Locals make a push to revive town to its former golden era
There’s a movement happening in Bakersfield that even Donald Trump would get behind.
Make Bakersfield Great Again.
While there are no mega-rallies and no political sharpshooters involved, what’s happening is a quiet transformation of this sleepy little historic town in southeast Ozark County.
When friends Jason Marsh and Chris Bales were talking a couple years ago about their little town and how it was starting to look pretty run down, the two dreamed of reviving the town to its heyday.
Marsh and his wife Kelly got an opportunity to start the process when longtime Bakersfield businessman and entrepreneur Danny Hayes agreed to sell them all of his rental homes and some commercial property and real estate lots in Bakersfield. “There are a lot of good things happening in Bakersfield,” Marsh said. “The new Dollar General opened, and the school has new facilities and has seen record enrollment growth this year. We have a long road ahead of us, but we’re excited about this.”
Marsh has already remodeled two of the 12 houses he and wife Kelly bought, and he and has some big plans for the commercial property he owns, the old Marvin Nichols building downtown. In addition to rehabbing the structures, Marsh has also cleaned up many of the lots he now owns.
“I can’t tell you how much trash I’ve hauled off,” Marsh said.
Marsh hopes the improvements inspire others in his hometown. “We already have seen others jumping onboard and making improvements to their properties and cleaning up,” Marsh said.
The friends started a Facebook page called “Make Bakersfield Great Again,” and they even have baseball caps and T-shirts available.
One of the properties Marsh acquired was the former Hayes Cafe. “When Chris and I would sit around and talk about improving the town, he always wanted to open a gym. So I told him he needed to come look at this building and see what he thought,” Marsh said.
Chris and his wife Lacee jumped at the chance to buy the building from their friend and immediately began its transformation from a cafe and pool hall into a state-of-the-art gym.
“We’ve really enjoyed it,” said Chris Bales. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”
The new business, which opened this summer, is called “The Gym of Bakersfield.”
Co-owner Lacee said her ladies-only classes have been a real hit.
“They’re a lot of fun,” she said. “We get to work out and visit. It’s just a great place for old friends and former schoolmates to get together, work out and visit.”
Even though significant progress has been made and several people around town are jumping on the bandwagon, it’s a long road ahead, and the Marshes know it.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, and it’s not cheap to rehab these old houses,” Marsh said. I’m about to start on another one, and I know it’s going to be difficult.”
He said they have done all the work on the remodels, with help from some of the youngsters at Bakersfield School.
“The school has been great. Of course it helps them to have good housing for the parents who want to move their kids into our school district,” Marsh said. “We get phone calls almost daily from people wanting to move back to our community.”
He added, “We have some other ideas in the works. Stay tuned for that.”
Bakersfield Mayor Tony Johnson said he is pleased with the excitement and rejuvenation of his hometown. “The city welcomes people who want to improve our great little town. Improvements can only lead to better quality of life for those who live here or want to live here,” Johnson said.
Bakersfield, formerly known as Bakersville and then Waterville, reached its heyday in the early 1900s when it had a population of more than 400 and was bigger than West Plains, according to A History of Ozark County 1841-1991, published by the Ozark County Genealogical and Historical Society. During its boom years, Bakersfield had multiple hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, doctor’s offices and even a movie theater. Then the railroad came to West Plains, and Bakersfield’s population gradually diminished.