This weekend I visited another small town in West Michigan: Sparta. (I can’t help but hear the name spat out in the way they do in the goofy, graphic novel-like film Sparta.) The architecture looks a lot like other towns in the region, as you might expect.

Sparta is clearly shaped by its close proximity to Grand Rapids. Lots of small businesses that are located there, but do work of a lot of customers in Grand Rapids. A “bedroom community” for some people who prefer small town life but work in the city.

It’s also a classic Midwestern small town in serving local farms and orchards and having a fair bit of small industry. There’s a feed mill. The town symbol seems to be an apple. The architecture is a mix old and new. And the businesses on the main strip (Division Street) include a gunsmith and a pub that serves microbrewery beer and wood-fired pizzas.

You can see a bit of the familiar Midwestern small town in the first three images. The old People’s State Bank, now the Sparta Village Office, is lovely neo-classical architecture, with the weathered stone feeling appropriate. I love the water tower with the tangle of utility lines in front of it. (I’ve was fascinated with water towers as a toddler, apparently, obsessively pointing them out to my parents whenever I saw one.) I also like the weathered wood of the barn-like structure across the street from the feed mill. All of these buildings suggest the history of Sparta, as does the mix of architecture and age of the homes in the area around the central business district.

You can also see the new and recent, pressing against the old (and older). A symbol of this pressing, perhaps, is the old house being moved. There also is an old garage, mostly like to be demolished. The property is just off Division Street.

Sparta is participating in Preserve America, an Obama-era initiative that supports community efforts to preserve cultural and natural heritage. This image perhaps exemplifies the idea. The classic old car makes the image, but I first stopped to make a photo when I saw the mural.

You can see the old and new come together in these window reflection images. The guitar player image perhaps most grabs your attention. I made the image on the left in the gallery because you can see a classic old Midwestern small town building reflected in the middle right of it, but your eyes are drawn up to the functional modern ceiling tiles.

I’m not sure what ties together the last two images. Perhaps it’s “maintenance,” broadly defined. Two guys are putting stucco on a brick wall in one case. The other is advertising the fall harvest season. (You can see the entrance to a parking lot in the background, where there was a small farmer’s market going on Saturday). In both images, you can see the cycle of years, continuity in small town life. A thematic stretch maybe, but also true.

Finally. Cars. Cars probably are the most obvious continuity in American life in the past century. This is true particularly in small town and rural America, where distance and lack of public transit have demanded them and the natural culture has valorized them.

It has been a lovely couple of days, after getting my power back (without it from Tuesday night through Thursday afternoon) and the heat fading. I hope all of us in Michigan enjoy some tranquil summer weather. We still have not been hit hard by the new Delta strain of COVID19, at least relative to much of the rest of the country.

The situation in Michigan is bad enough, however, that state and local health officials have put us back on a more emergency footing, with mask mandates. I see more employees and customers in local businesses with masks on (if not always worn properly). My employer is requiring them again inside buildings. And I’m worried about what the start of the school year will bring. There have been frightening stories of the rapid spread of COVID in schools that open early.

So, enjoy life but be smart and stay safe out there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
close-alt close collapse comment ellipsis expand gallery heart lock menu next pinned previous reply search share star