In the 19th Century, I'm told, people just loved to think about the future. They envisioned great things, magical things like flying machines and music piped into their homes and world peace and an enlightened mankind. Such contemplations gave rise to books like Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy's novel in which a man is transported from the mundane 1800's to the end of the 20th Century, where social problems have been solved, and wonders like hugh shopping emporiums in every neighborhood provide the populace with all its needs as anticipated by a benevolent government -- making money unnecessary.
This book absolutely took America by storm. It was followed by a thoughtful tract called Progress and Poverty by reformer Henry George -- without whom there never would have been a Fairhope. Socially conscious thinkers like Ernest B. Gaston of Des Moines formed clubs to discuss the ideas of George, and one of these clubs, the Fairhope Industrial Association, decided to find a worthy spot on the map and start a Utopian community to prove the idea would work. Henry George was a popular speaker and politician, and he was skeptical that a Single Tax community was the way to go -- so many Utopias had started and failed -- but Gaston was able to recruit some 28 idealists, including their children, to move to the raw land in south Alabama and give the experiment a try.
Fairhope has a lot to thank those early visionaries for. Yet, over time, the commitment of the community to the principle of Single Tax has eroded in ways that would have appalled the founders. There is still a great deal of land owned by the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation, but with the incorporation of the city followed by the imposition of the federal income tax, there is little reason to call what is left of Fairhope a "Single Tax" colony or anything like it. It will not be long before all remnants of the ideals have faded from the memory of what Fairhope has become. Few citizens understand the heritage of their little city, and even fewer fight to preserve it. Over at the Colony office, work has been underway for years to dismantle the original intent of the founders and strip the town of its idealistic core. A city that was founded with the goal of eradicating the dreaded land developers has become a bulwark of new buildings and high prices of land. The market has become the engine and duplicity has been the method. It is almost all over.
Looking forward, there is no way to see any regret emanating, from the Colony officials or anybody else in town, about the demise of the Single Tax Utopia. They still use the word "Utopia" to describe the landscape, and the word "Colony" is everywhere (it's such a pretty word), but in the future there will be no commitment to keeping Single Tax alive. The corporation will exist, but it has little meaning in today's Fairhope. It would seem that the members of the corporation would at least be interested in historic preservation, and in the museums, but they have had nothing to do with either. Because the Colony has become itself a real estate holder, with growth as its goal as all real estate people stand to profit by such growth. That it exists for the opposite purpose has been neatly ignored as the town has been transformed and the people who remember and care have died off.
I woke up optimistic this morning. I wrote my title thinking I was going to write about how I am preparing for my old age. But the title led me down another trail, and I couldn't get back to my first track. I think I found an interesting little side path, however. It remains to be seen if this one gets any attention.