on the road: whiteville, north carolina

July 7, 2009

wv_10 wv_8 wv_7 wv_6 wv_5 wv_4 wv_2 wv_1on our roadtrip last week, james and i thought that we’d stop in the town of whiteville, nc after spending the day at the lake. we hopped in the car, hair still wet with lake water, and cruised down route 130 hoping for ice cream cones and maybe even an air-conditioned break from the blistering sun.

but the town we found would be offering us neither, and if ever a town could die, whiteville appears to be dying. the architecture of the main street, mostly unaltered since sometime in the middle of the last century, would seem romantic if not for the sad truth behind it’s stagnancy. you might even be tempted now to use words like quaint or picturesque. but i can assure you–walking down a city street where the only sound you hear is coming from a paper-shredding truck, grinding the history of a men’s clothing store to bits as its unsold merchandise is carted away–the feeling that starts in your gut and works its way up to your throat is far from warm and definitely not fuzzy.
i am the first to admit that i have had a deep and life-long love affair with the past. blame it on growing up in a house more than two centuries old, or on reading more than my share of historical fiction, but i have always felt comforted by times gone by. on some level, the streets of whiteville work to transport you to another time. but the reality of places like whiteville, is that the scene that greets passersby is not so much a relic of the past as it is a commentary on the future. i’m not looking to wax poetic about the fate of america’s small towns, or the passing of time in the general sense, but i do want to know what happens when we let our small towns die?
and i know one thing for sure–we go home without ice cream.

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  • Reply knack July 7, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    excellent post my friend…..I have had some of these very same thoughts lately……..losing small america…..

    thanks for a great post! xo

  • Reply littlebyrd July 7, 2009 at 12:56 pm

    What a well written post…and wonderfully taken pictures.

  • Reply The Lil Bee July 7, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    It's sad, isn't it? You just hope that somehow something will change… the people of the town will work together or someone will step in to help. I saw a special about a town in Michigan that was falling to pieces but a bunch of artists came in, bought foreclosed houses, and started building it back up again. It was sad to see how far it had fallen, but encouraging that these people were breathing new life into it.

    And one other thing–you make dilapidated buildings look beautiful. How?! xx

  • Reply naturally nina July 7, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    beautifully written, erin. you paint such a picture with your words…

  • Reply tim July 7, 2009 at 2:00 pm

    great post, erin. the haunting thought to me is that as our country becomes more and more of parking lots and big box stores, the less and less we have to fight for. and i don't mean to get all military-industrial here, but seriously, when our presidents tell us we are going to war, they give us ideas, "freedom," "democracy." we fight for the idea of america, not the reality. if we were to get invaded, and our nation's wal-marts were the casualties, i don't know how likely i would be to take up arms.

    that being said, if they went after the taco wagon down the street, i'd be grabbing all my hardcovers to throw at 'em… and i don't mean that metaphorically!

  • Reply Salut! chou chou July 7, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    Great post. I'm a bit embarassed to share this but I never really thought about the loss of little towns until I watched the movie "cars" and everyone in Motor Springs looked so sad…

    * sigh * I love those mom & pop stores and I wish we could all make an effort to support them regardless of whether or not the price is a whole 10 cents more expensive. After-all, I think that places like that keep our culture alive.

  • Reply Stacey July 7, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    sadness, to see a small town die 🙁

    My parents come from a small town in Pennsylvania, each time we visit it is disheartening to see the only pizza place closed down and the Walmart in the town nearby crowded with cars.

  • Reply Amy@OldSweetSong July 7, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    Haunting and beautiful.

  • Reply cindy : quaint July 7, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    it is really sad to see small town america disappear if only to be covered by big box stores. i guess they have a role, but even nyc is losing a lot of its character and grit. it feels like a mall in many places.

    i worry about the people in those towns and saw a documentary about a place in indiana similar to the one you mentioned. even the burger king closed. the people didn't seem to realize they needed to do something for their future.

  • Reply Amanda Nicole July 7, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    So, so true. Thankfully the internet is bringing back an appreciation for quality and handmade products, but it's very sad to see towns with so much past left to crumble.

  • Reply denise July 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    there are several small, beautiful, and character-filled places in west marin and sonoma that bring me peace. i lived in one of those places for a little while and continue to visit when i can. i'd be heartbroken if i ever had to see any of these places in ruin. i appreciate urban landscapes, but i also know that i need such calm, peaceful, and quiet places in my life.

  • Reply vintage simple July 7, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    what's also interesting is what happens to small towns that aren't dying in the sense you speak of, but are also ceasing to exist as we know them because of growth… it is almost as if growth and stagnation are two faces of the same coin; and indeed how we choose to manage both (or not), will forever affect the landscape that surrounds us.

  • Reply glauren5 July 7, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    I used to date a nice boy who still lives there and enjoyed a day on Lake Waccamaw, just as you did. This blog brings back so many of those good memories for me. Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply orange sugar home July 7, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    what a great post. I think we lose creativity, community, tradition and certainly history (unless someone has recorded it before the last store leaves town). lovely photos. much to think about.

  • Reply Austen July 7, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    found you via the blue hour and am so happy to have wandered this way. good photos + thoughtful words = my favourite combination. i'm looking forward to coming back.

  • Reply Kerri Lynne July 7, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    excellent post – well written, not to mention thought provoking! i think you're dead right to say that a scene like that is far more telling of the future than it is the past.

  • Reply Jonathan July 7, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    What a great photography essay you did on Whiteville. I'd like to see it in person.

    I've always thought I was odd for wanting to photograph dying towns. I have never done so. But, now that I see that you have done so, I perhaps may find the guts to do so.

    I'd love to do the same thing with Cairo, Illinois, Flint, Michigan, and the like, but they're all too far away. I'd have to find something more local up here in eastern Ontario.

  • Reply PinkBalloons&Macaroons July 8, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Gorgeous pics!! I hope you have a fabulous day!! Huge hugs!! Britt 🙂

  • Reply courtney July 8, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    oh WOW – this is such a well written post, erin! it makes me so very sad.

    (i wonder what else they sold at the gun store, though? the top half of the sign seems to have faded more than the rest of it…)

  • Reply Erin July 8, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    courtney, thank you…if you look closely you can see that it was a pawn shop!

  • Reply citygirl July 9, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Beautifully said.

  • Reply Laura. July 9, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    oh, lovely! this reminds me a lot of the ghost towns near where i grew up in colorado. i love the mystery and sadness of what used to be.

  • Reply Schaufensterbabe July 12, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    Wow. Great pictures and great post but also so sad. I still have the dream of taking the great American road trip, but part of me is afraid most of it will be consumed by Target and Walmart and McDonald's and the rest of it will be spent seeing dead or dying towns like this that could be so quaint and picturesque if it weren't for their depressing bleakness….

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