According to the sign just outside Chandlerville, Ill., the town’s population is about 700 people. That must be an outdated count. According to the 2011 census, the city is only home to 553. That’s a 21.4 percent drop since 2000.
And as we drove around town (a short jaunt since it’s less than one square mile), I could see it, too. The town is dying, or at the very least shrinking. We passed empty storefronts, countless “for sale or rent” signs, many abandoned lots and more than a few homes in need of a new roof or coat of paint.
We stopped in a gas station convenience store–the only one in town–for a snack and my grandfather found a man who had lived in Chandlerville for over 70 years. My grandfather asked about the people and places he used to know.
Everyone he asked about had died, and many of the buildings were torn down or left abandoned in the 20 years since my grandfather’s last visit. The old family home is now the site of a double-wide trailer with an impressive satellite dish.
But my grandfather had come to Chandlerville to find life, so we explored on.
He had spent many boyhood summers in the town, visiting favorite relatives and exploring then thriving farms. He came back decades later to relive old memories, look at old graves and share memories of that life with my mother and me.
For him, it was not difficult to find what he was looking for. As we drove he pointed out his neighbors’ homes, whether they were still in tact or not. As we plodded through the old graveyard he told lively stories of the deceased.
He could see that many of the objects of his memories were gone, but he wasn’t daunted or disappointed. It was all still there and in tact; he could feel its presence. For him, that dying town will never die.