More Hometown Heritage

More stories from readers about what makes their hometowns special.
Heart of the Home
July/August 2010
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Murphysboro, Illinois, Survived 1925 Tornado

My hometown of Murphysboro is located in southern Illinois and was hit by one of the worst tornadoes ever, in 1925. I wasn’t quite 3 yet, so I don’t remember it, but I have heard many stories about it from family members. According to the stories I’ve heard, the tornado traveled on the ground through three states, causing tremendous damage and destruction.

At the time, my family lived in one side of a duplex, and my aunt and uncle lived in the other side. On this particular day, Mom and Aunt Myrtle were returning home from buying fresh eggs from a farmer passing by on the street. Mom was carrying my baby brother, and Aunt Myrtle was carrying the eggs. Upon returning to the duplex, Mom and Aunt Myrtle each went to their respective homes. Mom had just my brother down on a cot in the living room, when Aunt Myrtle hollered, reminding Mom to get her eggs. So, Mom picked up my brother and went over to Aunt Myrtle’s house.

Suddenly, a tornado hit. The treacherous winds from the tornado took the entire roof, except a small area, off the duplex. On our side of the house, the window near the cot where my brother had just been, had been blown in, and the cot was covered with pieces of broken glass. Until our roof was repaired, my family and I lived in one room of the house.

Following the tornado, the newspapers reported how bad Murphysboro had been hit. Years later, a cousin gave me a book, complete with many photographs, about the damage our little town suffered when that devastating tornado blew through in 1925.

The Illinois State Museum in Springfield used to have a huge tree trunk with sticks embedded in it as a result of the tornado. However, the last time I visited the museum, I didn’t see it.

A few years ago, I was on a bus trip, and the tour guide mentioned something about each town we passed through. When we went through Murphysboro, I told her it was my hometown, and she asked if I was there during the 1925 tornado. I explained that I was, but that I was just a toddler and didn’t remember it. She then told our group about what a terrible tornado it had been and said, “We have a survivor of that tornado on our bus.”

Fay - Lawndale, Illinois

Annual Competition in Craig, Colorado, Draws Big Crowd

Whittle the Wood is a wood-carving competition and event held in Craig, Colorado, each June. Located in the northwest corner of Colorado, the Yampa River meanders through the town of Craig. Big cottonwood trees surround the river, and the most picturesque dead cottonwoods are hauled to the city park for the wood-carving competition.

For three days, wood carvers stand on scaffolds with noisy chainsaws, wood chips and sawdust flying everywhere. Soon, the dead cottonwoods are transformed into works of art. Flying eagles, climbing bears and crouching mountain lions are some of the favorites. However, Indians, cowboys, miners and mythical figures are also popular.

On the fourth day, the artists’ completed sculptures are ready to be judged by the large crowd that has gathered at the park. Bands keep the atmosphere lively, and venders fill every niche available with their selections of wood carvings, jewelry and other hand-made items. There is never a dull moment.

Many of the sculptures remain in the park after the competition, making the park a special destination for visitors. There are more than 25 sculptures displayed in the park now.

The annual Whittle the Wood celebration is a unique way to use dead cottonwood trees, and it has become one of the most popular events in our community.

Stella - Craig, Colorado

Small Town of Sidell, Illinois, is Booming

Last year, our small village celebrated 125 years of existence. While many towns seem to be deteriorating, Sidell continues to overcome obstacles to gain recognition for its accomplishments.

Although the town’s namesake, John Sidell, settled near here about 1884, he wasn’t the first homesteader attracted to the area. Some 40 years before the town was formed, others arrived to homestead property in and around the present village. However, rattlesnakes and big, green flies forced the emigrants to move on.

After John Sidell’s father died, the young man came west, migrating to Ohio. He also traveled to Iowa and Illinois, then returned to Ohio. However, the ride on horseback through Illinois prairie grass as high as his head helped him to reach a decision, and he settled near Paris, Illinois, and later purchased land in Vermilion County. It wasn’t until the railroad came through the area that Sidell was born.

In 1888, there were three industries – tile, brick and ice. Then a weekly newspaper, Sidell Reporter, began. At times called Sidell Journal, it has been in business continually for 122 years. The only locally owned newspaper in Vermilion County, the editor/owner puts out a first-rate edition each week, with a limited number of employees.

Another noteworthy accomplishment is that our community was recognized with the Tree City USA honor for the many lovely trees in our village. We have beautiful flowering crabapples, redbuds, maples and walnuts, to name a few. Scattered around town and along parts of our old brick street that passes through the business district, this mixed variety of trees creates four seasons of beauty.

Margaret - Sidell, Illinois

Danbury,North Carolina, is Home to Dan River

I live outside a small town in the Sauratown Mountains of North Carolina in Danbury. According to local historians, our mountain range is the only mountain range in the United States contained completely within one county.

There is a state park nearby, covering thousands of acres. The park offers canoeing and camping, and the view of the waterfalls and wildlife, including black bears and wild turkeys, is beautiful. Hundreds of thousands of people visit the park each year.

For a lot of visitors, however, the real attraction to Danbury is the Dan River. On any given summer afternoon, you will see people standing in a long line to rent an inner tube so they can float down Dan River, a two- to six-hour trip.

When their float trip is complete, the tubers climb out of the river with smiles on their faces, because now they have stories to last a lifetime of the time they went “tubing down the Dan.”

Katie - Danbury, North Carolina

Homecoming Celebrated in Puxico, Missouri, in Big Way

In 1972, my husband and I moved our family to southeast Missouri to the little town of Puxico, population about 750. Our daughter was 7, and our son 4. The school was nice, and the people were friendly, but we had no relatives and knew no one.

We lived within walking distance from the school, so on nice days, my son and I would walk to the school to pick up my daughter. In the springtime, violets bloomed all along the sidewalks for blocks on the street we took, so we nicknamed the street Violetville.

Puxico had blossomed from the early days as a timber town. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was busy in the 1930s in Puxico. A large high school building was built from native stone quarried from Hartz Bluff, north of town. Puxico also was home to the world’s largest log structure, a high school gymnasium, built in the mid-1930s by the WPA. Cypress logs from the Mingo Swamp were used to make the gymnasium, home of the Puxico State Basketball Champions in the early 1950s. Unfortunately, the gym was destroyed by fire in 1958. The City Library, opened in 1939, is the only log library in Missouri, and, according to a local historian, has been used as a government office, as city hall and as the library.

When we moved to Puxico, I often heard people talking, saying, “It’s almost time for Homecoming.” I didn’t really think much about it. Then, the second week of August came, and I figured out what all the talk was about. Carnival rides arrived, game and concession stands were set up, and a square dance floor was built. Excitement was everywhere.

The main street of town was closed off, and the festivities began when the sun went down. The small town would swell to 5,000 people some nights. People came from near and far to see old friends and to attend family and class reunions. One night the community held church service in the park, and everything shut down until it was over. A favorite feature of Homecoming is the goat burger. In fact, it is often said that Homecoming isn’t Homecoming without a famous goat burger. You have to get one quickly, though, because they usually sell out.

The Puxico Homecoming, sponsored by the local VFW, began in September 1947, and Joe Sifford, a native, has attended every night of Homecoming each year. In earlier years, weddings were held in the park during Homecoming. Local stores and businesses would donate gifts to the happy couple. One year, Mrs. Ida May King rode the Ferris wheel 100 times around to celebrate her 100th birthday. She was accompanied by Joe Sifford, and people came from all around to witness the event and to wish her Happy Birthday.

Our family didn’t attend the first year we lived in Puxico, but as we got to know people and became involved with school, church and community activities, we came to love Puxico. It became our home.

My husband accepted a job transfer in 1982 that took us to the state of Washington. Each year after we moved, the second week of August found us back in Puxico, a 2,300-mile drive, to see our friends and enjoy the festivities. The community had made an indelible imprint on our lives so much that when my husband retired in 1997, we moved back to Puxico. We bought the house next to the one we had previously owned when we lived there the first time, and we are thoroughly enjoying retirement in the community we love.

Betty - Puxico, Missouri


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