La Grande was recently named 38th on a national list of best small cities in America. (Chris Baxter/The Observer)
by ANDREW CUTLER / The Observer
Charles Anderson’s 50-year journey across the country in search of America’s best cities is finally coming to fruition and it has placed La Grande in the discussion as one of America’s best small cities.
Anderson, 74, a retired high school geography and civics teacher, has been traveling across the nation during the last five decades, stopping in city after city and getting a general feel for each community. Anderson was inspired by Norman Ford, who published a 50 best cities book in the early 1950s, and he decided to compile his own list as he traveled the country.
“Nearly 50 years of research and travel has, for me, underlined one fact: It is not possible to definitely name and rank America’s best cities,” said Anderson, who lives in Winter Haven, Fla. “Nevertheless, I offer my best attempt and I am confident that my resulting list is second to none.”
The list — called “In Search of Eden: America’s Best Small Cities” — features the top 60 cities in ranked order, and an additional 40 cities listed in alphabetical order. All of the cities have a population of no more than 45,000. La Grande made Anderson’s list, checking in at No. 38 just behind Spearfish, S.D. Anderson said he camped at Wallowa Lake several years ago and his memories of the area remain strong.
“The Wallowas create a remarkable sky island of mountains, dropping eastward to the depths of Hells Canyon and westward to the lovely Grande Ronde Valley,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s list was based on a 12-point criteria he created to outline key factors for small city selection. Criteria such as the setting, weather, identity and population patterns, accessibility, medical care, schools, living costs and employment.
“A great location and a fine university help make La Grande one of America’s best small cities. (The) downtown is attractive and well maintained. (The) winters are relatively mild and removed from Western Oregon’s constant drizzle.”
Anderson said that 37 years ago, the Saturday Evening Post offered to publish his top 60 list, but he ultimately decided that he wanted more time to travel and fine tune his selections.
“It would have sold as presented and the list was quite good I think,” Anderson said. “But I would have been left responsible for any reader who made a move based on research that was less than my best.”
Anderson’s first round of research came to a halt in 1989 when a propane gas explosion destroyed his house and his research. The explosion also killed his mother. He resumed his research in 2001.
La Grande isn’t the only Oregon city on Anderson’s list. Klamath Falls made the list at No. 14, while Pendleton was also mentioned.
Gettysburg, Pa., topped the list, followed by Montrose, Colo., Belmont, N.C., Cedar City, Utah, and Lexington, Ky. Other regional cities that made the list include Emmett, Idaho, at No. 29, Ellensburg, Wash., at No. 49 and Moscow, Idaho, at No. 52.
“Not every city will fit every family,” Anderson said. “But my 100 cities can be a really good place for seekers to begin their Eden searches.”