I love it that downtown Sparta frames Bullhead Mountain. When I see Bullhead framed by Sparta, I remember a time 30 years ago I was approaching Sparta from the other direction. From the road about where Blue Ridge Electric and the pipe factory are located to the VFW building I saw a big rainbow over Sparta, all the way over. It's one of those moments you know you'll never see again, a one time thing. By this time in my life I've come to appreciate perhaps most those moments that are one time only.
One time I was coming out of Elder Millard Pruitt's house to go home and looked up at the sun straight overhead and saw a ring around it that took up half the sky. Huge ring. I went back in the house and told Millard to come outside, I wanted to show him something he'd never seen before. He got up and went to look just to humor me. Show him something just outside his door he'd never seen? I pointed upward and he said, "No, I aint never seen that before." And I'm certain I'll never see it again.
Of all the things that can be said of Sparta, to the good or to the bad, there is one thing everybody vehemently agrees on, Sparta is different. That means it is unique and it has its own ways, its own personality, and it aint like no other place. It's like a person in that way. People come along with ideas in their heads about what Sparta needs, and it turns out Sparta didn't need it. In this period of time since Walmart, a small town business doesn't have much of a chance.
I've seen Sparta wring and twist like a teenager pulling on skin tight jeans, trying this and that and one thing and another to find something that will take hold. Then we get gas prices going crazy. Main Street, which is only called that, there is not a sign in town that says Main Street, is actually highway 21 with one, two now three stoplights. It doesn't seem like a highway makes much of a shopping street anymore, especially when you have to parallel park, which everybody dreads, and invariably there's somebody who has to stop because of you and they see your fumbling method that barely makes it, being seen out in public at your worst.
Sparta has shifted now from the intersection at the old courthouse to the intersection of the new courthouse, county office bldg, etc. Cash and Carry, Sparta's first supermarket was there. The parking lots at this end of town are great for parking. Everybody goes to Dollar General and the two grocery stores. The parking situation at the old courthouse end can't really be improved either; there's no place to put a parking lot. And wherever you park, you have to cross the highway on foot, which sometimes takes the skill of a matador. That middle lane is great for foot traffic so you can go half way and wait for an opening the other way.
As the search goes on for what Sparta is to become, Sparta doesn't seem to give many clues to what it wants to be. The Jubilee continues to be the only nightlife in Sparta and the rest of Sparta sticks its nose up at the Jubilee. It seems the trend now in Sparta is 'upscale,' that word that has become severely tiresome, a Kathy Lee Gifford word, with fingernails all fanned out, mouth wide open and eyeballs a-gaga. That doesn't seem to be taking hold either, considering a Depression.
The one constant in this world is change, so whatever it is today it will not be in ten years, twenty, thirty. The population stays about the same, though changes within as the young leave for the cities every graduating class, the old die out, and people from suburbs of cities everyplace moving here. Have you noticed the size of the wine collections at the grocery stores? Twenty years ago it would never have been guessed to be so near in the future that you'd have to be a wine connoisseur to understand all the varieties and nationalities and years of wines available at the grocery stores in Sparta. They wouldn't be there if they weren't being bought. The population, though staying the same is changing.
I'm glad we didn't have Andy Griffith from here and feel compelled to make Sparta a themepark of a tv show, like MtAiry kind of shamelessly did for commerce and it worked. Great, MtAiry has something that works for it. But I'm glad it's there, not here. Del Reeves doesn't seem like he'd draw much of a crowd for a theme park. I don't mean that to denegrate Del. How many places can say two of the great bluegrass fiddlers came from here and a great country singer? Not a whole lot. I remember the first time I saw the sign at the edge of town that said birthplace of Del Reeves. I knew who Del Reeves was. People from everyplace did.
In this sesquicentennial time there is a lot of searching going on for historical and present day pictures, stories, music and so on. It can't help but be a good thing to take the time to get to know Sparta. Like a mountain man, woman or child, Sparta will never be what it's not. Maybe this year's review can find some clues to the nature of Sparta that can be worked with and drawn out. Potential is everywhere if you don't need a return on the investment. We don't have enough population to financially support anything much when online shopping is the easiest there ever was. Big conceptual changes are going on everywhere. And here too.