Friday, July 29, 2016

Headed West on Iowa Hwy. 2 – Town of Bloomfield

Continuing west toward our goal in Omaha, we stopped to take a couple of photos of historic places in Bloomfield Iowa.

The Davis County Courthouse in Bloomfield, Iowa, United States was built in 1877.   This courthouse is the second building to house court functions and county administration.  The county’s first courthouse, built in 1844, was a 24 foot by 40 foot log building.  By 1851, the first building was unusable and a Methodist church functioned as a courtroom until 1877.

Politics ruled!  It took 5 different proposals before the voters would finally approve the funding for the present courthouse!   The cornerstone for this magnificent Second Empire/Victorian “General Grant Gothic” structure was laid in August of 1877.  The final cost for the building was $61,496.58. 
The cupola and the belfry are topped by a statue of the goddess of Justice.  The four-sided clock was made by the Seth Thomas Company and it still operates up in that clock tower.


·       On August 27, 1924, Henry "Dare-Devil" Roland, "The Human Fly," attempted to climb the northwest corner of the courthouse. He fell to the ground from about 25 feet, breaking his hip.  He was hospitalized in Bloomfield for six weeks.  On June 28, 1932, Roland made a return trip to Bloomfield to remove the blot from his record of successful climbs. This time, in just 11 minutes, he was sitting astride the statue of Blind Justice.

Bloomfield’s Town Square with the courthouse as the focal point is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It includes 55 commercial buildings all of which were built between the 1850s and the 1890s.  Most of the buildings are of brick construction with no early frame buildings on the square.  I couldn’t determine what type of store occupied the Latimers building but I did note that that name is still active around town.

In the photo above, all of the buildings were constructed in 1893.  As it happened, the entire block that faces Franklin Street burned to the ground early that year.  They were immediately rebuilt.  All around the square, many of the buildings have retained their original windows, doors and overall appearance.

This is the East Jefferson Street side of the town square.  It certainly is colorful!  The yellow building and several others were built before 1870.  According to the document submitted to the Federal Government justifying the square as an historic place, the yellow building once served as a hatchery.   The gray building to the right of it has played several roles in Bloomfield.  It has served as a tin shop, a newspaper office and both men's and women's clothing stores.

It isn’t shown in the photo but the building at 101 East Jefferson Street was originally J.R. Shaeffer's Jewelry Store.  Shaeffer's son Walter went on to open his own jewelry store in Fort Madison Iowa and in the back room of his store, he founded the Shaeffer Pen Company.  That company, now owned by the A.T. Cross Company still produces pens…although they’re now being produced in China.
Serious efforts are underway to refurbish and enliven Bloomfield’s Town Square.  In addition to facelifts and landscaping, part of the project involved the construction of a number of apartments on the second floors of the old buildings.  To learn more about this positive effort, just go to

This sad derelict of a building is the former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad combination depot in Bloomfield.  I was unable to determine when it was built. 

I did find an article from 2004 which said that after much debate, the city decided to take this old landmark and put it up for sale.  It all came down to money.  City budgets had been cut and the costs to refurbish the depot couldn’t be justified.   It would have taken several thousand dollars to make it useable.  Up to that point the old Railroad Depot was home to the Davis County Day Care and Preschool.  They were forced to close out after state inspectors found lead-based paint that can be harmful to children. 

Before the building was to be officially put on the market, the city needed to hold a public hearing for the community as well as have a resolution written and passed on the issue.  Either nothing has been done or no one has come forward to purchase this depot in the last 12 years. 

The first rail service to Bloomfield was by the Fort Madison, West Point, Keosauqua and Bloomfield Railroad.  It started operations in 1853 but it was only in business until 1857.  Another company bought the railroad and continued operations.


·       Railroad growth peaked in Iowa with roughly 10,500 miles of track between 1911 and 1917.  By 2001, the state had lost about 6,595 miles of track, with 3,800 miles of that loss occurring since 1975.  Currently there are only 3,905 miles of active trackage in the state.
·       The naming of the Davis County Seat was done by the county commissioners.  The commissioners all favored different names so the matter was settled by the luck of the draw.  The name Bloomfield was pulled out of a hat. The other choices were Jefferson and Davis.  Politics at its best!

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

West on Iowa Hwy. 2 – Van Buren County

Continuing west along on secondary highways in the general direction of Omaha Nebraska…

To those that think that Iowa is flat and that all you see is corn along the roadside…this is a view of the southeastern part of the state on Iowa Hwy. 2.  The view is expansive and there are rolling hills and lots of trees too.  Yes…that is corn down in the valley!

Don’t get me wrong… Iowa is indeed the #1 corn producing state in the USA.  It produces 3 times more corn than Mexico!  In 2014, Iowa produced 2,367,400,000 bushels of corn, slightly more than the state of Illinois.

This is the Burg Wagon Building in Farmington Iowa.  Lewis Burg, an immigrant from Bavaria, first worked in his brother’s wagon works in Burlington Iowa.  Then he moved to Farmington and set up his own operation in 1865.  In 1868 he had this two-story stone building constructed.  He had the largest wagon works in town, doubling his production over the next 10 years. (There were at least 2 other competitors!) Burg sold the building in 1892.  The structure has been used for various purposes over the years, with apartments being built on the 2nd floor around the turn of the 20th Century. 
This is a beautiful building… I just love it!  Although various retail operations have occupied the first floor over the years, it appears that it is vacant (or lived in) now.  Note the bench, plants, table and chairs on the roof over the sidewalk.  Yikes…no railings! 

This is the old Chicago, Burlington and Quincy combination railway depot in Farmington.  The tracks are long gone.   I was unable to determine when this depot was constructed but I’m guessing it was in the late 1800s.

Farmington was settled in 1833, following the Blackhawk War and about a dozen years before Iowa became a state.  The town was incorporated in 1841. Farmington is the oldest village in Van Buren County and it was the first county seat.   By 1900, Farmington had a population of 1,332 but today the village’s residents only total about 650.


·       The Black Hawk War was a brief conflict in 1932 between the United States and Native Americans, led by Black Hawk, a Sauk leader.  The war erupted soon after Black Hawk and a group of Sauks, Meskwakis, and Kickapoos, known as the "British Band", crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois from Iowa Indian Territory in April 1832.   Black Hawk wanted to reclaim lands previously ceded to the US Government.  This was the last Indian War fought east of the Mississippi River…

I noted that one of the websites that I use to find or verify railroad depots and related structures showed this depot being currently used as a residence.  The mailbox probably cinches that fact. 

One of the sites that I use to locate depots and other railroad structures is “Significant Extant Railroad/Railway Structures of North America.  The website is at

Farmington is sure a quiet peaceful place today.  However by 1878, the town supported 1 printing office, 4 dry goods stores, 2 drug stores, 3 grocery stores, 2 agencies, 3 hardware stores, a harness shop, those 3 wagon shops, 2 blacksmith shops, a cigar manufacturer, 2 shoe shops, 2 furniture houses, a grist mill, and a saw mill.  The town also boasted 3 lawyers, 5 physicians, and 2 Justices of the Peace serving 1,000 citizens.

This is the former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy combination depot in Milton Iowa.  The community has preserved this structure and it’s open for special events.  I found a history of Milton on-line and apparently the depot was built at about the same time that the railroad came to town…ca. 1871.  If the information is accurate, this depot is about 145 years old!  All rail service to Milton came to an end in 1969.

The town was founded in 1851 by settlers from Milton Delaware…hence the town’s name.  When the railroad came to town the town experienced a growth spurt although it never had more than 913 residents.  An interesting statistic is that in 1880 Milton had a population of 412.  In 2014 the town had 417 residents. 

It’s hard for us to imagine all of the activity and industry in towns like Milton back in the 1800s… Except by rail, travel was slow and to some degree each community had to be self-sustaining.  In 1878, Milton had 2 drug stores, 5 dry goods stores, 3 hotels, a grocery store, hardware store, cabinet shop, harness shop, shoe shop, 3 wagon shops, 3 blacksmith shops, 2 restaurants, an ice cream parlor, a photographer, a flour mill, a saw mill, an axe handle factory and 2 brick kilns. 

By comparison, Milton seems very laid back these days.  A number of Amish families moved into the area in 1969, adding a bit of diversity.  I observed that one interesting shopping opportunity noted for the town in the ‘Villages of Van Buren County’ website involved those modern day settlers. (

That shopping opportunity is Milton Creamery.  As per their website, “the Musser family mixes fresh ingredients, art, and passion to create internationally award winning cheese.  Traditional Amish dairy farmers produce milk used at Milton Creamery.  The cheese maker, Galen Musser, crafts each batch before hand-packing, pressing and aging to perfection.”  We love cheese so it was too bad that we passed by the Creamery on a Sunday holiday weekend.  To learn more about the Milton Creamery, go to

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 

Monday, July 25, 2016

Images and a Little History from Keokuk Iowa

Finally we made it across the Mississippi River from Illinois to Keokuk Iowa.  A long day of driving still lay ahead of us but I had noted many historic places and landmarks that I wanted to check out along our route.

I had listed 12 places from the National Register of Historic Places in Keokuk alone… As it turned out, we only had time to take a look at 4 of them.  The others will have to wait for us to make another family visit to Omaha.

This is a statue of Samuel R. Curtis.  We didn’t have time to look for his former home in Keokuk so this was the next best thing.  Curtis was one of the first Republicans elected to Congress.  He was most famous for his role as a Union Army general in the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War…especially for his victories at the Battles of Pea Ridge in 1862 and Westport in 1864.

Curtis was a West Point Graduate who’d resigned his commission in 1832.  However, during the Mexican-American War, he was appointed as a colonel and he served as the military governor of several occupied cities.  After the war, he moved to Iowa and became the mayor of Keokuk in 1856.  In 1856 he was elected to represent Iowa's 1st congressional district in the United States House of Representatives, where he served 3 terms.

The George M. Verity is a historic towboat on display as museum ship on the Mississippi riverfront in Keokuk.  Built in 1927 as SS Thorpe, she is nationally significant for being one of only three surviving steam-powered towboats still in existence in the United States.

As the SS Thorpe, she was one of four towboats that inaugurated barge service on the upper Mississippi River.  She was the first to move barges from St. Louis Missouri north to St. Paul Minnesota.  She is 162.5 feet long with a beam of 40.5 feet.  Her second owner was the Armco Steel Company and they renamed her after their founder.  After 33 years of service on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, she was retired and given to the city of Keokuk Iowa to serve as the George M. Verity River Museum.  If you’re interested in visiting this towboat, you can go to

This is a photo of the railroad swing bridge over the channel leading to Keokuk lock and dam #19 on the Mississippi River.  This swing segment connects with the stable portion of the Keokuk railway bridge, at the upper right in the photo, whenever a train is crossing the river.

Construction of the dam began in 1910 and was completed in 1913.  The main portion of the dam is 4,620 feet long.  At the time the dam was completed it was second in length only to the Aswan Low Dam on the Nile River.  River traffic’s drop through the lock from the upper pool to the lower pool is 38 feet…


·       If you look carefully, you’ll see that the railroad bridge is a double deck affair.  That’s because, prior to the new highway bridge completion in 1985, the upper deck of the old bridge was a 2-lane roadway. 

·       The old eleven-span, double-deck steel superstructure was built in 1915-1916 on piers retained from an earlier (1869-1871) bridge.  It still serves as the railway bridge! 

I borrowed this aerial view of the Keokuk Lock and Dam from Wikipedia.  It shows the new (1957) 1,200 foot long lock at the left.  The dewatered drydock and the original 1913 lock are at the upper right.  The current US Hwy. 136 bridge is at the very bottom and the old dual level railroad/highway bridge is just above the current highway bridge. 

Lock and Dam No. 19 Historic District encompasses 1,605 acres, 7 buildings and 12 structures.  The lock itself is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The dam is owned and operated by Ameren, a Missouri power company.  This lock and dam eliminated the Des Moines Rapids, a natural barrier to Mississippi River traffic.  In that area prior to dam construction, the river was only about 2.5 feet deep. 

Various attempts to make the river navigable actually started in 1837 when a channel was blasted through the rapids by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team led by Robert E. Lee.  A canal was built around the rapids 1877.  That canal has now been obliterated by Lock and Dam No. 19.

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I like restaurants, food, history, airplanes, automobiles, railroad related items or property and ships.  While taking photos of Lock and Dam #19, a river barge and tow boat came down river after passing through the lock… In this photo, the nose of the first barge is peeking out of the lower lock area.

There were 3 or 4 fishermen working the channel looking for a bit of excitement…or perhaps dinner.
In 2015, a total of 21,273,045 tons of product was ‘locked through’ Lock #19 via over 19,000 barges and almost 2,000 towboats.  A modern 15 barge tow is the equivalent to 1,050 semi-trucks or 240 railcars…

The towboat pictured above is the City of Louisville.  She has been around for a while.  Originally the Mary B, she was built in Pennsylvania in 1962.  Her name was changed to the Walter Curley in 1966 and then she was given her current name in 1976.  She’s had 6 different owners.

The City of Louisville is 148 feet long with a beam of 34.5 feet.  She is a twin screw towboat equipped with two 3,200 horsepower diesel engines.

I don’t know how long this barge and tow boat combination was but as you can see, it was sizable! (Perhaps 700 – 750 feet long with the towboat)

Located just a little downriver from the George M. Verity Towboat Museum and Lock #19 is Keokuk’s old Union Depot.  This Romanesque Revival depot, which was completed in 1891, was designed by the famous Chicago architectural firm, Burnham and Root.  It was one of the last buildings that Root designed before he died. 

Five railroads banded together to form the Keokuk Union Depot Company and then to build the depot: Keokuk and Western Railroad; St. Louis, Keokuk and Northwestern Railroad; Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (Rock Island line); Toledo, Peoria and Western Railway, and; the Wabash Railroad. 
There is currently a major push to revitalize the old depot with the immediate effort focused on replacing/refurbishing the roof.  Volunteers spend 3 days a week on the project.  There is a solid chance that this beautiful old depot will be preserved…

After 75 years of service, passenger rail service ended at the depot in 1967.  Then it was used by the railroads as a headquarters for their agents and operators.  The Keokuk Junction Railway acquired the local yard trackage and switching rights from the bankrupt Rock Island lines, and in 1981 they bought all of the shares of the Keokuk Union Depot Company.  The depot was used by the KJRY as the base for their tourist train operations, and its trolley rides across the Mississippi into Illinois.  Shortline Operator Pioneer Railcorp acquired the Keokuk Junction Railway's assets in 1996.  They used the old depot for storage until 2011.  At that point they conveyed the depot and the adjacent land to the City of Keokuk for 99 years. 

To learn more about this railroad depot and to see some photos of it back in the day when it was still serving as a passenger station, just go to

This is the Hotel Iowa at 401 Main Street in Keokuk.  This Chicago Commercial Style structure was completed in 1913 to house workers working on a big local project…Keokuk Lock and Dam #19.  Today, it is a facility designed for independent living…for seniors who are at least 55 years of age.  There are 53 newly renovated 1 or 2 bedroom apartments in the building.  To check out the amenities offered as well as the costs, just go to  It’s great to see that this handsome building has been repurposed!

Just click on any of the photographs to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by to see what we’ve been up to!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ogo’s – A Down Home Buffet in Keokuk Iowa

I really hadn’t planned for lunch in Keokuk on our drive from Springfield Illinois to Omaha Nebraska.  I’d picked out another town a bit further west along IA Hwy 2 for lunch but we got tied up taking photos in Keokuk and it was getting late.  So as we drove through Keokuk, we had our eyes open for a luncheon opportunity in the outskirts…

It was looking like we might not find anything and then we spotted Ogo’s Restaurant and Buffet.  It was early Sunday afternoon on the Memorial Day weekend and Ogo’s was quite busy.

This restaurant is pretty unassuming from the outside…just your basic building without much bling.

The inside is fairly basic too with lots of big tables for families or to share with others.  The low ceilings make the dining area just a little claustrophobic.  The age of the average patron definitely leaned toward pre-WWII and the baby boomer generations.

This is the only photo that we took of the buffet area in Ogo’s.  It is fairly tight here with the salads to the left, the meat, potatoes and vegetables in the middle and desserts at the lower left of the photo.  Within 10 minutes of our arrival, the line for Sunday dinner was out the door and the buffet area was packed with folks…

This was my first platter of food… The chicken fried steak was good as was the beef and noodles.  The fried chicken was very good!!  I focused on the chicken for my second helping and I could have kept eating except for the fact that I didn’t want to fall asleep from food overload and we had a long drive ahead of us yet…

Laurie also liked the fried chicken a lot.  She also gave high grades to the stuffing!  The beans were canned and the mashed potatoes were just OK but the most important items were above average for a buffet… 

We both had a couple of small desserts… The pie was decent and we both loved the peach cobbler. 

The people were nice and the clientele were obviously loyal patrons… Everybody seemed to know everyone else.  As for the price, it was insane!  There is a senior discount so our buffet dinners for two, including beverages and sales tax cost a grand total of $18.55!  Such a deal!

Ogo’s Restaurant and Buffet is located at 3753 Main Street in Keokuk Iowa.  Phone: 319-524-6457.  The restaurant and their buffet menu is on Facebook at  Their website isn’t functioning…

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a ‘light’ lunch!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Our Final Historic Stops in Illinois…

Rolling along US Hwy. 136 in west central Illinois on our way to Keokuk Iowa, we made a few more stops to photograph a scattering of historic places…

Our first stop was in Macomb, the county seat for McDonough County Illinois.

This is the former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Passenger Station in Macomb.  The station was built in 1913.  It’s now occupied by a travel agency and a taxi company.

Working with the Illinois Department of Transportation, Macomb made some renovations and upgrades to the station in the 1980s.  Local government has also sponsored replacement of the brick surround and driveway with new brick.  In the summer of 2014, the city made improvements to the parking lot, students from nearby Western Illinois University volunteered to paint the interior and residents of the McDonough County Jail painted the exterior and completed some basic carpentry work.

The Macomb Depot sits on tracks owned by the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad.  Best of all, this is an active depot with the “Carl Sandburg” and the “Illinois Zephyr” providing service 4 times a day.  There is even a waiting room!  The Amtrak trains run between Chicago and Quincy Illinois.  In 2015 this depot handled 71,231 passengers!

Macomb was founded in 1830 as the county seat of McDonough County.  It's named after General Alexander Macomb, an American general in the War of 1812.  War veterans were given land grants in Macomb, part of the Military Tract set aside by Congress.  The Northern Cross Railroad built a line through Macomb in 1855.  In 1938 that railroad had been the first to operate anywhere in Illinois.

Rolling on down the road, we came to Carthage Illinois.  Carthage, founded in 1837 and with a population today of approximately 2,550, is the county seat for Hancock County.

This is the Hancock County Courthouse in Carthage.  This Beaux Arts style structure was built in 1908 and it is the centerpiece of the Carthage Courthouse Square Historic District which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Courthouse square…with an earlier courthouse…has a bit of history going for it.  Orville Browning was a judge here.  He became a close advisor to Abraham Lincoln, also Secretary of State and Attorney General for the USA.  Stephen Douglas not only spoke here, he also served as a circuit court judge.  Of course, Lincoln spoke here too. 


·       In 1838 Lincoln gained the distinction of representing the only man to ever be hung in Carthage’s courthouse square.  Efram Fraim was found guilty of murder.  Because at the time Carthage had no jail, Fraim was kept at the Courthouse which was next to the school.  Fraim would converse with the children from his second-floor window.  As a result of these conversations, most of the school children were present when their new friend, Efraim, was hanged.

We couldn’t pass this magnificent and massive brick home without taking a photo… This is the Fitz Randolph house, a brick Italianate style home that was built in 1873.  Dr. Randolph was a medical doctor served as a state legislator and who served on the Board of Trustees for Carthage College.  Sadly, he died shortly after the home was completed.  His wife was forced to take in washing and rent rooms in order to keep her home.

Today this is the Fitz Randolph House Inn…a bed and breakfast with 5 guest suites available.  To check out the accommodations and learn more about this bed and breakfast, go to

This is the old Carthage Jail which was completed back in 1840.  It’s the site of a sad chapter in American History.  It was here June 27, 1844 that Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saints movement, and his brother Hyrum were murdered by an armed mob of approximately 150 – 200 men. 

It’s a long story, at least for my blog, but to summarize, Joseph had destroyed a printing press of a newspaper in the nearby city of Nauvoo Illinois.  He was charged with the destruction of the printing press, including charges of inciting riot and treason.  The destruction of the press also brought violent threats against Smith and the Mormon community by the non-Mormon populace in the area.  Smith then declared martial law on June 18 and called out the Nauvoo Legion, an organized city militia of about 5,000 men to protect Nauvoo from outside violence.  Illinois’ Governor, who was especially critical of the Mormon Religion, demanded that Smith turn himself in to face charges or the Governor would call out the State Militia.  Smith and his brother were part of the group that surrendered to the Carthage Constable…

After their murder, the Smiths became martyrs in the eyes of the members of the Church of Latter Day Saints.  The site and the city block it stands on is currently owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and has been established as a historical site and visitors' center.  Go to

This is the former Chicago, Burlington and Quincy combination depot from Bushnell Illinois.  This classic little depot is located on park-like grounds just north and a little east of Hamilton.  I couldn’t determine when it was built…


·       The Nagel Brothers of Bushnell were the first to invent a process of making rolled oats without having to steam the oats.  Up until that time, the oats were first steamed to separate the groat from the hull. The patent for this new process was later sold to the Quaker Company.

·       The Bushnell Horse Show has become one of the better draft horse hitch shows in the tri-state region.  The Bushnell Horse Show features some of the best Belgian and Percheron hitches in the country. Teams have come from many different states and Canada to compete.

This depot is located in that same park-like setting.  Looking at the reference materials that I could find on-line, I believe that this combination depot was formerly located in Burnside Illinois, an unincorporated community in Hancock County.  If I’m correct, this depot was built in 1906 by the Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad.


The Toledo, Peoria and Western Railroad was founded as the Toledo, Peoria and Warsaw Railroad back in 1863.  This short line railroad continues to operate today, (153 years later!), with about 247 miles of track running from Mapleton, Illinois, through Peoria across Illinois to Logansport Indiana.

The 2 depots and a number of other old time structures such as this log cabin can be found on the grounds of the Western Illinois Threshers just a little north east of Hamilton Illinois and not far from the Mississippi River.  When we were wandering around the grounds, there were a few folks who’d set up their campers in the peace and quiet to enjoy the weekend…

In the spring of 1968 a group of neighbors met in farm shop north of Hamilton, Illinois to discuss how they wanted to display their growing collection of antique tractors.  Today this group has grown exponentially as Western Illinois Threshers, Inc.  Their members work throughout the year to prepare for their 3-day annual show that educates, entertains, and strives to bring back fond memories of bygone ways of life.

The Threshers grounds have grown to 80 acres which accommodates 2 main buildings used as a meeting place, a food stand and exhibition area, a tractor headquarters and raffle buildings, the 2 railroad depots, an early 1900s school house, general store, print shop, a permanent steam-powered saw mill, sawyer's shed, two log cabins, a blacksmith shop, museum and an old-time gas station.  In 1990, the ‘Western Illinois Shortline Railroad’ was established on the organization’s grounds.

In 2016, Western Illinois Threshers are holding their 49th annual 3-day from August 5th through the 7th.  For more information including a plethora of photos, go to

Laurie had me stop as we headed back into Hamilton Illinois along the back road from the Western Illinois Threshers park-like setting.  We both love the look of this beautiful little stone house with the tin roof!

Hamilton is the largest city in Hancock County Illinois but that wasn’t always the case.  The town of Nauvoo, founded by the Mormons, is located just north of Hamilton.  More of a historical site today, back in 1844, Nauvoo had a population of around 12,000!  At that point, it was almost as large as Chicago… Nauvoo is an interesting place to visit.  Operated by the Mormon Church, it is well maintained with many handsome buildings and it’s a true slice of Americana.  We’ve been there a couple of times.  Check it out at

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Monday, July 18, 2016

Along the Road in West Central Illinois

As we rolled northwest through central Illinois toward Iowa, we kept looking for historic sites, old railroad depots and whatever else caught our eye to photograph…

The first stop was in Cass County Illinois.

This classic building in Virginia Illinois is not listed in the National Register of Historic Places…but I liked its solid Romanesque look!  There is no doubt in my mind that it was a bank for many years.  Its imposing fa├žade demonstrates confidence and strength.  It appears that someone may be working on preserving this building…something like what I’d do if I won the Mega Millions or Power Ball lottery!

One local attraction for nature lovers is the Rexroat Prairie, a 5 acre section of land that has been restored, complete with its ‘original’ prairie growth.  These plants include everything from alum root to prairie willow and aster to wood sorel.   As occurred naturally in the olden days, the prairie is burned off each year…revitalizing the soil and keeping out invasive plants. If you are into plants or prairie restoration, you can check out the list at FYI, Rexroat Prairie is also home to a couple of very old log cabins, one from Arkansas (ca. 1860) and the other from Kentucky (ca. 1950).

Here’s what I had listed to find as we passed through Virginia Illinois.  This is the former Baltimore and Ohio combination freight and passenger depot in Virginia.  I wasn’t sure that this was the right building until I noted the telegrapher’s bay and ticket office protruding from the back of the structure.  I couldn’t find anything to help me determine when the depot was built. 

I’ll bet that you can’t guess what this restaurant is named…  How about “The Depot”!  Check it out at  Unfortunately, at least from a railroad fan’s viewpoint, the exterior of the building was redone and remodeled due to a fire.

Virginia is the county seat for Cass County Illinois.  The town had an estimated population of 1,551 in 2014 but unlike many small towns across America, Virginia’s population has been relatively constant over the years.  In 1880 there were 1,420 residents and in 1980 there were 1,825.  Cass County itself was named for Lewis Cass.  Cass was a general in the War of 1812, Governor of the Michigan Territory, and United States Secretary of State in 1860.  He was serving as Andrew Jackson's Secretary of War when the County was named.

Our next stop was in Beardstown Illinois.  Beardstown is situated on the Illinois River in Cass County.  Major employers include 2 grain terminals that utilize barges on the river to move their product as well as a major pork slaughterhouse. 

I took this photo of this sign just because I liked it!  The Seeger family must have been prominent in Beardstown.  I found references to Seeger’s Hall and the Seeger block in a history of the county at

FYI…In 1882 the Quaker Mill Company launched a national advertising campaign for Quaker Oats.  In 1885, Quaker Oats introduced the cereal box, making it possible for consumers to buy in quantities other than bulk.

Beardstown Factoids:

·       William Henry Herndon, Abraham Lincoln's Springfield law partner, claimed that Lincoln contracted syphilis from a prostitute in Beardstown.

·       The town is also the site of a famous Lincoln/Douglas debate at the Beardstown Courthouse.

·       William "Duff" Armstrong, the accused murderer of James Preston Metzker, was tried in Beardstown and successfully defended by Abraham Lincoln.

·       The “Beardstown Ladies” was a group of 16 elderly women who formed a ‘club’ that invested in stocks and reportedly outperformed the Dow averages.  They received world-wide publicity and sold many videos and books on their adventure.  Check out the story at

The Beardstown Opera House was built in 1872.  As it neared completion the opera house was almost completely destroyed by a tornado.  With the help of the owners and volunteer townsfolk, it was rebuilt.  The first troupe to play the theater was General Tom Thumb of P.T. Barnum fame.  In 2004, the opera house was purchased by the Heritage Preservation Foundation, a non-profit organization created for the purpose of owning and revitalizing the Opera House.

FYI…Tom Thumb was a dwarf, born of normal sized parents, who grew to a height of 3 ft. 4 in. and weighed 71 lbs.  He was adopted by P.T. Barnum who was a distant relative.  Barnum taught Tom (Charles Sherwood Stratton) to sing, dance, mime, and impersonate famous people.  Tom Thumb became quite wealthy and he actually bailed out Barnum later in life when Barnum was in financial difficulties.  You can learn more at

Regular live theater productions are presented in the Beardstown Opera House.  Two productions have already taken place this year.  In late July, there will be a 3-day run of “Once Upon a Mattress” and in October the production will be “Duck, Duck, Shoot”.

From Beardstown we rolled on north on US Hwy. 67, making a slight detour on US Hwy 24 into the town of Rushville Illinois.  Rushville is the county seat for Schuyler County.  This is the building that we were looking for…the Phoenix Opera House Block.
The Phoenix Opera House Block was built in 1882.  It housed commercial businesses on the first floor and an opera house on the second floor.  The opera house hosted traveling performers and theater companies as well as local social events.  The opera house closed in 1910, as churches began to host the town's social functions and the local movie theater provided entertainment.  For over 30 years beginning in 1924, the opera house served as a Masonic lodge.  The building is one of the few surviving examples of a combined opera house and commercial building.

This is the Schuyler County Courthouse in Rushville.  The clock tower states that the courthouse was built in 1881.  For some reason though, even though the courthouse is about 135 years old, this striking building isn’t listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  I’m guessing that too many structural modifications have been made over the years.


·       Edward W. Scripps, newspaper publisher and founder of The E. W. Scripps Company, was born on a farm in Rushville.  Ellen Browning Scripps, Edward’s half-sister also lived there.  Ellen went on to found or to be inextricably involved in the development of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Scripps College in Claremont, California.  She financed the Torrey Pines State Natural Preserve and she was an early contributor to the San Diego Zoo.  Ellen helped to found the Scripps Memorial Hospital and funded the Scripps Research Clinic which eventually became The Scripps Research Institute.  After her death her home was transformed into the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla California.  Some small town girl!

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a short trip through local Illinois history!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave