It was a Tuesday morning, a day off, and a sunny, glowing late summer’s treat. We had done our morning rounds, posted the new reservations and decided to go off to Hudson for breakfast Hudson, Stillwater and a lot of other little towns along the St. Croix were at one time an escape for Twin City wealthy and there are wonderful homes to be seen, as well as the natural beauty along the river.
The morning’s special at the Key Cafe was “stuffed french toast” which is completely unlike me to order; I can’t remember the time I ordered anything that came with some kind of fruit compote — probably because too frequently the “compote” isn’t compote at all — it’s often just canned fruit pie filling — but this was not, it was actually quite lovely.
As I tucked into my breakfast I got to thinking about small towns; how they started, how they developed, and what has happened to them.
So many of the towns that people flock to now are communities that were built either by original settlers, or by the rich of their day — to which the not-so-rich of today flock to see what life was like back in the day. Of course, it’s nothing like it was back then. The only semblance of that form of life is the architecture, because the way of living has changed, the topography has often changed to handle the influx of more and more tourists, and the class of people has changed — from those who could afford extravagance to those who save for months to afford a visit to a memory or a fantasy.
I wondered, that sunny morning, what these towns will be like in 20 or 50 years. Tourist attraction communities are rather like the over-used National Parks. Each year more and more tourists come to visit and the place becomes less and less like the unspoiled retreat it once was, or the exclusive hideway that it once offered to the rich.
Last winter we stopped in St. Augustine where we were told that a stay at the Flagler Hotel — then the mecca for the super rich — would cost over $100,000 for the season; that staying for the season was the only way to gain a reservation, and that payment was accepted only in cash.
The likes of that wealth and those days are impossible to mimic today — yet people flock to them to see “what it was like to be rich.” Yet, I have been thinking that in our current world things are much different. Transportation has enabled those of great means to seek out places where they still can be alone — which has meant that more and more people of means have built monstrous homes further and further away from population centers. Some years ago I spent some time driving truck. I had my own semi and I hauled flatbed freight across the country. One of my loads was to a jobsite near Jackson Hole Wyoming. This private, single-family project had been slated for a completion price of $48 MILLION dollars and I was awestruck when I approached it. With fireplaces big enough to park a VW inside of, and a kitchen larger than most of the apartments we lived in it was truly humbling to think that a childless couple was building this second or third home as a part-time getaway. It wasn’t even going to be a year-round home.
But one thing is for sure — built as it is with limited neighbors around and purposely miles out of town it will never become the destination for fantasy seekers. Of course that was probably thought to be true when the Biltmores built their mansion near Asheville NC, modeling it after a European chateau. And today it’s a popular tourist destination.
But today there are more people of means who seem to be less and less likely to locate in easily accessible areas. Helicopters make access to “inaccessible” places much easier and those who have the means seem to think nothing of their excesses.
Stillwater and Hudson aren’t in the same category, and they are jammed during the summer with pedestrian, auto, and tour coach traffic. I wonder in 20 or 50 years where people will be going to see what it’s like to live like the rich? Door County and Lake Geneva in Wisconsin have enjoyed second and third lives because of tourism as those who can afford their unique offerings have morphed from one population to another population over the years, and as the innkeepers and restauranteurs have pushed their properties upscale.
I’m glad Peg & I are doing this now, and have done our share of travel over the years before retirement. We saw parks and places before they were spoiled. We got to drive over roads before they were so crowded that you can only creep along in bumper to bumper traffic. The world changes; more rapidly than we sometimes think.
Our first car (bought together) was a 1968 VW bug. There was nothing “automatic” in it at all. This morning I happened to read a short article about the current production year VW gas cars and I kept reading words like “automatic”, “emergency,” “adaptive” — all of which were talking about systems that work without the driver having to do anything. It’s a different world and sometimes I still crave the world of nothing-automatic, uncongested, bare-bones that had no computer voices talking at you or anticipating my every need. That was a time when we could drive down major highways and see nary another vehicle. We thought of interstate highways as Super-Highways because they were — because we could remember their absence and the narrow ribbons of concrete or gravel that preceded them.
Yeah… I wonder where weekenders will go in 20, or 50 years from now. When our Grand-One is ready to retire from her career, I wonder where she’ll go to escape the rush of the city. Of if that idea will have disappeared… I have no idea.
Thanks for stopping. I love our small towns, and our wandering ways. I hope you do too.