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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007 02:32 pm

Picturing Macon County

A nostalgic look at Sangamon’s history-rich neighbor

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Macon County By Dan Guillory (Arcadia Publishing, 2007, 128 pages, $19.95)
Untitled Document Arcadia Publishing’s series Images of America enlists various authors to research the history of a certain town or area. Endnotes in the books state that Arcadia is the leading local history publisher in the United States, with more than 3,000 titles in print. Formats are similar and attractive: about 130 pages, a few early maps, a minimum of writing (they have a word limit), and a maximum (180) of well-annotated photos. Paul Jaenicke’s book on Matteson, near Chicago Heights, is divided, after a condensed history, into Early Days, Business District, Municipal Services, Parades, Churches and Civic Organizations, Schools, Veterans, Residential Life, Transportation. I knew nothing of Matteson but would now like to have visited it before it became a south-Chicago suburb — and can, vicariously, through the remarkable pictures. Dan Guillory, an area author and poet well known to Illinois Times readers, has done several Image of America books: Decatur (previously reviewed), Wartime Decatur 1832-1945 (2006), and, just published, Macon County. This book, after an overall historical introduction, is divided into four sections, each with its own specific longer introduction: Decatur, the County Seat; the Western Towns and Warrensburg; Maroa, Emery, and Forsyth; The Eastern Towns, Mount Zion, and Macon. There’s also a bibliography. As in Matteson, each section could be divided into schools, parades, and so on, but that would be cumbersome in this inclusive volume. It would also need sections on agriculture. What I, a longtime dweller of nearby Sangamon County, did was thumb through the book, arrested by this picture or that advertising postcard circa 1910 — often humorous — then picked a spot I’d never heard of, Maroa, and studied it closely. I was well rewarded. I plan to drive to Maroa in the spring, mount my bike, and see what this small town now looks like, see whether I can locate some of the pictured spots still existing — even talk to folks, if there’s a Chatterbox Cafe. I trust there’ll be no malls; I picture it more like our present Dawson or Buckhart. And I want to see the rural Noble Bridge in Argenta, if it’s still there, and sit in the pasture, listening to the meadowlarks.
  I called my friend Dan and confirmed that he’d had a ball doing this, and his other
Image books — locating photos in libraries, finding people with photo collections and antique dealers with attic treasures from estate sales, browsing through histories, atlases, letter collections. Visiting the villages to see for himself. Discovering Larry Nix in Maroa, whose house is literally a baseball museum with posters, tattered Confederate uniforms — yes, they played ball when they weren’t fighting — and a bed made entirely of baseball bats. This volume is not a mere assignment; it is done with love and will make you nostalgic for the towns and landscapes of Macon County — or your own county — that used to be, even if you’re too young, as we mostly are, to have experienced them firsthand.

Jacqueline Jackson, books and poetry editor of Illinois Times, is professor emerita of English at the University of Illinois at Springfield.
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