Newcomers to Old Towns Suburbanization of the Heartland
by Sonya Salamon
University of Chicago Press, 2003
Cloth: 978-0-226-73412-5 | Paper: 978-0-226-73413-2 | Electronic: 978-0-226-73411-8


2004 winner of the Robert E. Park Book Award from the Community and Urban Sociology Section (CUSS) of the American Sociological Association

Although the death of the small town has been predicted for decades, during the 1990s the population of rural America actually increased by more than three million people. In this book, Sonya Salamon explores these rural newcomers and the impact they have on the social relationships, public spaces, and community resources of small town America.

Salamon draws on richly detailed ethnographic studies of six small towns in central Illinois, including a town with upscale subdivisions that lured wealthy professionals as well as towns whose agribusinesses drew working-class Mexicano migrants and immigrants. She finds that regardless of the class or ethnicity of the newcomers, if their social status differs relative to that of oldtimers, their effect on a town has been the same: suburbanization that erodes the close-knit small town community, with especially severe consequences for small town youth. To successfully combat the homogenization of the heartland, Salamon argues, newcomers must work with oldtimers so that together they sustain the vital aspects of community life and identity that first drew them to small towns.

An illustration of the recent revitalization of interest in the small town, Salamon's work provides a significant addition to the growing literature on the subject. Social scientists, sociologists, policymakers, and urban planners will appreciate this important contribution to the ongoing discussion of social capital and the transformation in the study and definition of communities.


Sonya Salamon is  professor emeritus at the University of Illinois and research professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is the author of Prairie Patrimony: Family, Farming, and Community in the Midwest.


“This book convincingly demonstrates that salvation through suburban sprawl is a devil’s bargain for small-town America.”
— Matthew D. Lassiter, Journal of Planning History


List of Illustrations


Part I - Changes in the Heartland

- Sonya Salamon
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734118.003.0001
[community connections, rural midwestern towns, U.S., connected lives, agrarian communities, neighborhoodization, suburbanization]
This chapter describes the people and community connections in rural midwestern towns in the U.S. A study reveals that these people love their community and they prefer local life than life anywhere else. They are bound not by local ambience but they equate people or other community members with their sense of a good place to live. Community serves as a metaphor for their intimately connected lives. This chapter examines the social and physical transformation in agrarian communities and argues that neighborhoodization is the postagrarian community outcome of the rural regional suburbanization process. (pages 3 - 31)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Sonya Salamon
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734118.003.0002
[small-town change, U.S., rural places, boosters, boosterism, rural communities, competition, town hierarchy]
This chapter examines the dynamics of small town-change in the U.S. and analyzes how and why rural places are transformed. It describes rural communities as being characterized by tension between farmers in the countryside and boosters who were owners of main-street businesses. It also highlights the role of boosterism in generating competition that spawns a town hierarchy measured by size and actual or perceived winners and losers in the unrelenting struggle for resources. (pages 32 - 56)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Part II - Newcomers, Old Towns

- Karen Davis-Brown
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734118.003.0003
[rural change, Smallville, Illinois, cooperative activities, shared priority, civic service, good citizens, place attachment, community change]
This chapter presents a case study of rural change in Smallville, Illinois. It provides information of employment and demographic profiles and describes the community change in terms of space and place in Smallville. Local citizens work together simply to sustain what they value about their modest community and their cooperative activities are motivated by a shared priority for preserving the town for future generations. Through dedicated civic service of community members, each successive generation learns to be good citizens, to have respect for elders, and to develop a loyalty that cements a place attachment to Smallville. (pages 59 - 73)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Patricia A. Howard, Consolata Kabonesa, Bret Kloos, Stephanie Schaefer
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734118.003.0004
[suburbanization, Prairieview, Illinois, interstate highway, affluent community, demographic profile, employment profile, Republican]
This chapter presents a case study of suburbanization in Prairieview, Illinois. The growth of Prairieview was spurred by the completion of an interstate highway in the early 1970s which linked Prairieview to nearby small cities and the rapid expansion that occurred after the highway came through. After just two decades the village transformed into an affluent residential community, suburban rather than rural small town in character, all white, and solidly Republican. This chapter also provides tables showing the changes in the demographic and employment profiles of Prairieville from 1980 to 2000. (pages 74 - 92)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Cynthia Loula
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734118.003.0005
[boosterism, suburbanization, rural town, Bunkerton, Illinois, agrarian community, newcomers]
This chapter presents a case study of the role of boosterism in the suburbanization process in the rural town of Bunkerton, Illinois. After decades of decline, merchant-led initiatives achieved a population gain of 5.5% in the 1990s, which represented a small influx of newcomers. These newcomers are blue-collar and lower-middle-class families attracted by the small-town ambience, the fine old homes and the good schools. Their presence resulted in tensions between tendencies to suburbanize and resistance to these trends by both oldtimers and the newcomers who long for an agrarian community. This chapter also provides tables showing the changes in the demographic and employment profiles of Bunkerton from 1980 to 2000. (pages 93 - 112)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Stacey Williams
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734118.003.0006
[migrants, rural town, Corntown, Illinois, agribusiness, rural workers, Mexicanos, homogenous community, ethnic identity, small-town citizens]
This chapter presents a case study on the entry of newcomers or migrants in the rural town of Corntown, Illinois. The town's agribusinesses and the availability of seasonal farm work served early as a magnet for rural workers. The large influx of a distinctive minority, particularly Mexicanos, produced sharp community tensions and the locals became hostile toward what they considered an annual alien invasion of their cohesive and homogeneous community. This chapter describes how the Mexicanos mobilized in ways that sustained their ethnic identity and their strongly interconnected ethnic group, even while they took on aspects of a new identity as midwestern small-town citizens. (pages 113 - 131)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Patricia A. Howard
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734118.003.0007
[ethnic succession, Arbordale, Illinois, German farmers, Mexicanos, community change, social resources, cross-age relations, demographic profile, employment profile]
This chapter presents a case study of ethnic succession process in Arbordale, Illinois. Arbordale was settled by German farmers in the mid-nineteenth century and came to be dominated by the Mexicanos in the 1990s, which constituted 35 percent of the population by 2000. This chapter describes the community change with the presence of the Mexicanos in terms of space, place, social resources, cross-age relations. It also provides tables showing the changes in the demographic and employment profiles of Arbordale from 1980 to 2000. (pages 132 - 152)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Jane B. Tornatore
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734118.003.0008
[rural town, Splitville, Illinois, cultural ideas, postagrarian community, rural countryside, community, newcomers]
This chapter presents a case study of the failure of newcomers to make significant influence on the rural town of Splitville, Illinois. It discusses the struggle between village status groups motivated by nonmaterialistic issues of cultural ideas, respect and dignity and suggests that Splitville represents perhaps a worst-case contested-territory scenario for a postagrarian community. This chapter argues that what has occurred in Splitville represents a lost opportunity in the transforming of rural countryside because the death of a sense of community seems to have been hastened, rather than reversed, via the transformation by newcomers. (pages 153 - 174)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Part III - The Postagrarian Countryside

- Sonya Salamon
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226734118.003.0009
[postagrarian countryside, U.S., social fabric, rural towns, community, planners, policymakers]
This chapter analyzes the condition of postagrarian countryside in the U.S. It suggests that the development of the postagrarian social fabric represented by the six case studies in this volume raises challenging questions for planners and policymakers on whether to invest in people or places. This chapter argues that it is wiser to invest in people because the rural towns that have better sustained a sense of community are those where people working together have made the difference. (pages 177 - 196)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Appendix A - The Regional Suburbanization Neighborhood Hypothesis

Appendix B - Community Sample Characteristics and Study Methods