There seems to be renewed interest in a small, and I mean that in the smallest way, village in Nebraska. A town so small, it has only seven streets, four stop lights and only one resident. The stop lights probably aren’t even needed, but Mrs. Elsie Eiler, 77, the only resident, definitely is. She’s the mayor, village clerk, treasurer, secretary, head librarian, and tavern keeper. Isn’t it fitting that the only surviving business in this place is a tavern called the Monowi Inn with “The Coldest Beer In Town.” The story about Monowi, Nebraska, and it’s one resident seems to be everywhere today.
The question that jumps out at me, is why would you continue to spend tax dollars on what amounts to a private residence? The incorporated village is only .2 sq. mile of decaying houses and a business or two that hasn’t operated since the 195os. It has no tax revenue other than the tavern itself, and the liquor license fee it generates, yet Mrs. Eiler completes a municipal road plan every year in order to get the village’s share of highway funds. There is no Road Department, or probably no contract with the county, as that would cost money. Money this village could not possibly have as an incorporated municipality with one small tavern as its taxable base. All you hear about is how quaint this little village is and how small its population, and the 5,000 volume library housed in not much more than a shed.
It’s a ghost town, plain and simple, and shouldn’t be receiving state revenue sharing funds for one resident. These should go to the county who most logically would assume the maintenance of the one “real” street in the village. That would be State Highway 12 that passes by. (Notice how I didn’t say “through”). However unique the village of Monowi (Mah·no·y) is, the novelty should have worn off by now. Elsie has been the sole resident since 2001. And I know, it doesn’t really matter. It’s just a curiosity.
People come to the tavern from all over because Elsie has been featured on almost every TV magazine show out there, like “Today” and “CBS Sunday Morning” and every major newspaper. And the reason for the recent fame: Larry the Cable Guy showed up on April 12, 2011 for an episode of “Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy.” Mainly to make fun of Elsie’s fulfilled dream of building a library in honor of her husband with only one card-carrying patron.
The big town, where her brother moved in 1956, is Verdel, seven miles up the road. The population of Verdel is 52. Monowi, during its heydays of the 1930s, topped out at 150. When the railroad shut down in the 70s, the exodus was swift. No jobs, no industry other than farming, nothing to keep you there.
If you look at the states of Nebraska, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, (We’ll leave Wyoming out of there because the percentage is higher) there are 2,421 cities and towns. Of those 89% have less than 3,000 in population. There are hundreds of towns with less than 1,000. And there are hundreds of thousands who have left those states with college degrees to find jobs where the jobs are.
I’ve always liked the idea of living in small town, though. I just think I would need some company. I’ve got an idea. Why doesn’t Elsie change to a manager/council form of government, then advertise for a town manager? She could make it a requirement of the job that they have to move to the village. She could probably get grant funding to do that too.
Then we offer a call center free lease land in town, and tax breaks. That will bring a few hundred employees which will probably relocate once the new housing subdivision is built, which will take a Village Planner, then a Police Chief, there would be a McDonald’s franchise in no time, and then…..well don’t you think you could talk someone into moving to Monowi? But then that would take away the novelty of being the only incorporated village in America with one resident and a library.
Photo Source: Rueters/Rick Wilking