Population: 1

I’ve long been interest in small towns facing unique circumstances in isolation. I wondered what might be the smallest town, not just some guy living in a shack by himself but an actual recognized, incorporated town. From there I found an old post from the misc.transport.road newsgroup (remember Usenet?). It explained that the question isn’t as straightforward as it seems on the surface as every jurisdiction defines "town" in accordance with its own rules. This complicates the answer.

Another problem presented itself. There’s a very obvious reason why many towns have extremely small populations: they are dying. It’s like asking, "who is the oldest person on earth?" Well, it keeps changing because the oldest person is always a heartbeat away from passing to the great beyond. It’s no different for a town of one or two residual inhabitants. I learned, as I checked into the list, that many of the featured sites had also passed along to the great beyond. They are ghost towns today. The list had been based on the 2000 United States Census. No doubt it will look completely different as the Census Bureau slowly releases complete details from the 2010 tally.

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There are probably numerous formally-recognized municipalities in the United States and beyond with a population of one. The best example I could find was Monowi, Nebraska. The 2000 Census actually listed two inhabitants, Rudy and Elsie Eiler. Rudy passed away in 2004, halving the town’s population, and left the widow Elsie to serve as Monowi’s "mayor, town clerk, town treasurer, town secretary, tavern keeper and chief librarian."

It’s a typical rural story. Monowi started as a small farming town that peaked with more than a hundred inhabitants in the early 20th Century. People began to peel away as family farms declined and as opportunities for easier lives presented themselves in nearby cities. Monowi distinguishes itself from countless other broken heartland towns only because a single resident continues to stand resolute against its inevitable fate.

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Hold on, now. Monowi may yet survive.

I kept coming across references to Larry the Cable Guy and a visit he and a camera crew made to Monowi in September 2010. More than a thousand people descended on Monowi as part of a fundraiser to help restore the town, particularly its library. No doubt this was the largest and most significant single event in the history of Monowi.

He was there to film a segment for an upcoming television series on the History Channel called "Only in America With Larry the Cable Guy" which is to debut on February 8, 2011. I checked preview videos and identified snippets of footage clearly shot in Monowi but I couldn’t determine when the actual Monowi segment will air.

Interestingly, as I discovered during my research, Larry the Cable Guy is a stage persona. The actor is actually Dan Whitney, a native of Pawnee City, Nebraska which perhaps helps explains his interest in Monowi. He comes by the rural background honestly but the southern accent and redneck affectation is a fiction created for his character. Questions of whether Larry the Cable Guy embodies the original concept of the History Channel brushed aside, I’ll be sure to watch any episode that features a geo-oddity. My wife has long accused me of being both high-brow and low-brow simultaneously, with nothing in between. A high-brow concept with a low-brow comedian won’t scare me away necessarily.

This gives me hope that someday I might be able to pitch a purely geo-oddity show to the History Channel or one of its ilk and find a way to get paid to travel to my favorite obscure locations. Maybe I could team up with Larry the Cable guy. Could you imagine our irreverence at the Phineas Gage Monument?

9 Replies to “Population: 1”

  1. If I’m not mistaken, for various legal reasons Disney World is an incorporated municipality, with a very small number of people (company employees, of course) listing it as their legal residence.

        1. Isn’t Celebration, the planned Dinsey community in central Florida, the third incorporated Disney municipality?

  2. I love little places like this. The smallest country seat in the US is Mentone, Texas, population 15. It has surpringly good Street View coverage.

    Other favourites include S.N.P.J., Pennsylvania; a borough with an official population of zero (legitimate population: 14) that is a recreation resort owned by a Slovene fraternal society which incorporated in order to obtain a liquor license. Or Robsart, Saskatchewan, which finally de-incorporated in 2002 after falling to 15 residents; again, great Street View coverage. Love the visage of the sidewalk slowly being reclaimed by the grass.

    This is cheating because it’s not incorporated, but in my own backyard, Angel Falls (population: 4) does indeed have a welcome sign. As I recall, they even refurbished it up last year for the Olympics.

  3. Last summer I made the trek to Mentone, Texas. It was mainly to count its county. All the articles about it are true. It took about a minute to drive through and I was again in limitless prairie scrub.

  4. Check out Greenhorn, Oregon, which (for a time) was an incorporated municiplaity with a population of 0. Everyone left, but for some reason the place retains its incorporated status.

    Some cities in Los Angeles County were incorporated strictly for business reasons. Vernon is nothing but big industrial plants, population about 100. Irwindale incorportaed to encompass large quarries, its population still in the hundreds. The City of Industry’s boundaries run about 20 miles long, maybe a mile wide, with all sorts of little “exclaves” connected to the main city by narrow strip-annexed land.

  5. Nothing Arizona 85360

    Nothing is a small unincorporated settlement in far eastern Mohave County, Arizona, United States with zero inhabitants.
    Town of Nothing Arizona. Founded 1977. Elevation 3269ft.
    The staunch citizens of Nothing are full of Hope, Faith, and Believe in the work ethic. Thru-the-years-these dedicated people had faith in Nothing, hoped for Nothing, worked at Nothing, for Nothing.
    Nothing once contained a gas station and small convenience store.
    Nothing was abandoned by May 2005, and by August 2008, the gas station was beginning to collapse. An attempted revival of Nothing occurred at some time after August 2008 when Nothing was purchased by Mike Jensen. By April 2009, Jensen had opened his pizza business, run from a portable oven, with hopes of reopening the mini-mart and creating accommodations for RVs.

    As of April 2011, it appears that Nothing has once again been abandoned. The building has fresh boards in the windows, and no sign of inhabitance or being open.

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