Small Town, USA: Limon, CO


Today I drove across the eastern planes of Colorado to Limon, a small town which fulfilled my every expectation: a town hall, a post office, a high school whose athletic program is the subject of most townspeople’s Friday and Saturday nights, the occasional abandoned building, and just a single stoplight.

On my tour of the town in a white pick-up truck, I got to witness the feeding of horses and a donkey. I got to see a Union Pacific railroad line and a gas station operation that services the ranchers who guzzle fuel.

At lunch with family friends, the question was not if we should have steak, of course, but what size steak and how well the steak should be cooked.

Similarly, for families there, it seems the question is not if you should hang an American flag on your house, but how big the flag should be and where the flag should be placed.

There have been many articles over the past few years about the decline of small towns in America. The trend is not limited to the States: cities everywhere are a stronger magnet than ever. Living in a city is a no-brainer for a knowledge worker, but after an afternoon in Limon I appreciated the accoutrements of rural living and wouldn’t mind having a second home in Small Town, USA someday. As a place to sit out in the sun and read, and go to the local high school basketball games, and barbecue steaks.

I drove home to Boulder as the sun set. Me, the setting sun, open plains and open roads. To finish off the Americanism thing, I put pedal to the metal as the quintessential expression of individuality and freedom.

I knew I arrived back in Boulder that evening when I swung by Starbucks to pick up the Sunday newspaper. After completing our transaction, the short, stocky white guy behind the counter said, "Hey, Happy Chinese New Year." I starred back at him quizzically for a second, and then said with a half-kidding grin, "Gung Hay Fat Choy to you."

13 comments on “Small Town, USA: Limon, CO
  • I agree, there’s something wonderful about small towns. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents lived in North Platte, Nebraska (home of Buffalo Bill Cody, and believe me, it wasn’t possible to forget that fact). I spent a lot of time there growing up, and I feel so lucky that I got to see what life in a small town is like. Though I must say, when my parents were growing up, they considered themselves quite cosmopolitan because NP was the place to which all the kids from the REALLY small towns, and farms, would come for school. But it seemed small compared to Kansas City. Which, of course, seems quite small to people from major cities…

  • To each, his (or, her) own, I guess. But, idealization of small towns really bugs me. I have relatives in small towns from Oregon, to eastern Colorado, to South Dakota. I grew up in a small, remote town in Idaho. I wanted out of that town from the time I was about 12. I like visiting with the relatives, but small towns generally make me uncomfortable.

  • I would speculate that the Death of Distance (TM) will make it increasingly possible for people to telework and telecommute from small towns. This isn’t a panacea–if you lack the skills and training, you’re not likely to nab a high-paying telecommuting job–but I predict that an exodus of highly technical telecommuters will breath new life into small towns.

    Of course, this exodus will probably spark yet another anti-Californian backlash, but that’s not my problem!

  • Back home in Pennsylvania I can drive 45 minutes and be in the countryside.

    It’s a refreshing change of pace from things, even though my home isn’t in the city. It seems that these days even suburbs can be congested/mundane.

    Some of my fondest memories were driving through the rolling country hills on a warm August evening, the sun setting ahead of me while the humid air pushed in waves through my open windows.

    Throw in a bit of Coldplay on the stereo and it’s nothing short of heaven.

    As for the small towns themselves, well, the one I frequented was fairly well-off. Still, people seemed a bit more relaxed and very friendly. One couple even asked if I lived in the neighborhood.

    (They were interested if I could give Spanish lessons to their young children).

  • I grew up in a small town (2000 people) in a rural county (6500 people) in northern Missouri. I like to go back and see friends (if they are visiting) and am proud of the unique (these days) childhood I had. That being said, the Death of Distance (TM) wouldn’t convince me to go back. There is just no substitute for the wealth of other people that you get in larger settings.
    I can sit in a coffee shop and watch people go buy all day, let along interact with new and interesting people all the time.

  • I think the above comments may have differing opinions on what constitutes a small town. True self-contained small towns are an american institution. Yeah, they may face the problems of gentrification but their importance should not be underlooked. I’d being willing to bet the majority of contributors through the course of American history come from small towns. Its a great place to learn about the important things like communication and personal interaction and its an interesting place to learn without facing too many of the world’s evils. Cities are necessary centers of American life and so are true small towns. The problem that America faces right now is the suburbs.

  • Ben,

    Thanks for sharing your small town story. My challenge is that I want the best of both worlds. I grew up in a town of 350; it wasn’t that great, because we had to drive 45 minutes to get to a city of 150k. Went to college and met 25k students from all different backgrounds. Moved to Chicago and hated it. Moved to a burb, and still didn’t like it. Now live in a “outlying” burb. I want to live in a rural area, but a short enough drive to enjoy the “big city” elements. My challenge is that I need high-speed internet to telecommute. I live where I do now so I can live in a smaller area and telecommute. I can’t get HSI in a small town 🙁

  • Ben,
    Be careful about your statement regarding the decline of small towns in America. That may be true for cities of a few thousand residents, but not in general. In 2005, there were fewer people employed in NYC than in 1969. Dense urbanism (for better or worse) is not the stated preference of many people in the U.S.

  • This is my first response to a blog, though I follow Ben’s Blog on a regular basis. I love the picture of Anna. She is the “paint” in the middle of the photo and belongs to my daughter. I think Ben captured the tour of and conversation about Limon aptly. I, for one, loved growing up in a small town … probably because I did not have a choice. That said, I LOVE living in cities I find them energyzing, dynamic, and the list goes on and on. I do worry that “small town” America is too provincial, too conservative, and not diverse enough. I am trying to figure out a way to effectively balance that perspective.

  • Enjoyed the writings about small towns. I’m in a small town, or it was not too long ago. Since about 1991 this town (city), Greenville, South Carolina, had a ghost town downtown. Then the boom struck and as Greg Brown sings in his song “Boomtown,” it seems that the boom will boom as long as the boom has room. It continues to boom here but like a tornado, the boom will eventually hop the fence and touch down elsewhere — it’s just a matter of room and space. All but the cemeteries change beyond recognition and recall. Sprawl is the ugly part of it all, but I guess it’s all good for now. It’s change, and change is good.

    There’s something where nothing once was and nothing seemed to be everywhere back in the day. Every young person growing up here complained there was nothing to do, but now saturation and overkill offers what everyone could ever want. I love the change, actually. When the light hits my dog’s face just right, I can see the puppy face I see in the old photos of the day I got him, twelve years ago. When I see the light just right I can see the small town that this place really still is. It’s in the people and the kids and the lay of the land — and the stretches of rural acres that tether the towns and development hot spots together. This will never be any place else.

    I maintain a website about Greenville SC, called and I’d love for you to visit. This isn’t intended to a plug, there’s nothing for sale, I’m just sharing a sense of place. Here’s to small town everywhere.

    Best to you, Ben.
    —Joel Wilkinson, Greenville SC

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