Rockford Furniture Ghost Sign

Rockford Furniture Ghost Sign
Faded brick ad for Rockford Standard Furniture Company at the corner of 9th Street and Railroad Avenue in Rockford, Illinois. At the turn of the last century, Rockford was a manufacturing powerhouse, especially for machine tools and furniture established by its large population of Swedish immigrants. Rockford Standard Furniture opened in 1887 and manufactured dining room furniture, desks, and bookcases.

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Capri Italian Restaurant

Capri Italian Restaurant
Sign for Capri Italian Restaurant, 313 E. State Street, in downtown Rockford, Illinois. This white stucco building has a long family tradition imported from southern Italy. Vito Michele Grisanzio and his brother, Domenic, bought The Capri Restaurant in 1963 and Vito has worked there ever since. He’s now joined by his wife and their three grown sons. Don’t let this beat up old sign fool you – the food is great and the dining room is lovingly maintained.

The Original Burger King in Mattoon, Illinois

Coles County, Illinois is an unusual place. I should know, I wrote an entire book about it. Students at nearby Eastern Illinois University often wonder why there is no Burger King, the ubiquitous fast food franchise, anywhere in the county. That’s because a court decision in 1968 banned the fast food franchise from a 20-mile radius around a locally-owned Burger King in the town of Mattoon. Confused?

Ice cream is served with personality at this Burger King

In 1957, local business owners Gene and Betty Hoots opened a burger joint in a two car garage called Burger King, to compliment their ice cream stand Frigid Queen. The name was Betty’s idea. She thought it had a nicer ring to it than “Hot King” or “Hot Dames“. They registered “Burger King” as a state trademark. In 1961, a Florida-based corporation called Burger King began opening franchises all over Illinois, and Gene and Betty Hoots sued.

In Burger King of Florida, Inc. v. Hoots (1968), the federal 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that national trademarks had priority over state trademarks, but granted the Hootses a concession: they could keep their business name, and no corporate Burger Kings could open within 20 miles of Mattoon. “One time they offered us $10,000 to put one in, but we told them to get lost,” Betty Hoots told the Illinois Times.

Today, the closest place you can buy a Whopper is in Tuscola, 22-miles north. You can, however, buy a Hooter Burger, lemon ice cream, or a butterscotch shake. In 2015, Gene and Betty Hoots finally sold their restaurant to a partnership called BK Ventures, LLC (I guess their son didn’t want to carry on the family tradition after all). Local businessman Cory Sanders planned to make improvements to the restaurant, but keep the menu mostly the same.

The Original Burger King, at 1508 Charleston Avenue in Mattoon, Illinois, is open all-week long from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm. They don’t have a website, but you can call (217) 234-8122 for more information.

EIU Memories: Stix and Panther Paw

Welcome to the fourth installment of my series reminiscing about my time at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois. I attended EIU from 2000 to 2008, eventually earning a Master’s in History. Both the college and the town have changed a lot since then. I wasn’t much for the bar scene in Charleston, but these local watering holes are a staple of college life.

Panther Paw Bar & Grill, at 1412 4th Street, is one of the closer bars to campus. It’s a short walk up 4th Street from Pemberton Hall, across Lincoln Avenue. It was originally owned by Don and Louise Yost and John Budslick and known as Stix, built during the summer of 1990 over a former residential site. Yost and Budlick had previously operated a billiard hall in Carbondale, Illinois by the same name, and thought it would be successful in Charleston.

Stix ad, Sept. 1990.

Stix opened in early September 1990 and was originally a full restaurant and billiard hall, employing up to 60 people as waitresses, cooks, bartenders, disc jockeys, and doormen. It featured 15 Top Flyte pool tables and served breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Ten years later, when I first stepped onto campus as a freshman, local tastes had changed. That summer, Stix rebranded itself as a dance club. They built a stage, refinished the floor with wood, and tore down several walls to open up a dance floor. Patrons ordered food through a window, rather than from a waitress.

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Illinois’ Decade of Lost Legends

Over the past ten to fifteen years, Illinois has lost nearly a dozen historic (and allegedly haunted) places to development and disaster. Some, like Alonzi’s Villa in Brookfield, the Lindbergh School on Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates, and Sacred Heart Chapel at Barat College in Lake Forest, were destroyed to make way for real estate development. Others, like Sunset Haven outside Carbondale, were destroyed to erase the building (and its notorious reputation) from public memory.

The Lindbergh School on Shoe Factory Road in Hoffman Estates was genuinely a historic landmark known for its unique architecture and its significance to local history, regardless of its ghost stories. For years, preservationists tried desperately to save the building from the chopping block. Unfortunately, in 2007, bulldozers knocked it down to make way for yet another subdivision, just before the housing bubble burst and real estate values plummeted.

Sunset Haven, located on the periphery of Carbondale, Illinois and owned by Southern Illinois University, was a longtime destination for legend tripping in southern Illinois. It was originally the Jackson County Poor Farm almshouse became known as Sunset Haven during the 1940s when it was converted into a nursing home. The nursing home closed in 1957 and Southern Illinois University purchased the property to expand its agricultural program. Around October 26, 2013, a crew from SIU demolished Sunset Haven, leaving nothing but a cement foundation.

White Hall at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois was demolished in 2015. Chanute Air Force Base opened in July 1917. After its closure in 1993, much of the base was divided into residential and commercial properties, but most of the core buildings remain abandoned. Inevitably, local kids exploring the abandoned parts of the base began to bring home unusual stories, particularly regarding White Hall. The building was ruled an environmental hazard and too costly to renovate.

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EIU Memories: The Blair Hall Fire of ’04

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On Wednesday, April 28, 2004 at a little after 3pm, the temperature was 72 degrees and rising, the sky was fair, and wind gusted south-southwest up to 32 mph. Humidity was low. By all accounts, it was a beautiful spring day, and Eastern Illinois University’s Spring Semester was quickly coming to a close. Students crammed for final exams, which would begin the following Monday.

I don’t remember what I was doing on campus (probably hanging out in the food court), but as I walked toward the north quad, I noticed a crowd gathering. At 3:14 pm, someone had called 911 from inside Blair Hall, an ivy-covered Gothic Revival building directly southeast of Old Main. Smoke billowed from the third floor windows.

Blair Hall is the third oldest building on campus. It was constructed in 1913 and originally called the Model School, then renamed after football coach Francis G. Blair in 1958. It completed the triad of buildings that made up the old campus, including Old Main and the fabled Pemberton Hall. Blair Hall was home to the anthropology and sociology departments, so I only ever took a handful of elective classes there.

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Stillman’s Run Battle Site

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A majestic monument marks the scene of the opening salvo in the Black Hawk War.

The Battle of Stillman’s Run (or Battle of Old Man’s Creek) was fought on May 14, 1832 between 275 Illinois militia and Sauk leader Black Hawk and approximately 40-50 warriors from his mixed-nation group of American Indians called the “British Band”. The engagement was a humiliating loss for the militia. It was the first battle in the Black Hawk War, which would ultimately end in Black Hawk’s defeat.

In April 1832, Black Hawk moved his British Band to Illinois, believing he would find friendly tribal allies. The Illinois militia was organized to confront him, and 275 militia under the command of Majors Isaiah Stillman and David Bailey camped near Old Man’s Creek, about three miles east of the Rock River. Black Hawk’s pleas for assistance were rebuked at every turn, so he sent emissaries and scouts to negotiate a truce.

Seeing the Indian scouts, Stillman and his militia thought they were under attack and opened fire (there are allegations some of his men were drunk). They pursued the retreating scouts back to Black Hawk’s camp, where they were ambushed and fled in terror. A dozen militiamen under Captain John Giles Adams fought a nighttime rearguard action on a hill south of their camp, while the others escaped to Dixon’s Ferry. All twelve were killed. Black Hawk estimated he lost three to five men.

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