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DVD depicts DeKalb ghost towns

– Railroads and the formation of several post offices were responsible for many place names in DeKalb County.

Some of them developed into larger communities. Others became ghost towns. A few ghost towns are preserved by green and white-lettered signs along the highway. Others are only remembered by the handful of people who live there.

A new DVD is designed to change that.

“Ghost Towns of DeKalb County” was researched and narrated by the late DeKalb County Historian John Martin Smith and directed by William L. Lock.

Smith, a Butler native, never saw the completed work. He and wife Barbara died in an Oct. 5 traffic accident in Grant County.

The DVD took three years to complete. “I had a lot of fun working with John Martin,” Lock said during a presentation at Eastside High School.

The project began with Smith asking Lock if he would create a PowerPoint presentation.

“We had about 32 pictures and he just ad-libbed,” Lock said. “He never wrote anything down.”

Eventually, word spread about the Ghost Towns project and it quickly grew. Lock decided a DVD was a better alternative.

“As I got into it, I decided it should be a piece of history,” he said. “I would just go knocking on doors and asking people if they knew anything” about the different ghost towns.

“Businesses often sprouted up in proximity to a post office, and often, towns sprang up as well. That began to change in 1903, when the postal service established “rural free delivery.”

“The towns that did survive were all along a railroad,” Lock said. Butler, St. Joe, Spencerville, Auburn, Garrett, Waterloo, Corunna and Ashley all developed, thanks in large part to the presence of one or more railroads.

The DVD was finished in early October, Lock said.

He and Smith had decided to meet Oct. 9 – a Saturday – but tragedy struck.

“John never got to see the finished work,” Lock said sadly. “He would have been delighted to be up here on this stage talking about it.”

Lock had the support and encouragement of Smith’s family to finish the DVD.

“At the time of his death, John was working on a book about Butler,” Lock said. “He was about three-fourths done with it. I don’t know if that will be completed or not. I know John loved Butler.”