Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The sidewalks of old Mt. Ayr ...


Many thanks to Mt. Ayr City Clerk Pam Poore and others who very graciously showed Ray Meyer and I around that city's town square Monday afternoon!

We're part of an informal task force (that translates as having no authority whatsoever) that's been taking a look this spring and summer at how other nearby communities have solved the problem of deteriorating sidewalks downtown, a problem clearly evident in places around Chariton's square.

Neither of us had been to Mt. Ayr --- a city of about 1,700 souls that is the seat of Ringgold County --- for several years, so it was fun and informative to take a look the beautifully maintained heart of that community.


Mt. Ayr dates from 1875 and was named for Ayr, Scotland, poet Robert Burns' birthplace. "Mount" was tacked on because the Iowa version was located on the highest point in the immediate vicinity. If you're expecting actual mountains, however, you're in the wrong state.


We started at the southeast corner of the square where the fully restored and functional Princess Theater holds pride of place. This building was purchased and donated by a Ringgold County benefactor, the late entrepreneur Paul Ramsey, then restored and reopened (during 2008) as a community revitalization project.


It's a venue for movies, home to the Mt. Ayr regional theater group and available to the public for a variety of functions. Operated by a non-profit, the theater is self-sustaining, according to Pam, aided by an endowment that generates substantial annual income.


Right next door is a cafe with a distinctive canopy --- a 1950s Chevrolet Bel Air halved, lighted and mounted on the facade. Originally a cafe called, appropriately, "Peggy Sue's," the operation now is in other hands and has a different name, but the distinctive 1950s character of the place remains.


The sidewalks themselves were replaced incrementally, one side of the square after another, between 2009 and 2012. The city invested some $16,000 in bricks to create the "path" that breaks up the uniform concreteness of the sidewalks. That path also covers a trench that contains underground wiring for reproductions of vintage street lights that were installed as the new sidewalks went in.

According to Pam, the base charge for the new sidewalks to single-front building owners around the square was $660. The light fixtures themselves were purchased in large part by benefactors whose contributions are recognized by engraved plates on each.


A little farther west on the south side of the square is this vintage restored service station. It's not occupied by a business at the moment, but certainly carries forward the theme of that Chevy Bel Air a little farther to the east.


The Mt. Ayr Public Library is located on the southwest corner of the square. Chariton's 1904 Carnegie library is the grandmother of all "Chariton plan" public libraries scattered around the state --- and the Mt. Ayr library is one of this plan's smaller expressions.


Mt. Ayr's brick streets have never been paved over or replaced, so their continued presence adds atmosphere to the town square. Unfortunately, Ringgold's grand Victorian courthouse fell victim to faulty construction during the 1920s and was replaced by this four-square structure at the center of the central park that, along with the library, is having its brickwork repaired and tuckpointed this summer.




Big hanging baskets of flowers on light poles at regular intervals around the square do much to soften the effect of all that masonry --- they're planted and maintained by the staff of a local greenhouse, a project funded by the Mt. Ayr Chamber.


If you look down at the brick pathway around the square, you'll see set into it engraved double bricks commemorating all of Ringgold County's other towns and villages, some still with us, others merely ghosts. Lines drawn from the courthouse outward through these commemorative bricks point in the general direction of where these other communities are (or were) located in the county.


The Chamber offices are located in this beautifully restored small building on the west side, another  project of community benefactor Paul Ramsey.




I write yesterday about the Mt. Ayr Post Office and its wonderful New Deal-era painting, "The Corn Parade" by Orr C. Fisher, which holds pride of place on the northwest corner of the square.

This Chamber-sponsored sign, encouraging a walk or bike ride to city schools (rather than a drive), also caught my eye just off the northwest corner of the square.


Continuing east along the north side of the square, the distinctive building in the distance with a remarkable corner turret is the eye-catcher.


Back at City Hall, Pam shared lots of information about how Mt. Ayr went about the sidewalk segment of its downtown revitalization project --- and how much it cost. I'm sure we'll talk more about this at a future streetscape (or sidewalk, if you like) task force meeting.

These meetings are open to anyone and more active participants are needed. Just call Kris or Florence at Chariton Area Chamber/Main Street for more information.

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