Anyone who’s walked near wetlands or water during red-winged blackbird nesting season understands this sign — “Beware of red-wing [sic] blackbirds. Birds may exhibit aggressive behavior.” They left me alone.
Tag Archives: Illinois
Pomona General Store
On a 2013 visit to Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois, I came across this gem at a crossroads near the Pomona Natural Bridge. Finding the photos again, I was curious about what this building had been and when it closed for good.
It’s the Pomona General Store, and even the New York Times published an article about it.
At an Illinois Country Store, Nostalgia Sells Best
July 15, 1987
The store was built in 1876 when Pomona, about 15 miles southwest of Carbondale near the southern tip of Illinois, was a railroad town with more than 500 residents and a shipping point for produce.
The original wooden store burned down in 1915. A rebuilt store burned in 1917, and a brick store was built the same year to replace it.
I dug around newspapers.com and found a little of the store’s most recent history starting with the 1970s, when media mentions picked up. Over the next couple of decades, the store changed hands a few times. It also attracted attention as a relic — an old-school general store in an era of big box stores. For years it seemed to be a center of Pomona community. Even after it closed, its location was used for community events like bake sales.
A few people have mentioned surprise the gas pump was in place (as of 2013) as they are “very collectible.” I found a photo from 2022 that shows the pump still there. Perhaps the Pomona community keeps a watchful eye on it.
The store must have closed between 2000 and 2002. Over the next decade or so, it deteriorated more than I would have expected. I’m reminded of what I saw of the TV series “Life After People,” which speculated how plants, wildlife, and other forces would eat away at the infrastructure and buildings humans have wrought after they were no longer maintained.
I imagine someday in Pomona the ivy will finally take over the store, and time will erase the memories.
On August 12, 2021, the United States Postal Service issued “Backyard Games,” sure to appeal to the nostalgic baby boomer like me.
The stamp pane features eight unique designs illustrating eight backyard games:
- flying disc
- variation on pick-up baseball
Each design emphasizes the movement of the game pieces, giving a dynamic quality to the artwork, with a simplified style that evokes the nostalgic feeling of playing backyard games as a child.
Later my brother scanned some old slides, likely taken when he was home from the Army. They included photos of two of my aunts and me playing Pop-A-Lot, a backyard game from Tupperware I’d half forgotten.
Our trailer was at the end of a row, with a field beyond. My dad and the trailer park owner had an understanding. We could use the field next to the trailer rent free if we were willing to mow and maintain it. Our yard on the other side was small and shrank more when my dad planted a shed in the middle of it, so this was a great perk.
The field offered us two to three times the space, up to the point it turned into an uneven, weedy, wet depression. My dad had borrowed a glider, which he put on that side of the trailer along with a table and umbrella. (Later he moved them behind the shed for shade. Your choices were roast in the sun all afternoon on one side, or get eaten alive in the evening shade by mosquitoes on the other.)
Dad put up a trellis or two for morning glories and, later, a wild rose he dug out of the wet depression. He got enormous tires to use as raised flowerbeds. He planted a rectangular garden with flowers like zinnias and vegetables like bell peppers, anchored by Virgil’s Arbor Day ash tree at the southwest corner.
A light pole next to the trailer sported a board with horseshoes tacked to it. I have no idea where they came from. We may have used them once or twice. I loved the idea of having horseshoes, once associated with luck, and wondered if ours had been worn by a horse.
Of course we tossed a flying disc around (maybe a Frisbee). We played badminton; I remember I hit the birdie too hard like it was a tennis ball. Virgil and his friends played a few games of pick-up baseball and even flag football. They were surprised that I could sometimes hit the ball almost as far as the woods. Not bad for a girl eight years younger than her brother and his friends. The trailer park also had a basketball hoop stuck to a light pole in the field. The last time the basket went missing it wasn’t replaced. By then, most of the people who would have used it were gone.
The backyard games we played that aren’t on the list: Jarts and Pop-A-Lot.
The last (and possibly first) time we broke out Jarts, my brother (if I recall correctly) speared the top of his friend’s foot. It was quite gory.
Pop-A-Lot’s packaging said:
- Develops coordination
Could “safe” has been in response to Jarts, which were as unsafe as anything could get?
I recall it was fun. It looks like my dad’s sisters liked it too (as long as it didn’t muss their hairdos).
Although it wasn’t a game, the other backyard activity we indulged in involved water. For a while I had a wading pool — two, actually, one boat shaped and the next round. I outgrew both quickly. We also had a sprinkler attachment for the hose that spun around — it was great fun. The only reason I can think of for not using it more was not wanting to waste too much water.
Sadly, by the time I was old enough to play some of these games, my brother had left for the Army, and his friends had dispersed to begin their own futures. The demographic of the trailer park changed, too, with the families moving out and retirees trying to stretch their pensions moving in.
The Forest Preserve District of Will County’s “Winter Wonderland” at Messenger Woods reminded me of Pop-A-Lot and backyard games, even if they weren’t all “real” games. I could see myself working to consistently get a plushie snowman’s head into a basket on my head. After all, it’s fun, safe, and develops coordination.
According to the Hyde Park Herald, Hyde Parkers who don’t have laundry facilities in their house or building now have to go outside the neighborhood for clean clothes.
Harper & 53rd Launder Koin, the last laundromat in Hyde Park, is closing for good on Tuesday.
The property, located at 5230 S. Harper Ave., is being purchased by the University of Chicago. According to co-owner Josh Hwang, Launder Koin’s last day in operation is technically Feb. 28, but “residents should try and get their laundry done before Feb. 26.”
The laundromat has been operating off 53rd Street since 2002, predating large nearby developments like Harper Court. Back then, Hwang was only 13 years old and working at the business for his parents.
Though demand for laundromats has dwindled nationwide in the last decade, Hwang said Launder Koin still services between 500 to 1,200 people a month.
I’ve wondered if I should do a “Relics” post on the institution of the laundromat, but it never seemed to be the right time. After seeing this article in the Hyde Park Herald, I figure the right time is now. The laundromat is on its way to becoming a relic, and may be for many years.
I grew up in a trailer — no dishwasher, no washer, no dryer. My understanding is in the trailer park’s early days the women did the laundry in the building “down front” (the entrance from Rte. 20). There may have been an informal “laundry day” (Tuesday? Wednesday?). The building was shut up by the time I was old enough to peer through its grimy windows and appeared to be junk storage.
Later, my dad, the only licensed driver, took the laundry to a laundromat on South Lake Park Avenue (6000? 6150?) in Hamburg on Saturdays, mostly by himself. I think it was on one occasion when I went with him that a woman asked him, with his shock of almost snow-white hair, about his cute granddaughter. “That’s my daughter,” he corrected her. I’m sure the women at the laundromat looked at him with newfound respect after that.
Winter trips took longer because he had to dry everything at the laundromat. I tried to dry jeans once or twice in winter air, but discovered they could break (tear) when frozen.
In finer weather, the wet clothes and sheets came home so we could hang them on the clotheslines. After a few hours in the breeze, they really did smell great. They also could pick up bird droppings, stains from falling wild cherries, or, worst of all, in late spring, tent caterpillars. Around May a plague of them would infest the cherry trees over the trailer and clotheslines. You hoped to pick them off so you wouldn’t find any, or parts of any, on your clothes or bedclothes later.
I imagine the laundromat could be a social place, with regulars on Saturday morning who exchanged greetings and maybe chat — with no phones or devices to distract them. Of course, you could always step out and go to a nearby store. It wasn’t likely at that time your clothes would go missing.
After I came to the university, I didn’t need to use a laundromat. The dormitory had washers and dryers, and my apartments since have had on-site laundry machines. The first was tough — I lived on the fourth floor, and the machines were on the first. There weren’t enough, so I could go down and up the stairs several times before one was free. It used a quaint honor system. You were supposed to plug the machine you used into an electrical outlet associated with your meter. It was fascinating to me to watch the meter move with the increased load. It wasn’t so fascinating when you found someone else’s laundry running up your meter.
At the next apartment, a studio, the small laundry room was slightly below ground level in the next building, and served at least a couple of buildings. In rain, snow, or cold, I’d have to dress for the weather, carry the laundry through the courtyard and a bit down the street, pass through a gate, go down steps mostly too dark to see in the alley, and hope for the best. Then repeat back and forth until all the laundry was washed and dried. I don’t miss that, especially when the weather was grim. It’s hard to get motivated to go out a half dozen or more times in wind, sleet, rain, snow, etc., especially on a day off. If I could drive and a laundromat had been an option, I’d have used it.
I’ve used laundromats twice in the last ten years that I can remember. The first was in Anna, Illinois, during a visit to Cache River and Shawnee National Forest. The other was in the college town of Geneseo, New York, while in the area to see Letchworth State Park.
The one in Anna was almost empty at maybe 8 p.m.; I recall the one in Geneseo was more crowded mid-day. Both seemed well kept, and the one in Anna gleamed with stainless steel machines.
Sadly, I have never been to the laundromat on 53rd — I’m not sure I knew it was still open. The next closest one is in Kenwood, prominently situated in a a plaza off the 47th Street exit of Jean-Baptiste Pointe DuSable Lake Shore Drive. I haven’t been in there, either, although I would need to wash heavier items there. It gets mixed reviews.
In my dad’s day, the big deal would be to have enough change — lots of change. No credit or debit cards, no Apple Pay, not even paper bills. If the price went up a quarter, naturally my dad grumbled. Inflation! To him and some of his peers, it didn’t seem an insignificant amount of money. “It adds up,” he might say.
Laundromats may not entirely disappear, just get farther and farther apart — like Hyde Park residents having to go six blocks further north into Kenwood. Five hundred to twelve hundred people a month aren’t insignificant numbers for a neighborhood. Some laundromats, like the one in Hyde Park, are family businesses. How long will future generations want to carry on the laundromat business in a rapidly evolving society that values money and technology?
Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?The Graduate
Substitute “laundromats” and you’ll see what I mean.
I eagerly await the Star Trek “garment reprocessor”/”cleaning processor.”
Worf: Before being allowed to play, he was to put his soiled clothing in the garment reprocessor.
Keiko: One night goes by . . . two . . . a week . . . ten days . . . by now there’s a pile of socks half a meter high!
O’Brien: Come on . . . it wasn’t half a meter.
Keiko: After two weeks I couldn’t stand it any more. I bundled them up and put them in the cleaning processor. And I’m still doing it.
Lodgings I have known: Willowbrook Cabins, Shawnee National Forest
May 21–23, 2013, with a gap
The first and third place I stayed at in the eastern portion of Shawnee National Forest was Willowbrook Cabins, first in the Outdoorsman and then in the Hiker (separated by a night in Elizabethtown). I booked the Outdoorsman while at the Post Oak rest area. Planning is for other people!
My friend and I arrived after 10 p.m. and found ourselves in a pickle. The code for the door didn’t work, the owners preferred not to be called after 10, and I didn’t have AT&T service anyway. After we drove several miles away, I was able to get enough coverage to call and find out that we should have tried 0 to 9 for the last digit. The code we had was off by only one or two steps.
Both cabins were large, rustic, and basic, but had everything you could want for a few days in the forest — including a washer and dryer that came in handy.
With the decor, I could almost imagine myself in Minnesota . . . just needed more boreal trees and lakes.
Gemini Giant, Wilmington, Illinois
Standing tall on Route 66 in Wilmington, Illinois, the Gemini Giant welcomes you to the Launching Pad. The giant is one of the Muffler Men listed at Roadside America (many with photos). You can learn “How to Identify Muffler Men.” Accept nothing less than the real deal.
I’m devastated — DEVASTATED — to find out only now there are Muffler Men variations in Springfield (here’s one and here’s the other), Peoria (Vanna Whitewall!), and Metropolis. I missed them all on visits to those towns.
But I’ll always have the Gemini Giant in Wilmington.
Not a Muffler Man, but I saw Superman in Metropolis.
And even Clark Kent, who’s more two dimensional than I expected.
Lodgings I have known: Brightwood Inn & Farm
Down on the farm, February 22 and 23, 2020
With a short visit to Starved Rock planned to see bald eagles (maybe), I decided to look for a place to stay in or near Utica vs. Ottawa. I wasn’t optimistic, but to my surprise I found one only a couple of miles from Starved Rock. For some rooms, they didn’t require a two-night stay. Feeling northwoodsy (or nautical), I booked the Mackinac because it looked comfortable. I wasn’t disappointed.
I told the owners about the themed room at Ann Arbor Bed & Breakfast, including how my favorite room, the Maine Woods, earned its name and decor from the rich green carpet. They said they too named their rooms for their favorite places. They mentioned the Aspen room upstairs. Why Aspen? I must have looked puzzled. Because it’s on the top floor. Yes, I’m slow.
The Mackinac has a big gas fireplace, which we tried briefly. After dinner, we found Trivial Pursuit in one of the comfortable public rooms and played until too worn out to continue. The questions were more difficult than I remember, even in my better categories (science and nature, history, geography).
The next day we had our choice of bananas foster or eggs Benedict, along with muffins, cereal, fruit, etc. A gas fire warmed the breakfast room, which looked like it’d been decorated for Valentine’s Day. You can’t go wrong in a dining room with book-lined shelves, one fronted by a realistic morel mushroom knickknack.
The Mackinac has a large whirlpool that I didn’t take advantage of . . . this time. The room overlooks a couple of corn mazes that would be fun to try when grown. I did turn on the fireplace again and kick back in the recliner. Ahhh.
On the way out, I picked up a jar of aronia berry jam and a candle — I have enough candles for a couple of lifetimes.
Next time — the Aspen?
Lodgings I have known: Rippon-Kinsella House
It’s high time I wrote about some of the places I’ve stayed — not the chains, but bed and breakfasts, inns, and other local places.
Steeped in history, April 24 and 25, 2010
While visiting the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois, I stayed at the Rippon-Kinsella House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and has a Wikipedia entry. I think I may have stayed in the Maid’s Room, the smallest of the three rooms. The house is very elegant, but what I remember most is the garden, which is lovely, and the residential area around it. The owners were charming and amused but helpful when we tried to find a restaurant in Springfield open after 9 p.m. Sadly, it sounds like one of the owners has become seriously ill, and the inn closed December 31, 2017.
You can find out more about Rippon-Kinsella House’s history from its entry form for the National Register of Historic Places (PDF).
Riverside Public Library
Camp Bullfrog Lake, springtime edition
Having survived an autumn visit to Camp Bullfrog Lake, and being fond of the Palos area for its hills, moraines, sloughs, woods, and forest preserves, I wanted to plan another stay. There are only two large cabins, and I was happy to get one of them for May, which I had figured would be at the height of fine spring weather. HA.
May 18, 2019
The adventure began in Homewood, where I met J. He was immediately distracted by an Operation Lifesaver “train” blowing its horn as it circled downtown Homewood. It looked popular and crowded, or we might have ended up angling for a ride.
Our first stop was at Cottage on Dixie, where, unbeknownst to us, we were about to have our last meal there. A month later the owner announced it was closing. A few days after that, the owner announced a grand reopening on July 18. My head spins, and I’m guessing it wasn’t the last Cottage meal after all.
We settled in briefly at Camp Bullfrog Lake, then set out for sandwiches at Ashbary House at the Old Willow Shopping Center, set against a wooded hillside. I love the way it looks.
Back at camp, a full moon (well, a few hours past) rose above the lake into the clouds, looking a bit like Saturn. The clouds and moon over the lake were the perfect complement to the campfire. Our fire-starting skills are better if still in need of improvement. A bucket of topnotch fire starter didn’t hurt, and with close nursing our fire flamed merrily for several hours and marshmallows. The full moon was an unexpected bonus. (Usually I pay closer attention to moon phases.)
May 19, 2019
The morning looked promising weather wise.
I found we had a lot of neighbors at the next cabin, with breakfast piled high atop their picnic table. One of their cars had Alaska plates. I marveled that anyone would drive from anywhere in Alaska to Illinois. I might never have gotten past, say, Montana or Wyoming.
After breakfast at Maple-N-Jams, we happened upon the Nut House in Bridgeview. I gained weight looking at the colorful displays, but managed to walk away with mostly seeds.
Upon returning to camp, we found the perfect excuse to skim old travel magazines and, in my case, read more about The Black Death — a lengthy downpour. Undoubtedly payback for the serendipity of the full moon.
With numerous sloughs and the Des Plaines River, Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, and Cal-Sag Channel running parallel to each other through this area, there are plenty of steel truss bridges. I love them. I wonder if the blue paint on some is relatively new to dress them up.
I thought we might see a lot of flowers in bloom at Little Red Schoolhouse, but maybe mid to late May was too late. Instead we found one of the ponds full of tadpoles, two northern water snakes, and a green heron trying to be still and invisible. Suddenly, it took off after another green heron we hadn’t noticed across the way. A brief yet epic battle ensued, and in the end I couldn’t tell which one hightailed it to the woods and which took over pond patrol.
On the other side, the great blue herons and great egrets of Longjohn Slough kept a watchful eye on each other, like boxers in their respective corners between rounds.
At Little Red Schoolhouse we’d seen a flier for a mushroom/fungus walk at Swallow Cliff Woods. We decided to investigate on our own. We didn’t get far down the trail before my pain levels rose and my energy levels flagged, just far enough to this tantalizing pathway. Someday.
I hadn’t noticed any mushrooms in the short distance we’d walked, but on the return trip we both noticed several (not the same ones in all cases). J is credited with the find of the day, a magnificent morel. I don’t think I’ve seen one “in the wild.” I began to understand why the naturalists had chosen Swallow Cliff Woods for their fungus walk. Now if only I could find (or recognize) slime molds in any form . . .
For dinner we headed to Jen’s Guesthouse, formerly Courtright’s. It was too wet to sit outside in the garden area against the wooded hillside, but the inside isn’t shabby.
Back at camp, we still hadn’t perfected the art of fire making but finally had enough going to toast marshmallows. When we were sure we’d had enough, we tossed in the Mystical Fire. I found out later we should have used three packs, but even one was . . . mystical. Or at least colorful.
May 20, 2019
We went to Lotus Cafe, which turned out to be part of Pete’s Fresh Market, and ended up with a breakfast-by-weight buffet. We also stopped at Strange Brew Cafe, which I recognized from last year.
Back at Camp Bullfrog Lake, we packed and took a last walk around. When I approached the pier, I was startled by a great blue heron perched on the railing, no doubt keeping an eye out for fresh lake fish (or even the eponymous bullfrogs). Just when I thought it was going to let me get close, it slowly flapped off to shore. They like to keep their distance. I don’t blame them.
While driving around we kept passing a historical marker sign and decided to investigate. This led us to St. James at Sag Bridge Church and Cemetery, which involved some steep hills. I can’t say for certain we found the historical marker, but i did spend a few moments checking out Our Lady of the Forest. It turns out the church is on the National Register of Historic Places. I’m reminded too that I want to read The Mystery at Sag Bridge by local writer Pat Camalliere, whom I’d met briefly at Settlers’ Day at Sand Ridge Nature Center in South Holland.
Despite the I-355 extension and the encroaching warehouse-type developments, I’m still charmed by most of Bluff Road in Lemont. We stopped at Black Partridge Woods, walked along the picnic shelter side of the stream for a bit, then returned to the parking lot to find two male scarlet tanagers paying court — presumably — to a female. I don’t get to see these birds very often, so it was a treat and a thrill worth the entire trip — downpours, damp, and all.
We made another visit to Little Red Schoolhouse Nature Center. While no green heron lurked about that I could see, the great blue herons and great egrets were still skirmishing along Longjohn Slough.
For a light dinner we stopped at Spring Forest 2, where I love the terraced outdoor seating areas.
Finally for dessert, we headed to the Plush House to enjoy ice cream from the comfort of an Adirondack chair. And so ended another weekend adventure in one of Illinois’ more interesting areas.