Land of the Free

Despite the real estate boom, towns across America's heartland are giving acreage away. The only catch: You have to live there

The last thing that goes is the grain elevator. Shortly before that, the post office. Preceding those, more or less in order, go the hardware store, lumberyard, gas station, grocery, pharmacy, bank and then, most dishearteningly, the schools. Those precious schools. After the kids are gone, it's just a matter of time before Main Street--and what remains of the once cheery little houses rimming it--gets boarded up for good.

Abandoned homes? Usable yet worthless real estate? It sounds crazy at a time when house prices in most parts of the country are soaring and the Internet has allowed millions to set...

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