Sunday, February 28, 2010

Carthage Illinois

For days I've been trying to come up with a meaningful topic with Universal interest. Today I read Charlie's blog on Phoenix (Professor B. Worm) and I knew immediately what I needed to write about.

Carthage Illinois is a very sleepy little Mayberry snuggled amid corn and soybean fields about 12 miles from the Mississippi River where Illinois, Iowa and Missouri all come together. It's good farm land. Gooooood farmland. If you can't grow corn or beans there, then you just can't grow them.

It's the county seat of Hancock County. In fact, I'd say that the court house in the middle of the Carthage square is the prettiest one in Illinois. Maybe Iowa, too. It's got a dome with stained glass, marble staircases, fancy heavy woodwork, AND and elevator!

The only person legally executed in Hancock County was defended by a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln. If you know your Mormon history, you'll remember that Carthage was the sight of the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith's martyrdom or execution - depending on your perspective. The "Old Mormon Jail" draws lots of visitors every year, there's a visitors' center and gardens now. The Old Mormon Jail isn't the same as the "Old Jail," which is on the square and is some sort of visitors' center, too I think. There's a new jail out on the highway now.

When I grew up in Carthage, we Carthage kids knew we were more sophisticated than the Hamilton kids. We knew we were million percent more urbane and savvy than the Warsaw or Bowen kids. Of course, it was to be expected. We were just so much more privileged.

Carthage had a ten lane bowling alley, the T&C bowl. I had my first date there. Bruce actually paid for my bowling. The place has since burned down, but it had nothing to do with Bruce or me. It was right across the highway from Scofield School and you could get something to eat and drink there including a made-right sandwich and a cherry coke. But no alcohol of course. There used to be several diners in town, the East Side, Grab-a-Snack, and Smiths on the square and the Appain Way Pizza Place on the highway. Yes, it was spelled wrong.

Back in the day, for a drink you went to the Lake Inn, since burned down, or the Wood Inn (if you were really brave) or the Peacock out on the highway. I have never been in the Peacock and you can't prove I have. I'm not that kind of girl. I've been out to Basco, though, for Friday night catfish fry and a beer. These days the Wood is a down right respectable place - food and everything. Luckily the new owner, Mark, has the good taste and sense of history to preserve the original ax scar in the bar and will gladly tell you the story if you stop in. Little Rickey has a place out on the highway now, too where you can get a beer and a pizza and dance to the jukebox if you want.

Scofield School had fifth through eighth grades and had a cafeteria where you could get hot lunch. The kids from Lincoln School which had Kindergarten through fourth grade, rode a bus over at lunch time. The high school had a gym, a baseball diamond, and when I started there, a new football field so the Blueboys no longer had to play out at the college field.

Yep, we had a college. We had Carthage College while I was small. Then Carthage College moved to Kenosha Wisconsin. They even took the kissing rock. Later we had Robert Morris Junior College, then some other strange stuff, and now I think it's a school for how to farm hogs or something like that. Most of the really beautiful old buildings are long gone. The college had tennis courts. There were lots of cracks in the concrete courts and the "nets" were made of woven wire fence and there were no lights, but we had the courts.

We also had the lake that had a spillway and more than a couple of little dark lanes you could tuck a car into for some privacy. Of course, if you wanted serious privacy, there were tractor paths between the corn fields where no one without a UFO would find you. Those boys from Bowen were really good at finding those spots. The wall at the spillway is marked every year with brave souls from the graduating class. My class, the class of '73, was a bit slow, but we finally got around to it at our 25th reunion.

You aren't allowed to swim in the lake. There was a swimming pool for that. Back in the day no one knew about sun block and a great swimming pool sun burn was a mark of honor. When I was little there was a boat dock on the lake where Steve's parents would rent you a row boat and sell you some worms for fishing. In later years you could go borrow Burlings' inflatable raft and get out on that lake. A time or two Kathy Nichols and I might have been swimming in that lake, but I'm sure we had a good reason.

Carthage had the Woodbine theatre. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday you could go catch a flick. Cool kids with dates often sat in the back row. I don't know who sat in the balcony. The Woodbine is now part of a car dealership, I think. Back in the day, movies weren't rated by anyone but the Catholic Church and that was good enough for all of us - Catholic or not.

Carthage also had a skating rink, the Crystal Ball Roller Rink, and the grade school kids went there faithfully for skating parties. It's still there, rolling along. You can rent skates if you don't have your own. When I was small, Swift's pond would freeze over in the winter and we'd go ice skating there. It was actually a little lagoon behind a cheese factory. Enough said.

There is a 9 hole golf course out by the lake. If you want 18, just do it again.

Carthage did and does have a hospital. We always had enough doctors in town and a dentist, too. Dr. Georges office was upstairs on the square and you had to walk up about a hundred steps. The family practice doctor of the year in the whole USA a few years ago was Carthage's Dr. Korte. She delivered my babies.

My big brother, Paul, was the barber in Carthage for 25 years. I'll bet he knew everything that went on and he probably heard lots of things that never happened, too. If you wanted to do research there was a library. Still is one. And Dorothy Frazee was the best librarian (and best next door neighbor) you could hope for.

We had lots of stores. If you wanted nylons you would go to Kennedy's and Lena would help you select the color you wanted from a display and she'd get them from behind the counter. If you wanted men's clothes you'd go to Califf's and Phil would help you. Royalty's had clothes and fabric, there were a couple of hardware stores, a flower shop, and a dime store, Ben Franklin, where you could get anything. For a while it was the rage to get a chameleon with a string tied to his back leg attached to a safety pin you'd pin on your shirt; or a tiny turtle with flowers painted on its back.

Ben Franklin is now a craft store and you can't buy little lizards there. Royalty's is still there. There are some cool little shops still around, but no one is going to help you select nylons.

Carthaginians back in the day wanted for nothing. We could roller skate, ice skate, go to a movie, bowl, play tennis or golf. But even if we didn't have that stuff, we wouldn't have been bored. In the summer we'd organize neighborhood-wide kick the can games and walk down to the Tastee Freeze for a late night treat. We'd lay on our backs in the grass and watch the parades of clouds drifting past in ever changing shapes. We maintained our offices in the cherry and apple trees and didn't bother with shoes in the summer time. In the winter we'd sled at Billy Goat Hill. As young teens we'd meet at one or another parents' house on Saturday night for Creature Feature on tv and eat Sterzings potato chips and drink R.C. Cola. The boys would walk the girls home safely because it was the gentlemanly thing to do.

Carthage isn't what it was, but it is what it is and it's still there. If you go to visit, you tell them who sent you. But let's keep the bit about swimming in the lake between us, ok?


  1. A wonderful post, Fay, and it rolled right off your mind.

    When I hear people refer to the "bad old days," I have a tendency to kick them. We LIVED life and had FUN doing it. We had live friends, we talked in person, and we used our imaginations to the max (as opposed to today's "social" sites).

    You make me yearn to live in a small town, even though I would forever be an outsider. But Tom Sawyer country is so appealing.

    And BTW, you don't carry matches, do you?



  2. Charlie,
    I grew up there and I am forever an outsider. But parts of it were very good.

  3. What a terrific post. Sort of reminds me of a "best selling" novel - yet to be published!! nan

  4. I've had the privilege of visiting Carthage once, and saw many of the places you mention. I even went bar hopping with some (former) locals. Good times!

  5. I enjoyed reading this so much I had to send it to my family and friends so that they could enjoy it also. I didn't grow up here, but I am lucky to be living in Carthage Illinois! It is still a great place to live. One more thing though, Royalty's is no longer open. Thanks Fay!

  6. Well, dang. It was there last time I was! who are you, Anonymous?

  7. My husband found this website looking for Frazee's in Carthage. His dad always said "We are related to Frazee's, who moved to Carthage, then San Diego, CA. and got rich selling paint. His name is Lance Reed, he's from Camp Point and played football against Carthage in 1972. Tamara Reed

  8. what year was the bowling alley fire