The Thumbnail Book Reviews

by John Q McDonald --- 28 September 2002

Let Us Build Us a City

Eleven Lost Towns

by Donald Harington

Many years ago, this reader lived near the remnants of a Santa Cruz Mountain town called Holy City. Only a few years before that, its post office had been closed, pretty much certifying its extinction. Yet a few remnants survived, and a rich set of stories surrounded that lost town. The mystery that remained was whether or not the founders of that lost "city" had fully expected it to become a metropolis along the lines of nearby San Jose or San Francisco. What dreams had washed up there?

This is just the sort of mystery that Donald Harington explores in eleven lost towns in Arkansas, all of which have the word "city" in their names: Marble City, Buffalo City, Cherokee City, Arkansas City, Mound City, and others. All of these cities are in various states of decay. The largest has just a few hundred residents, and only one has had a steady population for any length of time. Most have declined or completely vanished. In his exploration, Harington is aided by the dedicated searching of a fan who wrote to him of one of his earlier books. Kim wants to find that lost imaginary world of Stay More, Arkansas, where much of Harington's writing takes place. Kim interviews old time residents of these towns, and researches their histories. Many old towns have some compiled folk histories, and one gets the impression that this book is heavily dependent upon such folk writing. It is unclear how the book really came about, though. Harington writes it a little like a romance between himself and Kim. But it is also her own exploration. Most, but maybe not all, of the book is non-fiction. Based on her massive contribution, I wonder why Kim is not a co-author. Anyway, there are touchingly real moments of insight in the stories of these lost towns. Both in the history and in the lives of the people who still live there. Kim learns about aging, and both Kim and Harington seem to learn about lost dreams and hopes. Eventually they are together. The romance aspect of the book is not particularly well-developed, and is the weakest element of an otherwise interesting journey into the hopes and dreams of people who built small towns in the 19th century and beyond. A pretty good book, but difficult to classify.

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Also by Harington: [The Architecture of the Arkansas Ozarks]

See also: [The Idiat and the Odd-yssey by Harlan Hambright]

[Other Urban History Books]

[Other History Books]

[Other Books in the American South]