What do you call a place that’s smaller than a village? I found myself thinking about this as I was photographing in Moline. A hamlet or perhaps a “corners.” A hamlet is a place without a church, at least in British usage of the term, if I remember right.

Moline has a couple of churches and a Christian school, though they seem to be just outside of the village/hamlet. A public school in Moline closed in 2004, according to the inter-webs. There are public schools in nearby Dorr and Wayland. Moline also has a small park and a few businesses, notably a feed mill (this is farm country, after all). There’s even a post office. Does this symbol of the federal government make it a village? Perhaps it has too much going on to be a hamlet.

On the other hand, I did not see a store or a restaurant of any sort. There’s nothing that feels “central” or looks like a business district. The biggest presence is the feed mill, with a railroad track running behind it. Perhaps that means Moline is a hamlet, after all, rather than a village.

There’s also a township public library and what looks to be some township offices a bit outside of Moline. The larger area, if you extend a circle a few miles in circumference around Moline, has exit and entrance ramps for Highway 131 a few miles north. By the those ramps are a couple more churches, a gas station, and a fast food place. In the three or four miles between that cluster of buildings and Moline are a variety of businesses, a bit of farm country. A mile or two south of Moline is a housing development and a set of apartments, a farm or two, a bunch of small businesses, and another exit/entrance from 131.

The thought I had for the larger area was “corners.” Moline and the various clusters of houses and businesses in the area around it are a bunch of “corners,” places where highways and roads meet and where you find homes and businesses. Despite being small, the village (or hamlet) of Moline feels a bit like the center, because it has the Post Office and library.

I also thought of the concept of “exurbs.” These are places outside of cities, less dense than suburbs, with economic and commuting connections to a metropolitan center. They lie between urban centers and rural areas. But exurbs are denser, larger, and typically wealthier and more urban-ish than places like Moline. They include shopping centers and office parks as well as tony housing developments.

All of these concepts–hamlets, corners, and exurbs–get at what I was seeing in Moline and the surrounding area. It’s a decentered area with businesses, homes, schools, churches, and other entities that you typically find in a small town, but more scattered. You might go to Moline for the feed mill, Post Office, library, Christian school, or church. But you’d go to one of the “corners” for other basic needs. These are “around” not “in” Moline.

I’ve simply scattered images through these reflections about how to define what Moline is as a geographic-population area. I stuck with classic Midwestern style buildings in photographing Moline. The last image (also the cover image) is perhaps the building in Moline that looks like classic regional town architecture. The Post Office is “classic” only in the sense of what many small town Post Office buildings constructed after World War II look like. The feed mill figures prominently among the images because it’s the most prominent feature in Moline.

The leaves are turning. We’re getting more clouds and rain. Fall seems to be here. So stay dry and stay warm. Stay safe too. COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in Michigan. Hospitals are feeling the strain. The Delta wave has not yet crested here.

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