Back in the mid-to-late 1980s and into the early 1990s, I used a printer down in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, to produce the tabloid-sized monthly Greenfield Grapevine. I cannot remember if I did this with every issue, but I drove the galleys down to the printer at least a few times during those years.

Brownsville is one of several towns that dot the banks of the Monongahela Rive; it was founded roughly around the same time as the French & Indian Wars in the 18th century. As with so many places in SW Pennsylvania, Brownsville's prosperity was largely tied to heavy industry, and when the steel and associated industries left, so did most of the ancillary businesses, and with them, much of the population — dropping from some 8,000 in its heyday (in 1940) to fewer than 2,400 as of the 2010 census.

I drove Brownsville's main drag several times, and each time I marveled at all the boarded-up storefronts and shuttered businesses. I wondered then, as I wonder now, just how precipitously things changed there. How long did it take steelworker families to figure out that those jobs were gone for good? How long did the ancillary businesses try to make a go of it? When did area schools "consolidate" before closing down entirely? Did chain stores swoop in, or did they decide the investment wouldn't be worth it? What kind of a future was there in the mid-1970s? What kind of future is there now? ("Or anywhere in the USA?"… I add grimly. Sigh.)

For all that I was very affected by the sight of such a downturn from prosperity to poverty, from opportunity to hopelessness, it never once crossed my mind that I or any of our children would be dealing with this kind of situation: we were not, after all, blue-collar folk (which doubtless sounds a lot snobbier than it is meant). While neither my nor Mr Mo's mom went to college (more than a term's worth for the latter, and no more than just for an occasional “continuing ed" course for the former), both our fathers had bachelor's degrees, and my dad ended up as a CPA. Our fortunes have not been so directly tied to industry per se, though the dot-com bubble burst and other types of downturns have seriously impacted our pensions and savings plans: retirement seems like a pipe dream at the moment.

Anyway. Our kids were not going to have to deal with the local factory shutting down and destroying the town. They would find safe economic and working harbors in different venues that hopefully would prove more long-lasting and secure. (—To which I now say, ha, ha.) What do, what will the derelict downtowns of high-tech look like? We were thankfully able to spare our kids the hideous kind of higher-ed debt that has destroyed so many of their peers' hopes and dreams, but just as with nearly every parent on the planet, we simply cannot guarantee what their futures will be.

But back to Brownsville. A bit farther along the Monongahela is the town of Nemacolin, which belongs to "greater Brownsville" at the moment. Nemacolin is notable because of its brick castle. From the website:

Nemacolin Castle, also known as Bowman's Castle, was…built beginning in the late 1790s around the original trading post, which was built near the site of Fort Burd, the latter built by British colonists during the French and Indian War. Construction on the castle, including addition of a crenellated tower, continued through the Victorian era, when it was considered an engineering marvel.

I went to the castle at least once, and from the photos of the grounds, resplendent with daffodils, I would have had to have been there in April or May (of 1987 or 88, given the print date stamps). I regret that I didn't go inside; however, I almost certainly had daughter 2 with me in the car, and I probably needed to get back to Greenfield to pick up daughter 1 from half-day kindergarten.

We mostly build monuments to ourselves, I suppose, in moments of prosperity. Nemacolin Castle was a monument to prosperity. But not all monuments are. I am thinking, of course, of the WWI monuments in every French town and village and hamlet, no matter how small, with their impossibly long lists of names. How does one pay tribute to the 25% of Frenchmen between 18 and 45 lost in that ridiculous, hideous "war to end all wars"? I think that if France had not built such monuments in every single place affected, there would have been rioting in the streets, rather than the grim resignation and the hollowed-out spirit that (in my not so humble opinion) contributed to France's ineffective responses in WW2.

How do the bricks of the castle pay tribute to the natives, the traders, the former soldiers, the women who all contributed to Euro-America's domination and western expansion? Whose descendants even know about their ancestors’ presence and possible participation in building up Brownsville, in building up Nemacolin? And what about the ones who stayed for a while, and then moved on?

What castle do I leave behind — do we leave behind? At the moment, we have a small maison du village with a tiny remise (annex) up the street, nearly paid for. What will it be worth this time next year? Or five years from now, wherever we and our posterity may be then? In times such as these, it's hard to predict. But… if I had anything resembling a yard at the moment, I think I'd plant daffodils and maybe some tulips as well. That for me will suffice as the biggest takeaway: Nemacolin Castle would be in ruins today, if not razed completely, had it not been for the Bowden family's donation of the property to the Brownsville Historical Society, which has kept the property up and made it accessible to the public. Planting bulbs, planting flowers, keeping the garden and the castle intact — that keeps it (and Nemacolin, and to some degree Brownsville) alive.

This said, there is an intrinsic value to that property in Nemacolin, unusual as it is, perched where it is on a hilltop overlooking the Mon and its valley and its towns. I cannot claim that for our property… so maybe we need to find something different to leave behind. But where? And what?