Part II: Getting Our Hands Dirty

So it’s been a year since the original article was posted: “How to Revitalize a City in Small Town America.”

It’s gotten some traction, in the internet sense of the word, lots of views.

What’s happened since then?

Our first project was establishing an HQ in Hogansville. And our new HQ was once an old HQ -- an old police station.

 

 

First came the process of tearing down perfectly good sheetrock walls to expose dirty old bricks, and ripping down the drop ceilings that have become emblematic of cubicle farms and Office Space.

We created a lot of dust. And trash. We attacked the plaster walls with sledge hammers and cut out the old pine studs and slashed insulation and tore hideous old laminate flooring up and threw it into a dumpster. It was fun — for the first few minutes. And then it became a giant mountain of work.

A huge part of the team was Brett, a local contractor. In between his rabbit hunts, his creativity and craftsmanship really added a lot to the project.

People passing by could peek in the windows and see what had to appear like backward process.

During the long journey of rehabbing the police station, we gleaned interesting historical nuggets about the building's past.

The upstairs was once the seat of the city leadership. There was a huge vault where the records were kept. There was a mysterious concrete cistern that had a foot of dirt on top of it, rumors were whispered that bodies were buried there. And of course, there were the jails.

One cold fall day, while we were hooking up power to the rear of the building, I heard a city worker whisper to another worker:

“How many people do you think died in there? In those jails... back in the day?”

No response. The other worker shakes his head.

“I mean, Leroy (name changed), what about him?  He couldn’t have...” looks around, “hung himself with that sheet, right? Have you ever looked in those cells, the ceilings are flat metal, what could he have tied it to?”

The other worker nodded. Suspicious. I nodded too. It was suspicious. 

So, we had a room full of rusty jail cells, covered in junk, old latrines and a horrible odor that seeped out of every hole in the floor. What would we do with this area? 

We'd make it into office space!

 Working in an old jail cell.

Working in an old jail cell.

As the dust began to settle, a few local citizens began to drop by and leave some encouraging words. 

“We don’t really know quite what you’re doing, but keep at it. Hogansville, it’s so full of potential.”
 A new day for Hogansville?

A new day for Hogansville?

Everyone sees it. 

Summer comes around and we plant a community garden. A local gentleman on a second-hand bike stops by periodically and plunders the tomatoes - in a very civil way.

 THE HARVEST

THE HARVEST

One day, as we walk back to the station from the pharmacy below, we see him toting a bag of vegetables. He thanks us for his haul. 

“BUT... I may not make it down the hill alive.” He notifies us.

Alarmed I glance down at his brakes -- they’ve been jerry rigged with a couple rusty bolts. Indeed, his life was in danger — a train was coming and he had to go NOW.

He pushes forward and careens across the railroad tracks rattles off — into sector four. 

Sector four is the area across the tracks from the depot. 

One night a car emerges from sector four, tears through the yard of the station, over our blueberry bushes and is deserted on the sidewalk next to the building.

The cops immediately know the perpetrator from the make of his auto and send a squad car to retrieve the marauding driver.

He’s a local no-do-gooder they say, and they finally have something to pin on him - criminal trespassing. Another day in Hogansville.

All this to say, by situating ourselves in this old police station sitting on the corner of main street, we’ve really plugged ourselves into the narrative of this town. The tides, the comings and goings, the endless minor and major scandals, the impassioned sermons from the local Greek restaurant owner. 

Adding to this, the local government has been encouraging. It'd be easy to think this wouldn't be the case, but several representatives have stated that our vision closely aligns with theirs. That's a good thing.

So you’re probably wondering — What is the idea with the police station?

Right now it’s operating as a cowork space. A creative incubator.

The idea is this: every day we open the doors and go about our business. Marketing, photography, furniture building, writing, web design, etc...

But instead of toiling away alone in our respective bedrooms, or garages, we can come in and work around other young entrepreneurs. It’s the co-workspace model.

 Working in the cowork space.

Working in the cowork space.

Strange place to put a cowork space right? 

Well, yes. But, if we're already here, why not try to encourage others to come work out of this space as well?

 Multi-national crowd!

Multi-national crowd!

By now we have a name for our project: PIONEER. 

Pioneers, those people that loaded into wagons, horses, piled all their stuff into a crude gas-powered automobile and set off for the unknown. Exploring new frontiers and in doing so — sparking new communities across the face of the earth.

As more people come and visit, the same suggestion keeps coming up -- WE NEED A CAFE!

Somewhere people can go, meet with someone, plugin with a laptop and a coldbrew blend, a third place

That's a good chance to recap what we need next —  our goals:

We need:

  • A Cafe
  • Local Market
  • Eateries
  • Fiber internet
  • Something done about the train...

The train?

Let me tell you about Hogansville's biggest nemesis. The CSX train. Now, there's nothing wrong with trains — trains mind their own business, hauling cargo across the nation, helping the economy.

The problem is when a train passes through the center of your city; and blows a horn loud enough to make eardrums shatter, false teeth splinter, and, I kid you not, pictures fall off walls.

These aren't the cute little horn blasts of Thomas the Steam Engine. These are dissonant roars that are loud enough to instantly put a person in a bad mood. Dogs seek shelter when a train is on the horizon. They know what's coming. And these trains roll through town as often as twenty times a day.

What can be done about this?

There's a law in effect that could help: a town can request quiet zones to be put in. Quiet zones are special railroad crossings that require the train to NOT blow it's horn-of-despair. But those are too expensive for a cash strapped town like Hogansville. So, until something can be figured out, the citizens of this small town will live life without something that should be a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT -- the absence of round-the-clock deafening noise.

One step at a time...