Sawyer Rising: The revival of a community

by brendan2k5

I’ve been researching various Ghost Towns for the last few months. A ghost town is by definition a place whose reason for being was rendered obsolete, causing its population to fall to zero. The cause–usually economical in the U.S.–is less important as at the end of the day, no one lives there anymore and in most cases it’s no longer on the map. These are TRUE Ghost Towns. A Semi-Ghost Town is a Ghost Town that has a very small living population, usually less than 300.

The last century saw most small towns in the U.S. that fell into economic decline get absorbed into larger population centers. That said, Cambridge is NOT a part of Boston. it is a separate city and always was. I know that Dorchester, the North End and East Boston were all separate townships in Boston’s early days. Salem, MA started as a township and has since become a city.


For the most part, modern new townships/villages are assumed to have some or most of the following to deemed “alive”:

  • Human Population of 100+
  • Residences to support living population
  • 2 or more Food Stores or a Wal Mart/K-Mart/Target
  • 2 or more pharmacies or Walgreens/CVS/Rite Aid
  • 1 or more Gas Stations
  • Place(s) of Worship
  • Cemetery
  • Post Office
  • 1 or more Banks
  • Power Plant or connections to power
  • Water Plant or connections to water
  • Waste Management Connections
  • Internet and Phone Collections
  • Road and Rail connections to existing towns/cities
  • 1 or more Elementary School
  • 1 or more High School
  • 1 or more Preschool/Daycare
  • 2 or more Medical Center(s)–usually a hospital and a clinic/health center
  • Fire Department
  • Police Department (even if the State Police or the U.S. Military have a presence nearby)
  • 1 or more Library
  • Town Hall
  • Bus Depot and/or Amtrak Train Station

…I think I covered most of the basics there. Those are all things needed to support and sustain a town’s living population. Stuff like jobs, shopping centers and attractions are secondary. These are all of the things one would reasonably expect a new modern population center to have though of course, they are built over a period of time.

Many would also have one or more of the following for the purposes of employment, tourism, commerce, manufacturing, research or historical significance:

  • Amusement Park (Six Flags, etc.)
  • Agriculture/Farms
  • Factory
  • Shopping Center/Mall
  • Military Base
  • Airport
  • Harbor (if by a Lake, River or Ocean)
  • Museum(s)
  • Local, State and/or Nationally Famous Landmark
  • Local, State and/or Nationally Famous Person
  • 1 or more University and/or College
  • 1 or more hotel(s)
  • 1 or more Minor League Sports Team
  • 1 or More Major League Sports Team

…Again, a general overview.

Like the previous list, they all speak for themselves. Semi-Ghost towns usually lack everything on this list EXCEPT the Argiculture/Farms or Factory portions. That and homeowners only live there for part of the year. Over time, most close to other population centers merged with them. If they were too far to merge, they adapted with the times.

Now that I’ve gotten that out the way, let’s talk about Sawyer Rising.

The basic premise is this: In 1890, the last family to live in the town of Sawyer, Nebraska moved to Chicago. The Irving family founded Sawyer 275 years earlier in 1615 at a time this part of the continent belonged to the Souix Nation. The British-American settlers who founded the town famously sought permission from Souix chieftains before the first house was built. It was a rare moment lost in time in which Native Americans and Europeans chose to live side by side with mutual respect.

Their bond was tested over the next 100 years as the European superpowers of the day brought their wars to North America. Originally named Marigold, the township was renamed Sawyer in honor of an African American slave named Sawyer who died shortly after warning the town of approaching British troops during the Revolutionary War. The messager named Sawyer died of his wounds but his heroism moved the town to arm themselves ahead of the British army’s arrival.

In the 115 years that followed the Revolutionary War, Sawyer was a major trade town for travelers and settlers heading west. It also served as a haven for runaway slaves on the lesser-known midwestern route to Canada in the years leading up to the the Civil War. Much of the region is still firmly controlled by the Souix, who jumped at every opportunity to undermine the U.S. Government.

When the Civil War broke out, a decision by the townsfolk is believed to have been what led to Sawyer becoming a ghost town: In 1865, a batallion of Confederare Soldiers attacked the town in a bid to turn it into a forward base and open a western from to flank the Union Army. Sawyer’s Native American allies were busy fighting the Union army and were only able to spare a few men to help defend the town. With a fighting force of 120 men, the Sawyer Militia held off the much larger Confederate Army, which numbered 800 men. When the Union Army arrived a week later, they found the forests and fields surrounding Sawyer littered with the dead and dying. It didn’t take them long to figure out what happened. They were still shocked a token militia wiped out a well-trained army that had managed to get reinforcements. The Union Army tried their luck in a bid to save face and penetrated as far as the town square before they were forced to retreat.

By the time the war ended, the 120 defenders had been reduced to 57. The Federal Government would not forget about Sawyer’s actions against both armies: In the years that followed, the U.S. Government forcibly reloacted hundreds of thousands of Native Americans to make room for settlers from the west and the transcontinental railroad. For Sawyer, which relied on trade with their Native American neighbors to survive the move was a deathblow.

As development ramped up, families quickly moved away one by one. James Irving was a former slave who moved to Sawyer as a boy a few years before the Civil War. The Irvings would be last family to leave the town. With his wife expecting their 5th child, James made the difficult decision to move to Chicago. James was one of the surviving members of the Sawyer Militia. He loved the town he’d grown up. Even so, he had a growing family he needed to take care of and made the difficult decision in the spring of 1890. The baby girl his wife was expecting was born into the family on the way to Chicago. She would be named Marigold in honor of the town’s original name. Marigold would travel to Sawyer in 1910 to bury her father, who requested he be buried in his childhood home. The town would be forgotten to time for the next 100 years.

In the summer of 2010, James Irving’s great grandson and Marigold’s grandson 25 year-old Tim Irving discovers his great grandfather’s diary. In the diary, James talked about his life growing up in Sawyer from learning to read and write to the siege during the Civil War, ending with the decision to leave the town 25 years later. He almost doesn’t believe it until his mother tells him the stories are true: Marigold, who passed away 15 years earlier kept everything her family brought from Sawyer.

There was a family legend Marigold passed on to her children and grandchildren: One day, an Irving would raise the town from the dead. Even if she didn’t live to see it, Sawyer would be reborn. The catch is they first needed to find it. 100 years later, the town wasn’t on any map. Based on Marigold’s description of the town when she visited in 1930, only the elements reclaimed the town. Only the Town Hall remained standing and that was back in 1930. Tim vows to find the town and rebuild it himself. Not just for his grandmother and great-grandfather but for himself. It would be the ultimate challenge given his career choice is construction. Five years later, Tim would found his own company: Marigold Co., in honor of his grandmother.

This is where the story begins. I’m actually considering also writing a prequel to this story: The Sawyer Militia, which would cover James Irving’s early years and end with him leaving town. Haven’t decided yet if I will make it a full novel or not. I certainly should after that backstory on the town’s past I typed there.

…Sawyer Rising is Tim Irving’s story though. The story is one part family history, one part engineering, one part fiction and one part visionary. Put them together and you have a facinating story of trial and triumph. You have a guy who, upon finding the bones of the most gentrified–but fictional–town in North America dedicates the next 25 years of his life not only rebuilding it bringing it up to modern-day standards. It’s no easy task given the town lay dormant for 125 years: Roads will need to be paved, powerlines and pipes will need to be laid and more. It will be difficult but certainly not impossible–It helps Tim is the President and CEO of a construction company!

I plan to spend 2 to 3 years on this story. I don’t consider it Sci-Fi since currently existing technology and construction techniques will be used and featured throughout the story for the town’s development. I’m no expert on certain aspects so yes, I will be doing research while writing this story–I have it pretty good idea for how I want to approach certain events.

Remember the two lists I showed above? In the interests of generating some buzz, Sawyer will definitely contain all of the following from both lists by the time the story’s finished:

  • A Police Station
  • A Fire Station
  • An Train Station
  • A Bus Depot
  • 2 Medical Centers
  • A Solar Power Plant
  • A Natural Gas Power Plant
  • A Post Office
  • A Library
  • 3 Schools
  • 2 Colleges
  • 3 hotels
  • 1 Airport

…I am keeping the final population number a secret for now but after the first 5 years, it will be 25,000. There will also be stuff other than what’s shown here added to Sawyer.

Now I want to talk about the sequel a bit, which begins 10 years after the first story begins. By this time, Marigold Co. is approached by representatives from Haiti and Cuba. Both island nations would like Marigold Co. to do some major work in Havana and Port-au-Prince, the islands’ capital cities: Cuba wants several skyscrapers and a shopping mall built. Haiti wants a skyscraper, a hospital and a university but there’s a catch: The job in Haiti will require the company to only use manpower from the island nation. In addition, the job in Cuba has a 5-year time limit to be completed on time.

Tim Irving accepts both challenges and appoints two of his understudies to lead each project: Grima Robina will go to Cuba while Annie Corrin will go to Haiti, her homeland. Grima is forced to have the resources and building materials for the skyscrapers prepared in Florida and then flown in due to the lack of room to do it in Havana. Meanwhile Annie’s eyes are opened to the institutionalized poverty in Haiti and makes it her personal mission to “break the chains of her people’s bondage”.

Sawyer Rising: Skyline will be two stories in one package. I plan to write both novels at the same time. With both novels, I will use currently existing technology and construction techniques. More info will come once both novels are nearly finished. Look forward to it.