Over thirteen years have passed since I graduated Truman State and left Kirksville and Northeast Missouri. It’s been almost exactly a year since I last visited, when I gave a series of lectures about a series of topics, including this website. Learning about the demolition of two prominent buildings in downtown Kirksville, the Miller Apartments and the old Kirksville High School, prompted me to finally find a use for these pictures from last year. I must say, I was impressed at the direction my alma mater has taken; its professors and students are of the highest caliber and only getting better, and I’m proud to have been a graduate of the university.
I cannot say the same for the town of Kirksville. Seemingly every bad decision possible to destroy the positive qualities of the Small American Town that Kirksville possesses has been made in the last decade. The most idiotic and egregious is the demolition of the (admittedly only partial) western street wall of the courthouse square for the construction of a bland, ugly movie theater and its parking lot. What had once been a very well preserved town square, one that if marketed correctly, could have provided a tax revenue stream for the city. Instead, the town square has become the equivalent of a house with its side ripped off by a tornado.
But hey, at least one of the most magnificent Mansard roofs in humanity survives on the other side of the square. About those demolitions: the high school could have easily been converted into apartments–which are always needed in a college town. The Miller Apartments had been caked with ugly stucco, and honestly, I thought the building was so aesthetically compromised I realize now I never photographed it. But its historic significance could have been restored. Instead, it leaves a giant missing tooth hole on Franklin Street, the main thoroughfare in downtown. Likewise, the august shoe factory that dominated the west side of town is now on the market–the hardwood market. It’s been torn down and its virgin old growth beams are for sale. At least someone will enjoy it.
Likewise, how hard would it be to extend loans or grants to building owners on the square to fix up their buildings? Or heck, just cite the owner for peeling paint? This great Italianate storefront just needs a new coat of paint and windows. You have to spend money to make money, sometimes.
Honestly, I did not spend most of my time in downtown, but rather spent my college days amongst the old wood frame Victorian Period mansions and houses of Truman’s Early Twentieth Century faculty. There is where I learned to appreciate the warmth of wood paneling, millwork and carpentry. Much is the same, including my friend Kevin’s house below, though the asphalt shingling has faded badly–it was a much richer green back in the day.
Likewise, these houses on South High Street, just up from my old house, look largely the same.
But something was amiss; I couldn’t put my finger on it at first, until I realized it: a cheap vinyl zombie apartment building had replaced the old house that had once stood on this corner.
This trend had already begun when I was in school at Truman; local landlords thought the best thing for their pocketbooks, if not the city, was to demolish old houses and replace them with cheap crap. There’s no nicer word for it. The Kirk House, famously defiled in the summer of 1999, was a harbinger.
My friends Liam and Caleb’s house, in of itself not in the best shape, has been scraped for this cheap, vinyl imposter below. I know that many of the old houses that students lived in were in bad shape, and many of them are still in bad shape, but I can’t help but think that the Kirksville I loved is being slowly destroyed, and replaced with something that is so unremarkable—and ugly.
Yet another city in America is reinventing itself in the strangest of forms: a place no one cares about.