Friday, January 27, 2012

Isaac Visits the future Hoopeston

When we left Rossville, Illinois, there was another place I wanted to see. I remembered that in the spring of 1871, Isaac, his friends John and Frederick, and this cousins Ezra and Henry, had borrowed a buggy to take a Sunday drive north of Rossville to the farm of a man named Hoopes. It was a time of rapid expansion of rail lines, and promoters would arrive with promises of new rail lines to serve rural communities and small towns, predicting that at every point where two rail lines intersected, a prosperous town was certain to grow. One such crossing was planned on Hoopes Farm, and the young men wanted to see if any evidence of actual construction to back up all the promises could be seen.

Having found the town of Rossville in the atlas, I also noticed a town with the name of Hoopeston, and although Isaac had called the prospective railroad town "Hoopstown" and had expressed his doubts that the promoters' predictions would occur, the location in the atlas and the farm described in Isaac's Journal seemed about the same. I wanted to see the countryside along the route the five men took to reach Hoopes Farm, which Isaac had described: "Some considerable tracts of prairie land lying open yet...noticed few wild geese and ducks on west side of road on few ponds...Passed by old Hoop's [sic] residence--on a very beautiful mount, commanding the landscape on every side, presenting beautiful prairie views." Our drive north of Rossville, nearly a century and a half later, passed through interesting country, but my imagination could not impose on the landscape the open prairie Isaac had described in his journal.

The five young men continued on their journey, and Isaac wrote: "...reaching the famous prairie site where the great future Hoopstown is to rear its wealths. ...Hearing so much about Hoopstown and R.R. crossing from the lips of Rail Road Maniacs, one gets to feel as I did--craving to gaze personally on the covetous spot then make up mind accordingly." Despite his skepticism, Isaac admitted in his journal: "What musing and dreaming takes possession of any one, contemplating the scene and project. Could we easily raise the means? Could we possibly buy these covetous acres at reasonable prices? Could we get all the Western R.R. to intersect this charming spot? ...But sighing Ah! It is all desert prairie yet. Not a habitation within three miles!"

Although Hoopstown was only a railroad promoter's description, with the prairie grass having been mowed to mark the future placement of the tracks at the time of Isaac's visit, the work on the railroad lines soon commenced and a town grew around the crossing. When we reached Hoopeston, we drove around to explore a little. By chance, we discovered the library. It was still open, so we went inside and met Linda Mitchell, Director of the Hoopeston Public Library. With limited time to spend and no research preparation or notes, I was ill prepared, but she graciously spent time with us, checking to see if any of their collection of local newspapers might have been published as early as 1871. They had not. It was an impressively busy library, which is always wonderful to see. We looked at what limited information she had to share from that era, and my husband took a photograph of the framed Hoopeston town map from 1893 (apologies for the glare from the glass).

As Isaac had stood on the spot where Hoopstown was predicted to bloom, he had imagined the potential an investor might gain if the town were to succeed: "...what a wealth and prospect would we enjoy." Instead, he dismissed the prospects for the future of the town on Hoopes Farm and returned to Rossville to form a milling partnership with his cousin Henry Werner and Mr. Ross, which lasted only a few years before Isaac moved on to stake his claim in Kansas. As Robert Frost wrote of roads not taken: "...I stood and looked down one as far as I could to where it bent in the under growth; then took the other...And that has made all the difference."


The Blog Fodder said...

The devil we know or the angel we don't. Maybe Isaac knew he would not stick and would move on west? He stayed with what he knew until he was ready to follow his heart.

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

Isaac was definitely excited about buying a camera and photographing the small towns and the prairie in Illinois and further west before the "railroads ruined" them. However, his newly arrived Cousin Henry was a miller, and I suspect that had a great deal to do with Isaac's decision to stay in Rossville and become a partner in the milling business.

Anonymous said...

Lyn-- I am continually surprised by the descriptive writing style of Issac. It's almost as if he was writing for an audience (you?)... imagining that his journals would find readers one day. Looking forward to your next post! -- Jody

Lynda Beck Fenwick said...

I am hoping that my book will introduce Isaac and his neighbors to many more people. Thanks for your support.