Politically dominant until the early 1900s, rural America plunged into hard times by midcentury. Sociologists and others predicted that many areas would be depopulated and that, with improving communication and transport, urban values would overwhelm small-town civic spirit. Such changes, they hypothesized, would lead to a weakening of local community standards and, ultimately, to widespread alienation.
Studies underwritten by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the early 1940s reinforced the notion. The agency focused on six representative communities, which all revealed a pattern of decline, depopulation and instability reflecting the effect of urban industrial expansion and the Great Depression. The economic turmoil continued in the subsequent decades for various reasons. Harmony (Putnam County), Ga., suffered from depopulation and racial divisions. Landaff, N.H., saw a nearly complete disappearance of its dairy farms over the next 40 years. Irwin, Iowa, suffered from a dramatic decrease in the number of farms, the withering of local businesses, and an aging population.
This article was originally published with the title Middle of the Country.