The topic of our third blog post is “Explore Your Community.” This theme is initiated by a mapping exercise that explores an area or town through its commonwealth assets. Commonwealth assets are ecological and socio-economic assets that create sustainable wealth. Because I was fortunate to do an Ogallala Commons internship in 2013, I performed this mapping exercise in my hometown–Amarillo, Texas–and I learned a great deal more about my hometown by viewing it not just as a small town in West Texas but as a place with a wealth of assets. This year I decided to conduct this exercise in Olton, Texas. Several aspects of “Written on Water” are based in or around the lives and livelihoods of residents in Olton, Texas. Since starting my internship I have visited Olton twice and decided to learn more about it through the mapping exercise.
Olton sits in Lamb County and, has a population of approximately 2,500. The city of Olton dates back to 1906, and the history of the town is deep rooted in agriculture and ranching. The C. C. Slaughter ranch was a major contributor to the town’s development. I came to Olton first to comb through photos from the local museum located on Main Street. Main Street is a wide historic street that holds the Sand Crawl Museum and the local library, antique shops, a health clinic and other businesses and grocery stores. The Sand Crawl museum and library recently experience water damage from a storm so during my first visit I sifted through piles of photos, newspapers and other artifacts, looking for old photos of the town that may be of use for the film. The museum is small but thorough with great displays and a wonderful collection of photos, annuals, artifacts and posters. I learned about some of the town’s influential members and recent photos that reflect life today in Olton.
On my second visit to Olton, the museum had been restored and it was great to see that residents now have a wonderful way to reflect upon and learn about their town’s history and sense of place. Attached to the museum is the library which has internet access and activities and resources for young and old patrons. The high school and elementary school are a few blocks over from Main Street and further west is the city park. Also a few blocks over is the Chamber of Commerce and several churches.
Driving around the town, it is hard to miss the grain co-op and other buildings and businesses that indicate how strongly the community ties to agriculture are. Like many other towns in the Panhandle, the city relies on the Ogallala Aquifer for water. Farm and ranching land surround the city, but further out are the large towns of Plainview and Lubbock, Texas. The farmland and the aquifer, as well as the people of Olton, will hopefully be here to stay for many more generations. I look forward to visiting the museum and city again!