Sour Town

Resident dreamer Robert Bledsoe has a plan to keep his hometown of Ladonia from disappearing off the map. His neighbors want him to wake upóand shut up.

Roy Brown, another economic casualty who recently could be found in Ladonia sitting on the hood of a car smoking a cigarette, says he's collecting unemployment since being laid off from the city's water department. He's getting about half as much from unemployment as he received from his city job, which he held for about a year and a half before the city council cut him from the budget right after Supreme Beef shut down. The Ladonia resident and father of three, displaying the sangfroid that seems common in these parts, says that although there isn't much work in the area, he'll get by.

"It didn't have nothing to do with me," he says, then laughs at his own misfortune. "It'll work out. I'll leave it in the Lord's hands."

Ladonia's mayor since 1992, 77-year-old Leon Hurse, is confident Ladonia will recover.

Robert Bledsoe at the site of what was once Ladonia's train station, which he hopes to rebuild as a community center.
Robert Bledsoe at the site of what was once Ladonia's train station, which he hopes to rebuild as a community center.
Robert Bledsoe at the site of what was once Ladonia's train station, which he hopes to rebuild as a community center.
Robert Bledsoe at the site of what was once Ladonia's train station, which he hopes to rebuild as a community center.

"We're in a budget crunch...We're trying to cut our expenses as much as possible," the mayor says from his rumpled office filled with dated, worn furniture and a wall clock that's stopped.

Supreme Beef's $25,000 a month represented about half the city's spending money and "was our livelihood, so to speak," Hurse says.

"I'm optimistic we're going to stay in business, but it's not going to be easy," he says. "We're not going to fix any streets or anything like that for the next year or so. We don't have any projects we're going to carry out. We're just going to try to survive."

Hurse says the city still has something to offer in the way of houses for commuters and ample resources for another cattle processor or some other industry.

"We've got plenty of water, and we have a new sewer plant," he says. "We can handle the water. We can handle the water, and we can handle the wastewater. We can handle anything they want to drop on us."

Still, he concedes he's not thrilled about being mayor at the moment. When asked whether he will seek re-election when his two-year term is up next year, Hurse quickly says, "No, I will not." Then he adds, "I shouldn't have run this time."

Hurse, Brown, Braley, and others may greet Ladonia's doubtful future with an odd mix of optimism and fatalism, but Bob Bledsoe has other, more ambitious plans.

The owner of Beanie Adhesive Products Inc., a label-making company and the city's only manufacturing business, is trying to make something--anything--happen at the site of the closed slaughterhouse. He's confident he'll find a suitable industry to take over where Supreme Beef left off.

"What I'm doing, I'm putting together a book of our assets, and what that will cover is our town square, which is rather nice, our churches, our school system, the businesses we have now in place, our post office, our volunteer fire department--all the things that interest people about small-town America. I'll get a book together, and I'll find potential people and do a mailing on that book and invite them down to look at our town," he says.

Bledsoe, owner of four buildings and 10 lots, is what passes for a real estate mogul in Ladonia. He's trying to rebuild some city pride along with the railroad station. He wants the rebuilt station to be a sort of community center and attraction on the bike trail that replaced the railroad. The station is just one of Bledsoe's many civic-minded projects that he hopes will catapult Ladonia out of the doldrums and restore jobs, commerce, dignity, and residents.

Yet Bledsoe says his efforts to help the city have been rebuffed repeatedly over the last 15 years, and he believes he has become the most hated man in Ladonia because he is the only one trying to accomplish anything.

Bledsoe won a state grant for $10,000 that will be used to rebuild the shell of the depot. He's using old photographs and other information he's scraped up as a guide. The original building was moved off the lot and destroyed a couple of years ago, not long after the trains stopped running. The railroad tracks and ties were pulled out, leaving the concrete pad. Around the pad, his building materials (some of which have been stolen, he huffs) are stacked.

"This is the original foundation, built in 1910, again, no help. Nobody wants to help you do a fucking thing around here...I put bleach and acid. I came down here and scrubbed this back. The whole thing looked just like that," he says, pointing toward a weathered portion of the slab.

Then, pointing toward different parts of the concrete foundation, he says, "This will be the library. This will be the snack and vending window...and we'll have the rest area over there."

Bledsoe has a right to be a bit peeved at his fellow residents, he says. At his own expense, he is working tirelessly on several fronts. For instance, in the face of fierce opposition from property owners who were hoping to secure old railroad easements, Bledsoe says, he learned how to use a road grader and personally groomed about 11 miles of the bike trail on the old rail route through Fannin County. His effort was part of the "rails to trails" project that aimed to produce 56 miles of trail from Farmersville in Collin County to near Paris. At first, the project had $1.8 million in federal funds, but that money was pulled when property disputes and questions about local costs arose. Nevertheless, on the Ladonia segment, Bledsoe helped raise money and then put in bridges and chains and markers to keep cars out, he says. He was thanked by having his life threatened.

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