John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Two U.S. towns lay claim to being the nation's best place to spend Valentine's. We'll be the judge of that.
Two towns locked in a pillowfight to the death for ultimate Valentine's Day superiority.
To the west is Loveland, aka “Sweetheart City.” Nestled between the Colorado Central Railroad and the Big Thompson River, this community of 67,000 once boasted bounteous harvests of cherries and sugar beets. But drought and blight took them all away in the 1960s, and now Loveland finds meaning in maintaining America's largest Valentine's industrial complex.
Each year, Loveland senior citizens receive pre-addressed Valentine's cards from all over the world – 50 states and 80 countries this year alone – and stamp them with a rubber cachet reading something like, “Valentine greetings / From a city with heart / Loveland, Colorado / Home of fabulous art!” They then cancel the envelopes and reroute them to the recipients bearing a Loveland postmark. The industrious stampers handled 160,000 such envelopes in 2012, separating the town from the Loveland in Ohio, which tries to do something similar but manages only a fraction of the volume.
“We get film crews and press from all over country. We were on Good Morning America a couple years ago, CBS Sunday Morning too,” says Jim Worthen, director of investor relations for Colorado's Loveland Chamber of Commerce. “I can't say we're undisputed, but most people agree that we're kind of the spot.”
But a challenger beckons from the east!
Entering the ring is Valentine, or “Heart City,” a rugged outpost of 2,820 hidden in the untrimmed bush of the Nebraska Sandhills. Valentine had a rough time getting started – Stephen Long and Zebulon Pike's reports of it being a wasteland kept pioneers away – but with the advent of the railroad it has surged ahead in the battle for the hearts of America. Village namesake Edward Kimball Valentine has had to move over to make room for Cupid, who draws amorous couples in from out of state to get hitched in Valentine's churches. The town also runs its own remailing program and its restaurants serve heart-shaped steaks.
Dean Jacobs, executive director of Valentine's chamber of commerce, says he's visited rival Loveland and found it a perfectly nice place. But he'd never go there on Feb. 14.
“We claim to be the King,” he says. “You're in Valentine on Valentine's Day – what more could you want?”
I don't know – what more could you want? To settle this grudge match for the heart of America, let's take a look at how each hamlet's Valentine's Day amenities shape up:
LOVABLE LOCAL HISTORY
It's patriotic to love Valentine's Day on the main street of Valentine, Nebraska. Ammodramus / Wikipedia.
Valentine: Established when nervous settlers decided to build a fort to “protect the white man from the Indians” (according to the city's own website). Later, Edward Valentine, a future Republican congressman, made his reputation chasing landsharks out of town. Outlaws stalked the countryside, such as Doc Middleton, whose sexy-sounding hideout was called the Rustler's Roost. Valentine grew into a lovers' destination spot seemingly for its lucky choice of name.
Loveland: William A.H. Loveland was the president of the Colorado Central Railroad. Folks began to associate the city with Valentine's Day after Postmaster Elmer Ivers, Chamber of Commerce President Ted Thompson and his wife Mabel had a “vision to share the romantic name of our town of Loveland with the whole world.” Thus the birth of today's epically scaled re-mailing program.
Winner: Loveland. Mabel and Ted Thompson are too adorable – they even have a bronze statue of their heads sitting in a local park.
This Valentine steak has a tendon-cy to be bloody good. Irwin-Scott / Flickr.
Valentine: Restaurants serve up steaks in the shape of hearts. There's also a chili cook-off and a chocolate lovers “experience.”
Loveland: Restaurants cook heart-shaped pizza. A local microbrewery crafts a porter using cherries and cocoa nibs called Bleeding Heart.
Winner: Draw. A steak that loves you and a bloody beer is the ideal Valentines' combo, and sadly no town has it.
MARRIAGE LICENSES ISSUED
Valentine: The town's chapels typically mint “at least six” newlyweds around Valentine's Day, says Jacobs, although some years that number creeps into the “teens.”
Loveland: Though he doesn't know the exact figure, Worthen says “a lot” of couples choose his locality to tie the knot. Hitching posts include the Ellis Ranch, a former dude ranch now devoted to performing rustic, Western-style weddings. Worthen says the ranch is booked “pretty much solid through the month of February.”
Valentine: Businesses festoon their facades with Valentine's Day flair. The town has also run a Valentine's Day Coronation since the 1930s, electing a “King and Queen of Hearts” from local high-school classes. Nobody wears all-pink outfits in the streets, however, and there are few displays of gratuitous public smooching. Locals are “relatively modest” and don't swoon in the love-thick atmosphere, says Jacobs. “They see it every year.”
Loveland: Come February 14, there are more hearts in Loveland than in a truckload of dogfood. A “Miss Loveland Valentine” makes a personal visit to the Colorado governor. There's even a “Stamp Camp” to train children about the art of stampery for when the senior citizens age out of the Valentines-card remailing process.
Winner: Valentine gets the nod thanks to its Heart City Bull Bash, an annual V-Day event “designed to say 'Thank You' to the beef breeders and seedstock producers who allow us to share in their rich heritage and passion for the livestock industry.”
Thompson Valley Chiropractic, a typical business in Loveland around V-Day. Image courtesy of the Loveland Chamber of Commerce.
RECOURSES FOR JILTED LOVERS
Valentine: The brokenhearted can toss themselves into the Niobrara River from the Bryan Bridge, the only arched cantilever truss single-pin bridge in America.
Loveland: The spurned can wander out into the Colorado wilderness and be eaten by coyotes.
Winner: Valentine, obviously.
With two victories apiece and a draw, it would appear that these Valentine's Day towns are evenly matched. So until one of them constructs a heart-shaped highway that's visible from space, or starts giving away free smooches to any visitor, it looks like there will be no single Valentine's Capital of the Universe. Until then, the crown will be kept by placeholder Rome, which owns the dessicated skull of Saint Valentine.
Loveland's Worthen, at least, sounds cool with that: “We all love it here, but I would be lying if I didn't say I'm kind of ready for a break.”
Top image: Street signs in Valentine, Nebraska, courtesy Flickr user The Stakhanovite Twins