Rutherford County Courthouse in Murfreesboro

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I am originally from Smyrna, Tennessee, although I live in North Carolina now due to my university teaching job. Until I graduated from Smyrna High School in 1980, the town’s population was slightly over 5000. Murfreesboro, the county seat, had a population of around 30,000. Rutherford County’s population was small enough that anyone who drove to one of the grocery stores in Murfreesboro would find someone he knew. As a child, Granddaddy and I went to the courthouse in the center of the public square. Several old men would be sitting in the shade on benches, whittling cedar blocks. The odor of the shavings wafted through the air. The sense of order, of a continuity through change, was palpably present, even for a child. School also reflected that order; I had several of the graduates of Smyrna High in my classes through all twelve years of school.

Today the square remains, along with some of the shops that were there thirty years ago. The same barber I had gone to since fourth grade is still there–when I visit my parents once or twice a year, I make sure to stop by and get a haircut there. Thankfully the city leaders decided to keep the square occupied and in good condition. But the whittlers are gone. Years ago, someone had the bright idea to move the benches out of the shade. Perhaps the old men had died. Perhaps some “progressives” thought Murfreesboro was “too good” for the whittlers. But the worst changes are in the countryside. Scores of housing developments fill the county with “McMansions.” Historic homes, some dating back to the War Between the States, have been sold and torn down in the name of “progress.” When the Nissan plant moved into Smyrna shortly after I graduated from high school, it brought jobs, but it also brought a flood of job seekers who had not grown up in the community with its rich history and tradition. Smyrna has over 30,000 people; Murfreesboro over 80,000. It is more rare to see someone recognizable in stores. Traffic is worse than ever, and there are miles of land where only shopping centers exist. “Progress” had remade Rutherford County. I congratulate it on such success. And the sarcasm drips like acid.

Communities are organic structures that must have continuity within change to survive. The rapid growth that pleases the Orcs (excuse me, the developers) destroys the continuity of a community. Today I go to work in a military city, Fayetteville, North Carolina, near the mega-base, Fort Bragg. There is very little continuity here, and outside of a few neighborhoods people rarely know their neighbors. But the military is not the only force that harms local community; a rapid business expansion does, too. Murfreesboro lacks the home town feeling it used to have. And I would prefer Smyrna the way it used to be; it had its faults, but at least people knew each other. The social in-crowd may have turned their noses at country families like mine, but at least they’d speak to you if they saw you in town. Most of Smyrna is the same artificially created “community” that began with the suburban explosion after World War II. I almost cry when I consider the old trees pulled down, old graveyards moved–or perhaps worse–I hope not. Saruman and his orcs have overrun the town. A few natives (and expatriates like me) mourn the loss. The barbaric majority rejoices. Time only moves one direction–unfortunately.

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