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Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive Fall Festival

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The Beginning of the Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive
By Ruth M. Davis and Marjorie R. Bordner
Shared by Donita Ridle

Because there have been so many stories printed about the beginning of Spoon River Valley Fall Festival in Fulton County, it has been decided to tell it the way it was while some of us who took part in it are still available to do so. This story is based on personal memories and the Press Book of clippings during 1968, the Sesquicentennial year.

In 1967, Fulton County was a place with 54,000 acres of unreclaimed strip mine wasteland. Unemployment was high and there was a general lack of hope in the area. To those in the Fulton County Historical Society, Fulton County had a proud history with many fascinating facets. The Society’s members would not be daunted by despair.

In 1967, the State of Illinois began working actively on plans for the Sesquicentennial celebration. One goal was to update the histories of all counties. (The latest Fulton County history had been printed in 1908.) A Fulton County Historical Society was started with Mahlon Mowery as President and Ruth Davis as Vice-President. Every would-be writer and historian in the County joined the Society and descended on both the Society and the Fulton County Board, which was donating $10,000 toward publication of the new book. It did not take long to see that the number of writers would have to be pruned and pruned it was.

This left a great many members of the Society in Sesquicentennial Limbo and it was decided that the Vice President would head committee of people who would plan the Fulton County celebration events for a year. In observance of the Illinois Sesquicentennial.

Fulton County planning determined that there would be one event for each month of the sesquicentennial year, 1968. Among the events were: a school decoration contest, a musical play, a pageant, and the serving of 11,000 pieces of birthday cake and favors for Fulton County school students on the birthday date of Illinois --Dec. 3.

The project for October was the opening of Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive. Marjorie Bordner and Joe Helle were especially key to this effort. Joe always pointed out that he “knew Spoon River like the back of his hand” and Marjorie was an authority on Edgar Lee Masters, author of Spoon River Anthology. They combined forces to push for a Drive through historic Fulton County’s back country. Marjorie prevailed on Harold Kee Welch, noted artist at Smithfield, to design a logo as a donation, and this has since become known over much of the world via tourists. The logo went up on highway signs after funds were raised when Marjorie filtered and bottled genuine Spoon River water to sell in attractive antique glass bottles, and the sale of Sesquicentennial Medallions provided a Fulton County Highway Department agreed to put them up along the route among the colorful autumn trees along the hills and dales of Spoon River Valley.

The First Day

London Mills and Avon awoke to pouring rain and it looked like the “Opening” at 2 o’clock would be drowned out. Most of the interested parties either had another cup of coffee or went back to bed. Floyd Blout canceled his order for a barrel of cider to be served at Babylon and went to church. Later he served the cider.

About 9 o’clock Bob Boden, London Mills, (to be remembered long and honored greatly for his continuous stream of publicity for Spoon River Country), called Ruth Davis to tell her that “the phone keeps ringing, there’s someone at the front door and someone at the back door, and I can’t even get my pants on! This town is full of cars and we need help!” A similar call went out to Marjorie.

Mary Beaird Duncan Mills



Past Presidents

After a quick look at the traffic everywhere, it became apparent that all plans for an opening ceremony would have to fall by the wayside, just to keep the traffic moving. Fortunately, Bob Jennings, Canton, had agreed to bring the members of Civil Defense to direct traffic and test out their radio system. At the end of the day he told the committee that they didn’t get their radio system organized, but he did know that if necessary, he could empty Fulton County in case of a nuclear emergency. Milton Thompson, Head of the Illinois State Museum, and Senator Larson, Galesburg, who had been asked to be speakers, instead became part of the traffic control at Dickson Mounds Museum. Angelo and Tillie Forneris had the Ellisville Opera House open but there were few takers as everyone was afraid of losing their place in the auto line. Marjorie Bordner and Joe Helle directed traffic at Seville and warned people away from a particularly muddy stretch of road. A traffic counter put up by Charles Sandberg, Fulton County Administrator, indicated 19,000 cars had passed along the Valley. Local gasoline stations and restaurants ran out of merchandise and had to close, not being prepared for all.

The Peoria Journal Star and the Galesburg Register Mail, along with other publications in the area, and the Networks on the Airways had given wonderful publicity about the country drive in the Valley, and city people and others from distant places had decided to drive the country roads.

Marjorie Bordner

Early Pioneers of Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive

In addition to the people named above, there were many who helped to develop the Drive in the early days of visitors to the Valley, among them were: Seth and Vi Leeds who worked at Waterford and also worked to save the Canton Fair Ticket Office now at Dickson Mounds; Lorraine Shover who helped in saving the Ross Hotel at London Mills; Kendall Mears from Lewistown and Carl Hukill helped with Illinois Tourism connections; Berneita Waughtel who helped at Cuba, Marie Hatch from Avon who helped with the first publicity brochure, Charles DeBusk who was Director of Dickson Mounds Museum; Stan Klyber, Albert “Pete” Murphy, and Robert Grossman who included the Drive in their planning work for the Fulton County Board, Thelma and Willard Sheets who helped at Lewistown; Charles Wright and Phil Miller of WBYS; John Depler who wrote of Fulton County History for the Fulton Democrat; Robert Sullivan of the Illinois Department of Tourism; and dozens of others who contributed hours, miles, funds, and enthusiasm for the land along the literary Spoon River.

The establishment of Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive Fall Festival was an all-Fulton County Grass Roots Event. It was not sponsored by affluent citizens but by the hands of extraordinary dedicated citizens who appreciated its beauty and significance of the County as a fine place for remembering the old days of the country school, the old Opera House, the small hotel, the old iron bridges, the blacksmith shop, the ticket office, country churches, and a great place for a family outing in the “bright October” of the year.



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