But night was imminent and I needed to push on. If I weren't a camper, I could have had my pick of rooms at either motel, but I gave neither a thought, other than it seemed a near miracle that both were still in business and not boarded up, as had so often been the case in Kansas. It was a relief to see that small towns in Missouri weren't on the downward spiral to becoming ghost towns. Rural America wasn't as grim and destitute as Kansas presented.
And as I penetrated into Illinois for the final three hundred miles of my ride back to Chicago, I was given further reason for hope. Its small towns had plenty of life and often some character. They gave a hint of small-town idyll, some even offering an enticement that they might not be such a bad place to live. They weren't necessarily thriving, but they weren't dominated by closed down businesses and abandoned homes. Yards and property were maintained and there was a sense of civic pride. I had a sense of pride myself in my home state. Those towns with an extra shine had welcoming signs on their outskirts announcing themselves as an "Illinois Main Street Community," not unlike the French designations of a Most Beautiful Town or a Town of Flowers. It does set a nice standard for a town to achieve.
Illinois is most certainly The Land of Lincoln. Many of the towns had plaques commemorating a visit of Lincoln. The regal Carnegie in Pittsfield had a photo of him taken when he passed through the town in 1858.
Outside the Carnegie in Beardsville, now the town City Hall, were a pair of laminated plaques detailing a court case Lincoln had won there.
Griggsville had no need to attach itself to the Lincoln trail as it had enough of an attraction in being the Purple Martin Capital of the Nation.
But for me the town's main attraction was its unaltered shoe box of a Carnegie, complete with his portrait behind the check out desk and a copy of the book on the Carnegies of Illinois on an easel. The town also attracts visitors with its annual fall Apple Fest, the password for the library's WIFI.
The somewhat tattered Carnegie in Rushville had only recently been replaced by a new library and awaited a new tenant.
The Carnegie in Havana, on the corner of Plum and Adams, appeared as sturdy and vibrant as the day it was built. It was the proud domain of a very friendly white-haired librarian who could well be the most-liked person in this town on the wide Illinois River. Its town plaque beside a spiffy park on the river detailed a trail along the river for over one hundred miles from Ottawa.
The neighborly librarian in Lewistown, modeling her favorite "ssssh-happens" t-shirt, was also a strong advertisement for small-town America.
Her library had had no expansion since it was built in 1906, though the addition of a side entrance and a shed prevented it from being listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
Lincoln visited Lewiston with regularity as he had good friends there. The house of his friends that he stayed at still stands. He also gave a noteworthy speech there in 1858 on the Declaration of Independence known as "The Return to the Fountain Speech," though no copy remains, just the newspaper reports.