Up and Away

What happens when a small town becomes a big town, when its population grows and its economy takes off? Much is gained—but much is lost.

EVERY TEXAN HAS A FAVORITE small town. I would be hard-pressed to choose among Hunt, near Kerrville, where the forks of the Guadalupe join and I spent three summers as a camper and a counselor; Hallettsville, halfway between Houston and San Antonio on a forgotten highway, with its grand courthouse and square; and Fort Davis, which still manages to be quaint in the face of creeping chicness. But if I could take some liberties with the definition of “small,” I would choose Georgetown, thirty miles north of Austin on Interstate 35, for the nobility of its struggle to remain a small town in the face of the economic and social trends of our time.

In 1890 Georgetown had around 2,400 people. It grew almost imperceptibly, taking six decades to double in population, to around 4,900, and another three decades to double again. Since that benchmark of 1980, though, its population has more than trebled, to an estimated 37,000, as the great metropolis that begins more than a hundred miles to the south in San Antonio has enfolded it.

What difference does the “small town” designation make? A big one, actually. The numerical battle between country and city was long ago decided in favor of the city: In 1900 more than 80 percent of Texans lived in or near small towns, but today more than 80 percent live in metropolitan areas, either in the city itself or close enough to fall under its influence. But the emotional battle still hangs in the balance. The farmer and the rancher moved to the city and the suburb, but they did not cease to be country folk. They still wear jeans and boots, still drive pickups, still prefer country music, still pine for the wide-open spaces when stuck in traffic—and

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