As you make your way into Carlinville, which sits on Old Route 66 about 35 miles south of Springfield, one thing you’ll notice from a distance above the treeline is the Macoupin County Courthouse. Completed in 1870 at a cost of more than $1.3 million, the massive building that sits just east of the square looks like it could be the statehouse of a small New England state.
Although the courthouse hasn’t been on the town square for almost 150 years, the square is still the center of town, with stores lining the intersection of Route 4 and Main Street. There’s a nice book shop on the southeast side, and for some good chili, head to Taylor’s tucked away in the northeast corner past the old hotel.
One interesting note about the square itself: about 10 years ago, the bricks had decayed to the point the road was going to have to be rebuilt. While the city could have opted to pave it over, they decided to rebuild the entire square, from scratch, with brick. Although that brought the cost of the project up significantly, they apparently decided that the pavers gave the square character. I agree.
But one of the more unique stories the town has to tell is almost one hundred years old a little off the beaten path.
Around 1920, Carlinville Coal Company sold their mine just outside of town to Standard Oil Company. With the purchase, Standard would need some 2,000 men to work in the mine. At the time, Carlinville was a small farming community with a population of around 4,000 and wouldn’t be able to handle the influx with its existing homes.
Knowing they would quickly need homes for the workers and their families, Standard Oil turned to Sears, Roebuck and Co., and spent some $1 million ordering homes out of the Sears Catalog.
From 1908 to 1940, anyone could order a Sears Catalog Home. Carlinville would get more than 150 of these ‘homes in a box’. Delivered by rail car, they would contain everything needed to build the house- the lumber, paint, the pipes, the nails, everything. Kit prices on the eight models purchased by Standard Oil ranged from $3,000-4,000.
Spanning some eight or so city blocks in Carlinville, it was then, and still is today, the largest collection of Sears Homes in the country. Most of the homes still stand, although as you might imagine, some are in better shape than others. A few home owners have renovated their homes to better reflect what they looked liked when they were built almost one hundred years ago. What other owners have done to theirs, well, that would probably bring a few tears to a Sears Home enthusiast.
Either way, it’s a unique part of Illinois history sitting off Old Route 66 that’s worth a look, and won’t cost you a dime.
For more information on Carlinville’s Standard Addition/Sears Homes, Rosemary Thronton and Carlinville’s own Lauri Flori have done extensive research on the subject. I had the chance to interview both for a television program a few years back, and can say they’re both quite passionate and knowledgeable.
Carlinville Community Chamber of Commerce: http://www.carlinvillechamber.com
Other things to do/see in Carlinville: http://www.carlinvilleonline.com/area.htm
From I-55, take the IL 108/Carlinville exit (exit 60), head east about 13 miles. Old Rout 66 (now IL Rt. 4) from north or south will take you straight through town.
To get to Standard Addition, turn east off Rt. 4 at Wilson St. in the northern part of the town, that will put you on the north end of the Addition. Turn south on Johnson or University.