Country music stars, Hollywood studios and an unknown group of YouTubers are rushing to buy a small town in Tennessee after its owners listed it for sale at the very reasonable price of $725,000.
Water Valley, a once-thriving settlement about 43 miles outside Nashville, has its first marked grave in 1808 and even its own railway stop, but lost its legal status as a town in 1959 when its post office closed.
But now the last remnants of the town are up for grabs, and the sellers have been flooded with inquiries from families, charities, filmmakers and a large number of curious time wasters.
Real estate broker Christa Swartz told The Independent that she had even received interest from a group of “extremely popular” YouTubers hoping to acquire it and restore it.
“They are still working on getting a few investors to back them so they can make a legitimate offer on it,” she said, adding that the sellers were open to considering them.
Other potential buyers have included “country music stars, pilots, retired couples, and several large families with lots of children”, as well as non-profit groups interested in turning it into a veterans’ retreat.
There has also been interest from Hollywood studios and a location company, but Ms Swartz said the current owners don’t want it to become a mere screen backdrop.
“I have never had nothing come close to this in the fourteen years I have been a broker,” she said. “People have come absolutely out of the woodwork ... I received 223 enquiries before noon yesterday. It’s probably the only town I’ll ever sell in my career.”
She told Fox 11: “You could totally be your own mayor. You would also be your own everything else though, too ... the cleaner and the mayor and the barkeeper. You could be the antique store owner.
“You get to make the decisions and make the rules for your own little town if you get Water Valley.”
When the orchards died, the town followed
The listing comprises two plots of land covering seven acres in total, with four pre-1900 general stores, an old barn, and a large field. There are about 15 current residents, some with pets and livestock.
The town was originally known as Spencer’s Mill, and in 1824 had 61 recorded voters as well as 14 slaves. Tennessee was a slave state until the end of the Civil War in 1865.
In 1874 it renamed itself Water Valley, apparently due to the regular flood waters from nearby Leiper’s Creek, and by the end of the 19th century it had a doctor’s office, a dentist, blacksmiths, a church, a schoolhouse, a grist mill, and multiple general stores.
Back then, Ms Swartz told The Independent, the town was known for its orchards, but the introduction of cedar trees brought a disease that killed the apple trees. After that, commerce declined, the trains departed, and in 1959 it ceased to legally be a town.
Today almost all of that is gone, but five remaining structures and two parcels of land remained in concentrated ownership, which now lies with a group of four lifelong Tennesseans who are extended family.
Sellers want to preserve its history
Ms Swartz said the four owners are “not incredibly wealthy” but want to sell it to someone who will keep it roughly in its current form, so that “you can walk into it and smell and see what our great grandparents would have smelled and seen”.
Many callers, and Ms Swartz herself, compared the listing to the plot of the TV show Schitt’s Creek, about a wealthy family who lose their fortune and end up living in a small town they once bought as a joke.
County officials will handle infrastructure such as roads and water. The price is less than twice what the average Tennessee house sold for in the three months ending this June.
Ms Swartz said: “It’s just the dreamiest, quiet, gentle ride up there through some of the prettiest land in Tennessee. You could stop at any moment and find something to take a picture of...
“It could be a soda fountain or a candy shop or homemade ice cream or an antique store, or an event venue with music, or a bed and breakfast. It can be so many different things and still preserve the history and the peace.”
However, any new buyer would have work to do restoring the buildings, only two of which have modern wiring and plumbing.
One, Ms Swartz said, still has an old-fashioned cash register that maxes out at two dollars, while another still has rolls of twine used to wrap products in brown paper.
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