Take a drive to the beautiful northern end of Stokes County this weekend and you’ll get a glimpse into the community’s rich history.
The Francisco FarmFest kicks off Saturday afternoon in Westfield beginning at 1 p.m. and will include a farmers market, bake sale, demonstrations for making molasses and quilts, activities for children, hot dogs, barbeque and music performed throughout the day by The Country Boys, The Shindiggers, The Not Brothers, Kings Mountain View Progressive Primitive Baptist Church, The Tommy Nichols Band, and Nora Davis & Friends.
After the closing of Francisco Elementary in July of 2015, Communities of NW Stokes, a community driven planning and development initiative established a 501(c)(3) charitable nonprofit corporation. While the school belongs to the county, Stokes County commissioners have given the non-profit until July, 2017 to come up with a sustainable plan for the school’s reuse.
“The school has always been the heart of the community. If we are successful it will remain that and anchor a larger community-driven development plan that builds on our heritage and cultivates economic and community development through education, the arts, tourism, advanced agricultural business, and technology,” said event organizer, Jane Bowman.
Communities of Northwest Stokes volunteers have rallied to create a walking trail, repair playground equipment, landscape the lawns and ballfields, and provide an information kiosk at the gate entrance. A Little Free Library was recently built for a community book-sharing program and through a partnership with the Danbury Library, a bookmobile visits the grounds each Monday from 10 a.m. until noon.
“Our goals for the school facilities are to refurbish the basketball courts, the gymnasium, the cafeteria and the classrooms. We envision a place for little league, scouts, child and senior care, health and wellness activities, arts programming, a computer lab and access to the Internet. We would also like for this community center to be self-sustaining and offer economic development opportunities,” Bowman said.
Proceeds from FarmFest will go towards the Francisco School Project and cover urgently needed repairs.
“In the 1960’s, when the Francisco post office closed and residents’ addresses became Westfield, it felt like a loss of identity. In 2015, when Francisco Elementary School closed, it felt like a similar loss,” Bowman said. “Once upon a time, the community thrived with three or four general stores/gas stations, a post office, a school, and tobacco as its cash crop.”
“In the 1980’s tobacco farming became unprofitable for small farmers, in the late 90’s textiles in the South declined causing the elastic plant in Collinstown to relocate. Eventually, the general stores closed and it looked like economic opportunities were drying up. Folks had to start driving many miles to find jobs and fewer families came to the area to live and raise their children.”
Bowman said the community hopes to raise awareness for their picturesque corner of the world.
“There have been many newcomers to the area who have become leaders in establishing this grassroots initiative. Together with those who are long-time residents, they embrace the realization that these communities are special and hard to find.”
On Saturday, Northwest Stokes volunteers will also recognized fire and rescue squads, ladies auxiliary, Rotary and Ruritan clubs.
For more information about Our Communities of NW Stokes on the web, please visit www.ocnwstokes.org and www.facebook.com/franciscocommunity
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426 or on Twitter at AmandaTDodson.