Road trip: Anna, Illinois

After our night in Chattanooga, we drove to Paducah, Kentucky (a short trip, only 267 miles). The next morning, we decided that a side trip was in order, so we headed out early and took a county road instead of the freeway.

One of the coolest parts of a long road trip is not being in a hurry -- feeling that exploration is time well spent, especially in small towns. We chose Anna, Illinois. Just because.

A little research into the town of Anna tells us that it was a sundown town (non-whites were not allowed to live in or pass through the town after the sun went down) and that as of the 2000 census, Anna is 96.2% white. Anna is the name of the founder's wife, but there is a story that in 2005 a store clerk told James Loewen (the inventor of the neologism "sundown town") that Anna stood for "ain't no niggers allowed." Yuck. The town has a total area of 3.4 square miles and the area around it is primarily farm land, as it has been since it was founded in 1854. (If you want bigger pictures, click 'em.)

Of course we had to stop for breakfast on our way to Anna. Somewhere outside of town we found this little place and had us some greasy eggs and really bad coffee. Yum. At least the waitress was nice. The rest of the people looked at us like we were from Mars.

The first thing we saw when we got to Anna proper was this antique store. It turned out that inside was the very famous Anna Kirkpatrick Pottery Museum. The pottery itself is fascinating and the stories about the two brothers who created it are fabulous. If you're into old stuff and funny stuff, follow the link -- you'll love it.

After an hour of Mr. Isom's great storytelling, we wandered around the little town. It's mostly old buildings in various stages of decay, but it's got life and spirit and I'll wager their 4th of July celebrations offer up the best BBQ, apple pie and fireworks you'll find anywhere.

These are the kinds of pictures I like -- sort of for flavor, you know? Flowers, old bricks, windows, and so on. It's an interesting little town. I suspect it would be okay to live there, everybody knowing your business, hearing every detail of other people's lives. Hmmm, but not for me.

We wanted to follow a road along the Mississippi River up to St. Louis, but we never could quite find it, in fact, we got really lost. Oh well. We saw some beautiful countryside and we did get a glimpse of the Mighty River.

It was a long day. We drove over 500 miles that day. And the first town we got to outside of St. Louis happened to be hosting some gigantic soccer thing and every hotel/motel was booked. We got back on the road. Arghh. Gotta love it. That's a road trip at it's finest.


Slayde said...

Nice post - it really gives a great sense of the place and the pictures are lovely. Not the place for me either, but it seems like a nice little stop on your road trip.

Anonymous said...

Sundown town? Oh my god.

That breakfast sounded pretty good.

Coffee Messiah said...

That's the beauty of stopping in small towns. If'n ya ain't familiar, you might as well be from Mars....it's like that here too, but in a friendly way.

We always pass on the coffee. Unless we come across a real roaster type establishment.

Nice shots and love the long stretch of nothing road! ; )

Brent said...

Since moving to Minneapolis, I've become fascinated with small towns in the midwest struggling to retain their identities in the face of radical urban migration, immigrant influx, crystal meth, and what seems to me to be a basic lack of pride among new generations. Such beautiful decay, these turn-of-the-century buildings. What was once a bustling railway stop or trading post now sits in the shadow of a crowded Wal-Mart, and yet people wonder why the local mercantile went out of business. Thanks for celebrating one of these towns; there's thousands more to be explored, and we're running out of time!

Cathy said...

Thank you Slayde. I imagine that exploring Juneau is fun too.

Melissa: yes, sundown towns were very common (and perhaps still are).

CM: I know, I know, stay away from the coffee made by non-lovers-of-coffee. It's so true.

Brent, I think I was struck by how Anna seems stuck -- there was almost no evidence of the 21st century. Of course, we were only there a short time.

uncle said...

..I grew up in one of those small farming towns in the midwest. These images are fabulous.

Was particularly taken by image of stop light on country road with no intersection...must assume road construction was the reason and the budget was too tight to pay flag persons? Flag jobs on summer road work used to provide some extra bucks for the locals.

Nels said...

Yes, great pictures of the town! I've always enjoyed shots of decaying buildings and whatnot... just looks so interesting.