By Mickey Howley
Marty McFly, played by actor Michael J. Fox, in the 1985 film “Back to the Future” lives in town named Hill Valley. And if you saw the film, you’ll remember much of the action takes place in Hill Valley’s downtown near the courthouse square. As Marty goes from 1985 to 1955 and then back, you can’t help but notice the changes downtown. The 1955 downtown movie theaters turn into a storefront church and an x-rated film dive by 1985. The green lawn with tall trees in front of the courthouse turns into a huge barren asphalt paved parking lot. Even the nightlife has changed for the worse in 30 years.
Hill Valley’s downtown is lined with cars at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night as Marty brings the Delorean time machine up to escape run speed trying to leave 1955. His arrival back in 1985 at the same time finds the streets empty and only the town bum there to witness his re-entry into the present.
Naturally writer and director Robert Zemeckis is having some fun with the town name and situation. But in 1985 he was not that far off plausible. Small town downtowns that were prosperous up to the 1950s had become virtual economic wastelands by the mid-1980s. The exponential growth of suburbs around big cites and interstate interchange malls and the rise of big box retailers had smacked a trifecta of hurt on small town downtowns. Zemeckis was not the only one to see this. The National Trust for Historic Preservation founded the Main Street program in 1980 as a methodology to bring economic vitality and social vibrancy back to historic downtowns. The National Trust’s mission is all about “people saving places.” And the Main Street movement has grown since 1980, from five initial towns to 1,600 across the USA.
The National Trust publishes a quarterly magazine, it features historic places to travel, restoration projects of significant structures, and about twice every year, a feature on a Main Street town. The spring edition of Preservation Magazine has an eight-page feature on restorations and businesses in Water Valley. The team of Steve Gross and Sue Daley photographed the article almost a year ago. Novelist and former Grisham writer in residence at Ole Miss Nic Brown—a guy with Water Valley family—wrote the text in December. When you read the article and see the images, you’ll notice even in that short time, there has been forward progress on Main. It is a really well researched piece by a serious periodical in the business historic preservation and a feather in Water Valley’s cap.
On average 350,000 people will read the hard copy subscriber edition, which is already mailed out, and the on-line edition coming out later next week will be seen by double that number.
Cormack McCarthy is performing next in the Loft On Main music series this coming Friday, March 28, at 7 p.m. Upstairs in the big room at the BTC Old-Fashioned Grocery. Cor-mack, a much-admired songwriter, is known for his quick and insightful wit. Promises to be an entertaining evening. Come out and hear live music in the Valley in a friendly and intimate space.