6/9/09

SMALL TOWN U.S.A.


Recently Turner Classic Movies ran Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) starring Jimmy Stewart. I had to sit down and watch it. I love that movie. It always makes me think of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) starring Gary Cooper, another favorite. Each a Frank Capra movie, each about someone from a small town that has to deal with the corruption found in a big city when powerful people gather only listen to the voices of other powerful people. Fiction? Sure, but don't we all recognize the stories as ones played out day after day all over this country? Small towns still exist, but I think the burden they carry is far from the romantic idealization many people have of them.

Virden_Illinois_N. Side Square_tatteredandlost

I found this photograph, a portion of an RPPC, at an estate sale. It dates most likely from the mid 1920s and shows N. Side Square in Virden, Illinois. I did a little bit of googling about Virden and unfortunately not much shows up. The town still exists and is still a small town with a population around 3400. It's mainly a coal mining and agricultural area. The following comes from the Brittanica site:
Laid out in 1852 along the Chicago and Mississippi Railroad, it was named for John Virden, a local innkeeper. A coal-mining town, Virden was the scene of a mine riot on October 12, 1898. Violence erupted between guards and miners following the arrival of some 200 African American workers from Alabama who were hired by the Chicago-Virden Coal Company in an attempt to break a strike by local workers affiliated with the United Mine Workers of America. Some 15 people (mostly local miners and guards hired to protect the train carrying the arriving workers) died. The city was under martial law for several days, and the union movement credited the incident as an important milestone, especially in the winning of the eight-hour day. Virden is now the centre of an agricultural area with corn (maize) and soybeans as the chief crops. Livestock raising is also important. Macoupin county remains one of the state’s largest producers of coal. Inc. (Source: Encylopedia Britannica)
In October of 2006 a memorial was placed in the town in recognition of this history.

With this photo, as usual, it's all in the details. Details I'd have never noticed without the aid of my trusty scanner.

In this one shot there are two restaurants serving fried chicken, one on each side of the street. There are two ice cream parlors just a stone throw from each other. But best of all is the family crossing the street. A man wearing a straw boater and a woman and child who each look to be holding their right arms up as if eating ice cream cones. Could it be more perfect? Do click on the photos so you can see them larger at Flickr. You really have to just sit back and visit Virden.

N Side Square_Virden Illinois_l_tatteredandlost

N Side Square_Virden Illinois_r_tatteredandlost
Click on images to see them larger.

And before I go I'll give a shout out to two other things I found while googling. Always wanting to support small independent book stores I see where Virden has one called The Sly Fox. I don't know anything about the shop, but if you're passing through Virden you might want to check them out. I see where they specialize in children's books, mysteries, and history of Illinois.

The other bit of information is that according to the Virden town website they'll be having a city wide garage sale on June 20th. Ohhhhh, wish I was there. Instead I'll have to settle for a bit of Longfellow Deeds in Vermont.

27 comments:

  1. I adore both these Capra films. I just watched Mr. Smith on TCM, too. It's always a pleasure to see what intriguing tidbits you dig up on your vintage pics.

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  2. I was just thinking today how really fascinating it is that I can take a scrap of information and then google it and find out more information that I'll probably never need...but it somehow fills in some spaces. I'd never heard of this little town, probably never get there, but now I'm aware of them. Sometimes that's all that matters.

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  3. When the first shot is greatly enlarged, I saw that there's a hand-drawn arrow above the Lumber Co. sign, pointing to something. Maybe the writer's room? I enjoy seeing the marks people put on these photos, Xs, circles and arrows.

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  4. I noticed that arrow too, but only after I scanned it. Barely noticeable on the photo when holding it. I was sorry nothing was written on the back explaining the importance of that one spot in town.

    I also noticed that The Sly Fox bookstore, according to information he posted at his webpage, is located somewhere around this area. It would be funny if his store is shown in this shot. It was originally a dress shop owned by a relative.

    Details are so much fun.

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  5. D. Karr9/12/2009

    I lived in Virden in the 70's. My father became the new Baptist church's minister. If I remember correctly Liggetts was still there. My two favorite stores were the 5 & 10 store where I bought toys and candy galore and the drugstore that had a soda fountain and wood paneling. The square was a wonderful place ( your picture is a part of it) we'd go and listen to music on warm summer nights and kids would play on the lawn.
    Small town America. I haven't seen Virden in years. It'd probably be a shock now to see the changes.

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  6. Thanks D. Karr for the comment. I was hoping eventually someone from Virden would find it and make a comment. I have another card of a residential street in Virden that I just saw the other day. I'll try to find it again and use it for a post. Again, thanks for the information!

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  7. Anonymous10/22/2009

    My father, mother, myself and all my siblings were born and raised in the small town of Virden, IL. My father was born in 1927 and mother in 1934. It was wonderful to see this picture. I cannot wait to show my mother this picture. It will bring back wonderful memories for her. Virden is a wonderful memory for me. Leggett's was a dry good store. It evently closed in the late 80's. One of the sign says shoes. I only knew of one shoe store in town, Alexander shoes. The five and dime store was called Bremmers. I love going down memory lane.....can't wait to see the residential street. thanks for sharing this photo on-line. PB-M

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  8. I'm thrilled someone from Virden found this. If you send me your email address I can send you a blowup in decent resolution when I return from vacation. I'll post the postcard after I'm home at my ephemera site

    www.tatteredandlostephemera.blogspot.com

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  9. Anonymous2/06/2010

    I'm growing up in Virden right now.

    It's a great town with tons of history.

    Those buildings are still there, and if you search on the tops of the roofs, there are bullet holes in them left from the 1800's.

    Go Bulldogs. A perfect example of small town America, what happened in Virden was the beginnings of Workers rights.

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  10. Anonymous, this is so much fun to hear. Love the idea of the bullet holes. Glad you found the post and it made you smile.

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  11. Received this message today from the owner of The Sly Fox, an independent bookstore in Virden. Support independent bookstores!

    George Rishel:

    Someone just brought to my attention, your posting from last June about Virden and my bookstore The Sly Fox. The photos show the north side of the town square (East Jackson Street). The Sly Fox is on the west side of the square in the same building where my Great Aunt Jennie Smith opened a hat shop (later a dress shop) in 1922. Smith Dress Shop. The town still bustles, but with a somewhat different mix of businesses around the square. Thanks for the posting. I enjoyed reading some of the comments, too.

    George Rishel

    The Sly Fox bookstore
    123 N. Springfield St.
    P.O. Box 117
    Virden, IL 62690

    217-965-3641

    Traveling I-55 between Chicago and St. Louis? Consider a short detour to The Sly Fox bookstore in Virden, Illinois, 20 miles south of Springfield on Illinois Route 4 (Historic Route 66). The Sly Fox is the only open shop mystery bookstore in Downstate Illinois and the only mystery bookstore on one of the alignments of Historic Route 66. We specialize in children's books, mysteries, regional Illinois books, and much more.

    An IndieBound Store

    www.myspace.com/slyfoxvirden

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  12. Anonymous2/09/2010

    I was very much amazed to find these photos on here! I too, am a business owner on the Virden square and was excited to see the old photos of the building we currently are in! Virden is a wonderful town with a square full of great places to visit, nice businesses, shops and restraunts! We get alot of Rt 66 travelers and we are just 30 minutes from the Abraham Lincoln sites in Springfield which makes it convenient to spend a day here looking at the architectural work on the buildings and exploring the shops. There is alot of history here. Thanks for sharing these photos.

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  13. Glad some people from Virden have found the old photo. I love small towns and independent businesses.

    I hope you have found the other Virden photo I posted on Dec. 2, 2009 called Virden Redux of a beautiful tree lined street.

    http://tatteredandlostphotographs.blogspot.com/2009/12/virden-redux.html

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  14. I was doing a web search on Virden, IL and found your blog! Virden is my hometown and it is a wonderful place to live. I remember most of those stores except never knew there was a hotel there. Liggett's was my favorite place to shop. There is a restaurant there now but they retained the wonderful wood floors and the tin ceiling. Thank you for such a lovely post about a place that is dear to my heart.

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  15. I forgot to ask if I could possibly have copies of these photos? I started a Facebook page called You knew you lived in or grew up in Virden if you. . .

    People would love to see these photos. Thanks.

    Kay Butler

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  16. You're welcome Kay. Glad you found this place.

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  17. Awesome to see this photo of the town square. My grandparents lived in Virden, and my parents and I travelled at least once a year from Omaha to visit them. Love this town. It was just such an amazing place to be. I remember reading the newspaper and the column that talked about who had visited who for dinner over the weekend.

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  18. Lisa,

    Great you found this and I'm glad it means so much to you. I never dreamt when I found this old photo that it would please so many people.

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  19. Deion B.3/21/2012

    i live in virden, i have my whole life, its an awesome town!

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  20. I grew up in Virden and lived there for over 30 years, and love to see old photos of it. Believe it or not, not much has changed... well ok, it's modern now, but still a town of about 3400. Thanks for the photos!

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    Replies
    1. I'm certainly enjoying all the people from Virden who find this. Glad it brings back memories. And glad to hear it's still a small town.

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  21. Anonymous3/21/2013

    My father grew up in Virden. His father owned the local Ford dealership. As children, my brothers and I spent almost every summer there. Great memories, especially of the annual 4th of July celebration. Truly what a small town is all about. I don't get back very often anymore, but will always have those wonderful memories.
    Bill Miner

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    1. I'm glad you found this post. As you can see many other fans of Virden have dropped by. It sounds like a really nice town.

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  22. Both my parents were born in Virden, and I lived there from when I was born until I left for college in 1961. My father ran the Texaco station just more than a block north of the square. George Rishel's (Sly Fox) father Red owned the Shell station a block further north. My parents and George's parents were best friends for at least 50 years. I recognize most of the buildings on the square, but most have changed owners and some have closed. My wife's father worked in the Virden (and nearby) mines most of his life. My Uncle was a postman. He also played in and later directed the city band when it played on Saturday evenings. My grandmother and aunt were teachers in the Virden school system. It's a great little town.

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    1. Thanks for the info and update!

      Since your uncle was in the band you might be interested in posts done by a fellow named Mike Brubaker who does a blog called TemoSenzaTempo. He might enjoy hearing what memories you have of the town band. His site is http://temposenzatempo.blogspot.com

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  23. Anonymous4/03/2014

    My grandmother and my mother were born in Virden, Illinois. I spent two weeks every summer with my grandparents in Virden. They are the happiest memories of my childhood (early 1950s). I remember the bandstand in the square and running around it as the band played every Saturday night. My grandpa played the drums and my uncle played the clarinet. I have very fond memories of Virden.

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    Replies
    1. Those are idyllic memories! Wonderful images of a small town. Thanks for sharing them.

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