BY MARY WICOFF
Vermilion County always has been a transportation hub — from the trails used by Native Americans to a busy interstate highway system.
A new booklet published by the Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society takes a look at that history in its latest postcard book, “Plains, Trains and Other Wheels.”
This is the third book using old postcards to highlight unique aspects of Vermilion County.
Joann Shank, who used postcards from her collection and did the research, said of the book, “I’m happy with it. I think this area has a fantastic history.”
The spiral-bound book uses enlargements of 22 postcards, starting with the earliest form of transportation via the river systems and ending with a look at the area’s first aviators.
“Most people don’t realize the amount of aviation history (in the area),” Shank said.
There’s even a section on the Balloon Classic, which started in 1987 with 52 balloons and grew to become the first nationally sanctioned hot-air balloon event in Illinois.
Other postcards feature: a rural road near Potomac; a streetcar traveling on Vermilion Street; the Interurban station at Redden Square; a view of State Street in Georgetown at the turn of the century; Devil’s Backbone (a dirt road) in South Ross Township; a 1935 Ford touring sedan; and the Illini Swallow Lines.
The area’s rich railroad history is detailed, as well, in several postcards.
Cards show views of the Wabash Station at East Main and Washington streets; a railway post office; the Big Four Station on North Vermilion; a train wreck at Royal; the C&EI station on Kimball Street; the Illinois Central Railroad; and an electric rail car.
One card shows the Victorian elegance of a private railroad car owned by the very wealthy.
Older people in the county may remember the C&EI station, which was called the Fairchild Street Station when it was built in 1915, the same year that the nearby subway was built.
The station, which is still standing, but deteriorating, once was called “a thing of beauty and joy,” and was a bustling place.
Carolyn Livingston, president of the Illiana Genealogical and Historical Society, remembers going to the station to pick up visitors. In fact, several postcards jog memories for the Danville native.
A friend who read the book said, “It’s a history of things we remember,” Livingston said, adding, “That’s what appeals to a great many people. It’s the way it used to be.”
Livingston also is pleased with the book. “Joann put an awful lot of effort into researching this,” she said. “The information wasn’t always available.”
Shank said doing the research was the most intense part of the project.
She has between 800 and 1,000 postcards in her collection featuring places and things from St. Joseph to Covington, Ind., and from Chrisman to Milford. However, she tries to keep her research tied to Vermilion County.
“I could do four or five more books and not repeat a card,” she said.
Shank already has a couple of ideas for next year’s book.
It’s important to keep the history alive, she said. “We’re losing that history — we need to get the young people interested. If we don’t get that information out there, a lot of things won’t be remembered.”
The last two postcard books have been printed in-house by the society, and more copies can be printed if there is a demand. The other books are “Welcome to Downtown Danville” and “Let Us Entertain You.”
The books are fundraisers for IGHS, which gets no government money; instead, it relies on membership fees, donations and fundraisers.
“Plains, Trains and Other Wheels” is available at the Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society, 215 W. North St. The office is closed until Jan. 3. After that, its hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays; its number is 431-8733.
The book, which costs $20, also is available at the Fischer Theatre gift shop in downtown Danville, Charlotte’s restaurant, 402 N. Gilbert St., and the Vermilion County Museum.