Agincourt, the seat of Fennimore county, is a town in northwestern Iowa—America’s heartland. Twelve hundred twenty-eight feet above sea level, its population of 17,693 according to the last census is holding steady. The elderly from smaller rural communities come to enjoy shopping convenience and access to health care; meanwhile, young adults bolt for economic opportunity elsewhere. Anywhere! Lately, though, that displacement has slowed. Diversification and building a firmer economic base through the internet has made the future less cloudy, if not actually bright.
Culturally, the community is Protestant and 91.38% White—with small numbers of African, Asian, and Native Americans. Conservative, with a residual hint of Progressivism, the likes of Teddy Roosevelt might have a shot at public office. In today’s political color spectrum, though, Agincourt is purple tending toward red, in the otherwise bright crimson of the state’s 7th Congressional District represented by someone who might have done a cameo role in “Pleasantville”, uncomfortable with the connotation of the film’s shift to technicolor.
The city was founded in 1853, when the former reserve of the Sac and Fox Nation opened to White settlement, and incorporated two years later. The only plausible reason for its name—the definitive battle in the Hundred Years War between the French and English—is the Classics background of the townsite’s owners Virgil, Pliny, and Horace Tennant, East Coast investors who might actually have heard the admonition to the country’s surplus population, “Go West”, years before Horace Greeley said it. With financial backing from their brother-in-law and a Philadelphia banker, the Tennants acquired a mile-square section of The Louisiana Purchase—the physical building block of Manifest Destiny—then conceived a rational plan based on Enlightenment Philadelphia, let it waft onto the unplowed tall-grass prairie, and stood back to watch what happened.
The consequences weren’t unexpected considering their plan had provided for all the civic virtues—education and culture, government, enterprise, and spiritual nurture. Long before arrival of the railroad, the mighty Muskrat River offered rudimentary water power for the milling of grain and wood, as well as fish and fowl to supplement the frontier diet. And when the seat of government at Muskrat City proved flood-prone and untenable, the block provided for a courthouse was another stroke of foresight. The frenzy of railroad speculation twenty years later effectively sealed the city’s good prospects.
Forces, Factor, Faces
A middling Midwestern town, Agincourt’s establishment, growth and development for one hundred and sixty-five years have been subject to the same factors and forces experienced elsewhere, especially in the Midwest and Great Plains; and like other communities, those large-scale phenomena continue to be modified by local conditions, by special interest groups and even by specific families and individuals. The Civil War and the westward expansion of Manifest Destiny mentioned earlier; the arrival of the railroad and impact of the automobile; large scale, nearly industrialized, agriculture; government initiatives (or their absence), war, natural disasters, and pestilence; shifting population and economic uncertainty: all of these have played their part in shaping today’s Agincourt. We call them Forces, Factors, and Faces.
FORCES are the raw natural conditions into which we’re born: geology, climate, the force of gravity. While FACTORS are generated by us and our presence here: culture and all its various institutions, like education, religion, government and that flows from them. FACES are individuals—whose reach may be long, like Pope John XXIII, JFK, or Jonas Salk, or local and more immediate, like the Tennant family and other community leaders.