State's best small town? Book says it's Easton

February 03, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

EASTON -- Now comes the book "The 100 Best Small Towns in America" and what's listed as best town number 26? Easton, the home of 9,370 residents, plus newcomers Randy Bedell and Marc Delpino.

Mr. Bedell and Mr. Delpino didn't need Norman Crampton's book to tell them what they already knew.

Looking to escape the hubbub of New York City, the two shop owners found refuge in Easton last June. When they return to the city to buy stock for their clothing store on North Harrison Street here, they say they can't put the metropolitan skyline behind them fast enough.

"We can't wait to get home to Easton," says Mr. Bedell, a New York native. "When I'm up there, I wonder why we stayed as long as we did."

The book, which was published by Prentice Hall and released yesterday, lists Elko, Nevada, as the best small town in the United States, according to a rating scale devised by Mr. Crampton.

Mr. Crampton, a Chicago native, spent three years examining towns with populations between 5,000 and 15,000. Convinced that many city dwellers are ready to pack their bags and move to the country, Mr. Crampton set out to offer suggestions about which towns offer the best combination of housing, schools, hospitals and culture.

Easton is the only town in Maryland to make Mr. Crampton's list, an achievement that doesn't surprise some locals who point proudly -- some say snobbishly -- to their colonial houses, respected hospital, arts academy and annual Waterfowl Festival proof of the community's vitality.

Despite the Eastern Shore's reputation as an area suspicious of outsiders, Easton Mayor George P. Murphy says the town's successes in business and culture would not be possible without cooperation from many sectors.

"We have people who step forth and say, 'Easton is a beautiful center, and let's maintain it.' The newcomers have blended in beautifully," he says.

A sticky point in Mr. Crampton's praise of Easton is the Avalon Theatre, a restored movie house that Mayor Murphy and others hoped would be the repolished jewel of downtown night life.

Mr. Crampton used the Avalon to cite Easton's success in undertaking tasteful redevelopment. But while the book was still in manuscript form, the Avalon and two adjoining restaurants were closed, largely due to a sluggish economy.

Since then, the town has purchased the theater property and, says Mayor Murphy, the Avalon will reopen this spring.

But life in a small town isn't all roses, some longtime residents say.

Easton Police Chief R. Edward Blessing, who grew up on a farm outside this tiny seat of Talbot County government, says drug-related crime keeps many of his 33 officers busy. And although there have been no murders in Easton this year, two men were killed within 48 hours of each other last year.

"When darkness falls upon Easton," he says, "we are exposed to the same elements as other municipalities in relation to crime activity."

Outsiders, including wealthy families from Philadelphia and New York, have been attracted to the Easton area's waterfront properties since World War I. The infusion of new blood and money, notes Chief Blessing, makes it hard for local children to grow up and buy their own spot on the water. Million-dollar properties are not uncommon along the creeks and rivers that cut through the farmland between Easton and the Chesapeake Bay.

"That's my dream," he says. "But land's gotten just too expensive here now."

John T. Long, executive vice president of the Talbot County Chamber of Commerce, says Easton's listing in the Crampton book could be a boon for the community. Tourists and those who decide to come to Easton permanently, he says, contribute to tax revenues and help provide jobs for current residents.

TOP 10 SMALL TOWNS

1. Elko, Nev.

2. Essex, Conn.

3. Page, Ariz.

4. Lebanon, N.H.

5. Lander, Wyo.

6. Ukiah, Calif.

7. Glenwood Springs, Colo.

8. Durango, Colo.

9. Lewisburg, Penn.

10. Culpepper, Va.

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