Homepage of "Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, & Other
Highlights of Lincoln, IL"
A Long-Range Plan to Brand the First Lincoln
Namesake City as the Second City of Abraham Lincoln Statues
Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration in Lincoln, Illinois
Abraham Lincoln and the Historic Postville
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
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
Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Lincoln Memorial
(former Chautauqua site),
the Historic Cemeteries, & Nearby Sites
Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Salt Creek &
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 &
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
The Foley House: A
Monument to Civic Leadership
(on the National Register of
the Route 66 Era
Arts & Entertainment Heritage,
the Lincoln Theatre Roy Rogers' Riders Club of the
Cars, Trucks & Gas Stations of the Route 66 Era
Churches, 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
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
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
Watering Holes of the Route 66 Era
The Historic 1953 Centennial Celebration of
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,
During the Late Route 66 Era (1950-1960)
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
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
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
Web Site About
Leigh Henson's Professional Life
in this section are about the writing, memorabilia, and Web sites of
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
including photos of many churches
Dave Armbrust's Memorabilia of Lincoln, Illinois
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
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 Route 66
Association of Illinois
State Historical Society
April 24, 2004: Awarded "Best Web Site of the Year" by the Illinois State Historical
achievement: serves as a model for the profession and reaches a greater
Marquee Lights of the Lincoln Theater, est. 1923, Lincoln, Illinois
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
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
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
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
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
regularly attended Sunday services at the First Presbyterian Church. Most likely such an occasion is the reason they are dressed up here.
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,
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
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
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
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."
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
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:
Intersection of Washington and Fifth Streets
(Photo by Leigh Henson, Christmas
Eve Snow of 2002)
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
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."
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
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,
17: Darold Henson and Jane Wilson,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
There was a
butcher block table behind the meat case. It seems like the electric meat
cutter was an item of great pride.
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.
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
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."
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
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)
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
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
Memoir of New Salem Fun
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.
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
"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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
Standing, left, Jerry Gibson, Jill Gibson, Linda Henson, Leigh
Sitting: Sharon Wilson (l), Marla Wilson, Blanch Wilson, Keith 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.
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
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
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
the Route 66 Era.
My aunts and uncles also appear in other
photos taken in Postville Park, and these photos are presented at
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
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,
"The Past Is But the