A proposed Alabama House of Representatives district map that excludes Piedmont from the rest of its Calhoun County neighbors would make matters worse, according to Piedmont Mayor Brian Young.
The map approved by the Legislature early Thursday morning in a special session would put Piedmont in a House district aligned with Cherokee and Cleburne counties, according to Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, a member of the Senate’s reapportionment committee. The new district lines await approval by Gov. Robert Bentley and the Department of Justice.
Young said he is worried that the move would “isolate” Piedmont from the rest of Calhoun County.
Holder, sitting next to his wife on a porch swing while surrounded by old friends last week, agreed. “We’re fragmented,” he said. “We’re divided up, so we can’t be effective.”
Holder isn’t the only one who feels that way. A city of about 4,878 at the northern edge of Calhoun County, Piedmont is about a half-hour away from the Calhoun County Courthouse and even farther from the big retail stores along Interstate 20 at the southern edge.
The Star asked several Piedmont residents whether they felt the city seemed more connected to Calhoun County, nearby Cherokee County or to Gadsden in Etowah County. There was little consensus, except on the fact that Piedmont itself seemed far removed from everything.
Sherwood Sparks, 72, comes to Piedmont every day from his home in Spring Garden, about five miles north of Piedmont.
His family has a long history in the city, and he’s seen the town change over time.
“With the improvement of transportation,” Sparks said, “most people go out of town,” to shop or hang out. “There’s (just) not much here... people on dates will go out of town.”
When it comes to shopping, Mayor Young said he thinks most residents shop at Walmart in Jacksonville. He also noted that a lot of people go to Atlanta, Gadsden or Oxford to shop at bigger department stores. “I shop as much as I can in Piedmont,” he said.
Young said he was optimistic that with the upcoming addition of a grocery section in the Dollar General more people will stay and buy groceries in Piedmont.
Sparks said that he buys groceries at Walmart, but when the Publix in Oxford opens up that’s where he’ll shop.
Retired schoolteacher Perry Cromer said shopping is better in Oxford compared to Piedmont.
From the porch swing of the Eubanks Welcome Center, Holder’s wife remembered what the town used to be like.
“I’ve lived here all my life,” she said. “It wasn’t always like this. Town was always busy when I was growing up,” she said, adding, “there used to be two movie theaters in town.”
Jack Holder agreed. “We don’t have a state university downtown like Jacksonville. We don’t have an interstate running through town like Oxford ... If you don’t have something to anchor your town, it’ll dry up,” Holder said.
Residents say that seems to be what’s happening to the small town, with so many vacant buildings downtown and empty estates inherited by children who live elsewhere.
What’s sad, Holder noted, is that while Piedmont has a good, modern school system, the graduates “have no place to work here.” They end up moving away to places like Birmingham or Atlanta, he said. “We lose our best and brightest.”
What Piedmont does offer, residents say, is an environment unlike its neighbors, highlighted by the Chief Ladiga bicycling trail running through town.
“I think our most solid future is in the recreational trail,” Holder said.