BIG NAMES, SMALL TOWNS
The road sign or map beckons: Athens... Cairo... Paris... Rio... Warsaw. Yet this is Illinois. For a second, as we whiz by on the highway, we dream of these famed far-away cities, fantasizing they are indeed just around the corner. But, we seldom make the detour.
In books, movies, and our collective psyche, Illinois has largely become a cliché. The cornfields. The red barns. The white farmsteads. The grain silos. For sure, they are there, with a beauty all their own. But that’s largely the view from I-55, I-80, or I-57, which many drivers never leave. A little ways beyond, often no more than a mile or two (and at other times a long ways down unpaved roads), these largely unsuspected towns await, ready to reveal that Illinois started off far more Scottish or German than we knew.
Through so many of these towns echo the footsteps and words of Abraham Lincoln. But our rightful pride in being the Land of Lincoln obscures that in Illinois, too, new arrivals engaged in ethnic cleansing of Indigenous people, and the enslavement and lynching of black people. The bravery and altruism of the Illinois frontier must be celebrated, but cannot hide the darker side of our state’s history.
There and Here yields a richly textured portrait of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Illinois, a place where women and men gave their new towns big names, out of hope, hubris, and maybe even denial. Often, the famous names are intentional, honoring settlers’ places of origin, or mythical or biblical locales. Some towns, like Argyle and Norway, once served as the main entry point for thousands of immigrants from those spots. Often, names are coincidental.
Settlers cleared the wilderness and plowed (Alhambra, Dover, Kingston) and locals made their own laws and policed themselves (Bolivia, Paradise). Coal was king over corn (Cuba, Panama, Sicily, Toluca); and the prairie put a spell on foreigners, or not at all (Lebanon, Savoy).
In this Illinois, Indigenous people were killed for sport (York); they befriended white people (Strasburg, Windsor), only to be pushed out and fight back (Cahokia Mounds, Milan, Palestine, Peru, Venice). Governors owned slaves (Kaskaskia); Black men became the strange fruit of white hatred (Cairo, Mt. Zion, Paris, Thebes, Winchester); Lincoln vanquished Stephen Douglas (Ottawa); boys answered his call (Cambridge, Genoa, Malta, Scotland, Windsor); and strife seeded Salt Lake City (Carthage, Nauvoo, Warsaw).
There were stops on the Trail of Tears and the Trail of Death (Ellis Grove, Exeter, Naples). The Underground Railroad stopped in Crete, Genoa, Lake Zurich and Toulon. Pekin both struggled with civil rights and advanced them.
The state’s seats of power provide useful historical context for the other towns’ more localized stories. Springfield is one of no fewer than six capital cities in Illinois, alongside Kaskaskia and Vandalia, Springfield’s predecessors; Cahokia, center of the largest pre-Columbian civilization in what is today the U.S.; Fort de Chartres, the heart of France’s Upper Louisiana; and Nauvoo, the first great Mormon metropolis. Of course, there’s Metropolis itself, home of Superman. And Popeye reigns sovereign in Chester.
This book also documents a rapidly disappearing Illinois. In the decade it took to visit these places and write this book, the bridge at Hanover was replaced with a more utilitarian-looking one; the ornate house next to the Lyons tower burned down; down in Little Egypt, the Mississippi is said to be slowly jumping its bed; the wrecking ball leveled several historic buildings in Cairo; and many farms are gone. Illinois politicians are being woken up and are talking about removing sculptural tributes to Douglas and Pierre Menard.
Each town is a discovery, whether for a few minutes or a few days. Some charm you. For others, better times seem forever out of reach; they impress in spite of or thanks to it.
– Jan Kostner, former director, Illinois Bureau of Tourism:
“Laurent Pernot’s beautiful book unlocks the history and mysteries behind the names of many Illinois towns. There and Here is a wonderful exploration of the Land of Lincoln, giving readers many reasons to get off the highway and explore our state.”
– Leo Schelbert, professor emeritus, University of Illinois at Chicago, author of Switzerland Abroad (2019):
“This chronicle of more than one hundred places features mostly smaller and little-known settlements in Illinois. It sketches neo-European foundations after indigenous people had been eliminated and as areas were evolving as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century neo-European domains of the present United States. Names such as Alhambra, Denmark, Liverpool, Palestine, Teheran, and Versailles, may partly point to global awareness of individual name givers. The names may claim inherently that the newly named places were joining those of the old world on an at least symbolically equal footing.
Laurent Pernot’s concise textual entries are greatly enriched by numerous carefully chosen and pleasing pictures in color that offer vistas of landscapes, houses, churches, sculptures, and monuments. The chosen images speak as powerfully as the carefully crafted texts.
Then and Here features however not only the creative efforts of women and men in evolving a neo-European world in a region of the Northern Western Hemisphere coming to be called Illinois. The book’s texts and pictures also point to racial conquest by encirclement, by destruction of indigenous patterns, by expulsion, and by extensive physical annihilation of native peoples. The story documents white settlers’ persistent efforts to achieve an erasure of the millennia-old indigenous occupancy and its replacement by exclusively white jurisdiction.
The concise texts and numerous pictures highlight therefore a double-faced historical eighteenth- and nineteenth-century process as it evolved in today’s region called Illinois: They point to a gradual conquest characterized by totalitarian violence of invaders against millennia-old indigenous groups and by the creative replacement of an ancient native world by an exclusive establishment of neo-European cultural ways.”
– Leo Schelbert, professor emeritus, University of Illinois at Chicago, author of Switzerland Abroad (2019)
THE 150+ TOWNS
Fort de Chartres
Florence (Pike County)
Florence (Stephenson Cty.)
St. Mary, Mo.
Stones and statues
Ste. Geneviève, , Mo.
St. Louis, , Mo.
Prairie du Rocher
About the author
Elk Grove Village