Watch any western on television (Gunsmoke, Big Valley, The Rifleman, Bonanza) and visit a town with a Main Street and not much more. But eventually towns began to be laid out in ‘squares’ around a courthouse (if the town was the county seat) or at least around a park, historical statue, or plaza. Then I thought about my own hometown, San Angelo, in West Texas.
Founded in 1867 with the establishment of Fort Concho at the confluence of the North and South Concho Rivers, it was a wild and wooly place filled with saloons and other establishments not mentioned in polite company. Families tended to settle in nearby Ben Ficklin, a nice quiet place which became the county seat of Tom Green County. A two-story stone courthouse established the little settlement’s ‘authority’ over San Angelo.
However, in August 1882, a devastating flood destroyed the town and took the lives of many of its respectable citizens. The rest, as they say, is history. San Angelo took over as the center of the area. Seven years later, the last company of soldiers occupying the fort marched away, and ‘the little town across the river’ came into its own.
It does NOT have a town square, and so far as I can tell, it never did. There is a Main Street, but more businesses tended to build along other streets in the downtown area. Chadbourne Street divides the town into north and south, while Harris divides it into east and west. The residential areas spiral out from there.
Most of the smaller towns of the same age have town squares: Sterling City, Sonora, San Saba Lampasas, Granbury—all being county seats, of course. These towns with their historic courthouses plunked right in the middle exude a certain charm. Farmers bring their produce to sell “on the square”. Festivals and celebrations mark holidays and changing seasons. People still tend to congregate to discuss the weather, politics, and anything else which comes to mind. The ambiance of community and slower living thrive—or at least, they did when I passed through these little towns in my travels. View some assorted town squares here. (The European 'plaza' is always magnificent!)
In my husband’s hometown of Seneca SC, the ‘square’ was three-sided. The railroad track composed the fourth side, but the essence of “the square” remained. Other towns I’ve seen have the same configuration without really changing the effect of “the square”.
So when I wrote the Penelope Series, I never envisioned Amaryllis AR, (pop. 5492) as anything but a small town with a square, nor did it occur to me to change the format for Dreamland AR where Trixie Blake plants her stubborn feet and very nearly gets swept off them by disaster rather than romance.
Perhaps these are towns lost in time or behind the times. Or perhaps they represent the best of times. Penelope thought so, and Trixie discarded the idea of getting back to the big city in spite of intrigue and threats. And just maybe I’m a small-town girl at heart, too.
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