When Mary Carol Wohlman grew up in Centerville, children ran through the neighborhood playing and laughing as neighbors talked and walked among penny candy stores and small shops.
"It was a neighborhood," Wohlman, 66, said recently, looking over vacant lots that now dot the vicinity near the intersection of Main and Center.
Centerville's population has since dropped from a couple thousand to about 500, leaving longtime residents like Wohlman longing for revitalization of their neighborhood as homes fall into disrepair.
A grassroots effort to improve Centerville as well as other areas of the Mining City received a major boost recently with a $2.14 million federal grant for neighborhood revitalization.
The project and grant application were developed by Barbara Miller of the National Affordable Housing Network and Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Montana.
Seventeen properties are slated for improvement as part of the project, including several in Centerville near the intersection of Main and Center streets.
"It will be awesome," Wohlman said.
The grant allows for the purchase of vacant land and construction of new homes, or for the rehabilitation of existing structures.
Work is under way to identify the projects, but Miller says the target areas include Centerville, central Butte and possibly the rehabilitation of existing homes in the Uptown area or the flat.
"Right now it's wide open and meant to be for higher impact," Miller said.
Efforts began around 1995 to encourage in-fill development. Miller said the grant will help toward that effort while reducing blight and the number of abandoned homes.
"It's a good opportuntty to look at those issues," she said.
New homes will be designed to fit in with the neighborhoods where they are built, with existing homes brought to living standards and made available to purchase.
Homes will be offered to low- and moderate-income residents.
Miller says none of the Butte homes built through her agency have fallen into foreclosure and Wohlman believes home ownership will help strengthen families in the Mining City.
Wohlman and her husband, Gene, are longtime residents of 128 E. Center St. Efforts to revitalize the neighborhood had failed for years, but finally took off about five months ago.
"We've complained to city officials and anyone else who would listen to us," said Gene Wohlman. "It just seems like Centerville and Walkerville have been forgotten. It's like the twilight zone up here."
But Centerville residents, along with Commissioner Dave Palmer, have organized community meetings to discuss everything from cleaning up trash and the neighborhood's overall image.
They succeeded in an effort to change Centerville's zoning to prevent old mobile homes from moving in and Miller says that in addition to new homes being built, community gardens are planned for the area.
Wohlman knows it will take time before the community she envisions for Centerville is a reality, but says this latest grant and efforts by Miller will help toward the effort.
"I think it will be repaired in many ways," Wohlman said.
Miller said areas of Butte that suffered from high foreclosure rates are the target of the project. It will be mostly in-fill development with an emphasis on energy-efficient and historically accurate design.
- Reporter Justin Post may be reached at Justin.firstname.lastname@example.org or 496-5572.