I was drawn in like a moth to a flame when I saw the sign that said murals on my drive back from Indiana this past March. Marshall, Illinois is a small town with a big draw, art. There is art all over town and an opera house to boot. I stopped at a rest area and was lucky enough to find a brochure with a map, murals, the artists and their history. After flagging down a local policeman, he politely pointed me in the general direction and I set out on my treasure hunt.
The first mural I found was Farming & Agriculture which hits home for me. Nancy Bennett of Iowa was the artist that profiled a farmer and history of this area that was built on farming. My next find was the fun Harlow’s Dog N Suds mural, but while that wasn’t an unusual site to me since I have been around root beer stops before, what was is learning that the artist was Jasper Andries from Amsterdam. The Dog N Suds that was profiled was owned by the Harlow family and at one point they lived in James Jones/Handy Writers Colony home. Who would ever guess there was a writer’s colony right here in central Illinois? James Jones is famous for many writings, but especially for From Here to Eternity.
From the brochure I learned that, “The Handy Writers Colony operated from 1950-1964. It was founded by Lowney Turner Handy and her husband Harry Handy along with Lowney’s student, best selling novelist James Jones. Lowney Handy was the Colony’s quirky teacher and mentor…”
There is a lovely mural profiling the Marshall City Band which I learned is the oldest continuously operating band in Illinois. There
Besides the murals, I was taken with the beauty of the town War Memorial in front of the courthouse, and on the fun side enjoyed the statues of the high school mascot the Lion that are located all over town. What would a city in Illinois be without a statue of Lincoln? There he is in all of his glory right on the Court House lawn. As an attorney, he traveled the circuit and Marshall was part of his journey.
Besides the murals, probably the best surprise of all was Harlan Hall. The Hall is an opera house, Welcome Center for the Historic National Road and a place that serves daily meals to seniors! I had a short chat with the director while there and she informed me that the building was once a stable and pointed out different architectural aspects reflecting that former life. There is even a portion of a transom door and an area where you can see where water once drained out of the stable that is now part of the floor in the dining hall.
Upstairs, the glory of the opera house is clearly seen with the balcony and lovely wood floor. When I was there, table were set up and chairs folded, ready to be put up for the next big event. They have a museum in the balcony area reflecting history of the National Road. Across the street from Harlan Hall is the National Road Mural showing the Stone Arch Bridge which was constructed in 1831. The National Road was created in 1806 when President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation. The road has other names as well. It goes by “The Cumberland Road”, “The Old Pike” and it was the only road built completely with federal funds. The brochure states, “Today, the Illinois National Road stretches 165 miles from Marshall to East St. Louis and is mirrored by U.S. Route 40 and Interstate 70.”
While there are several murals, perhaps my favorite of all is the one of the Gypsy Queen. The story is that there was a gypsy tribe by the name of Cooper that often traveled through Clark County. One of the members, Miranda Cooper, mother of the gypsy king died during a stay in Marshall. She was buried in Marshall Cemetery and when her husband died, he wanted to be buried by her side. Other members after they died also came back to Marshall to be buried. There is a legend that Marshall will never be hit by another tornado because the gypsy queen is buried there and her sprit protects the town!