You may find a few local newspaper articles about Allenville if you search the archives, you’ll find very little anywhere else. The papers will tell you about the flood of ’79 and the evacuation of Allenville. You can read about the displacement of residents and the efforts to relocate them, which results in the founding of Hopeville in ’81. However, those are the details of a series of events that don’t get any closer to what made Allenville a community many residents did not want to leave. Our interest became uncovering that story. Why would residents prefer to stay in the Gila river floodplain? The answer is simple, it was home.
Our interest in this project began in late 2013. We were driving around exploring Surprise and the surrounding towns. About 40 minutes into our ride, we came upon a tiny community surrounded by farmland. The cluster of modest homes, so unlike the sprawling city of Phoenix, caught both our attention. As we did a slow circle through, it was pretty clear to both of us that there was something special about this place. It didn’t look like more than 100 people lived there and we were left wondering how Hopeville came to be. We took to searching on the Internet only to find there wasn’t much written about Hopeville, but we did find out about Allenville and decided if we wanted to know more we would have to explore both Allenville and Hopeville ourselves.
This exploration consisted of making images of Allenville and Hopeville, researching the archives at the Buckeye Valley Museum and Buckeye Valley News, and interviewing former Allenville residents, some of them now located in Hopeville. The dynamics of relocation are complex, but we realized there was one piece of the puzzle that is often overlooked, and that is, understanding what makes a community resilient.
As we collected stories about living in Allenville we realized, any place can be a community, often arising from the external conditions that require a strong interdependence. In many ways, Allenville was all about the connections that the residents shared. Relocating was not an geographic concern but a social one. Severing social ties meant the elimination of a subculture, which also meant losing the heart of Allenville. Hopeville could be built with all the amenities Allenville lacked, but amenities will never trump social bonds.
This video and images are an attempt at uncovering remnants, echoes of a tightknit community. However, like any dissection, we only get at the pieces involved in this complex phenomena we call community. This dissection may only clarify what we can’t regain, what lives in the memories of those who called Allenville home.