This mural on the side of the Chrisman Public Library captures different elements of town history. (Special to The Prairie Press)

Wall preserves the past

They say that one picture can be worth a 1,000 words. If a person travels to the small town of Chrisman and turns off state Route 1 and onto West Monroe Avenue, the drive leads to the square and on the southwest corner across from the bank is the town library.

To get a quick glimpse of the past businesses of this rural community a person can park in the parking lot on the southwest corner and study the large outdoor mural on the south wall of the library. The mural identifies 22 named businesses, an old school building, three churches, two bells to ring, four doctors, the library itself, two water towers, a post office, a train depot, an ambulance service and a movie theater. What more could a town need to be successful?

The period of time these buildings and businesses represent is from about 1900 until the present, but the places depicted here have been whittled down to a precious few. There are still places to dine, police and fire protection, a high school, grade school, two banks, a mower shop, an insurance facility, a funeral home and a newspaper office. There is also a senior citizen living center and bed and breakfast so all is not completely lost.

For the farmers, there is one successful implement facility and you can still buy gas in Chrisman, but groceries are limited to convenience stores and a delicatessen store.

There are other small businesses around along with service organizations. So, yes there are many things to facilitate the people of this town, but it ain’t what it used to be.

For many years people could stock up on groceries, buy fine clothing, all kinds of hardware, automobiles, or visit a movie theatre, medical doctors and more than one veterinarian so necessary for farmers livestock and pet keepers.

What keeps the interest of people around Chrisman? In 1972, it celebrated its centennial observation. That was quite a shindig and they still have a yearly celebration that brings out the town people and many visitors. Chrisman High School basketball and coach Roger Beals kept people of the county interested during the basketball season, and the school had many tournament teams. The rivalry game between Paris and Chrisman always packed their gymnasium.

The first school in Chrisman was a log building and stood just east of where the present high school is. During the 1840s, the school always seemed too crowded so bigger and better ones were built.

Later the younger children were moved to a building on the south side of the square and the three-year high school was placed on the second floor of the Kenton building on the north side of the square.

In 1877, the school district bought ground from Dr. S.R. Gray and built a new school. It held both the elementary and three-year high school students.

F. W. Dundas came along as principal and changes followed. Tablets replaced slates and four years of high school started. However, in 1890 only one person graduated from high school – Lulu Waldruff Schnitker.

In the fast growing town of Chrisman, the enrollment of the school in 1888 was 133 and in 1905 it had grown to 334 so new rooms were built and a new high school was built in 1914.

During the 1948 consolidation movement of Illinois schools, the Chrisman community voted to become Community School District #6 of Edgar County. At that time 10 grade school units joined together and attended the Chrisman Schools.

Using a 1950 bond issue the high school added a combination gymnasium and auditorium, a farm shop, Home Ec. And several class rooms.

A new grade school was opened in 1966 grade s behind the old grade school dating from the 19th century. This structure contained 22 rooms, a library, a cafeteria and kitchen.

In 1972 after two referendums were passed, the Scottland School system became part of Unit six. Grades 6-8 were sent to the Scottland facility for another eight years before that school was abandoned and everyone started attending at Chrisman. Now the junior and senior high schools are at one facility on the north edge of Chrisman and K-5 students attend the one on the east side of Route One.

Not to be forgotten is Punkin Center, which was a series of buildings and businesses on state Route 1 between Monroe Avenue and Madison Avenue. The first was a filling station ran by Frank Senter in 1923. Later on a grocery store was added on the south side of that building. There was a Haws Grocery in 1938 and even a restaurant in that area for a number of years operated by the same family. These were great attractions for those who were just passing through town, but by 1960 Punkin Center was no more.

Chrisman supported a newspaper for many years starting Dec. 3, 1875, with publication of the Chrisman Enterprise. The longest running papers are the former Chrisman Courier and the Chrisman Leader. There is still a weekly paper, the Leader produced by Kyle and Alice Lientz. They announce events in the area, are a source for advertising and keep their articles up-beat and positive. They can also be seen on Facebook and were nice to visit with during the quest for information about Chrisman.

So on the next trip to Chrisman make sure to drive by the mural that was done two years ago by a couple from Metcalf: Donna Bell and David LaBounty. Then take a drive around the town and see many of the grand old homes, maybe eat a bite at the Hidden Garden or Chrisman Café or the delicatessen and you can even get a bed and breakfast at the Old Brick Inn on Madison Avenue. The library is a great place for information about the old town and was also helpful for research.

For some reason, I am drawn by that little town because of its dear hearts and gentle people who have helped me to write this account. Maybe that’s what makes it great.

The Prairie Press

101 Central Avenue Paris, IL 61944