Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Six Route 6 Towns Rise From the Ashes After Natural and Economic Disasters; A Formula For Success

Provincetown, MA

In the mid-1800's, Provincetown, MA on the Easternmost tip of Cape Cod was a thriving maritime and fishing community and the region's most populated harbor.  The "Portland Gale" of 1898 - a hurricane-force winter storm - changed all of that in just two days. The Gale decimated Provincetown's fishing industry, turning wharfs and boats into splinters and sweeping them off into the sea. It killed over 600 people and rendered Provincetown a dangerous place to keep a fishing fleet.

Provincetown, MA Dunes

But instead of bemoaning its fate, the folks in Provincetown launched a tourism campaign, lauding the area's natural splendors.  Soon, bohemians and artists came, including painter Charles Hawthorne who started the Cape Cod School of Art and taught for the following 30 summers. As students came and then stayed, Provincetown became a year-round art community.  In 1915, Eugene O'Neill mounted his first play on an East End Provincetown wharf, and when, in 1916 The Boston Globe ran the headline "Biggest Art Colony in the World in Provincetown" - the town's reputation as an artist mecca was chiseled in stone.

I was recently asked if, on my Route 6 journey, I detected a theme in the more economically successful communities.  Though a complex issue, my first gut response was  - "yes, those that attract artists."

Provincetown is now one of the greatest, gayest, fun resort towns in America, getting the formula right early on.  But not every area of the country is as lucky - natural beauty-wise - as Cape Cod.  Yes, it attracted artists, but those artists came for a REASON; to paint the achingly gorgeous landscape at the edge of the world.

                                           Post Office Cabaret ICONS Show, Provincetown, MA

Though Provincetown is a Tourist Industry success, I did discover other struggling cities and towns that have emerged from or are digging out of economic despair:

1.  Provincetown, MA; See above

Frank Gehry Design
Case Western Reserve University
Cleveland, OH

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Cleveland, OH
2. Cleveland, OH: Once a laughable mid-country city on the lake, Cleveland has never been the same since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came to town. It's taken awhile, but if you haven't been there lately, you might not recognize the place.  There are major sports stadiums, world class museums endowed by deep pocketed philanthropists, college buildings designed by internationally renowned architects (ie. Frank Gehry design for Case Western Reserve University), and constantly-being-renewed neighborhoods bursting with cutting edge restaurants and overflowing taverns all within a few miles of each other; rendering this compact city one of the most exciting on Route 6.

Olga's Cafe
Coudersport, PA

Olga's Yarn Gift Shop
Coudersport, PA

3.  Coudersport, PA; Here's where one couple can make a difference.  I wrote about Olga Gallery Cafe and and Bistro in this post.  Young and artsy, Olga and her husband John Snyder opened a feast-for-the-eyes, bursting with yarn and color gift shop/pub/venue for live music and people from near and far are hearing about little Coudersport, PA.  The Snyders took a chance, offer the best food, craft beer and home-made one-of-a-kind crafted clothing and gifts, and are nearly singlehandedly bringing a sagging downtown back to life.

John Deere Pavillion
Moline, IL

Moline, IL

4. Moline, IL and the Quad Cities: Moline's got the Mississippi River, John Deere's headquarters with its immense and free interactive museum, one of the oldest soda fountains in the country, a water taxi to transport you around, and a lot of great tourist-draws - a city on the cusp of tourist popularity.  I wrote about my impressions of Moline here, and I expect the quad cities will be discovered by the rest of the country soon.

Pour House
Friend, NE

Pour House Vintages
Friend, NE

5. Friend, NEentrepreneur and screen-writer, Carrey Potter has set up a lovely wine-tasting bistro called Pour House within a slowly-being-restored Friend Opera House.  The small town “Opera House” is a grandiose moniker for the factory-type building that served as a theater and gathering place for residents who craved culture on the Plains.  Many of these Opera Houses across the Midwest are in decay, but Carrey is turning back the clock in little Friend, NE.  The Pour House featuring nine Nebraska wines and others draw people from 100 miles away.   Carrey loves to play on words, reflected in the names of her house vintages; Betty White, Sknow White and Little Red Wrightinghood (which has a sweet snap a bit like a wine cooler).  Soon to open - if not already - is an art gallery next door; Mary, Mary Quite Contrary.  

6.  Ashland, NE: Last but not least, I wrote the following about great little Ashland:

A friendly, artistic, pretty, open-minded, proud, wonderful small town. The Willow Point Art Gallery and Museum features a “Four Season” taxidermy’d woodland animal diorama, with a big polar bear as most popular draw.  Owned by Mary Roncka and her artist-husband Gene, soothing music and a small waterfall gives the shop a spa-like feel.  There, I met Roger Bratt, feisty Marti Fritzen and elegant Peg Lutton; officers in the Ashland Historical Society.   They told me about local golden boy, astronaut Clayton Anderson, and the fact that Ashland has six buildings on the National Historic Register.  The town is on the Ox Bow Trail –a limestone ledge on the Salt Creek River where Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail wagons could cross and not sink into the muck. Ashland has a worldly crossroads character, in spite of its small size.

Cheri O'Kelly, owner, Cheri-O's
Ashland, NE
Roger Bratt at Cheri-O's
Ashland, NE
Kim Cooper, artist, Cooper's Art Gallery
Ashland, NE

Glacial Till Winery Tasting Room
Ashland, NE

Marti Fritzen and Peg Lutton
Ashland Historical Society
Ashland, NE
 Downtown is small but surprisingly sophisticated. Cheri-O’s Coffee House and Ice Cream Parlor, owned by a fun-loving Cheri O’Kelly since 1999 has earned quite a following with tasty sandwiches and shakes in an adorably whimsical room. "It's a great place for grandparents to share a malted with their grandkids and teach them about the good ole days," Cheri told me.

On just one main street, there are several art galleries; Willow Point is one and Cooper Studio and Gallery in a former old Grocery Store is another.  There,  I met artist Kim Cooper and fell in love with one of his acrylic nature pieces, so I just had to buy it.

Right across the street, The Glacial Till Winery Tasting Room enticed me with its name alone.  I was even more impressed when I walked into a swanky, streamlined bistro ($5 for 3-5 tastings) with ANOTHER art gallery upstairs; seemingly out-of-place, again, in small-town Nebraska. 
To get the full Ashland experience, have a sandwich at Cheri-O’s, a taste of vino at Glacial Till, peruse the art at Willow Point and Coopers and walk slowly down Silver St.

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