Tight economy may be Chaffee's shot at revival

Monday, July 14, 2008

This week in Chaffee, all the fire hydrants are getting flushed. City officials are hoping that, by this time next week, complaints about drinking water odors and taste will abate.

One thing I noticed while working on last week's "Your Town" story about Chaffee is the easy manner in which most Chaffee residents have with strangers. Chaffee's motto is "The city with the smile."

I saw it at the Elk's Lenten fish fry and just last week as an older couple walked along Yoakum, hand-in-hand, greeting passersby with waves.

When the city was planned more than 100 years ago, it had a simple grid of streets, many named for the railroad officials — Yoakum, Elliott, Parker, Gray, Davidson and others — who started Chaffee. The only mural in town is a railroad scene.

Over at Rice Insurance Agency, I found two vintage maps of the city streets. Owner H.B. Rice was born in Arkansas but raised in Chaffee, where his parents grew up. He left for college, the Peace Corps and other work, seeing the world before returning with his wife to raise the couple's two children in the Bootheel.

He said it's important for Chaffee's young people to get out and see the world.

"The blending of cultures is what makes the world great," he said.

Rice, who said he shops locally whenever possible, said Chaffee may be benefiting from higher gas prices because more folks are buying closer to home. He sees Chaffee as a mini-regional shopping center for folks from Oran, Delta, New Hamburg and other cities. Last time he went to Chaffee's Food Giant, all the grocery carts were taken. Does this suggest that Chaffee may resume a 1950s-style heyday? Hard for anyone to say, but Rice seemed optimistic.

"A lot of people like a small-town atmosphere," he said, citing Chaffee's reasonable property prices, such amenities as ball fields, the city pool, summer programs for children, good churches and banks. He's looking forward to celebrating his company's 50th year in business in 2009.

One thing that really needs the support of people who care, however, is the Chaffee Historical Museum. Jerry Stroup said the place is open on Tuesday mornings, but more volunteers means more time open and one more reason to visit Chaffee. Visit www.chaffeehistory.com to learn more.

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In the city of Cape Girardeau, a public hearing is set for 4 to 6 p.m. on July 23 at city hall, 401 Independence St. This hearing is about a Transportation Trust Fund III project to improve streets in the realm of Big Bend Road from East Cape Rock Drive south to Main Street via Chestnut Street and Mason Street, including Main Street south to Mill Street.

The hearing includes a look at proposed plans and a chance to ask questions and make comments on the design. For details, call the city's engineering office, 334-9020, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays.

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Marla Mills, executive director of Old Town Cape, tells me she received a draft of the DREAM Initiative survey conducted last November, but isn't ready to release details until the final copy arrives.

Old Town Cape is in the process of creating a strategic plan to fit in with the city of Cape Girardeau's freshly minted comprehensive plan.

While some projects are about ready to start, such as the Fountain Street extension, others, which she said she's not in a position to announce yet, are still in the planning phase.

"It's not just 'a project,'" She said. "It's something that's creating momentum."

Questions, suggestions or tips for Lost on Main Street? E-mail pmcnichol@semissourian.com or call 335-6611, extension 127.

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