Farmville Should Happily Accept The 'Eden' Laurel, But Let's Not Rest On It

Published 3:06 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2013


The 27th best small city in the United States of America.


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There are more than 30,000 incorporated cities and towns in the U.S. and Mr. Charles Nathan Anderson, a Michigan native who spends his winters in, of course, Winter Haven, Florida, places Farmville ahead of all but 26 of them.

Anderson has exquisite taste, heightened levels of perception and a lifetime's accumulation of wisdom.

Also an astonishing degree of perseverance, without which his In Search Of Eden list of America's best small cities would never have been published and if it had-in 1976 when the Saturday Evening Post offered to do so-Farmville would not have been listed.

The 74-year-old Anderson's search for America's Edens filled fully half a century, even surviving a tragic explosion that destroyed his home, killing his mother, who was sitting right beside him when the furnace-related blast occurred in 1989, and destroyed all of his In Search Of Eden notes and work.

Most people would have thrown in the towel. Anderson didn't even toss a Kleenex. Traveling the country, and getting his dream back off the shelf after a decade of dealing with the explosion's aftermath, actually became vital to his physical and, he says, especially his emotional healing.

One man's tenacity in the face of tragedy a thousand miles away crosses the decades to lift a small town in Virginia. What a lesson about our connectedness as human beings and the importance of refusing to give in.

The Town of Farmville and everyone through the years who has made any contribution to its group self-expression as a small, vibrant town should feel tremendous pride.

The former high school civics and geography teacher did not input data into a computer for that high-tech machine to spit out a top 100 list based on his criteria. No, sir. This list is the real deal. Anderson visited hundreds and hundreds of small cities and towns across the country, driving through every state but Hawaii. In five decades, you see all that this country has to offer, and you have 50 years to put it all into meaningful perspective.

Farmville's rank in Anderson's list of American Edens is worth embracing. Let's hug the stuffing out of it and get all the mileage we can from it to boost the number of people driving miles to come visit our historical, cultural, retail and natural resources.

The criteria used by Anderson in his search for Eden are the town or city, itself, the setting, the weather, identity and population patterns, accessibility, medical care, schools, living costs, employment, entertainment, the state in which it is located, and personal safety.

“A lovely downtown, outstanding colleges, and a pleasant climate earmark Farmville as one of America's best small cities. Within my top 100 cities, I rank your fair community at number twenty-seven. With thousands of American cities to pick from, yours is a position to be proud of,” he wrote in a note to me announcing Farmville's selection.

In my interview with him, Anderson added, “any town in the country I've had to study and take a look at. So it wasn't an accident that I found Farmville. You're certainly a town that would be easily on the (list of) ones that I would have to take a look at, especially with your two colleges, your great climate, and pretty downtown.”

The Michigan State University graduate made his visit to Farmville about a decade ago and if, as he intends, Anderson and his wife come back to Farmville this summer on their way to Michigan from Florida he will find that Farmville meets his criteria even more fully.

Consider, for example, that a decade ago the Moton Museum was not open as a full-fledged museum and High Bridge Trail State Park did not exist. Nor was there an active Farmville Blueway with Wilck's Lake, Buffalo Creek and the Appomattox River. Improvements have been made in health care at Centra Southside Community Hospital and Farmville's police department sought and earned, for the first time ever, accreditation. And these are just a few pieces of evidence to convict Farmville of being guilty of even more strongly resembling an earthly Eden.

Anderson began his search for Edens as a young married man starting a family, looking for the nation's best places to live and raise a family. He thought other young couples might wish the same for their own families. Fifty years later, Anderson has long since graduated from college and the Town of Farmville, in his estimation, has certainly made the grade as an American Eden.

He'll get no argument here.

But being one man's idea of Eden is a big responsibility. The ranking didn't come easily. It was built on lots of hard work and commitment by lots of dedicated people in every walk of life in Farmville. Lots of more hard work by lots of more people is absolutely required to keep moving the community forward.

A place at number 27 on Anderson's list of American Edens doesn't mean Farmville, the county seat of Prince Edward County and the southern tip of Cumberland County, is perfect. Even God's Eden had a serpent.

We know what needs doing to keep things moving forward.

And we know it needs doing together.