By Tony Hooker
For Villa Grovians, the new route 130 bridge over the Embarras River has been a long time coming. The old, narrow bridge, which at one time had more traffic crossing it per day than any other comparable structure in Douglas County, had been deteriorating for years.
For VGHS graduates Janice Sutton and JD Crawford, however, the newest bridge is the third one that they’ve trekked over during their lives in Villa Grove. I recently sat down with the couple, to discuss the bridges, to be sure, but also the history of the town that they represent.
What was the first bridge like?
<JD> It had grates that you would walk over. You could see through it.
<JS> There were two or three boards that you could walk on, but it was mostly open grates, and that was how we got to high school.
<JD> The grade school was where the grocery store is now, and the junior high was northwest of it. I went to kindergarten there (at the grade school) and then when they got too big, they cut it off at sixth grade and the seventh and eighth graders went there.
<JS> That was really when they consolidated and brought St. Mary’s and Camargo in.
<JD> And all the country schools, as well.
<JS> In one of our pictures, you can see Mrs. Pontious’s house at the four-way stop.
I remember the house being there, walking past and talking to the sheep on my way home from school. <smiles>
<JS> When I was young, we would get feed sacks from her to make our summer clothes. She always had the printed ones.
<JD> He doesn’t remember that! <smiles> Everybody had chickens and cows and Turner Feed Store would get the feed in beautiful colored, flowery sacks and our moms would buy the feed from Turner’s and make dresses and blouses and shirts and that sort of thing from them. That was a Godsend during the war because things were hard to get.
Was that burlap?
<JD> Oh no!
<JS> It had a cotton backing on it. We made shorts and everything out of them. It wasn’t burlap at all.
You’ve lived in Villa Grove your whole life?
<JS> Yes. In fact, I was born just down the road from there. (Turner’s)
What was your maiden name?
Reedy. Do you know Glen Reedy, who built the Standard Oil Station?
When did you graduate from VGHS?
And how about you, JD?
The same. We were in the same class.
So, you went K-12 in VG schools? Did they have kindergarten?
<JS> I never went to kindergarten.
<JD> I went to kindergarten when I was 5.
And that would have been around 1942 or 3?
<JS> That’s right. I was born in 37.
Did you cross that old iron bridge often?
<JS> Yes, the high school has always been on that side of the river. In fact, my dad graduated from that high school in 1927.
Did everyone drive to school like they do now?
<JD> No! Some of us had cars once we were old enough to get a license, but most of us walked.
<JS> When they built the next bridge, the one that this one replaced, my sister was in high school and I was in junior high, and my dad would drive us all the way around the section to come to school. That would have been in 51 or 52.
Was the first bridge lower than the second and third one? Did it flood more?
<JD> Yes, but I’ve seen water over the bridge they just tore out, and of course the old town bridge gets water over it.
Did they make a big deal of “going across the bridge” from junior high to high school? Was there graduation?
<JS> I remember graduating from junior high, but not from grade school.
Was it a big deal?
<JS> Oh yes! I remember my mom made me a new dress.
<JD> When you graduated from Junior High, your folks generally got you a new watch or something like that. It was kind of a big step.
<JS>It was held in the community building.
That’s also where you would go to eat your lunch?
<JS>Yes. That was in high school. We had to cross the bridge to go to lunch because that’s where the cafeteria was.
<JD> The women here in town would cook meals right here. They’d have big tubs of home cooked food, and it was good!
<JS> Are you familiar with the community building?
Yes. It’s where I had my first dance with my wife. <smiles>
<JS> They would serve us up on the stage. It’s funny, because Jerry and I had been friends, boyfriend, and girlfriend, in grade school before we parted ways in high school. We both got married and had families and everything, and at our sixtieth-class reunion, we got back together because we had both become widowed. We’ve got kind of a neat story.
You were an educator, correct?
And you were in the waste management industry?
<JD>Yes. I also tore down several buildings around town while I had the garbage company. I tore down the old lumber yard.
<JS>He tore down the house I was born in! <smiles>
<JD> I sure did. <laughs>
That’s a neat story that you two drifted apart for a minute or two before getting back together?
<JS>We were both married for 53 years. Then we were both widowed, and we decided we didn’t need to be alone. We’ve been together for six years now. When we saw the new bridge, we thought we had to get a picture, because that’s the third bridge we’ve walked across together.
Do you have any stories about the building of the bridges? Obviously, there’s the legendary story about the two guys who tried to jump the second bridge when it was being built.
<JD>Stanley Condiff and Chuck Yates. They were plasterers, and Stan had a convertible car, and they decided that they weren’t going to go around and decided to try to jump it at 85 or 90 mile an hour, and they didn’t make it.
Did they get the car impaled on a center pillar?
<JD> No. It made it to the other bank. They had already poured the concrete and they smacked right into it. It was a wreck! They were in a convertible without seat belts, and it wouldn’t have made a lick of difference if they had been in a car of today.
What’s your first impression of the new bridge?
<JD> I think it’s great. It’s wider, it’s more open. It will handle traffic better, but the big thing is that it’s safe. That old bridge was not safe. It was inspected about 5 years ago, and there were several beams that were nearly rusted through.
I heard that it was the busiest bridge in Douglas County, at one time.
<JD> I wouldn’t doubt it. There’s still a lot of cars that go over that bridge every day. Villa Grove has become a commuting community, and most people work there, so they have to drive over to get there.
<JS>Back then, the city kids walked to school. We didn’t get bussed. I lived on the south side, and I had to walk across the tracks to get to school.
<JD> I lived in an old town, and I had to cross two bridges to get there.
I lived over there too. I grew up on Second street.
Janice, where did you go to school?
I went to Eastern. I taught at Charleston, then I came back to Villa Grove and taught, and then I taught at Parkland. I left Parkland around 91 or 92.
What’s the biggest difference between when you were in grade school and today?
<JS>Of course, we don’t know what grade school’s like now. We don’t have children in school.
Not just school life, but community life.
<JS>The biggest difference to me is that when we were in grade school, we knew everybody in town, and we knew where everyone lived. We knew every house.
<JD>We played all over town. We rode our bicycles <JS> We roller skated! <JD> We stayed out by ourselves playing. Everyone knew when it was time to go home. In our house, six o’clock when the whistle blew was when supper was on the table, and you had better be there. There were no excuses. When the six o’clock whistle blew, everyone headed for home as fast as they could. Where we’re sitting right now (Camargo Township Library) used to be the five and dime store and we used to buy penny candy. Back then, everything was a nickel. I don’t care what you wanted to buy, a candy bar, a bottle of pop, an ice cream cone, or go to the Saturday Afternoon matinee, everything was five cents. Pop bottles were returnable, and that was quite a deal if you think about it. Pepsi or RC was a nickel, and you would drink that pop and they would turn around and give you two cents back and then you bought two penny sticks of candy. It was so much different than it is today. Kids figured out how to entertain themselves. Those reservoirs were full of kids swimming and fishing and doing all kinds of things. We’d pedal our bikes out to the three-mile corner and go swimming, and now kids come in and sit in the air conditioning. We didn’t sit in front of a tv playing games, we were active! Back when we were teenagers, we had the sweet shop.
Where was that?
Weaver’s restaurant, but it was on the west side of the street, where Dale’s old jewelry store.
<JS>We had a skating rink.
<JD>A roller rink out of Sullivan would come and set up a big tent on the west side of town, where Waymire’ s trailer court is now, and you could go out there and skate all night. The little apartment across the street was called the Blue Room and that was our drive in. They had a small dairy there and they distributed milk or whatever, but you could get a sandwich or coke or ice cream right out the window.
<JS> We spent a lot of time out there at the skating rink.
Did they play music and everything?
<JS & JD> Oh yes!
<JS> it was like any other skating rink.
<JD> It was all lit up. There were lights all around the bottom of the tent.
<JS> It wasn’t huge, but it was big enough that we could skate in circles.
And things like that served to keep everyone in Villa Grove, right?
<JD> Right. People could ride their bicycles everywhere. Villa Grove used to be a booming; I mean booming town! There were four grocery stores on main street. Her dad had one.
<JS>There was daddy’s, and there was Matteson’s and there was the IGA and then there was a Piggly Wiggly across the street.
<JD> There was a store in the old town, right across from the elevator, and Athey’s. Athey’s wasn’t very big, though.
<JS> And Dubois on the west side of town.
<JD>When Jerry English took over Athey’s he made a real grocery store out of it.
<JS> Athey’s was a gas station first, right? The only restaurant I remember going to as a kid was right across from here. Mrs. Johnson’s restaurant. We’d go there on Sundays as a family. Daddy always called her Madam Queen.
<JD> Madam Queen’s. Mrs. Johnson’s restaurant. Everybody called her Madam Queen.
Is there anything you would like to add? Any other bridge memories?
<JD> We used to love to see if we could pass two cars on that old bridge. Bob Gentry’s folks had a big Buick, what they used to call a four-holer, and that and another car couldn’t pass across the bridge at the same time. We used to see who could go across the bridge the fastest! The best way to do it was if you would switch sides so the drivers could get a better look at the bridge. Back then, cars had running boards, and I can remember going to the community building for hot lunch and I had all the guys who could fit in the car, other guys would be standing on the running boards or sitting on the fenders, straddling the headlights, maybe 10 or 12 guys. We used to sit at the old depot and see who could back down main street the fastest, and I got caught and got a ticket one time. The fine for doing that was $14. <smiles>