Here’s a great story about the town I was born in and then moved back to a few years ago:
A visitor to Bethany might half expect to see Andy Griffith, Aunt Bea or Barney Fife wave hello as they drive through town, gazing at its rolling hills, tree-lined streets and even a genuine, old-fashioned general store on Main Street.
With just a few hundred full-time residents when the local college is out of session, and operating on an annual budget that wouldn’t even pay for a good fire truck, Mayor Jay Eisenhauer and Bethany leaders are working to capitalize on the town’s best asset – its idyllic, Mayberry-esque atmosphere.
“Bethany’s unique. We don’t have a manufacturing base. We’re a rural college community and we’ve got to take advantage of that,” Eisenhauer said.
With that goal in mind, the town has planned several outreach events in the coming weeks designed to show that, in Eisenhauer’s words, “you don’t have to live in Bethany to be part of the Bethany community.”
Bethany will host the Brooke County Farmers’ Market from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday along Ross Street, which intersects Main Street just east of the local watering hole, the Bison Inn. It will return Aug. 31 during the same times at the same spot.
Local farmers and crafters will hawk their wares, providing an opportunity not only for commerce but also a social gathering.
And from 6-8 p.m. Saturday, the town is planning a “Potluck in the Park” inside the picnic shelter at the community park off Church Street.
Similar events could be in the works for September.
My dad was the mayor here for twenty years, and this really is a great little town. I live about 150 yards from the house I was born in and about 300 yards from the house I was raised in, and I still love it here. Embarrassing factoid: I went to Bethany College for a year and a half from 88-89 where I majored in lacrosse, fraternity, sorority girls, hops, the Grateful Dead, and street pharmacology, before dropping out a semester before they kicked me out and joining the Army. At any rate, dad had been mayor forever and always rode around in the cop car with the town cop (his name was Larry Jones but everyone just called him “Larry Law”), so all the older brothers knew him when I was a pledge, and thus, my pledge name was “Mayorsperm.”
Another quick anecdote I probably should not have in print and I am sure my mother will text me at 7 am tomorrow to tell me I am a jerk and should not put this stuff out there, but my mom taught at Bethany for 40 years, so me being a general idiot on public display was particularly humiliating for her. Sorry, mom. Regardless, when I was in the Persian Gulf in 1991, I talked to my mom and told her I was desperate for books to read, and would she please send some. Time was short, so I never told her what books to send. The next day, she was having lunch in the college’s student inn with a bunch of other faculty members for a weekly brunch, and she mentioned it to Gary Kappel (who was also one of my professors when I was still in school and decidedly not impressed with my academic performance) and asked him what she should send me. Without missing a beat, he said “Send him his textbooks. He never read any of them.”
At any rate, everyone who comes for a visit doesn’t want to leave. We’re in the middle of nowhere, but we aren’t, if that makes sense. There are seven miles of rolling farmland between this small town and the closest town with a grocery store (Other than the general store, Chamber’s, which has been here forever), and we are only 45 mins to an hour from Pittsburgh and 25 mins from Wheeling. It’s also beautiful with a highly educated and decent population, so there just isn’t any of the other nonsense you see in suburbs or cities.
The Farmer’s Market that will be held on Ross Street will actually be right outside my front door. In year’s past, they stored tables on my front porch on Friday night so they could access them quickly, so I could honestly spit from my front porch and hit the market.
I’m on the planning commission, not town council, and I haven’t been on long enough to have made any impact, but we have a lot of other really fun ideas planned. No real point to this post, but I just thought I would share. And it is like Mayberry, but better.
I’m pretty sure you’re the only one there who has need of the closet town.
BTW, I jumped in pretty late to the “Artists” thread. Any sculptors out in BJ land?
I lived for several years in a town like that. It was wonderful. And now the big city has grown up to it. Although the town still retains some of its charm, the city problems have arrived. Doors need to be locked, lots of residents view it as a suburb, etc. It’s just different.
I hope that doesn’t happen to Bethany. It sounds really lovely. A 45 minute commute to the city is nothing for a lot of people. Many folks do an hour or more every day. You don’t want to become a bedroom community.
John, I admit, I know next to nothing about West Virginia except for Charlestown and Hedgesville, where my late brother in law lived for a while. Where in WV is Bethany? Is it closer to Maryland or OH?
Are all the women strong?
I wouldn’t mind being in a bedroom community so much as long as there was some actual chance of dirty going on in the bedroom around here.
When told by a conquering king they could take with them whatever they could carry, they responded by rigging slings to transport out their riding lawn mowers on their backs.
@karen: Northern panhandle. I am two-three miles from the PA state line and 5-6 miles from the Ohio River/state line. Just go to maps.google.com and check for Bethany, WV.
@John Cole: You’re practically Pennsylvanian!
Also: August is coming, and you’re an easy 90 minute drive from Pennsic. You have forearms and facial hair: go for it!
Found your newly updated town website. This kind of cracked me up. It’s under “Area Retail”:
The first item listed is the new and exciting one (Panera Bread! Old Navy!) that is not actually in Bethany, but the cool, old fashioned General Store that is actually in Bethany gets second billing. But with this comment:
Seems a bit backwards to me, but I’m probably not your target market.
Question: Are there any places to stay in Bethany? I didn’t see accommodations listed and the only motel option seemed to be part of the conference center, so I wasn’t sure if it was just open to anyone or you had to be part of a conference. No cute B&B’s to bring in tourist money? Seems like that might be a good business idea for someone. Where do parents stay, for instance, if they come to visit their child at the college?
@Comrade Mary: OH SHIT, IT’S STARTED, YOU HAD BETTER GET PACKING!
I can really picture your town. It’s one of the things I’m going to miss about Pennsylvania, the number of small private colleges all over the state. Many of them are in towns that are about the same size as Bethany. You get the advantages of rural (really, more that than suburban) living, while still being within shouting distance of a city if you need one.
When it works (and all too often it doesn’t) there is nothing like life in small town (Eastern) USA. I ended up teaching in a high school that had more students in it than the combined population of the two towns I grew up in. Yet as good as it can be, here I am living almost in the dead center of Houston – and loving it.
I use Eastern as a qualifier since I have traveled in the west and come across small towns hundreds of miles from anyplace that might be considered civilization. That type of isolation is a bit much.
Ted & Hellen
Sounds like a natural choice as a place for you to hide from the world, John.
Also sounds like a complete nightmare.
I grew up in a small town too. The rot beneath the surface of that small town joviality runs deep and putrid.
You’re on Planning? Ha. You have no idea the amount of hours I’ve spent broadcasting our local planning commission. The hoops you guys have to jump through are insane.
For about 20 years I lived in what’s often called the Mayberry of LA, it’s got a tree lined main street with mom and pop shops. Some chains have moved in lately, like Starbucks, but it’s still pretty quaint. Though it is part of Glendale and in the LA basin though separated by mountains to the south. Montrose is a nice little community.
@Ted & Hellen: I think it’s a lot easier to hide from the world in a big city where you can be anonymous. Living in the same small town in which you grew up, just a few houses down from your parents and where everyone remembers how cute you were when you were five and any mistakes you made as a teenager, is hardly “hiding from the world.” For a lot of people that would be far too much togetherness.
Your tiny town sounds pretty great, John. But in a town that small, how is it that hottie you creeped on between the passion fruit and bananas not know she was in the presence of an internet sensation?
Belafon (formerly anonevent)
@Violet: The city I live in had that issue. Between when I moved here in 2000 and now, the small town had nearly tripled in size, to 32K. The people that had lived here for a long time, in my opinion, messed things up by thinking they could basically hold their hand up and yell stop. So, for the longest time, we got none of the improvements that would have been manageable when the city was smaller, and instead we’re doing all of them all at once, and not really doing them in the right order. I think it’s actually made it harder to keep the feel of the city that the people thought they were protecting.
@Belafon (formerly anonevent): Yeah, if it’s going to happen it’s better to see it up front, start planning for it, and implement any changes gradually and in the proper order. That rarely happens.
Where the men are men, the women are men and the sheep run scared!
I love this from the town’s website too. It’s on the Government page:
They have to put “J.G.” in there because people might confuse you for your dad, right? That’s so charmingly small town.
It sounds like a wonderful place. We should all move there!
John, is your town council as exciting as Canadian city councils?
This is why I’m a city boy. In the sticks, people spit on their farmers’ markets!
Huh. I totally forgot there was a wedge of WV sticking up between PA and OH. Looks like a great location.
@Belafon (formerly anonevent): The place I used to live went through that, too. It was a sleepy little farming community until the RE greedheads identified it as the next target for white flight from the Big Evil City. They bought up farmland on the cheap and filled it up with white trash starter homes. The population increased by an order of magnitude within 10 years and it went from one of the most Democratic to the most Republican county in the state. We left when Wal-Mart bought up the adjacent parcel, bulldozed the second-growth forest and replaced it with a berm and a concrete wall that did approximately nothing to shield us from the noise and smell.
@Belafon (formerly anonevent): Sounds like the city I grew up in, when my parents moved there, there were 2500 people in the valley; when I left for college there were 125,000 people there.
My wife grew up in a place like that in New England. 4 generations have lived on the same half-mile stretch of gravel road, with well water and a wood stove and no jobs unless you make one for yourself.
That’s why she doesn’t go back.
I grew up in a smallish town in so cal that at one point almost died because the city council/planning commission was entirely made up of old people who saw the town through rose colored glasses. Very dark rose colored glasses. The entire downtown was starting to look like it was going to be abandoned any day. It took a couple of elections to replace them and get people in who understand that growth/change is inevitable but doesn’t have to be bad, it can make a vibrant town. A town that keeps/rebuilds it’s old relative small town charm(that was gone anyway so it had to be rebuilt) and now has a good commercial tax base so that home owners don’t have to be the only support for city services.
@Ted & Hellen: Suicide. Try it.
(Being you must suck.)
OK, every body else: What’s up with the site that everybody has been complaining about which hasn’t affected me until now: i.e., the wipe of the commenting info. Can I have a cookie?
@John Cole: I know Bethany slightly. Love that area a lot. Know Weirton better, it coulda been a contender in employee owned steel mfr. but the CEO sold the union out. I know that shocks you… Lovely story, lovely town, and glad you have not only memories but reality to keep alive. You CAN go home again.
@Ruckus: A couple of weeks ago I looked up this old amusement park that was in my hometown on Wikipedia. They had a link to a flikr with pics of my town when I was growing up(as well as long before and after). I was pretty funny to look and some of the pictures and seeing places, many of which are no longer there, and thinking: “Hey I remember that place.”.
I’m in middle-of-nowhere West Virginia for the first time this weekend. My wife and I rented a place in Lost River and brought the dog. We spent the afternoon sitting on a towel under a shade tree on a clear hillside next to a babbling brook, watching eagles circle the mountains and deer forage in the grass. We’ve spent the night sitting on the porch and sipping viognier while staring at the stars.
It’s spectacular. You’ve really undersold your state.
I spent many summers when I was a child with my maternal grandparents in a small town in eastern North Carolina, Fremont (population about 2000 both then circa 1954-1960 and now in 2013) that, at least to my child’s eyes, was wonderfully idyllic. The town was so safe that by age 6, my grandparents would send me out after breakfast about 8:00am to play with my friends who lived within a block or so of me, dressed in nothing but a pair of underwear and shorts, with no further instructions than to come home promptly when the noon whistle blew for lunch at a small factory in the town. That said, we implicitly knew what our “safe” boundaries were, including an approximately four by two block area bounded on one side by the railroad line running between Wilson, NC and Wilmington. We were free to walk the two blocks to the downtown such as it was and get a cherry coke at the local drugstore (cost us six cents back then), and one of our favorite activities was watching the trains come by from across the street, counting cars (both freight and passenger trains were much more frequent then; there’s no passenger service now). Of course, Fremont lacked any sort of college and it was not exactly a hotbed of intellectual fervor, but instead a small mercantile/agricultural/small manufcturing sort of place, really just like hundreds of other small towns across the country, but it was Andy Griffith’s sort of place. Complete with fishing holes my grandfather used to take me with him to – cane pole and bobber sort of fishing.
This part of WV is like that weird part of Minnesota that you can only get to by going through Canada. WV probably forgot about it.
I bet that is one great potluck.
Your home sounds idyllic, John. Hope it stays that way, and doesn’t get “discovered.”
… though you now risk having a bunch of BJers show up on your doorstep :)
@Comrade Mary: Heh. My ex is from Whitehorse. He preferred it over Vancouver but that was because he had a bit of country boy in him. And full-blooded Sicilian.
The key to these small towns is the presence of a college.
When I was young, I lived in Kinston NC. Greenville, right “next door” was roughly the same size. But Greenville has ECU and Kinston only has a CC. Looking at these towns now (was just there a month ago to visit the nanny who raised me) drives home how important a college. Greenville has exploded while Kinston is dying.
I see similar things here in CNY when you compare where I live (in the rural sprawl outside Ithaca) to all the non-college towns.
I am not a kook
Duh, the reason your town is so Mayberry is because you have used up all the reserves of swearwords for 20 miles around.
People try to say “fuck” but all they manage is “darn” BECAUSE YOU DEPLETED THE RESERVES!
The prophet Nostradumbass
In My Home Town, from the excellent Tom Lehrer.
@Ruckus: You grew up in Charming?
YellowJournalism and I went to school in Pullman which is a major land grant university, a bunch of wheat fields, and one nifty and growing engineering firm. There are a lot of interesting tensions that flow between the students and the townfolk. It’s quite entertaining.
Hops? Like beer?
Pics or GTFO. I refuse to believe you ‘majored in hops’. Corporate ratpiss swill? Okay. Anything with a real hop profile? Prove it.
Your hometown is about an hour and a half away from my family’s place in Waynesburg, OH. My aunt taught school there for about 40 years. I used to visit in the summers and I loved the heavy, corn scented air and catching fireflies. I had the opportunity to settle there in 2002, my aunt left me her farm but there were significant downsides to leaving the west that even a free house could not compensate for–but I do miss the family farm.
My aunt was an awesome driver who knew every backroad in that area. I remember driving through West Virginia with her. There are a lot of familiar names on the Google.
I would love to be able to live in a small town, at least for a while. As long as it had good internet access and some place more than Wal Mart to shop. OK, maybe I’m cutting out a lot of small towns with that. But a little college town does sound nice. Someplace like Gambier, Ohio or Grinnell, Iowa.
And thus starts the massive migration of BJers to Bethany. You’ll be overrun, JC, and be regretting this post for the rest of your life.
I was looking at old “Red Car” lines last night and attempting to find the location of the end of the line(Eton) in Burbank noticed that all the streets in that part of town were named after colleges. There’s a Bethany road between Amhurst Drive and Cornell Drive.
Sounds like a Republican idyll, locked in the fifties.
When people are proud of the fact they have lived in the same place their whole life they completely lost at life. There is a gigantic world out there and if you think staying where you grew up is the best you could do…
YOU HAVE FAILED
I grew up on the FRINGES of small towns until I ran away to NYC… wound up spending 18 years on Long Island, working in and around the city, riding the LIRR and the LIE, enjoying that very different big city vibe.
Left that to come to a small town in the Adirondacks; where they are all small towns. No industry. But mostly happy, friendly people who like where they are. Yes, the young ones with ambition head out. But so many of them come back.
The small Midwestern town where I spent my first six years? No one ever goes back.
References Google Maps
Well, that would explain the fascination with Pittsburgh sports franchises…
@BillinGlendaleCA: thanks, @BillinGlendaleCA: @BillinGlendaleCA: @BillinGlendaleCA: @BillinGlendaleCA: @BillinGlendaleCA: @BillinGlendaleCA: @BillinGlendaleCA: Bill, thanks for your comment using the end of the line. I’ve got a Traveling Wilbury’s earworm now.
Gary Kappel lived about 200 yards from me. Gary was older and out of the house but I saw his parents Charlie and Nona almost every day. They had a bunch of Dachsunds and were some of the nicest people I’ve known in this life.
It was a ‘thing’ in my family growing up to watch the Andy Griffith show and later trade quips from the show. We all loved it. Later, I moved far away and for kicks sent my mother some flowers with the tag reading: “Barney’s in jail.”
Yeah, it sounds like Maugansville, Maryland… Not that far away.
Not that I miss it, it really is very southern if only in northern Maryland.
An artist friend of my mother’s opened a shopfront store in Provincetown named after herself: The Susan Baker Memorial Museum. I think John Cole should basically do that. Have a Tunch Museum and Cafe that would occupy one of those deserted shop fronts. The tourism possibilities are endless. Tunch sounds like the biggest and most international celebrity the town has ever had. But do you think it would spoil things?
Hey, John, don’t forget to mention that local cultural touchstone known for 42 years as The Brooke Hills Playhouse. Quality theater performed in an old renovated barn. I spent many weeks of my youthful summers there building sets, memorizing lines, and trying not to bump into the furniture.
...now I try to be amused
HA! So did you finally read your textbooks?
@aimai: There’d certainly be some tourism money flowing into Bethany from Ballon-Juicers visiting the Tunch Memorial Museum and Cafe, where Little Feat is always on.
The Moar You Know
I came back. Such was never my intention, but sometimes life works out that way.
It’s worked out shockingly well.
Tone in DC
Tunch’s café would have to have Van Halen and old Stones on, more than Little Feat. And some Terrapin Station for the Dead heads driving their Cadillacs.
@Tone in DC: Maybe Little Feat would be for late night, when everyone’s had a drink or two.
@Violet: Tunch Museum could be a kitteh Cafe. Like Starbucks but with kittehs and books.
@schrodinger’s cat: No dogs allowed? Or dogs only on the patio?
I’m totally digging Tunch Museum. They could partner with the Chambers General Store and serve their sandwiches, which are supposedly excellent.
@Violet: On a leash on the patio.
Mayberry? You want the real story? “Aunt” Bee is Opie’s mother. Andy knocked up a cougar and they’re hiding it. Barney is the typical fascist gun nut who can’t shoot. Floyd never actually cuts hair because he is a drug dealer slipping the drugs to buyers under the apron. Mayor Pike is the kingpin blackmailing them all. Gomer and Goober really really like kids. Floyd used to be sheriff before the alcoholism and that beating death. Emmett can’t fix things because of untreated syphylis eating his brain. Helen is a lesbian trying to keep her teacher job who should have teamed up with Howard as a beard. Sorry.
@schrodinger’s cat: I’m envisioning one of those “get your photo taken with” cardboard cutouts or maybe a green screen where you can “get your photo taken with Tunch”. That would be a big hit!
John’s town sounds like Cecily, Alaska from Northern Exposure.
@Violet: Great idea, the coffee could be served in Tunch mugs.
@Avery Greynold: The town pond is also a Hellmouth.
@John Cole: Keerist almighty, you’re practically Canadian!!! I know you’re a Steelers/Pens fans, but all this time I still pictured our Cole living down in the deep mists of Appalachia, where you can’t walk around without hearing Shenandoah and seeing kids with coal dust on their faces. Turns out you’re North of that fabled Southern city of Philadelphia (!), and equidistant between Mt. Airy (the real Mayberry) and…Toronto. I mean, you’re in Big Ten territory, really.
Bizarre how oddly shaped West Virginia is. I assume the panhandle is a result of the Pennsylvania colonial charter stopping with some straight lines in the south and west, and the Ohio River being the extent of Virginia back in the day?
@JC: But remember, wherever you go, there you are.
@schrodinger’s cat: And the employees could wear Tunch aprons!
I think the Tunch Museum and Cafe could also host book signings–John’s friend Wiley (?) the author, for instance–and a monthly Pet Adoption Day hosted by MARC. Balloon-Juice calendars could be on sale near the holidays, along with various pet merchandise.
If you live in the panhandle, why do you get your pets from Tennessee? Or have I totally misunderstood? If so, no surprise, I seldom remember details very well.
My husband grew up there too, went to CV High. He still talks about it all the time.
John: have you ever read the Silver John stories by Manly Wade Wellman? There’s an Appalachian small-town-with-small-college in them too, it was the first thing I thought of reading this. I hope it really is as nice as you’ve made it sound.