An understanding and appreciation of the local culture is deepened by a knowledge of the historical roots of the local community. In addition, future planning is enriched and enhanced by a view of historical choices, issues and problem solving. Sally Toth's "Teaching Colby" is an excellent tool for launching just such an inquiry.
Toth's booklet "Teaching Colby" is extremely adaptable from the very young to the very old. It includes a variety of activities from coloring exercises, to identification of architectural styles, to a walking tour which highlights the evolution of the town from a more adult historical perspective. It is a springboard for the imagination. A simple idea from within its pages can be taken and developed into a major project. I found the more I read, saw and learned, the more questions were generated in my mind to be pursued at some later point.
A common problem in small rural towns is its young adults leaving home to pursue higher education and then not bringing their skills and gifts back to their place of origin to benefit the community. It is possible that by utilizing such a curriculum as Toth's to instill a firm sense of place and belonging in their young hearts and minds, such an atrophy of minds and talents could be lessened. This resource is not only an admirable teaching tool for the local Colby community; it is an easily adaptable template for any community wishing to both explore and disseminate its historical roots and development.
A key approach for me is the walking tour. It allows a view of the formation and evolution of the community akin to being in the trench with an archeologist's trowel. The eye sees first hand the architectural changes and additions, ghost writing on building walls, and the growth and movement of key elements serving the community's needs. The ear hears the oral tradition, stories and facts not necessarily written in a book somewhere. A prime example for me was learning that the community's swimming pool was built as a response to folks swimming in the Prairie Dog Creek which carried sewage, far from a sanitary situation. Another was learning the history of the development of Fike Park.
This generation takes Fike Park for granted. It is used year long for numerous private and community events from Santa's Workshop in Winter to Picnic in the Park in Summer. There have been family reunions, wedding receptions, church and organizational events held there. Many use the basketball and tennis courts. Children play on equipment while dogs are walked. It is hard today to imagine the swamp it once was. In learning its history, Mayor Fike once again becomes alive in our minds and imaginations. We can visualize him in his office, doing daily work, signing papers to get the work started and speaking to the people to raise funds.
History is not just something in the pages of a book on a dusty shelf somewhere. So long as people remember and the stories are told the events and people remain alive and accessible to us. This is true for Mayor Fike above as well as the battles and battle heroes for which and whom many of our community's streets are named as well as the county itself. It is through these stories and remembrances that we have an understanding of where we came from and gain a better perspective of where we would like our future direction to point towards. It is what enables us to have a deep appreciation of our heritage, the sacrifices it took to give us that heritage, and a sense of honor to make our own new sacrifices necessitated in each succeeding generation.
One of the most interesting facts about the Colby community is discovering where it started, how it moved and how it is evolving in our current generation. When Mr. J.R. Colby for whom the town is named arrived here, he set up his homestead where the current Village Inn restaurant stands. His daughter started the first school slightly south of there where the proprane company now stands. He was convinced, however, to move his town 2 miles north where today's current downtown Colby stands. He was offered property and the naming of the town after him if he would agree to move. Although this was a generous and fair offer accepted by Mr. Colby, a few years later found him leaving Colby stating the town had "too many people" for his taste. This was not necessarily unusual. Some Pioneers needed town settlements to survive. Others were a hardy lot that sought a more introverted rural existence.
I first visited Colby in 1990. It was a time of reunion with my sister who had moved here long before that and my mother who had joined my sister in 1985. Even at that late date there was not much built south of Pine street. The original town site was virtually open range. There has been such an explosion of expansion since that time that when I returned in 2002 I needed to ask a policeman for directions. The southern outer perimeter of the town was unrecognizable to me. Today there is a large town hub where Mr. Colby once planned to establish his town. If he thought there were too many people in the 1880's, he would certainly be surprised to find his little town dream had grown exponentially into a settlement of almost 6,000 today with not only a grade school but an institution of higher education within its boundaries!
Colby is not an exception. Towns everywhere have burst their seams and expanded beyond their original boundaries. Many things have made this possible. One hundred years ago people needed to be close in for protection and survival; today we live in relative safety. Instead of cavalry that must ride out from the fort we have local police forces that patrol the community and its surrounds on a 24/7 basis. It is not necessary to cluster around a well or local water source today. Modern engineering has made water towers, plumbing and sewage drainage a stable resource for even those living miles from the town center. The modern automobile has changed how we meet our transportation needs. Horses no longer need to be stabled; a car can be parked anywhere and fed fuel from gas pumps located anywhere along the routes. Instead of riding in uncomfortable, slow-moving wagons, people ride in fast- moving heated and air conditioned vehicles. No longer do we use the railroad for our major source of transportation but hop on the interstate built on town perimeters such as Colby's entrances and exits or throughout the grid in larger settlements. It is not necessary any longer to go to the local telegraph or telephone company office to communicate with others outside the community. Modern technology marvels have literally put communication tools into the hands of every person everywhere with cell phone, computers and the world-wide net. Instead of road houses along wagon trails and railroad depots, today we have modern hotels and restaurants near interstate routes to serve the same purposes.
Following the evolutionary growth, and some would say progress, of one little town has helped me to think about cultural issues I never reflected on before. It is amazing to peer into history and see what visionary men and women of the past brought about whether out of necessity, greed, dreams or chaos. The processes continue to speed up with the turning of the spiral of time. Who knows what our great grandchildren will be writing about concerning the town's evolution in another one hundred years.