This is Dubois. It has a new distinction this year, being recognized by True West magazine as the town with the best-preserved Western architecture.
I don’t think the award was meant to designate the oldest residential part of town. But I think it deserves recognition.
Like many new settlers from far away, I don’t actually live in Dubois, although I usually say I do. So many of us who move here choose a house that is new-built, with a view, miles outside the town limits. We don’t often venture into the original housing section.
The main road bypasses the old part of town, which is also the low-rent district. For years, I never went over that way, except to go to the library. Unless you know someone who lives there or you have children at the school (which is also in that direction), there’s little reason to visit the original village.
I began doing so lately. At first glance it appears unkempt and unattractive. But the longer I spend there, the more I have come to appreciate it.
“Can you help us get someone on the Town Council who will do something to clean up the town?” a friend asked me a few weeks ago. I asked her to explain what she meant by “clean up.” One thing she mentioned was the trailers.
True, there are lots of old house trailers and double-wides in the old town. Mayor Blakeman told me that you’re no longer allowed to set up a new house trailer in Dubois. The ones in the old part of town are “grandfathered in.” Today, she said, to erect a dwelling you have to put up something made of “sticks.”
By and large, the properties with trailers are well-kept (in a dusty, not-much-will-grow-here way).
Many of the double-wides aspire to resemble suburban tract houses. Put on blinders and narrow the focus, in some spots, and you can envision yourself in a subdivision. But you’d have to ignore the fact that many of the streets are unpaved.
Notice how the mountains loom over the old village, as they do everywhere in Dubois. Here also, it’s quite possible to have a view.
Lots of the houses are small, old, insubstantial, and have a thrown-together appearance. Many have large stacks of firewood in the yard. It’s the only source of heat for many people, because out here in the wilderness electricity is expensive and there aren’t many jobs that pay well.
Some homes also have several vehicles in the yard besides the pickup. A camper, say, and a horse trailer. This is not especially attractive, but it doesn’t mean we are trashy. It means that we like to get out into the woods, and many of us do love horses.
A herd of deer also seems to regard the old village as home. They cross the streets with the proprietary air of homeowners out on a stroll, and sometimes lounge on porches in the sun. They like to graze in the empty lots.
Mayor Blakeman says there are still empty lots because people hold onto property in the old town as an investment, waiting for it to appreciate. She adds that some of the empty lots have begun to sell. Among the double-wides and bungalows, you also see some charming new log homes.
It’s fascinating to see the new interpretations that some people have made of their house trailers as they added on for more space. Is that what this is, in the image below? I especially like it, however it began.
Some folks might like to spruce up the old part of town so that it looks more like a “historic district.” But as I walk these streets, I’ve come to think that the architecture of old town, if you can call it that, truly preserves the spirit of the Old West in the sense that True West magazine intended.
It’s a place founded by people without much money who intensely wanted to be here, and set up housekeeping in the best way they could, with what they had. There hasn’t been much by way of town planning and regulation, because this too is the spirit of the old West.
If it speaks of anything, the old town speaks of individualism — and that is truly who we are.
The other day I enjoyed a movie set in a hill town in Sicily, a part of Italy that we visited a few years ago. I saw the facades of peeling stucco on a town square, glowing in that special light you get in Italy, and I grew wistful for those ancient surroundings.
Would we still seek out those old villages, I wondered, if Disney World went in and repaired the stucco and paved the cobbled streets?
Then I thought of the old part of Dubois, which we could also cherish for its very imperfections.
© Lois Wingerson, 2018
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