By Bill Grosboll
April 25, 2008

Petersburg began making it’s transition from a thriving, independent city (fancy name for town) to becoming nothing more than a suburb of Springfield during the 30’s and 40’s but the most rapid changes began happening during the 50’s and 60’s. It is just my own opinion as to why Petersburg changed but I feel it was basically due to improved highways and transportation. I’m sure there were other factors but these two things were the primary ‘culprit’. I consider the change a culprit because no longer was Petersburg an isolated, self-sufficient little community and with that loss came the loss of community ties.

First, let’s discuss the highways. There are two main highways that link Petersburg to all the other surrounding villages and major cities, those being Route 123 and Route 97. There is one other highway I will include in this picture and that is Route 29, which was a ‘dandy’ when I was a kid. You youngsters will not remember the great Route 29 which linked Springfield to Peoria. I’m sure that when it was constructed, it was the greatest thing to ever happen to Menard County but believe me, it’s greatness changed quickly to be living proof of road engineers “shortsightedness”. I don’t know for sure when Route 29 was paved but by the time I was driving in the late 50’s, it was a two-lane accident waiting to happen. The surface was concrete, narrow, had a seam like what seemed every twenty feet which made it ‘rougher than a cob’. Now there’s a term that only we old timers use! Along with all those shortcomings, it did not have “curves” but rather “corners”. These corners required slowing to around 40-45 mph for safe navigation, somewhat higher for us hot-rodders and there were many of these corners! If memory serves correctly, and usually it doesn’t, the State of Illinois made major improvements to this old monster during the mid to late 60’s. Sections of the old road are still visible in certain areas along the new, improved Route 29. One such section is about a mile or two east of Athens where the Dept. of Highways uses it for stockpiling materials such as road salt. I’m getting sidetracked here but I just had to vent my anger at that old highway! You young readers may ask why I was so angered by this road. In the 50’s most cars did not have power steering which required using two hands for turning a sharp turn. Why upset about this, you ask? Because all cars had bench seats and it was standard practice during my dating years, that my date would always sit beside me, thus allowing me to drive with my left hand and keeping my right arm around her. But with all the corners, I had to take my arm from her and use both hands on the steering wheel to navigate the corner. Wouldn’t that make you mad?

Many changes began to accelerate during the 50’s because of the improved highways. In the old days, before the automobile, a trip to Springfield was an all day affair and sometimes even required staying overnight. What used to take hours by horse and buggy now only required thirty minutes. This enabled people to work and shop in Springfield with relative ease for the first time. Being able to do this broke many small, thriving businesses in Petersburg and surrounding towns. More and more women began working outside of the home and we are seeing the effects of that yet today! It was a necessary evil if the family was going to prosper financially. Since Springfield was larger, it also meant larger stores and more selection which was important to the consumer. My Dad always told us to do most of our shopping in Petersburg because these store owners needed us and someday we were going to need them, but eventually he lost the battle. If gas prices continue to escalate, Petersburg may be wishing that many of those old stores were still in business nearby, instead of Springfield. Time will tell!

I’m just trying to remember all the businesses that were in Petersburg when I was a kid and some of those slightly before my time. Those that were before my time that I’m aware of, or can remember, was the cheese factory which sat along the railroad, which later became the roller rink. Yes, Petersburg had a roller rink! Another was the canning factory that was just east of the elevator north of town. Rather than give all the names of the different businesses that have left the scene during my teen years, I’ll just list what type of business. One of the more unique was the ‘brick yard’ with its domed kilns for baking bricks. There was a slaughter house, a blacksmith, two train stations, glass planing mill, three farm implement dealers, four (maybe five) auto dealerships, many small grocers, a hotel, pool hall, two pharmacies, movie theater, a green house, a hatchery and two lumber yards. I know there are going to be omissions but please forgive me.

Here are the grocery stores (that I remember) when I was a kid:

1. Short's Grocery Store ran by Lyle and Mickey Short (great people) south side of square. Lyle later became a school principal.

2. A&P (Atlantic & Pacific) Grocery Store ran by Paul Armstrong (Northside of square)

3. Kirby's Royal Blue Grocery Store (Edna Kirby & husband) (Northside of square)

4. Achty's Grocery (I know the spelling of that name is wrong) Northside of sq.

5. Menchetti's Grocery Store (famous for it's meats) Eastside of square

6. Small convenience type grocery store on Rte. 97 (North edge of P-town)

There was another small grocery store located somewhere around 1st Ward School. Even good ole Atterbury had a grocery store. You can see why I decided for just the general overview format! chuckle Plus the fact that I was leaving myself wide open for a lot of ridicule from memory mistakes!! People already consider me the village idiot without me confirming their suspicions.

These were all thriving small businesses but times were changing and they either grew by buying out their competition or ‘starved’ them out. It’s a shame that Petersburg had to sell out it’s independence to Springfield but it was inevitable with the improved autos and highways.



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