artificially devalues their currency, which also adds to the problem. I don’t know off hand the tariffs we place on their goods compared to what they do on ours, but I’m sure it is not proportionate.

    Annie, I do agree with you in the fact that the environment should be taken care of, but by far and large, the EPA runs with very little oversight. I don’t want a yellow haze hanging over Draper when I come home, but common sense has to be used, and I feel like states could handle their own environmental issues. It seems insane to me, that my Harley should be bogged down with a plethora of catalytic equipment etc. Compared to other vehicles on the road, they make up a VERY SMALL percentage of pollution. To build a new refinery in this country takes the EPA somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 years to do a site survey to even issue a permit. That to me doesn’t seem reasonable. Other countries make it much easier than we do here to do business, and our economy has suffered for it. Rural VA is a prime example as outlined in the article.

    Occasionally elements of the environment will suffer, but if it comes between my survival and the survival of a snail darter, I’m going to choose number one every time. So far, I haven’t heard too many people complain that the dinosaurs are extint, and well, mankind had nothing to do with that.

  4. I grew up in Mount Airy, NC and worked in a few of those factories in my younger days. Back then, you could get a job straight out of high school and often make really good money. When the companies started moving overseas years ago, I wondered what would happen when all the unemployment checks ran out. Now I know, but I guess no one in charge cared back then when there was still time to stop the flight of our jobs. Kinda late to start whining now and promising to “bring new jobs” if only we let the wealthy keep their tax rates. They’ve had long enough to do if they wanted to (and yes, I know I ended that sentence with a preposition)

  5. Blacksburg sounds like it wants to be a town for the filthy rich. The problem with that is the fact that Blacksburg is a college town.

    The coffee shop that closed was up against two Starbucks in Blacksburg and a third in Christiansburg. Books-a-Million is already gone from Blacksburg per their website. At least you can enjoy Five Guys near Virginia Tech.

  6. I live in the northeast, and went to college in the New Bedford, MA, area. The school I attended was originally a textile technology and design school, and in fact, there were still quite a few textile students when I was there in the late ’60s. However, by the time I arrived, New Bedford had already lost most of its textile jobs and mills to the low wage south, which was also close to the raw material of cotton, and has never fully recovered. Now, the south is going through the same ordeal, this time losing jobs to China, and other impossibly low wage countries, that we can never hope to compete with under any circumstance. I hope they are more successful recovering from this change than New Bedford was.

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