Archive for June, 2011

I’ve written in several other posts concerning my fondness for old highways.  One aspect I love is former alignments, the kind you can see as you drive the older two-lane highways through countryside. The first alignment from the 1910s or 1920s made a curve, but the newer alignment, on which you drive, goes straighter. Meanwhile, off to the side, the old pavement remains, with grass sprouting through cracks and seams. One such wide, abandoned curve is north of my hometown, just to the east of the modern U.S. 51 (which is in the right-hand background of this picture).  The alignment’s old bridge still has a plaque dated 1924 and indicating that the road was originally State Route 2.

In other places, the older alignment passed directly through rural villages but the newer alignment curves around to the side. South of my hometown, U.S. 51 proceeds through a nice series of towns and villages: the unincorporated Shobonier, Vernon, Patoka, and Sandoval. At the outskirts of both Shobonier and Patoka, you can still see a few hundred feet of abandoned roadbed indicating the original path of the highway as it passed through the respective business districts.

My hometown has similar, old alignments at its city limits, one on the opposite side of the river, where 40 was rerouted to the south to accommodate a new river bridge, and the other where the first pathway of U.S. 40 (the former Illinois 140) enters town.  There, the original road went straight then make a curve to the left, but the replacement alignment first makes a curve and then heads straight into town.  As one sometimes sees when discovering original alignments, the old road serves as access to people’s homes.

The last time I drove 51 north of my hometown, I noticed that the new, wider alignment didn’t extend too far south of Decatur but had bypassed another town that I liked when I was young, Moweaqua. Sure enough, at the north and south outskirts of town, a few hundred feet of abandoned roadbed indicated the original way into the town, where my parents and I sometimes stopped at a downtown restaurant (which is still operating) after our Decatur shopping trips were done. Although the realignments through Shobonier and Patoka had been done “before my time,” I still remembered the original approach to downtown Moweaqua and the anticipation of pancakes.

East of my hometown, at the intersection of U.S. 40 and Illinois 185, the two roads once went straight northwest and southeast, respectively, but the construction of Interstate 70 necessitated an alignment reconstruction, so U.S. 40 makes an S-curve over the interstate, and the intersection with 185 is a few hundred feet to the east.  The original pavements are still there, however, and the new alignment of 185 shows a seam where the road once went straight. This intersection was quite important to me as a little boy, because it was the halfway point to my grandma’s house.

I enjoyed seeing another example of this landscape history as I traveled in central Illinois recently. Driving down I-55 north of Springfield, I pulled off at Elkhart, Illinois because I heard the downtown had antique shops.  But a stopped train prevented access into the business district, so I just drove south on old Route 66 toward nearby Williamsville. On the north side of town, the original alignment of 66 (and perhaps of its predecessor, IL 4) lay in a grassy area and made its separate, abandoned way toward the center of town, while the newer road on which I drove bypassed the business district. Interestingly, there is a newer, four-lane version of Route 66 outside Williamsville, although neither it nor the two-lane route go very far before deadending at I-55, which you could call the fourth stage of automobile highway evidenced at Williamsville.  (The four-lane version of Route 66 can be seen elsewhere in Illinois.  One alignment proceeds out of Springfield, dead-ends at Lake Springfield, and resumes on the lake’s other side.  Here is a picture of a four-lane alignment north of Litchfield, IL, with only the former northbound lanes still open.)


Mentioning U.S. 51 just now sets me daydreaming about numerous memories of that road.

“Where two great highways cross!” declared a Vandalia brochure from the 1940s, referring to U.S. 40 and U.S. 51. The latter road is a north-south highway through the center of Illinois. When Illinois began to create a system of automobile roads in 1918, the road was State Bond Issue route 2.  In northern Illinois the oldest alignment of 51 is still called IL 2.  When federal highways began in 1926, highway 51 was one of the series of 1-ending north-south roads with U.S. 1 on the east coast and U.S. 101 on the west coast.  Highway 51 itself begins at U.S. 2 at Hurley, Wisconsin, near Lake Superior, and ends at U.S. 61 at LaPlace, Louisiana, 1286 miles south. Originally, the road continued another 73 miles, concurrent with U.S. 61, into New Orleans.

Here are some interesting sites.  This one features pictures of the highway as it crosses Illinois: http://www.highwayexplorer.com/il_EndsPage.php?id=2051&section=1  This site has shots of the old pavement before U.S. 51 was rerouted concurrently with Interstate 39: http://www.roadsites.org/losthwy/us-051_wi.html  Finally this one shows the southern end of 51 in Louisiana: http://www.southeastroads.com/us-051_la.html

My childhood acquaintance with U.S. 51 included only about 95 miles: 65 miles to the north to Decatur, Illinois, and 30 miles to the south to Centralia, Illinois.  Centralia  has about 14,000 population in 2000, Decatur about 82,000, and my hometown 7000. Both communities were places my parents and I went to shop on occasion.  I also got my teeth straightened by a Centralia orthodontist, so we frequently drove down 51 to that office during my early teenage years.  Naturally, the scenery in both directions became significant personal memories.

In fact, two of my very earliest memories relate to U.S. 51.  One is a childhood visit to see a railroad engine on display at Centralia’s Fairview Park.  http://www.ageofsteammemorial.org/  The visit must’ve been fairly soon after the engine was moved to the location in 1962, when I was five, but I’d never seen anything so massive and amazing!

The other early memory is a childhood visit to Kitchell Park in Pana, IL, thirty miles north of Vandalia.  I think this was a family reunion of some sort, but I don’t remember which reunion.  Our yearly Crawford family reunions happened in late August in Vandalia. I remember being upset when two bigger boys wouldn’t let me play on a seesaw.  To console me, my mother walked me over to the bridge, pictured in this very old postcard.

The bridge is still there, although I’m not sure I’ve visited the park since that early 1960s reunion. It was fifty years old then–ancient and venerable, to my young mind–and now it’s over 100 years old.  But sometimes, when I’m at the edge of a lake or stream, this old bridge appears in my memory.  We used to live along a small lake and, as I mowed the lawn, I’d think of the bridge.  It always happens, too, when I see a Monet painting of water and water lilies.

I’ve lots of other childhood memories of U.S. 51. Ghost signs are advertisements painted on the side of buildings and other structures, but the signs are fading and not always legible. One of my favorites is gone: a Miller High Life logo painted on a silo beside the road, a few miles north of Vandalia.  I went to high school with the girl who lived on that farm in the 1970s.  I didn’t pass by the place for several years but the last time I did, the logo had pretty much vanished.

Barns with advertisements painted on their roofs or sides are particularly interesting.  A favorite book, Rock City Barns, has pictures of two barns along U.S. 51 near Vandalia.  The one I saw most often was the one several miles south of town.  I say “was” because although the barn is still there (last time I passed by, anyway), the once-white letters on the roof had completely oxidized and were no longer recognizable.

The familiar black and white, six-pointed shield signs for U.S. highways became common from the 1960s on.  Original signs were cut-out shields with the letters and numbers embossed, then after World War I, cut-out shields with flat letters were more common.  During the late 1990s, when I took my father on a visit to Ramsey, IL so he could visit his grandparents’ graves, I found one of those post-war shields on a side street, where (I assume) it was unnoticed when signs were replaced.  It’s gone now, sadly, but how fun to chance upon a different kind of relic of highway history.

Two-lane highways followed existing streets and roads. As we traveled to Decatur, I liked the zigzag but still northbound way that 51 passed through Pana: north on Poplar St., then east on First Street for five blocks, north on Cedar Street across the railroad tracks, east on Jackson Street for a mile or so, and then north toward Decatur.  Read any guidebook for driving old Route 66 and you’ll find similar, zigzag alignments through towns. (Before the widening of U.S. 51 reaches Pana, I need to give a shout-out to a highway curve north of that town, which I always loved.  It’s just a gentle curve through the landscape, with a sign pointing east toward a place called Dollville.)

Driving south from Vandalia, I liked those river bottom lands which often flooded in rainy seasons… a little hill called Pole Cat Mound…a lumber mill near the road where a great-aunt and uncle of mine lived…the barn roof that advertised Rock City…the small slope with a bath tub (apparently a trough for farm animals) nearby…a sign for a Lutheran Church located down the county road… a small and junky, crossroads antique store where I only visited once because the proprietor was so profane….a line of trees that indicated a much earlier alignment of the highway….a roadside picnic area, between the main road and another, earlier alignment…. Rural sight after rural sight along a gray two-lane road, accompanied by the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad and the accompanying power lines between the highway and the tracks of the Illinois Central. The large petroleum storage tanks near the village of Patoka intrigued me as a little kid because there were so many of them, huge cylinders, and a few had the red Pegasus logo for Mobil.Ò

Among those villages I mentioned earlier, I liked Vernon (population 178 in 2000), paradoxically, because of involuntary time spent there. My mother was at one point an interested sewer, and she loved the remnant and fabric shop in Vernon. I was a little boy and waited and waited and waited in the car for her to finish shopping; I read nearly all of A Christmas Carol as I sat in the back seat.  But I liked the town because it is so small, the houses are not close together, and you have the (to me) peaceful experience of seeing the farm fields and bordering timber beyond the village as you look from highway through three or four blocks the village’s yards.  I also liked the simply little playground and the G.A.R. monument, an inauspicious park but, I’m sure, sufficient for a little kid living in the tiny place.

Driving to Centralia, you arrive in Central City, Illinois, which is continuous with Centralia, and you feel a little relieved to be in a town again as you pass florists, gas stations, small churches, and motels.  There was once a discount store along northbound 51 where my mom liked to shop for picture frames, and where I liked to browse the bins of LPs.  I remember purchasing the Moody Blues’ Question of Balance album there, and perhaps others.

Central City soon merges into Centralia, and you arrive at Centralia’s business district. My parents enjoyed shopping there, though less frequently than our monthly or bimonthly trips to St. Louis.  Along Broadway, there were nice clothing store (at one, I purchased some Cub Scout paraphernalia), a very cool newspaper office designed in Egyptian style, a stationary store which my mom particularly liked (and it still operates), and a music store where I bought sheet music. I was thrilled to find the music for “The Overture from Tommy,” which I’d heard on the radio in the Assembled Multitude version rather than The Who’s. Compared to my hometown’s, Centralia’s business district was not appreciably larger or more cosmopolitan, but it seemed so to me, a little kid, as we strolled from the stores near the Illinois Central tracks on the west and the grand trees and stately library in Library Park to the east. Perhaps that pre-kindergarten visit to the railroad engine always gave to me an extra bit of appreciation for the small town.

Another Centralia memory: a childhood visit to the synagogue there, as a Vacation Bible School field trip.  But I’ve acknowledged that shul’s influence on my life in another blog entry here, concerning the Exodus and Christian Faith (4/5/11).

A few years ago I discovered a German word, fernweh, which means “far sickness.” It’s the opposite of “home sickness” but is a similar kind of longing: longing for a place that’s not home, a nostalgia for some place distant. I’ve experienced this feeling for places more exotic than our drives on U.S. 51, but the sights were enough like–and close enough to–my own home places that home- and far-sickness mingled. The sights along U.S. 51—the houses, churches, small industry, and business districts–were other people’s landscapes.  In a childish way I wondered what people’s lives were like in these “distant” areas, creating in me the feelings described well by that word.

But there is also good old nostalgia, the sigh-inducing pleasure of driving a two-lane road you’ve known your whole life.  Even classical music that has nothing to do with rural Illinois—much of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ music, some of Elgar’s and Holst’s, and others—give me a peaceful sense that my brain “sets” into childhood scenes like those along U.S. 51.


When we lived in Flagstaff, AZ in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I felt homesick for Illinois and wanted to write about it.  I ordered a book, Thomas J. Schlereth’s U.S. 40: Roadscape of the American Experience, to study the main east-west highway through my hometown.  Although I hadn’t realized the book was primarily about that road in Indiana, the book providing interesting information about highway alignments, roadside architecture, community planning, and other things which I’d never considered before.  I was more inspired than before to think about hometown landscapes and old highways.  Soon I began reading about Route 66, which was the main road through Flagstaff (concurrent with U.S. 180 and U.S. 89).  The next book I purchased was Quinta Scott’s and Susan Croce Kelly’s Route 66: The Highway and Its People, still my favorite among the now-many books about what Steinbeck called “the mother road.”

At that time I was never able to drive the famous Seligman-to-Kingman stretch of 66 in Arizona, especially after daughter Emily was born.  That road was a considerable drive from Flagstaff and (always phobic about being stranded) I worried about having an infant in a car while traveling otherwise alone in a remote location. Instead, I liked to drive remnants of 66 at the Belmont exit of I-40.  One interesting pavement, which featured a deteriorating Whiting Brothers station, was too pitted and difficult to drive, but a nearby alignment seemed maintained and passed a few gorgeous miles through the pines.  This old postcard depicts that same alignment.

When we returned in 1999, we traveled down U.S. 93 from Vegas and then I took us on old 66 (now AZ 66) from Kingman eastbound.  I snapped this picture to preserve not only a trip memory but the amazing clouds. 


I used to have a copy of a 1983 issue of Art in America, with Ellsworth Kelly’s “Concorde Angle” on the cover. In the accompanying article, the author discussed Kelly’s minimalist art and made reference to Kelly’s then-recent Concorde series. I don’t remember the exact quote but the author noted that Kelly sought in that series to overcome or challenge the form of the rectangle . The quote may have been “the tyranny of the rectangle,” but I’ll have to find the article and check.That comment stayed with me because I wasn’t sure if the goal of overcoming the rectangle was one of those high artistic concepts which Tom Wolfe lampooned in The Painted Word, or if that was an interesting insight into the way art represents or does not reality. I appreciate contemporary art more now than when I first read Wolfe’s small book. But the comment came back to mind when I discovered a book recently, which has been out for a while: Lisa Mahar’s American Signs: Form and Meaning on Route 66(New York: The Monachelli Press, 2002). There is a vernacular story of overcoming the straightforward, rectangular form, in the history of motel signs.Mahar provides the history of motel signs along Route 66 during its main years: from the late 1938, when most of the road was finally paved for its complete distance, to the 1970s when the highway began to be decertified in some parts of the country. Of course, motels along 66 are
representative of those along America’s many other highways. She quotes the geographer J. B. Jackson that “The beauty that we see in the vernacular is the image of our common humanity, hard work, stubborn hope, and … love” (p. 10). She continues that a formal analysis of signs not only show us the humanity of Americans during different time period but also their values and economic realities.  (To these comments, I added a few scans of motels from my own postcard collection, some from 66 and some from U.S. 51.)

Mahar’s book is divided into periods: “Symmetry, Geometry, Rigor: 1938-1947”; “Theming and Regional Symbolism: 1945-1960”; “Abstraction and Self-Expression, 1950-1957”; “Specialization, Modularity, Segregation: 1957-1965”; “Intensive Simplicity, 1961-1970s.” In the first period, signs were more straight-forward. In the post-war period, the simple geometry and efficiency of the earlier signs “no longer provided a sufficient means of differentiating one business form the next. Motel owners and signmakers responded by boldly theming their buildings and signs.” (p. 77). Thus, not only did signs show more visual interest in their shapes (for instance, incorporating designs like tails and arrows), but also more imagination in their names: one saw fewer motels simply named for their owners–“Clark Motel”—and more memorable names like “Desert Hills” or “Ozark Court” or (as in Flagstaff) “Flamingo.”

During the 1950s, one also saw many more novel signs and asymmetry, and what has been called the “googie” style related to the Space Age. Personally, I like these kinds of signs the best; during my parents’ 1960s vacations, plenty of those 50s signs still beckoned travelers along highways. The signs seem quaint and nostalgic now, celebrated in picture books about Route 66 and the Lincoln Highway, and striking where they still exist.

In the later period of Route 66’s existence, the 1960s and 1970s, one saw a return to more simple signs, often made of much cheaper materials than earlier signs. Part of this greater simplicity was due to cost savings, but also the Highway Beautification Act of 1965, and the accompanying feeling that we shouldn’t clutter natural environments with gaudy signs and advertisements. I think this postcard of the Motel Orlando in Decatur, Illinois is from the 40s but does show the original, simpler design.

It is hard to imagine a more thorough treatment of motel signage. Mahar discusses the many geometric innovations, patterns, and styles of signs, including materials, structures, and fonts, as well as years when a popular form (like tails—as in the above postcard of the Holiday Motel in Centralia, IL—arrows, and formal similarities to the motel’s architecture) were developed or dropped. She is influenced by material culturalists in the structuralist tradition, like Henry Glassie, and also Paul Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook, which “combined the science of rigorous analytic method with a faith in the power of ordinary objects to reveal larger truths” (pp. 24-25). I’ve always appreciated a book coauthored by my friend Keith Sculle: The Motel in American Life by John A. Jakle, Keith A. Sculle and Jefferson S. Rogers (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). For good treatments of this aspect of American culture, I’d recommend that book plus Mahar’s detailed account.

Read Full Post »

Mac and Alice Carson, in about 1896:  Janie and Lonnie in front, Ross and James in back

Mac and Alice Carson, in about 1896: Janie and Lonnie in front, Ross and James in back

I’ve a sheet of paper about 60 years old, which I had framed in an acid-free matte. I don’t display it, however, because I don’t want the sheet to yellow.  The handwriting is my father’s (a big, intimidating truck-driver, he had pretty handwriting), and he records the family of his maternal grandparents, Wesley (“Mac”) and Alice Carson, including him and his sister Gladys.  All of the information is in pencil, except for what I’ve placed in bold type, which is in blue pen.  I assume thereby that he wrote out this information before 1953, although he doesn’t add Alice’s 1951 death.  I’ve added “b.” and “d.” whereas Dad’s sheet has the columns “Name, Birth, Town, Death, Town” across the top.

Wesley McDonald Carson b. May 18, 1855 d. July 18, 1924 Vandalia

Mary Alice Colburn b. July 6, 1866 Married July 7, 1886

[Their children:]

Mary Alice b. April 17, 1887 Loami d. April 28, 1887 Loami

James Taylor b. August 6, 1888 Loami d. March 11, 1909 Vandalia

Permelia Jane b. March 22, 1890 Beecher City

Harry McDonald b. July 12, 1891 Beecher City d. August 6, 1892 Beecher City

Eldon Ross b. October 23, 1892 Beecher City d. June 11, 1953

Roland b. Sept.3, 1894 East of Ramsey d. Sept. 4, 1896 Ramsey

Lonnie b. Feb. 6, 1896 Ramsey

Lennie b. Feb. 6, 1896 Ramsey d. Feb. 8, 1896 Ramsey

Floyd b. Jan. 25, 1898 Ramsey d. Aug. 6, 1902 Vandalia

Millie Ellen b. Jan. 28, 1900 Vandalia

Lile b. Oct. 16, 1902 Vandalia d. Sept. 28, 1903 Vandalia

Lela Bella b. Feb. 8, 1904 Vandalia d. Feb. 3, 1956 Mich. Utica

Kitty Pauline b. June 28, 1906 Vandalia

Roy Wayne b. July 5, 1912 Vandalia

Andrew Christian Stroble, Permelia Jane Carson, married Dec. 27, 1908

Their children

Paul Edward b. July 21, 1912

Paul Edward Stroble and Mildred Abagail Crawford, married in St. Charles, Missouri, July 12, 1941

Mary Gladys b. May 17, 1914 married Paul Houck

Dad died in September 16, 1999.  His sister Gladys, though, is still alive.  [She died September 2, 2011, not long after I posted this.] To think she was born prior to the beginning of World War I!  For geographical identification: Vandalia is my hometown, in Fayette County, Illinois. Ramsey is a few miles north of Vandalia (my grandfather Andy’s family are buried there). Beecher City is east of Ramsey, but in the northwest corner of Effingham County (and between Ramsey and Beecher City is the village of Herrick, near where Mac Carson’s father and grandfather are buried in the Lorton Cemetery).  Loami, meanwhile, is in Sangamon County, near Springfield, where the Colburn family had settled.

I remember some of these people.  My great-aunts Millie Ellen (“Peg”) and Pauline lived in Decatur, IL when I was little, and we’d visit them from time to time. I don’t remember visits to Pauline’s house as clearly, other than a general feeling of family love and warmth. Supposedly, while visiting Aunt Peg and her husband on one weekend when I was quite small, I tried to fold a live cat in half and put it into a toy dump truck—one of those stories you don’t remember about yourself but your relatives revisit it many times over the years, so that you’re perpetually a small child who did something funny.

I remember Uncle Lonnie more vaguely–I think he died in the late 1960s or early 1970s–but he came to our house a few times.  Ross died prior to my birth but over the years I knew and enjoyed his family, including his widow Lydia (“Pidge,” as everyone called her) and several of their children and their children. Among his uncles and aunts Dad seemed close to Ross.  But he loved his aunts, too, and was fond of his uncle Roy, whom you’ll notice is only sixteen days older than Dad.  In other words, in 1912, my grandmother (aged 22) and her own mother (aged 46) were pregnant at the same time.

I remember my grandmother, who went by “Janie,” and who died in 1991 aged 101. She was only 45 when my grandfather Andy died in 1935.  She remarried, but my dad was estranged from his stepfather, who was always referred to as “the goddamned bald-headed son of a bitch” and variations thereof.  My mother selflessly did them many favors over the years and made sure I knew not only Mom’s mother, to whom I was very close, but “my other grandmother.” They gave Mom their 1963 Chevy which became my first car; I’ve told that story elsewhere in this blog.

My mother’s care of her mother-in-law–who could be hot-tempered and uncooperative–gave me a lifelong lesson in the goodness of caring for people whether they “deserve” care of not—and I’ve told Mom this.  Her caring efforts were among my chief early influences.

The greater sadness of this list is apparent as you look at the dates, and you realize of course that six of Mac and Alice’s fourteen children died in infancy or young childhood.  James died at age 21 from an accidental gunshot during a hunting trip—a tragedy even more haunting because Mac’s father also died young the same way, in 1859, and was also named James Carson.  To think that Alice outlived seven of her fourteen children (not to mention her son-in-law, my grandfather Andy) is also so tragic, I have a hard time conceiving such a thing. I’d guess that the loss of one child is unspeakably horrible. I write this feeling despair.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMac and Alice, and their oldest son James, are buried together in a pretty area of Vandalia’s South Hill Cemetery. If you enter the cemetery from Sixth Street, turn right along the military graves, and proceed straight south, the road forks and, to the left, provides a lovely view of the Kaskaskia River bottoms.  I’ve a friend who wants her ashes scattered in this area.  My family members are buried down the slope just as you turn left on that loop.  I vaguely remember Mom, Grandma Janie, and me Newsletter 2 2visiting the graves with flowers in the springtime.  Mac’s father and grandfather, James Carson (1819-1859) and John Carson (1794-1844) are also buried in sight of the river valleys.  In the

“front” of the Lorton Cemetery, their graves are side by side, marked by stones that have sunk into the ground but are readable. I’ve a happy memory of a Sunday road trip with my dad, not
long before he died, as we visited that cemetery and then drove over to Ramsey to visit the graves of his Strobel grandparents.


Newsletter 2 5

I think I’ll post a few 19th century accounts of the family, which Uncle Roy gave me forty years ago.  He gave me copies from Past and Presnt of the City of Springfield and Sangamon County, vol. 2, by Joseph Wallace (Chicago, 1904), History of Sangamon County, Illinois (Chicago, 1881), and Early Setttlers of Sagamon County (1876). 

Here is an excerpt from the 1881 history, page 938. Paul Colburn was my great-grandmother Alice’s great-grandfather.  He and William and other relatives are buried in Loami, IL’s cemetery.

“Paul Colburn, one of the first permanent settlers of Loami, was born about 1761, in Hillsboro county, New Hampshire.  He subsequently moved to Massachusetts, where hew as united in marriage with Mehitable Ball. In 1809, the family moved to Grafton county, new Hampshire, where they remained until September 1815; went from there to Ohio.

“In March, 1821, Paul Colburn, this daughter Isabel, William Colburn, wife and three children, the four orphan children of Isaac Colburn, and a Mr. Harris, started in a wagon drawn by four oxen for Morgan county. They traveled through rain, mud and unbridged streams for about five weeks, which brought them to the south side of Lick creek, on what is now Loami township, where they found an empty cabin. From sheer weariness, they decided to stop, and Mr. Harris, the owner of the wagon and oxen, went on to Morgan county.


Power’s “Early History” from 1876, and the 1881 history.

“Soon after their arrival, Wm. Colburn gave a rifle gun for a crop of corn just panted, and in that way began to provide food. He scoured a team and went after his brother Ebenezer, and brought him and his wife to the settlement, arriving in October, 1821.

“Having succeeded in bringing so many of his descendents to the new country, and witnessed their struggles to gain a foothold and provide themselves with homes, Paul Colburn died February 27, 1825, near the present town of Loami. The other members of the family lived for many years.”

Sangamon County was established by Illinois law on January 30, 1821, so the Colburns were among the first settlers of the area and very early settlers of the formally-designated Sangamon County.

The 1876 Early Settlers of Sangamon County gives an even more full account of Paul’s travels and hardships (p. 211).


William and Achsa Colburn’s grave in Loami, IL, with a plaque for William’s father Paul

“In 1809 the family moved to the vicinity of Hebron, Grafton county, N.H., where they remained until Sept. 1815, when Paul Colburn and his wife, his son Isaac with his wife and two children, his son William and his wife, they having been married but a few days, and his unmarried daughter, Isabel, started from Hebron in wagons to seek a new home in Ohio, at that time the ‘far west.’ On reaching Olean, at the Alleghany river, they found the river two low to bring all their goods on boards, as they had intended. They sold their wagons and teams, put the remaining good sand their families on a raft, and started down the river, reaching Pittsburg on the evening of December 24, 1815. ice was forming in the river, and they were compelled to stop there for the winter. While they were in Pittsburg, Paul Colburn was joined by his son Ebenezer, who had been serving in the United States army in the war with England, then just ended. In the spring of 1816, Isaac and Ebenezer went up the Alleghany river and made a raft of logs suitable for making shingles, and partially loaded it with hoop poles. They expected to have gone down the Ohio river in June, but the whole season was one of unusual low water, and December arrived before they reached Pittsburg with their raft. The whole party went down on the raft to Marietta, O., where they engaged in farming and other pursuits. Ebenezer was married in Marietta, and in the spring of 1820 Paul Colburn and his wife, Isaac and his family, and Ebenezer and his wife, embarked on a raft, leaving William to close up the business at  Marietta. They landed their raft at Louisville, Ky., and left Isaac there to work up and sell their lumber. The other members of the family continued down the river to Shawneetown; Paul Colburn, his wife and daughter remained there. Ebenezer and his wife went on to join some relatives of her’s in Monroe County, Ill., about fifty miles south of St. Louis.

“In August of that year Isaac Colburn and his wife died at Louisville within days of each other, leaving six children among strangers, and on the first of November Mrs. Mehitibel Colburn died at Shawneetown. About the time of her death William Colburn embarked with his family on a boat at Marietta, floated down to Louisville, and took on board four of his brother Isaac’s children, one having died, and another been placed in a good home. He went to Shawneetown and joined his bereaved father and sister, arriving Dec. 24, 1820.

“In March, 1821, Paul Colburn, his daughter isabel, William Colburn, wife and three children, the four orphan children of Isaac Colburn, and a Mr. Harris, started in a wagon drawn by four oxen for Morgan county. They traveled through rain, mud and unbridged streams for about five weeks, which brought them to the south side of Lick creek on what is now Loami township, where they found an empty cabin. From sheer weariness they decided to stop, and Mr. Harris, the owner of the wagon and oxen, went on to Morgan county.

“Soon after their arrival Wm. Colburn gave a rifle gun for a crop of corn just planted, and in that way began to provide food. He secured a team and went after his brother Ebenezer, and brought him and his wife to the settlement, arriving in October, 1821.

“Having succeeded in bringing so many of his descendants to the new country, and witnessed their struggles to gain a foothold and provide themselves with homes, Paul Colburn died Feb. 27, 1825, near the present town of Loami.” The source then lists his children and their information.

That book also gives an account of William and Achsa Colburn:

“COLBURN, WILLIAN, brother to Issac, Abel and Ebenezer, was born June 3, 1793 at Sterling, Mass., married Aug. 15, 1815, at Hebron, N.H. to Achsa Phelps, whow as born at that place July 9, 1796. They came to Sangamon county, Ill., arriving April 5, 1821, in what is now Loami township. THey had three children before moving to Sangamon county, and even after, the youngest of whom died in infancy. [The text gives information about those children. Of those, my great-great-grandfather, John T., is indicated as

Two extant photos John T. Colburn, one with his wood carvings, the other taken as he worked.

Two extant photos John T. Colburn, one with his wood carvings, the other taken as he worked.

being born November 23, 1840, married to Martha J. Beck, born April 9, 1845 at Loami. Two of their children, jaquetta and Lillie died in infancy, but Mary A.—my dad’s grandmother, discussed above—and Millie A. lived at home]… “William Colburn died June 10, 1869 at Loami, and Mrs. Achsa Colburn resides at Loami, on the same place settled by herself and husband, one year before the land was brought into market. William and his brother Ebenezer entered land together, and cultivated it for several years. About 1836 they built a steam saw and grist mill at the north side of Lick creek, and machinery for griding was soon added. it was the first mill of the kind within a radius of ten or twelve miles, and around that mill the village of Loami grew up. They continued in that business for many years, three mills having burned on the same spot. They were not always the owners, but their families were always connected with such enterprises. The sons of Wm. COlburn are now—1874—the owners of a mill within one hundred yards of where the first millw as built. one mill has burned where the new one stands. “The hardships endured by them and their families would be difficult to relate. Mrs. Achsa Colburn, now seventy-eight years old, has an unlimited fund of reminiscences connected with their advent into the county, and the difficulties of raising a large family. A loom was an indispensible article where all were dependent on the work of their own hands for the entire clothing of themselves and families. Mrs. Colburn tried all the men in the settlement, those of her own family included, in order to find some person who could make a loom, but all declined ot undertake it, some for want of skill, and all for want of tools. Mrs. C., then procured an axe, a hand saw, a drawing knife, and auger and a chisel, and went to work. She made her with her own hands a loom, warping bars, winding blades, temples for the lateral stretching of the cloth and for spools she used corn cobs with the pith pushed out. With these appliances she wove hundreds of yards of cloth, and made it up into garments for her family. This she did while caring for her family of fourteen children” (pp. 212-214).

Here is some information about the Carsons, from the 1881 History of Sangamon County: 

“John Carson… was born in South Carolina, August 8, 1794. He was in the war of 1812, also in the Black Hawk War; he followed farming, and died November 19, 1844. [See him tombstone above.] His wife was Margery Parkerson, for in Carter county, Tennessee, October 19, 1799. She was a member of the Baptist Church, and mother of nine children; five are living—three boys and two girls. Mr. Carson has now two hundred and ninety-three acres of land, all under good cultivation, in Loami; he also has forty acres in Effingham county. He is a Democrat in politics, and cast his first vote for Frank Pierce in 1852. His father came to Illinois in 1814 and settled on Shoal creek, in Madison county” (p. 942).

And here is a little more, from Past and Present of Sangamon County (p. 1370):

“… John Carson, a native of South Carolina, was born in 1794 and was a son of James Starrett Carson, who was also born in South Carolina. The great-grandfather was John Starrett Carson, Sr., a representative of a family of Irish and Scotch

Lawn of Fayette Co. IL Courthouse. Thanks to my Facebook friend Gloria for taking this photo.

Lawn of Fayette Co. IL Courthouse. Thanks to my Facebook friend Gloria for taking this photo.

ancestry that was established in the south at an early period in the colonization of America. Six brothers of the name came to the United States prior to the Revolutionary war, establishing their homes in North and South Carolina. James S. Carson.. was a soldier of the Revolutionary war. He joined the army when but a bo and was in the battle of Kings Mountain, of Ramstard Mill and of Cowpens. Subsequently he removed to Tennessee, where he reared his family. [John Caron] spent his boyhood days in that state and became a soldier of the war of 1812. When his military service was over he found that his father had sold the farm in Tennessee and had removed to Illinois. John S. Carson then followed the family to this state and in 1818 established his home in Madison county. He was married there to Marjory Parson, whose birth occurred in Carter county, Tennessee. Soon afterward the young couple took up their abode upon a farm in Morgan county, Illinois, and about 1820 came to Sangamon county, when Mr. Carson purchased land which was then wild and unimproved, but which he developed into one of the productive farms of Woodside township.”

But James S. Carson eventually moved to Fayette County, Illnois, where I was born and raised. He is buried there in an unknown location, and he is honored on the monument to Revolutionary War soldiers buried in the county. The monument was dedicated on the grounds of the Fayette County Courthouse as part of the local Bicentennial celebrations in 1976.


Altogether, here are the relationships of some of these forefathers and mothers to myself:

My dad was Paul Edward Stroble, 1912-1999

His parents were Andrew Christian Stroble (1882-1935) and Permelia Jane Carson Stroble (1890-1991), who later married Mike Plinke.

Jane’s parents were Wesley McDonald Carson (1855-1924) and Mary Alice Colburn (1866-1951), married July 7, 1886. I list their fourteen children above.

Mac Carson’s parents were James Carson (1819-1859) and Permelia Swanson. James Carson’s parents were John Carson (1794-1844) and Margery Parkinson (b. 1799). These two men’s tombstones are photographed above..

John Carson’s father was James S. Carson, and in turn his father was James Scarrett Carson Sr.

Then Alice Carson’s parents were: John T. Colburn (1840-1918) and Martha J. Beck (1845-1926). John T. Colburn’s parents were William Colburn (1793-1869) and Achsa Phelps (born 1796), and William’s parents were Paul Colburn (c. 1761-1825) and Mehetibel Ball (b. about 1757)

As a bit of happy serendipity: when I decided finally to update this essay (first posted three years ago), I realized it was the anniversary of Mac and Alice Carson’s marriage, July 7, 1886, 128 years ago today.

Read Full Post »

I hate judgmental people

from kevinmartineau.ca

A while back, a friend asked me why I thought some Christians are so judgmental. I promised to think about it!

Maybe it’s better to say “some judgmental people are also Christians.” None of us can separate our psychological makeup from our faith. People who are naturally introverted, or controlling, or easily hurt, often express their personalities in similar ways in church settings, too; similarly, people who are quick to pigeon-hole and judge others, and people who want to others to change. (The character Angela in the NBC show The Office is a good pop-culture example of someone who, you assume, would be strict and stiff even if she wasn’t religious. You shutter to picture the character Dwight Schrute as a Christian, without an accompanying personality overhaul!)

Having the Word of God at hand can be a powerful source for “judgmentalness”: God said it, you don’t measure up, that settles it. Some of us read scripture that way. Conservative and evangelical people tend to be accused of judgmental attitudes, but I think liberal and progressive people can also be quick to generalize, stigmatize and condemn. It’s a tricky balance to be passionate about an issue or topic, and yet not dismiss or characterize those who disagree.

Of course, “being judgmental” doesn’t have to be the same as having strong opinions and convictions. One might be perceived as being judgmental when s/he communicates personal convictions (again, whether they’re stereotypical conservative or liberal issues); but she might be labeled as judgmental by someone who disagrees.

I wonder, too, whether judgmentalness (I know that’s not a word: don’t be judgmental toward me, LOL) is connected to certain stages of one’s spiritual growth. This isn’t always the case, but it can be. When I was a new Christian I was quick to pass judgment on certain things, but in retrospect, my attitude stemmed from my insecurities in faith and life, and my uncertainties how to be a Christian. I certainly lacked the inner peace that helps a person be strong, consistently kind and sensitive toward others.

Sometimes people are judgmental because they can’t quite process the fact that other people’s lives and experiences are not their own. They meet a single woman and make assumptions why she’s not married. They meet a childless couple and wonder why they don’t have children. Years ago, a few fellow pastors learned that I was interested in both parish work and getting a PhD, and they judged that I must be snooty and “ivory tower.” Much worse, you can see how this kind of assumption-making isn’t too far from racist, homophobic, and sexist attitudes. Any of these attitudes are painful when they’re directed at you from fellow Christians; you hope they’d be more loving and considerate.

Unfortunately, generalizing harshly about other people is an easy habit for all of us, in part because it makes us feel better about ourselves.

Scripture does teach the potential need to warn others about their behavior or circumstances. Ezekiel 3:17-21 is a well-known example. This would be an easy scripture to use wrongly: throw tact to the wind, point out a person’s sin, and say to yourself, “Whew, I did what God wanted!” Nevertheless, according to this scripture, one might have the responsibility to warn someone about his or her actions. Similarly Paul voiced concern about immoral behavior tolerated by a congregation (1 Cor. 5:1-5) and also showed concern about another congregation (2 Thess. 3:6, 3:14-15; also Titus 3:10-11).

Jesus pointed out people’s sins. He was very harsh to the teachers who considered themselves superior to others (Matthew 23:25-28), and he told the woman caught in adultery to sin no more (John 8:1-11) although he was kind to her and, indeed, saved her life. But Jesus also loved people and involved himself with people whose lives were wrong, broken, judged harshly, and confused. To them, he shared himself.

Scripture teaches a responsible kind of judgment-making, but it is also very clear about the kindness and encouragement that go along with judgments! One should mind one’s own affairs (1 Thess 4:11), one should be gentle and self-aware in one’s judgments (Heb. 5:2, Gal. 5:1, 2 Tim. 2:24-25), one should be encouraging, helpful, and patient (1 Thess. 5:14), one should be concerned for peace rather than “wrangling” (1 Tim. 6:4-5, 2 Tim. 2:24-25). Why can’t we embrace these kinds of verses as eagerly as we embrace the ones about rebuking and fault-finding?

In Matthew 7:1-5 Jesus famously tells people not to worry about the speck in someone else’s eye until you take the log out of your own eye. It’s actually a very humorous passage, which definitely gets the lesson across: I’m walking around with a big ol’ tree stuck to my face and yet I point out that your face doesn’t look right and you need to fix it!

Just because you see something that you consider condemnable in another person, you need to ask, What is condemnable in myself, if “the whole truth” were known about me? When Jesus’ opponents said, “He eats and drinks with sinners,” the irony is that they who disapproved of the sin of others, were themselves sinners! But they (in their own eyes) seemed more righteous because their sins were more subtle and prideful.

Jesus also said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Here is another biblical warrant to be cautious how you judge someone: the person may seem to be doing something of which you don’t approve, but do you really know what’s going on with the person? Have you “walked a mile in his or her shoes”? Have you inquired into the person’s circumstance? (Remember that “judgment” in the legal sense means a decision based on all the known facts about a case.)

“Being judgmental” implies an haughty assessment according to appearances, or to a one-sided appeal to scripture, without a person knowing the content of that person’s heart and experience (or your own). And… how would you know what’s going on with the person, if you didn’t have some kind of friendship with him other? Those scriptures I cited earlier (four paragraphs up) place judgments within the context of fellowship, friendship, love, and empathy. It’s easy to show scripture to someone to condemn or criticize them, but in a way that’s distancing yourself from them, putting yourself above them.

That’s why “being judgmental” is so easy to be and simultaneously is so disagreeable when we see it in others. To cite the often-quoted 1 Corinthians 13: you can be right about everything, including your moral and theological judgments, but if you don’t have love, you’re just noisy.

Read Full Post »