Thursday, December 15, 2011

Exploration - Fairfield, Illinois

There's something about a city's downtown. It's the easiest way to get a snapshot of what the town is, who lives there and what values exist. I see a dead downtown as evidence of a dead, or dying town. It's also the place easiest to find visible history.

So a month or so ago we took a couple hours to walk around downtown Fairfield, Illinois. How did it measure up?

Where: Southern Illinois (Google Map)
County: Wayne (County Seat)
Population: 5,154
Incorporated: ???? (probably early-to-mid 1800s)
Layout: Parallel one-way main streets; business district between and alongside; courthouse square on one side; old neighborhoods clustered around downtown; sprawl close to the west

Wayne County Courthouse
It's very easy to walk from one end of downtown Fairfield to the other. I was pleasantly surprised to see other people walking around and folks out tending their houses. It spoke to the level of community. There were lots of shops in the storefronts (most closed for holidays, but still present).

Here's some more of what we found...

1930s WPA-style high school, still in use, unlike the one on my header image
I shot into the sun like a moron, but you can see most of a ghost sign here
Alley with a little shed at the end

Brick courthouse square! Always charming, and a rarity
The downtown felt at least as bleak as most low-income small towns in the midwest, but there was enough life that it wasn't a depressing experience (a huge contrast, to, say, Augusta, Arkansas).

We also saw some great houses:

Oddball craftsman with a gigantic dormer...and shooting into the sun again

Giant Queen Anne with lots of windows and a little tower

Another Queen Anne with a crazy double porch and a 3-story tower
Oh, and I always have to take pictures of the old Phillips 66 gas stations with the gull wing roofs:

You can see where the old sign would have been at the wing tip
I didn't mention that Fairfield was apparently the base of a really notorious Illinois gang, the Shelton Brothers. Neat!


I liked Fairfield a lot. It had the character of a struggling small town but with enough heart to cling onto its identity. I hope to go back again.

I'll leave with a couple parting shots:

another MAIN ST.

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