A Proposal: Page Four
This massive transformation of the countryside, from the hills to the prairie, happened with lightening speed. From the development of the Deere plow in 1837 up until the 1890s, just one long lifetime, the Illinois countryside was peopled, its towns developed, and its distinctive rural culture was in place. With the same lightening speed, from the 1930s to the 1990s, just one long lifetime, it was largely depopulated.

Everywhere one looks in this 21st century countryside is evidence of the brief but profound tenure upon the land of those 9 generations of farmers and townspeople. In the hills of southern Illinois, peach and apple orchards still peek from the renewed forests growing on the abandoned farms. Farmhouses and silos still dot the sculpted corn and soybeans of the Grand Prairie, though there are often no lights on at night.

To young people growing up in Illinois, the landscape before them is the only landscape they have ever known. Nostalgic tales of farm life, the culture of close-knit rural communities, are largely unknown to them. To their eyes, to their knowledge, it has always been this way. The memory of the rural past is as foreign to them as tales of Indian wars to flappers in the twenties. Mere memories.

Moreover, the 21st century landscape may well turn out to be more enduring than the landscape that briefly preceded it. This new landscape, smoothed and shaped for industrial farming, or abandoned and returned to the forest, has fierce defenders. The relatively few remaining farmers and farming corporations are holders and custodians of vast amounts of land. Much of the other lands, such as abandoned farms in the hills, have come under the sway of the government, "environmental" forces and their urban allies.
Woodchoppers, Union County. n.d. Morris Library, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Collected by Jane Adams
Parade in Dongola, Illinois, n.d. Morris Library, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Collected by Jane Adams
Jane and Jim Adams, ca. 1947, rural Ava. Photo by Irving Rothchild. Morris Library, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. From Jane Adams collection.
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