For the right price, you can own what is billed as America's smallest town - Buford, Wyo., pop. 1. The minimum bid of $100,000 in Thursday's national auction wouldn't buy you a townhouse in many cities.
Whoever buys the 10 acres of commerce and history, owner Don Sammons says, "I just hope their dream continues to keep Buford moving in the 21st century."
Sammons and auctioneers are unsure what Buford will bring, but there is interest. Amy Bates, senior vice president at Williams & Williams, the Oklahoma-based auction house offering the property, says people from more than 70 countries have checked the listing on the company's website.
Williams & Williams markets Buford as a "unique opportunity" to "own your own income-producing town." The auction will be at noon MT at 2 Sammons Lane in Buford, illustrating how naming streets after yourself is a perk of owning your own town. Online bidders who register by noon CT Wednesday can participate at www.auctionnetwork.com.
Buford isn't the only town for sale.
Pray, Mont., pop. 8 people and 12 dogs, in a picturesque valley 30 miles north of Yellowstone National Park's only year-round entrance, was listed for $1.4 million last month. The town, which includes a trailer park, owner Barbara Walker's photography studio, abandoned historic buildings and an all-important post office, was once moved and twice bypassed by railroads or highways.
The town's neighbors include actors Jeff Bridges, Dennis Quaid and Peter Fonda.
Buford's new owner will get this trading post, gas station and a post office with their own ZIP code.
"This town has no ordinances, no covenants, no restrictions," says Walker, 52, whose late husband's family bought Pray in 1953. "You could put a hog farm on it. You could put an artist colony."
Her town is named for a late congressman, not the act on bended knee, although Walker says one interested party is a church attracted to the idea of a summer camp in a town called Pray.
Last fall, a Filipino church, Iglesia Ni Cristo, bought the mostly abandoned town of Scenic, S.D., near the Badlands. The Rapid CityJournal reported the sale price was $700,000.
If not a trend, town sales are certainly "history coming full circle," says Patty Limerick, an author and historian and chair of the University of Colorado's Center of the American West. She notes that many Western town sites were laid out by speculators trying to judge railroad routes. Now, she says, a "new form of commerce" is playing out in the sales of towns long bypassed by road or rail.
Buford is not among the bypassed, though.
The town's new owner will get a trading post, gas station and a post office with their own ZIP code - 82052 - on an exit off Interstate 80 that Sammons says pulls 1,000-1,500 visitors a day in the summer. People stop all day and into the night, he says, to get pictures in front of what he claims is among the most photographed signs in the world.
At about 8,000 feet above sea level, Buford is the highest-elevated town on I-80 from "the Golden Gate to the George Washington" bridges, Sammons says.
Buford, 125 miles northwest of Denver, was named for Civil War Gen. John Buford, whose decision to hold high ground early in the battle of Gettysburg was key to the Union victory. Buford was founded four years later, in 1867, by workers building the Union Pacific transcontinental railroad, and once swelled to a couple of thousand people. Butch Cassidy and President Ulysses S. Grant passed through.
Sammons, 61, has lived in Buford since 1980 and owned the town since 1992. He is working on a book about the most interesting passersby. The St. Louis native moved his family to Buford in 1980. His wife died, and he has lived alone since the population was cut in half when his son, Jonathan, left about seven years ago.
Don Sammons, headed for semi-retirement, is proud of his urban renewal. He remodeled the one-room school as an office, rebuilt the trading post after a lightning-induced fire burned it down and got the state to erect the town sign. State transportation officials did turn him down on a request that the sign say "Buford - Population Don and Jon."
When his son moved away, Don Sammons says it took a year to change that sign to, "Pop. 1." The new owner may have to get it changed again.