Although I spent the first 15 years of my life in Price, Utah, I was raised to know where home really was. To my dad, Grantsville was Camelot, and I grew up listening to his stories of the town and visiting there every chance we could. But it went deeper than that. My family helped settle Grantsville in the middle of the 19th century and has hung around ever since. When five generations before you have lived and died in a small town like that, it creates a powerful gravitational pull.
I live in Tooele now, and I’ve noticed a subtle difference in the way the two towns view themselves. Tooele City labels itself “Utah’s brightest star” and Mayor Patrick Dunlavy has often proclaimed Tooele the greatest city in Utah. In Grantsville, the pride is similar but the attitude is more like “we’ve got a pretty good thing going here, let’s keep it on the down low.”
There are good secrets in small towns. But when most of us travel to another part of the country, we’re likely to stick to the interstates, airports and big cities. That’s a shame.
I’ve always thought it would be interesting to take a trip through the Grantsvilles of America. I don’t mean that figuratively. I’ve always imagined there must be a dozen or so towns named Grantsville scattered across the country that I could visit on a long, connect-the-dots road trip. This is not an idea I’ve shared with my wife or children.
Unfortunately, the romance of this themed expedition was deflated somewhat by a quick Google search. It turns out guys named Grant haven’t left their mark in ville-sized places as much as one might expect. Grants did OK in burgs (Wisconsin), passes (Oregon) and even cities (Missouri), but were only immortalized in villes in four states: Utah, Nevada, West Virginia and Maryland.
I’m sure my Grantsville would be much more livable than the one deep in the Nevada desert, five miles southeast of Berlin. That Grantsville started brightly enough, with the discovery of gold in the surrounding area in 1863. By 1878, there were almost 1,000 people living in the town, but then the gold dried up and by 1886 only 50 stubborn souls were left. Nobody has lived in the ghost town since 1947. Nowadays it’s just sagging brick cabins and rusting mining relics.
So rather than drive the 485 miles to Grantsville, Nev., before backtracking, I could just set out eastward for Grantsville, W.Va., some 1,936 miles away. Besides being the seat of Calhoun County, this town was named for a more famous Grant — General Ulysses S., the 18th president of our nation — than my Grantsville. It’s population of 565, according to the town’s official website, is served by the Calhoun Chronicle, a newspaper founded in 1883 whose editor has just peacefully marked his 25th year at the helm — that has to recommend a town.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides. As of the 2000 census, the median household income in Grantsville, W. Va., was only $26,111 and a fifth of the population lived below the official poverty line. Also, the median age was older than me, which doesn’t seem to portend a bright future. I picture a hilly land of hardscrabble coal miners of the sort depicted in “Winter’s Bone” or “The Hunger Games.”
So it’s pretty much a cup of coffee at the diner in Grantsville, W. Va., before driving 157 miles on to Grantsville, Md. This Grantsville looks more attractive — at least on Wikipedia — and has deeper historical roots, having been founded in 1785. It’s still junior-high small — population 766 in the 2000 census — but it sits in the “mountains” at 2,300 feet above sea level, which would take the edge off the muggy East Coast heat. And it boasts an inn that’s been operating since 1824, plus a village for artisans. Sounds much more pleasant than a bone-dry ghost town or an impoverished hamlet filled with geriatric black-lung victims.
Still, I’m sure I’d return from my road trip secure in the knowledge that my Grantsville was No. 1. For one thing, we’re a veritable urban metropolis next to those backwaters, where I bet they yearn for the cosmopolitan sophistication of, say, The Dead Dog Saloon. Also, our people are generally prosperous and happy. And we live in a beautiful valley. Really, it’s no contest.
I might never make my dream trip through the Grantsvilles of America, but if I did I think the takeaway would be this: We’ve got a pretty good thing going here, let’s keep it on the down low.