Homepage of "Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, & Other Highlights of Lincoln, IL"

Site Map


A Long-Range Plan to Brand the First Lincoln Namesake City as the Second City of Abraham Lincoln Statues

The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in Lincoln, Illinois

Abraham Lincoln and the Historic Postville Courthouse,
including a William Maxwell connection to the Postville Courthouse

About Henry Ford and the Postville Courthouse, the Story of the Postville Courthouse Replica,
Tantivy, & the Postville Park Neighborhood in the
Route 66 Era


The Rise of Abraham Lincoln and His History and Heritage in His First Namesake Town,
also the founding of Lincoln College, the plot to steal Lincoln's body, and memories of Lincoln College and the Rustic Tavern-Inn

Introduction to the Social & Economic History of Lincoln, Illinois,
including poetry by William Childress & commentary by Federal Judge Bob Goebel & Illinois Appellate Court Judge Jim Knecht

"Social Consciousness in William Maxwell's Writings Based on Lincoln, Illinois" (an article published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, winter 2005-06

Peeking Behind the Wizard's Screen: William Maxwell's Literary Art as Revealed by a Study of the Black Characters in Billie Dyer and Other Stories

Introduction to the Railroad & Route 66 Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois

The Living Railroad Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois: on Track as a Symbol of the "Usable Past"


Route 66 Overview Map of Lincoln with 42 Sites, Descriptions, & Photos

The Hensons of Business Route 66

The Wilsons of Business
Route 66
including the Wilson Grocery & Shell Station

Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Lincoln Memorial Park
(former Chautauqua site),
the Historic Cemeteries, & Nearby Sites

Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Salt Creek & Cemetery Hill,
the highway bridges, GM&O bridge, Madigan State Park, the old dam (with photos & Leigh's memoir of "shooting the rapids" over the old dam), & the Ernie Edwards' Pig-Hip Restaurant Museum in Broadwell

The Historic Logan County Courthouse, Past & Present

Route 66 Map with 51 Sites in the Business & Courthouse Square Historic District,
including locations of historical markers
(on the National Register of Historic Places)

Vintage Scenes of the Business & Courthouse Square Historic District

The Foley House:  A Monument to Civic Leadership
(on the National Register of Historic Places)

Agriculture in
the Route 66 Era

Arts & Entertainment Heritage,
including the Lincoln Theatre Roy Rogers' Riders Club of the 1950s

Business Heritage

Cars, Trucks & Gas Stations of the Route 66 Era

including the hometown churches of Author William Maxwell & Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

Factories, Past and Present

Food Stores of
the Route 66 Era


Hospitals, Past and Present

Hotels & Restaurants of the Railroad & Route 66 Eras

Lincoln Developmental Center
(Lincoln State School & Colony in the Route 66 era), plus
debunking the myth of Lincoln, Illinois, choosing the Asylum over the University of Illinois

Mining Coal, Limestone, & Sand & Gravel; Lincoln Lakes; & Utilities


Museums & Parks, including the Lincoln College Museum and its Abraham Lincoln Collection, plus the Heritage-in-Flight Museum

with Distinction

News Media in the Route 66 Era

The Odd Fellows' Children's Home


Memories of the 1900 Lincoln Community High School,
including Fred Blanford's dramatic account of the lost marble fountain of youth

A Tribute to the Historians and Advocates of Lincoln, Illinois

Watering Holes of the Route 66 Era

The Historic 1953 Centennial Celebration of Lincoln, Illinois

The Festive 2003 Sesqui-centennial Celebration of Lincoln, Illinois,
including photos of LCHS Class of 1960 dignitaries & the Blanfords

Why Did the State Police Raid Lincoln, Illinois, on October 11, 1950?

The Gambling Raids in Lincoln and Logan County, Illinois,
During the Late Route 66 Era (1950-1960)


Pages in this section tell about Leigh Henson's Lincoln years, moving away, revisits, and career:

About Lincoln, Illinois;
This Web Site; & Me

A Tribute to Lincolnite Edward Darold Henson: World War II U.S. Army Veteran of the Battles for Normandy and the Hedgerows; Brittany and Brest; and the Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge)

For Remembrance, Understanding, & Fun: Lincoln Community High School Mid-20th-Century Alums' Internet Community
(a Web site and email exchange devoted to collaborative memoir and the sharing of photos related to Lincoln, Illinois)

Leigh Henson's Pilgrimage to Lincoln, Illinois, on
July 12, 2001

Leigh Henson's Review of Dr. Burkhardt's William Maxwell Biography

Leigh Henson's Review of Ernie Edwards' biography, Pig-Hips on Route 66, by William Kaszynski

Leigh Henson's Review of Jan Schumacher's Glimpses of Lincoln, Illinois

Teach Local Authors: Considering the Literature of Lincoln, Illinois

Web Site About
Leigh Henson's Professional Life


Pages in this section are about the writing, memorabilia, and Web sites of other Lincolnites:

A Tribute to Bill and Phyllis Stigall:
Exemplary Faculty of Lincoln College at Mid-Twentieth Century

A Tribute to the Krotzes of Lincoln, Illinois

A Tribute to Robert Wilson (LCHS '46): Author of Young in Illinois, Movies Editor of December Magazine, Friend and Colleague of December Press Publisher Curt Johnson, and Correspondent with William Maxwell

Brad Dye (LCHS '60): His Lincoln, Illinois, Web Site,
including photos of many churches

Dave Armbrust's Memorabilia of Lincoln, Illinois

J. Richard
(JR) Fikuart
(LCHS '65):
he Fikuarts of Lincoln, Illinois, including their connections to the William Maxwell family and three generations of family fun at Lincoln Lakes

Jerry Gibson (LCHS '60): Lincoln, Illinois, Memoirs & Other Stories

Dave Johnson (LCHS '56): His Web Site for the Lincoln Community High School Class of 1956

Sportswriter David Kindred: Memoir of His Grandmother Lena & Her West Side Tavern on Sangamon Street in the Route 66 Era

Judge Jim Knecht
(LCHS '62): Memoir and Short Story, "Other People's Money," Set in Hickey's Billiards on Chicago Street in the Route 66 Era

William A. "Bill" Krueger (LCHS '52): Information for His Books About Murders in Lincoln

Norm Schroeder (LCHS '60): Short Stories

Stan Stringer Writes About His Family, Mark Holland, and Lincoln, Illinois

Thomas Walsh: Anecdotes Relating to This Legendary Attorney from Lincoln by Attorney Fred Blanford & Judge Jim Knecht

Leon Zeter (LCHS '53): His Web Site for the
Lincoln Community High School Class of 1953
including announcements of LCHS class reunions

(Post yours there.)


Highway Sign of
the Times:

The Route 66
Association of Illinois

The Illinois State Historical Society

Illinois Tourism Site:
Enjoy Illinois



      April 24, 2004: Awarded "Best Web Site of the Year" by the Illinois State Historical Society: "superior achievement: serves as a model for the profession and reaches a greater public"

Marquee Lights of the Lincoln Theater, est. 1923, Lincoln, Illinois

You can go home again. Email Leigh Henson at DLHenson@missouristate.edu

 The H.F. Wilsons of Business Route 66

     This pictorial essay depicts life at the home and family businesses of my maternal grandparents: the H.F. Wilsons (a half century from 1920 to approximately 1970).

1: The Wilsons' Home and Businesses on Business Route 66 (left side of photo)
in the Neighborhood of the Postville Courthouse Historic Site 

     (Photo adapted from Gleason, Lincoln: A Pictorial History, opposite title page. The photo is undated, but most likely is from the early 1960s.)

     In 1922, my maternal grandparents, Harrison Franklin Wilson and Blanch Hoblit Wilson, built a grocery store at the corner of Fifth and Washington Streets. The store also sold gasoline and oil and was the first to do so on Fifth Street, which became Business Route 66 in 1926. 

Courtship and Marriage of Blanch Hoblit and Harrison F. Wilson

     In her 1979 autobiographical sketch, Edna Blanch Hoblit Wilson, LCHS Class of 1916, describes how she met and married Harrison Franklin Wilson: "During the growing up years most of us [Hoblit] children attended a small church on the corner of Seventh and College Streets called Lincoln Hill Presbyterian. This is where I met Harrison Wilson, my future husband. At this church we had a group to age fourteen called Junior Christian Endeavor, which met at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.  Also there was an older group called Senior Christian Endeavor, which met at 6:30 Sunday evening. Our Sunday school met at 2:30 p.m., and preaching was at 7:30 Sunday evenings. We enjoyed picnics in summer, Halloween and New Year's parties in winter, also sleigh rides or bob sled parties ending with cocoa and cookies at someone's home.

    In these days a rural teacher had to have a high school diploma, take a teacher's examination, and attend Normal Teachers College three summers out of four. We had a review class in our senior year of high school. I taught rural school two years and second grade one year in Lincoln.  Harrison worked in a grocery store. 

     June 18, 1920, we were married in my home [John Hoblit residence on south Elm Street] by Rev. James B. Muir at 9:30 a.m. All of my family, part of Harrison's, and several friends were there. Harrison rode his bicycle, and Rev. Muir drove us to the train in his car. We went on a short trip to Aurora, Illinois [where one of Harrison's cousins lived]. It was a beautiful June day. I had made my white dress and carried red roses."

Building the Wilson Store at Fifth and Washington Streets

     Blanch describes how they came to build their store. At the time of their marriage, "Harrison had bought a small home, and we rented what was then the J.W. Heaton Grocery and Meat Market at Fifth and College Streets [Knochel's in the 1950s], which we operated for two years [1920-1922]. During our first years in business, Harrison had a truck with shelves along both sides which he filled with groceries farmers needed, and once a week he traveled a certain route to sell to farmers' wives and trade for eggs and chickens. At the end of two years, Mr. Heaton wanted his business back and our lease was out."

     In 1922 we bought two lots at 1220 Fifth Street and built a store with an apartment in the back where we lived. Besides groceries we sold lunch meat and sometimes fresh meat. Many neighborhood stores were all over Lincoln so people could easily walk to do their shopping, many times bringing a cart or child's wagon to haul groceries home in.  At that time many grocers let people have food on credit, and a number of stores had to close because some people didn't pay their bills. Most stores would also deliver grocery orders.  Sometimes we would get a call to deliver a loaf of bread for dinner in one half hour.

     We had the first gas pump on Fifth Street in front of our store, but two years later the first filling station was built across from us [Beach's Illico station].

* * * * *

     Harrison and Blanch had three daughters, Jane, Lois, and Mariann, and one son, Gilbert (Gib). Jane, the oldest, was my mother. The family lived at the back of the store until 1929, when the parents built a house just behind the store on Washington Street. Gib Wilson says a carpenter named Jim Reeder built the house. Mr. Reeder lived just a block away at the corner of Washington and Sixth Streets. 

     Harrison operated the store until his death in 1959. Blanch operated the store for about another year. In the 1970s, the gas station was remodeled and used as the Wyse Carry-Out. After that, the structure was remodeled and expanded to form Al's Main Event. A history of Wyse's and Al's is given later in this essay.

     Note: the photos in this essay follow a rough chronological order from the 1920s through the early 1960s. Photo 5, from the late 1930s, however, is an exception, but it seems to depict the Wilson children on the day of the week that anchored their family life, Sunday. On this day, Harrison never opened the store, and Sunday was devoted to family togetherness: church services in the morning and recreation in the afternoon. The photo of 5, then, serves as a good introduction to the Wilsons' American way of family life.

2: Wilson Grocery and Gas Pump in 1923,
Where the First Gasoline Was Sold on Fifth Street in Lincoln, Illinois

     This photo was taken in 1923, the year after the store was built and three years before Route 66 would be formed. Fifth Street would become part of original Route 66, then later part of Business Route 66 when the beltline of Route 66 was completed in the early 1940s. In the mid 1930s, Harrison moved the store to the next lot at the right (east) and built a gas station on the corner where the store had stood. 

     Lois Wilson Leesman writes that "Dad kept the store open until 9 or 10 o'clock on summer evenings. We often sat on a wooden bench in front of and watched the cars go by on US 66."

3: Jane Wilson in Front of the
Wilson Grocery in 1923

4: Jane Wilson with
First Cell Phone in 1923

     The background of 3 shows Fifth Street and Postville Park. Salt blocks were sold to farmers to place in pastures for livestock. Jane is accompanied by six friends: in the buggy are two dolls; in the chair are a stuffed animal and an adult male doll with mustache and tilted black derby. In front of the chair are a horse and rabbit.

     Photo 4 shows the Minkes' house and back porch in the background. The wash tubs at left and middle have signs with their prices: small tub left was 75 cents; middle tub was 85 cents.

     The Minkes lived on the northwest corner of Fifth and Washington Streets and so were close neighbors of the Wilsons. In the early 1900s, Mr. Minke was a harness maker and leather repairman. He mainly worked for farmers.

     Several Wilson family photos seen in this essay were taken in the Minkes' yard. Gib tells the following story about Mr. Minke: "Dad had a salesman from Decatur who came in the store every so often to sell wholesale goods. Mr. Sawyer got so whenever he came he would pitch balls to me for a short time to hit with a bat. The store was moved over one lot from the corner where it was.  That left some empty room to play ball. Well, any way this one time he pitched me the ball, and I hit it across the street and through the window of the house owned by Mr. Minke. Boy, was he upset. He did calm down some when Dad told him he would have it fixed. The second time it happened we didn't hit the ball in that direction again. By that time my Dad was upset."

     Another anecdote from Gib about salesmen who visited the Wilson Grocery: "At one time a wholesale salesman who came to the store and sold potatoes in 100-pound sacks and other groceries told Dad if I would dress up in a potato sack and walk in the parade (which back in those days would happen ever so often) for advertising he would give me a dollar. So we cut holes in the bottom of the potato sack for my legs to go through and stuffed it with newspapers all around me and tied the tops over my shoulder. I did look like a walking sack of potatoes."

5: Left to Right: Gilbert, Mariann, Jane, and Lois Wilson, About 1938

     The Wilsons regularly attended Sunday services at the First Presbyterian Church. Most likely such an occasion is the reason they are dressed up here.

     The Wilson house featured narrow side boards, extended rafters decoratively cut in the craftsman style popular in the 1920s, and a porch with red brick and wooden columns. These exterior features are apparent in the several photos on this page. The two-bedroom house had built-in wooden book cases between the living room and the dining room. The basement walls were concrete block. Behind the house was a garage large enough for two cars. A driveway ran off Washington Street along the north side of the house (next to the dog kennels of Bob Sanders) and curved behind the house and along the west side of the store to Fifth Street.

6: Jane and Lois Wilson on
Central Illinois Creek Bank, About 1924

7: Wilsons at Play, About 1936

     In his autobiographical sketch, Gib Wilson writes, "During the summer Dad would take the family on outings to the timber and creek. There we would have picnics and wiener roasts.  And we would swim in the creek. Dad's brother, Sam, and his family would also go.

     "In the summer there were times when Dad would take me fishing. We had to be careful because we both would get poison ivy. One Sunday afternoon when I was about seven or eight, Dad decided to walk out 5th Street Road to the pit on past the creek a short distance to fish. And Mom would pick us up that evening.  We just got to fish a couple of hours before Mom got there. At that time I did not know it was almost four miles out."

     Gib describes winter fun: "When it became winter and had enough snow on the ground, Dad would get the sled out of the garage that he had made big enough for four kids to ride on at one time. That was back in the days of the Model A Ford. He would pull us up and down the streets behind the car for a nice sled ride. You realize back then cars did not go very fast."

     My mother, Jane, had told me that on Sunday afternoons Harrison often took the family on car trips to parks in nearby cities. She had mentioned trips to Decatur and Pekin. When I taught at Pekin High, I  recall a visit from my parents. When we drove past Mineral Springs Park on Court Street, my mother mentioned that she remembered being there as a kid and Harrison renting a paddle boat to take his kids for a ride.

     Gib also recalls the road trips: "Trips we took as a family were to Springfield down old Route 66 between the two cemeteries and over Salt Creek in a Model A Ford. Dad had a brother, Charley Wilson, who lived in Springfield. And we would go to Aurora, Illinois, where Dad had a sister living, to visit on a Sunday. Mom had a sister Helen who lived in Dixon, Illinois, which we made a trip to take Lois so she could visit [her cousin Joyce] once in a while."

     The background of photo 8 below shows four of the five cabins on Fifth Street owned by Mr. Minke. The cabins were just one block west of the Wilson Grocery Store. Gib's autobiographical sketch contains information about some of the people who stayed in these cabins:

     "In the spring and fall Mr. Minke would have migrant workers come in his block, and they would put up tents to live in for a few days or sometimes weeks. Early spring they would be heading east and north looking for work. And in the fall they would head back toward the southwest for the winter. 

     Also during the early and middle 30s bands of gypsies would roam the country and stay on the Minkes' property. They also set up tents.  Sometimes they would stay for a few days then leave. They were not welcome to stay almost anywhere else. They were known to steal a lot along their travels. They used to make outdoor furniture out of willows that grew along the creek beds as they traveled. They made chairs,  settees, and tables. 

8: Postville Park Patrons: Jane, Mariann, and Gib Wilson in the Early 1930s with the Minke Cabins in Background

     The main reason I have mentioned these people is that they just stayed across Washington Street from my Dad's store, and when they came in for groceries, they came in bunches like five or six or more at a time. The women all wore dresses down to the ankles with linings in them so while some would distract the grocer others would slip things into their dresses so fast you would not notice. If Dad noticed them coming in time, he would call my mother to come over to the store, and if she could bring as many of the kids that were handy to come over and help watch the people while they were in the store. 

     In a lot of cases when the gypsies traveled through one county to another, the county sheriff would notify the sheriff in the next county. He would then meet them at the county line and escort them thru to the next county. 

9: About 1947, Cousins Leigh Henson and Jerry Gibson in Willow Branch Chair Made by Gypsies

     My dad would trade canned goods, tobacco, and other things to the gypsies for some of the willow furniture they made. Back in those days there was a lot of trading going on. Dad used to trade food for carpenter tools, fishing gear and something else he might be able to use. Even as a boy growing up I would trade cap guns and pocket knives for marbles or vice versa or for anything else."

     Gib indicates that "early in the '30s Dad received a lot in Melrose Addition for groceries a family could not pay for. Dad had a garden on the lot for a short time."

     Gib further describes the social conditions of the 1930s: "During the early and middle 1930s there were a lot of tramps and hobos wondering around the country. A lot of them would hitch a ride on trains that went coast to coast. There were a few that walked the highways and byways. So every so often one would come in the store looking for something to eat. Dad would fix them a sandwich with two slices of bread, thick slice of bologna, and cheese with mustard. He would charge them five or ten cents. And if they didn't have any money he would just give it to them. There were a few years at that time Dad would see the same fellow in the spring and in the fall. Never knew where he came from or where he went."

10: Jane in Minkes' Front Yard About 1933
with Large Wooden Signs to the Right

11: On Back of Photo Someone Wrote,
"Jane, always reading."


     The photo in10 is an abbreviated version, "cropped" to fit into its place on this page. The full version shows that the grocery store had been moved one lot east from the corner, but the gas station had not yet been built. Photo 10 is on the northwest corner of Washington and Fifth Streets, looking east toward the main part of Lincoln. The Midway Grill is in the far right background of 10. 

     Photo11 captures Jane Wilson spending time in one her favorite ways. When I was in the first grade, she helped me to learn to read. She was also appreciative of history and shared it with her children. As kids, my sister and I saw many historic sites and parks in Illinois because of our mother and father's interest in making family trips educational.

12: Different Season, Different Civilization Showing the Same View as 10.10:
the Intersection of Washington and Fifth Streets

(Photo by Leigh Henson, Christmas Eve Snow of 2002)

     In 12, the former Big Al's Restaurant stands on the site of the former Wilson Shell Station. The enduring Goodman Trucking Company is in the green building behind Al's.

     Photo 10 shows a large sign nailed to the utility pole and a larger board sign constructed with posts sunk into the ground.  Gib explains, "There was a time around 1933-1935 when Dad had let the [Lincoln] Sand and Gravel Company of Lincoln put up a big billboard sign on the corner after he had moved the store building from the corner over to the next lot toward town.  So he could put up a building for a Shell station. And the lot was still empty The sign was advertising for the swimming beach that was on a lake where they had taken out sand and gravel. For that they had given Dad a free pass that summer for the family to go swimming at the beach. 

     That also was the summer we won't forget. Mom took us kids along with Helen Hoblit that was married to George Hoblit and her daughter, Judy, out to the beach from early morning until late evening,  not realizing we were getting sunburned. We took a picnic lunch and stayed the whole day. All of us got sun burned really bad. Had blisters come out from the burns. Judy, our cousin, as I remember, was the only one that wasn't burned very bad--her skin just got darker."

13: Jane's High School
Graduation Day, 1938

14: Blanch and Harrison, Late 1940s

     Photo 13, taken from the Minkes' front yard, shows the Wilson house, garage, and Shell Station in the background.  Photo 14 shows the Wilson Grocery in the background. 

     Gib describes an incident about the store that happened in the early 1930s:  "Dad's store sometime during the night had a window broken out of the front door. This was just before Christmas so all they seemed to take was big boxes of Christmas candy, cookies, and cartons of cigarettes and cigars in a box. Back then all of those things and a lot of others came in bulk. That was so many dozen or pounds in a large box. Then again within two or three years just before Christmas the store was broken into and about the same things were stolen again. Needless to say, Dad was not very happy."

     Gib tells about another store-related incident that he learned about years after it happened: "In 1949 I was working in Peoria at Caterpillar. There were five of us riding back and forth from Lincoln. One night 'Cracker' Rohlfs, who lived in and was raised in Postville and knew Dad and the others in the Wilson family and was about ten or eleven years older than I, asked me if Dad had told me the following story:

     One Saturday night in the early 1930s he and a bunch of guys would go fishing on Salt Creek just south of Lincoln where there used to be a dam across Salt Creek close to where the railroad crossed. They would set out bank lines, eat, and drink beer during the night. This particular Saturday night they ran out of food. 

     Cracker said, 'I know where to get some food,' so he and one other guy came back to Dad's house, went up on the porch, and hollered real loud, 'Hey, Mr. Wilson, someone is robbing your store.' 

     They said Dad came out running, putting on his pants and with pistol [a 38] in one hand. When he was out on the porch, they said they were only kidding. That they had run out of food and thought that was the only way to get him out.  Boy, they said he really got mad. 

     Then after a while he cooled off a bit and decided to get them what they wanted. So they went back out to Salt Creek with their stuff. 

     Cracker Rohlfs got a big kick out of telling me, since no one had ever mentioned it before."

     Gib says that Harrison sometimes carried his 38 pistol in going back and forth from house to store at night. 

15: H.F. Wilson's 38

     The top of the barrel identifies the manufacturer as Iver Johnson's Arms & Cycle Works of Fitchburg, Massachusetts. The date on the bottom of the grip is November, 1908. (My dad tells me his old single-shot 22 rifle was also made by this manufacturer.)

     Gib says he knows of only one occasion when the pistol was fired. He remembers one Fourth of July during his childhood when his father stood between the grocery store and the Shell service station and fired the pistol toward the sky in celebration.

16: Jane with Family Pet, Cappy,
About 1935

17: Darold Henson and Jane Wilson,
About 1938

     Cappy was a rust-colored, thick-coated part chow, and I remember playing with him during visits to my Wilson grandparents. He was large and good natured.

18: Leigh with Aunt Mariann in Front of the Wilson Grocery, About 1944

19: Linda and Leigh Henson with
Uncle Gib Wilson, About 1948


     The display of the flag in the above photo left reflects the patriotism expressed during WW II.  In June of 2003, Uncle Loren tentatively identified the vehicle as a 1936 Chevy with doors opening from the front, and Aunt Mariann remembered that it was her father's car. Behind this car is the two-story concrete-block structure of Goodman's Trucking Company. Mr. Goodman also sold gas, and the inserted black arrow points to a Texaco sign near the gas pumps. At the right in the far distant background, a car appears on Fifth Street (Business Route 66). One block beyond the Texaco sign, at the left, was the site of the former Postville Courthouse, a vacant block in the 1930s and 1940s.

     The Midway Grill was immediately across the street from Goodman's. Gib recalls that truckers often parked in front of Wilson Grocery while they ate across the street at the Midway. Harrison put up a sign telling truckers not to park in front of his store, but one day he noticed a trucker had stolen the sign.  Willie Aughton recalls the Midway at one time had an outdoor barbecue pit.

20: Cousins Jerry Gibson and Leigh Henson
Practicing for the Mother Road, About 1946


21: Leigh on Trike with Postville Park and Business Route 66 in Background, About 1948

     The photo above left shows the large Wilson family garage in the background. Uncle Gib's basketball backboard and hoop are visible on the garage gable. Behind the garage is the tall, corrugated metal wall blocking the view of the storage yard of Goodman's. I liked to play inside and behind the garage. Inside, Granddad had stored signs and lumber and for a while even a car.

     My sister reminds me that at about the age of eleven or twelve, I smoked a cigar in the narrow hideaway-passage between the back of the garage and the ten-foot-high corrugated steel wall. She says I got sick from it--apparently not sick enough to stop me from ever doing it again.

22: Wilsons and Hensons in 1946

     The above photo, given to me by my Aunt Lois Wilson Leesman, is a favorite in the family. The great war was over. My father, Darold, had been wounded, but had recovered, and I had baby sister, Linda. These are happy faces, well perhaps except for mine. But at about the age of five, I probably considered taking photos just an unwelcome interruption of play. 

23: Mariann Wilson in LCHS Band Uniform

24: Linda and Leigh, About 1948

     My Aunt Mariann and Uncle Gib were both Marines. When they returned home on leave or were discharged, excitement was in the air. As they began their young adult lives, there were more cars around. In those days, any new (used) car was proudly shown off, and everyone was treated to a ride around town. But every car's doors seemed to present new dangers. I recall more than one person suffering sore fingers after having a door slammed on them.

25: Blanch and Harrison in 1953

Leigh's Memoir of the Wilson Corner    

     I enjoyed spending time in Granddad's store. He let me sit at his desk at the back of the store and listen to the radio. I recall Granddad liked to listen to Gabriel Heater and the news. I was allowed to roam freely in the store, even in the back room where merchandise was stored and stacked in large boxes. In my younger years, Granddad occasionally took me with him to Lucas and Farmer's wholesale outlet, where he bought a lot of canned goods. In my early teens, sometimes I helped stock shelves, using his hand-held stamping machine to put prices on the cans.

     My Wilson grandparents gave me other jobs in my pre-teen and early teen years. I often mowed their grass and enjoyed it because Granddad owned the first power mower I had ever used. When I finished mowing, I was rewarded with a cold Coke and a couple of dollar bills--a lot of money when it is the first ever earned.

     Unlike Granddad, Grandmother Blanch tended to pay attention to the quality of my work, and she taught me the need to do a good job. One time I was scheduled to mow the grass, but I was playing at home with Larry Van Bibber and did not want to interrupt the play, so I invited him to go with me as I mowed. I was in a hurry, and I'm sure Grandmother observed my haste from inside her house. Later that evening she paid a visit to me at home, sitting down with me and my mother to explain I had left grass growing against the house foundation. She emphasized how important it was for the employee to be sure the employer was satisfied with the work. Of course, at the time I was irked at what I perceived to be a bossy grandparent. After all, Granddad never, never complained.

   Another task I recall doing in the grocery store was oiling the floor. After Granddad had a heart attack in the early 1950s, he was limited in what he could do during recuperation. Every Saturday night after closing, I swept the floor, spread some kind of oil on the hardwood floor with a bucket and mop, and then spread red sawdust on top. After a short interval for the oil to penetrate the wood and the sawdust to absorb the excess, I swept up the sawdust. I was happy to do this job because I felt I was helping the only grandfather I ever knew, and I was well aware that I could have no better one than he.

26: Gib and Harrison in 1953

     Well before my teens, Granddad changed the layout of the store shown above. In the new layout, the large white meat case at the right was moved to the back. Behind the meat counter and off to one side was a large, round, wooden block table where meat was cut. Cases of candy were placed in the former location of the meat counter, and end-to-end with the candy cases was the tobacco products case. Then there was a small walkway between the tobacco case and the ice cream freezer. The row ended with a counter, cash register, and a large scale.

    The store in the second location had a shallow basement with a dirt floor.  The basement could be entered from stairs inside or outside at the back.  One day when Cousin Jerry Gibson and I were about 10 or 12, we were playing in the yard and decided to enter the basement from the outside stairs. We prowled around for a while. Before we left, we noticed a cord hanging from the ceiling with a burning light bulb. We thought the light had been accidentally left on, so we turned it off as we left. 

     The next day my Grandmother Blanch came to my parents' house on one of those visits in which she needed to keep me on the straight and narrow path. In this instance, the light switch was also the switch to the ice cream freezer above in the store. We had turned off the freezer, and the ice cream had melted over night. My grandparents knew this had been an honest mistake, so there was no punishment or restitution. I recall Grandmother said that Granddad had even laughed about it.

Keith Leesman, Another Wilson Grandson, Remembers the Wilson Grocery Store

     Your description of the inside of the store is what I remember of it, too.  There was a jaw breaker machine or bubble gum machine inside the front door on the candy counter side. It seems that there were hardware items hinges, screws, door knobs, etc., on the wall opposite the candy counter. 

     I still have the old ceiling fan with the wooden blades. It is so heavy I have always been afraid to hang it anywhere in any of the houses we have lived in. 

     I do recall the telephone was at the end of the counter where the cash register was. The phone number was 684. 

     It seems like Mom and Dad got Christmas trees at the store for a few years.  And cane fishing poles would be displayed in front outside leaning against the building. The front door had a blue bar/handle across the front advertising Holsum bread. 

     There was a butcher block table behind the meat case. It seems like the electric meat cutter was an item of great pride. 

     It seems that I recall Mom saying Granddad could or would not read the Sunday paper funnies on Sunday. He always got the paper on Saturday and read them then. I kind of remember a white scale that was located on the counter near the cash register. When they closed the store, I got the 1920 Lincoln City Directory, which I still have.     

     Playing around the back yard and garage, I also hid behind the garage where there was a space wide enough to walk through between the garage and Goodman's junk yard. We would sneak over the junkyard fence (which was off limits) and check out the stuff parked there. I do not remember what was there anymore. 

     On the side of the garage facing the back door to the store were hollyhocks. I remember Linda [Henson--my sister] and Sharon [Wilson--Gib's older daughter] picking them to make dolls(?) or something. There may have been a rose bush there, too I am not certain now. On the side of the house facing the gas station there were ferns and lily of the valley growing.

     I spent the night once and recall sleeping in the front bedroom on the studio couch. I did not sleep well because Granddad snored so loud! When I would wake up in the morning Granddad was already gone to the store."

27: Gib Wilson's Shell Station in 1953


28: Wilson Station and Grocery Store in 1956, with Eimer Garage at Right (arrow)

     Uncle Gib had a fine library of comic books for me to read in his office.  Uncle Loren Wood partnered with Uncle Gib for a while. They hired me to deliver handbills door-to-door in west Lincoln. Their special promotional offer gave ruby-red glasses for purchase of an oil change when they added a room to replace the oil pit. Uncle Loren still has a case of those glasses. Uncle Loren has identified the (unobstructed) car in 27 as his 1947 Dodge.

29: Cousin Playmates: Jill Gibson (sitting left) Held by Linda Henson; Jerry (left) and Leigh

30: Leigh with Wilson Grandparents,
8th Grade Graduation Day, May 28, 1956

     The above photo left was taken in Cousins Jerry and Jill's parents' front yard on Sixth Street (Ted and Eleanor Gibson), just across from St. Clara's Hospital.  The Gibsons' house was also just a block from Fifth Street (Business Route 66).  The above photo right shows Ted in the background working on Jerry's bike.

The Wilsons Picnicking in Abe's Backyard at New Salem State Park (near Petersburg, Illinois)

     Harrison's mother, Martha Wilson, had lived on Ninth Street for fifty years.  Her family lived west of Elm Street, where William Maxwell reports laboring-class whites and blacks were close neighbors. Martha Wilson's maiden name was Woodruff, and her family was from Greenview, Illinois, near Petersburg and New Salem. As a kid, I recall attending the annual Woodruff reunion held at New Salem, and the photo below shows one of those events.


31: Participants in a Woodruff Reunion at New Salem in the Mid 1950s

     Clockwise, starting at left foreground: Uncle Loren Wood (a blur as he was making a move toward front and center--he told me someone had spilled Kool-Aid on him, a typical fabrication); Darold and Jane Henson; Great Aunt Peggy (Helen) Hoblit; Cousin Jerry Gibson; Uncle Ted Gibson; Cousin Jill Gibson; Great Aunt Eleanor Gibson; either Great Aunt Helen Morrow or her sister, my Grandmother Blanch Wilson (sign at her back); Great Uncle Ron Hoblit (back toward camera); and Aunt Mary Wilson holding her older daughter, Cousin Sharon Wilson. The little kid next to the tree at the right is unidentified. Jerry Gibson suggests it may be Ron and Mary Hoblit's son, John.

Memoir of New Salem Fun    

     During one of these reunions--when I was about seven or eight--, I had a close call. Several of the family were walking the trail that led down a hill and across a footbridge over a highway to an old mill on the banks of the Sangamon River. I had decided to run down the hill, but went so fast I could not stop.  Lucky for me, my Granddad (H.F.) Wilson was at the bottom of the hill, just as the trail doglegged onto the footbridge. Running so fast I could not stop, I thought for sure I was going to shoot out over the bridge railing and fall to my death. Granddad saw me and caught me under both arm pits, using my momentum to swing me out over the bridge railing high above the highway pavement and landing me safely on the bridge floor. I was amazed that he acted so quickly and that he was so strong. I have always thought he really did save my life.

32: Wilson Corner, Early 1960s

33: Wilson House, Early 1960s

     The photos above were taken by Blanch Wilson. The above photo left shows Wyse's Carry-Out, later the site of Al's Main Event. The owners of Al's have composed the following business history:

     "Al's Main Event, Inc., was originally Wyse's Carry-Out. The restaurant which was an abandoned filling station [Shell station owned by H.F. Wilson] was opened in 1960 by Jim and Edna Wyse. It had a seating capacity of 17 and was the original carry-out restaurant in Lincoln, selling hamburgers 6 for $1.00 and serving soft-custard products.

     The Wyses sold the business to their daughter, Carolyn and her husband, Walter Miller. The Millers added chili to the menu and that same recipe is used today as is the Coney sauce recipe.

     The Millers sold the business to Emory and Dorothy Haseley and Curt and Buelah Jenkins in June of 1966. That partnership was dissolved later that year and the Haseleys continued to operate the restaurant 11 A.M. to 11 P.M. seven days a week.

     In 1971 the Haseleys purchased the real estate, 2 lots from Mrs. Blanch Wilson. The old [Wilson's] store between Goodman's and Wyse's was torn down and a dining room and parking lot were added in 1972. We started opening at 5 A.M. and serving breakfast with a seating capacity of 43. As all of the other drive-ins came to town, the hours were shortened.

     After Emory's death in 1983, Alan and Dorothy decided to expand again. The [Wilsons'] house on the back of the lot was moved to 1115 Seventh Street and remodeled by Terry Haseley.

     The old building was remodeled and a new dining room, bar, and a full basement was added and opened in November 1984 with a seating capacity of 160. The restaurant [was] open from 5 A.M. to 1 A.M. six days a week.  Sundays we open[ed] at 7 A.M. and close[d] at midnight.

     A shortage of parking was an increasing problem so Al's Main Event purchased the adjoining property located at the corner of Sixth and Washington from Ida Sanders in December of 1987. The house and trees were cleared in May of 1989 to provide a much needed parking area.

     Once again, we found ourselves in need of additional space to accommodate our growing business. The addition of a dining room with full bar and a full basement provided much needed storage, office space and an employees' lounge."

     Note: In 2009 a new restaurant and bar called Chad's Blind had opened in this building after extensive remodeling. The area just east of the building, where the Wilson store had been located, became a large beer garden--with much irony because Harrison and Blanch Wilson were teetotalers.

     In January, 2010, Carolyn Wyse Miller Webster (widow of Roger Webster) emailed me the following information--with kind permission to add it here--about the history of the restaurant businesses that her family had operated on Wilsons' corner on Fifth Street kitty-corner from the Postville Park.

     "Thanks so much for the time you've taken to memorialize Lincoln. I graduated from LCHS in '55, so you and I did not walk the 'hallowed halls' at the same time, but I do remember your dad . . . a most pleasant and patient man who always had a smile for all of us.

     "I read the above succession of articles with great interest as my maiden name was Carolyn Wyse. I was one of the founders of Wyse's Carry-Out, the business that followed your family's gas station at the corner of Fifth and Washington Streets. I vividly remember Blanch Wilson, and had to smile at the recollection that she expected things to be done right the first time, especially by her grandson(s). My dates are fuzzy, but I thought you might be interested in a little more history about the grocery store.

     Shortly after we opened Wyse's Carry-Out (January 4, 1960), the empty grocery store next door was leased by Harold Dirks, who passed away just this past week.  Harold had been the manager of the local Spurgeon's store, but left their employ early in the '60s and opened what was Lincoln's first Dollar Store in that building. Probably in 1964, Harold built a new building and moved his business two blocks to the west. 

     Your history correctly notes that the Carry-Out originally sold hamburgers 6 for $1.  Actually, when we contemplated opening a business there, the intent was to put in a soft-serve operation (ala Dairy Queen); the hamburger operation was an add-on to help offset what was expected to be a business downturn in the winter. As things turned out, the hamburger/chilli offerings were wildly successful, and we coveted the parking spaces that belonged to the Dollar Store.  Primarily for this reason, when Dirks moved his business, we leased the building and traveled to Kentucky to inquire about what was then a Colonel Sanders Chicken franchise. We leased both the former gas station and grocery store from your grandmother. The Colonel Sanders company turned us down because "Lincoln's population was not adequate to support a chicken operation."  We decided to stay with the idea of a chicken carry-out operation, and opened The Chicken Kitchen in 1965.  (The Colonel did move to Lincoln two or three years after our Chicken Kitchen was well-established.) Our hopes for the chicken operation were modest -- we wanted it to pay for itself and give the Carry-Out the 5 or 6 diagonal parking spots on the west side of the building.

     As it turned out, the Chicken Kitchen also did quite well, and we found we could not do justice to both businesses. For this and other reasons, we decided to sell the Carry-Out in 1966 to the Haseleys and Jenkins, and continued to operate the Chicken Kitchen. The Haseleys purchased both buildings from Blanch Wilson at some later point in time. Unfortunately, the old grocery building was not designed to accommodate the large fryers which called for daily sanitizing of walls and floors, and we eventually moved the operation to the corner of Keokuk and Sangamon Streets, in a building that had been purposely constructed for this operation. I think we made that move in 1968 or 1969, and we sold this business in 1974. I believe the grocery store was empty from the time of our move until the Haseleys bought it and tore it down in 1971."

Christmases Wilson Style

     Christmas Day dinner and gift exchange was a tradition at the Wilsons' house on Washington Street throughout my childhood and early teen years.  For many years, names were drawn. Grandmother Blanch was in charge of administering the drawing and set the maximum expenditure per gift at $1.00. I cannot say that this expenditure limit was always followed.

34:  Christmas Day, 1957

     Left to right: Keith Leesman, Leigh Henson, Sharon Wilson, Linda (Henson, Nelson) Perry, Grandmother Blanch holding Shirley (Wood) Nicholas, Dean Wood, Granddad Wilson, and Kevin Leesman

     The above photo includes all eight grandchildren with their Wilson grandparents, including Dean and Shirley Wood, whose parents, Mariann and Loren, drove seven hundred miles from northeastern Minnesota.  In some years in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Loren drove a large truck loaded with Christmas trees from Minnesota to sell at the Wilson Grocery Store, where they were displayed on the front walk.

35: Christmas Day, 1960

    Standing, left, Jerry Gibson, Jill Gibson, Linda Henson, Leigh Henson. Sitting: Sharon Wilson (l), Marla Wilson, Blanch Wilson, Keith Leesman, Kevin Leesman. 

     Note:  Cousin Jerry Gibson and I were planning to escape from the post-dinner doldrums (I already had my coat on), but first the ritualistic photo had to be taken. Immediately afterward Cousin Jerry took me for a ride around town in his new 1961 white Impala. Of course, there was no action on the holiday (Dial's Texaco being closed), and we returned to the festivities when we got hungry for more dessert.

     Jerry Gibson remembers an earlier Christmas day family gathering: 

     "At one of the Christmas get-togethers at Blanch and Harrison's I became infamous for getting your grandmother [my Grandmother Blanch was Jerry's Aunt Blanch] rather perturbed. For some reason along the line, I grew weary of these family doings, and I believe it was because I sensed her insistence that every thing had to be just perfect, on time, and, well, Presbyterian . . if I may.

     Anyhow, as you recall, the men folk had a habit of missing in action when it came time for clean up. The kids went down to the basement and roller skated around the furnace . . . and the men??? 

     So one Christmas party night I gave up a round of skating to find out what it was like to be a grown up male adult on the Hoblit side. I found 'em all in the store where Harrison had generously ( I assume unbeknownest to his ever-watchful wife) provided sodas and sweet cakes to all the male attendees. Much to my chagrin the guys shooed me back to the house as I wasn't old enough for that crowd, yet.

     When I went in the back door, to go to the basement, Aunt Blanch was on the upper landing and asked where I had been. I was peeved because I was not allowed to stay at the all male party, so I told her I had been with my Dad and the other men. She shouldn't have asked me what they were doing because it nearly gave her heart failure when I replied, "They are in the store sitting on pop bottle crates, playing poker, smoking cigars, AND (this was the clencher) drinking beer."  She let out a scream, grabbed me by the arm and hustled me up to the kitchen told my Mom . . . [Eleanor was Blanch's "little" sister] the rest was misery for me for some time . . . but a damn good story for now."  JG 

Linda Henson Nelson Perry's Most Memorable Christmas at Grandmother Blanch's

      I think I was about 13 or 14 years old [1959 or 1960]. Perhaps it was the last Christmas at Grandmother Blanch's old house or one of the last ones. I do not remember Leigh or Jerry being there at all. Perhaps food was eaten, and they were gone!

      I was basically a quiet child, a do-gooder. And one of the older cousins. I was the cousin who kept the younger cousins in line during the holiday get-together. At Grandmother Blanch's that meant I kept the younger ones in the bedroom trying to entertain them with wooden blocks and toys. In later years we played kids' cards and games--in the bedroom! It was made crystal clear I was to keep them in the bedroom! If one escaped to run through the house, I had better handle it quickly, or I got a reprimand from Grandmother (something the young and old dreaded). The adults played pinochle or canasta with a lot of enthusiasm and frequent arguing. They were at serious play and not to be bothered! 

      This particular Christmas I was in my early teens, and the other cousins were old enough to entertain themselves or receive Grandmother's reprimand directly. Yes, sir, I was free of the bedroom confinement, free of sitting at the kids' table during the holiday meals! Free to be with the adults! Yes, sir, Linda Jane was growing into her own person!

      The gift exchange that year had separate grab bags for men and women. As family arrived, the gifts were placed in the corresponding marked bags.

     We had two uncles that liked to play pranks. They both thought this Christmas was time for someone else to play the prank--they would not get caught. Who else would be brave enough to do it? No one would get caught. Those words were enticing to me! And I jumped right in. After all, wasn't I an adult finding herself? Their plan was to exchange tags so the women's bag would say men's and vice versa. It would be quick and great fun!

      After the meal when everyone was busy cleaning up and preparing for the big card game, I made the exchange. It was thrilling to do something and get away with it!

      One at a time gifts were pulled out and opened. Uncle Ted got this lovely, frilly apron that he quickly modeled for us and said he would wear it when he barbecued! Grandma Ruth opened a tool kit--she loved it. After all, she fixed things herself. And Uncle Gib's apron was too fancy for her. All the while Grandmother had this very puzzled look on her face that grew into irritation. What had happened? She was sure she had marked the bags correctly. Just what was going on? Everyone should trade for a gift meant for the women and men. None did trade. They were too busy laughing, razzing one another and having a great time with their gifts. She did not understand what had happened.

      All assumed my uncles did this prank--and they truthfully could say they did not! Who did this???? It finally came out it was me. I must admit the look on everyone's face was priceless. I had a moment of adult glory! No one thought I would do such a clever thing! But it was only a moment of glory. When I looked at Grandmother's face, my glory hit the floor. I saw anger and hurt. Seeing hurt on her face was a new experience for me. Suddenly I felt like a cad. I had ruined her plans for her Christmas in her house.

      Later in private, with a huge lump in my throat, sweaty hands, and pounding heart, I apologized.

      Yep, that was my first adult Christmas. Having fun can have a price tag. Seeing Grandmother as a vulnerable, hurt human being, and not liking myself much--my first adult Christmas!

36: Lois Wilson Leesman (l), Blanch Hoblit Wilson,
Mariann Wilson Wood, Jane Wilson Henson, Gilbert (Gib) Wilson in the Mid 1970s

37: Children of Harrison and Blanch Hoblit Wilson with Their Spouses in 1994

     This photo shows all of my aunts and uncles. At left front is Mariann Wilson Wood, and behind her is her husband, Loren Wood (his hand on her shoulder).  At front center is Mary May Wilson, and to the right is her husband, Gib Wilson. In back at center and right are Lois Wilson Leesman, and her husband, Marvin Leesman. All three couples have celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversaries. 

     This photo was taken in front of Lois and Marvin's home in Lincoln. By trade, Marvin is a master carpenter. He and Lois built this home while they both worked full time. They had also built their first home.  Gib also built his family home (as a kid, I enjoyed hammering a few nails when he built his house). All of my uncles--Gib, Marvin Leesman, and Loren Wood--, have always helped their families by generously lending their skills during home renovation projects.

     Mary May Wilson and Marvin Leesman came from farming families, and I have information about those families at 17. Agriculture in the Route 66 Era. 

     My aunts and uncles also appear in other photos taken in Postville Park, and these photos are presented at 2. The Story of the Postville Courthouse Replica, Tantivy, & Memoir of the Postville Park Neighborhood in the Route 66 Era.

38: First Cousins Once Removed and High School Classmates
 Leigh Henson (l) and Jerry Gibson

(At the LCHS Class of 1960 45th reunion, October, 2005)

     Email comments, corrections, questions, or suggestions. 
Also please email me if this Web site helps you decide to visit Lincoln, Illinois: DLHenson@missouristate.edu

"The Past Is But the Prelude"

The founding fathers of this town asked their attorney, Abraham Lincoln, for permission to name this new community after him, and he agreed.  On the first day lots were publicly sold--August 27, 1853--, Abraham Lincoln, near the site of the train depot, used watermelon juice to christen the town as Lincoln, Illinois.  It thus became the first town named for Abraham Lincoln before he became famous.