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Carmi Rotary Learns the History of Transportation in White County

Story courtesy of Rotarian Randy Adams

Thursday’s meeting of the Carmi Rotary club featured Rotarian Don Drone presenting a fascinating talk on the history of transportation in and around White County.

Don began his talk by asking if anyone could imagine what life was like back at the founding of White County. As he stated, when Carmi was first “on the map”, most of the other towns in the county were not here. Norris City, Enfield, Crossville, Maunie, Burnt Prairie were not even spots on the map at that time. He asked, “what caused those villages to come in to existence?” The answer, was the railroad.

As Don pointed out, the railroad coming in to White County was the first major game-changer for the region. Suddenly, local farmers had secondary markets to sell their crops and their live stock. Prior to the trains, local farmers could only sell their goods to other folks in the county. With the rail lines, farmers could now sell to locations far away from Carmi, opening up endless possibilities.

The next major change in local transportation was the invention of the automobile. Prior to that, there was really no need for good roads. This meant a trip from Carmi to Grayville in a horse-drawn wagon meant a day’s trip on bumpy, winding roads that meandered through the country-side, crossing or avoiding the many creeks along the way.

With the car, and with the construction of roads, folks were able to take the next step in mobility. Don told the story of his own father, who grew up in Ridgeway. For his father’s high school graduation, his entire class loaded themselves in to three Model A’s for a trip to Carmi to have their pictures taken. This trip would have been virtually impossible prior to the roads being constructed.

The next big evolution for Carmi was the construction of our first airport. Don explained that that initial airport was in East Carmi, basically parallel to the second curve of highway one is now. This location worked for a few years before it was moved and upgraded around 1959. Unfortunately, shortly after that upgrade Carmi suffered a once in a lifetime flood, and the newly built airport and many of the planes stored there were underwater. Faced with rebuilding, the state would not give any funding to an area that had been flooded, so the airport was eventually moved to its current location.

Don closed by talking about the newest thing in White County, the coming solar panel farm north of town. He said he hoped the solar farm was not a repeat of another chapter in Carmi history. He told the story of a “scam-artist” who arrived in town back in the late 60’s promising that Carmi would soon be the home of a missile factory. This gentleman managed to fleece a lot of locals out of money for this new factory, and was able to get out of town with a suitcase of money before it was discovered that the missile factory was a hoax.

In club business, President Patrick Haskell spoke about the upcoming “Zip Code Day”, which will be held, of course, on June 28th. (62821). The senior center is planning a variety of events that day including a drawing with a grand prize of $628.21. The Rotary club has committed to helping with ticket sales for that event, which is only a little over a month away.

Sherri Logan won the day’s 50/50 drawing, pulled the winning pink ball from the can, and claimed the cash prize. Patty Mills named Don Drone as the day’s phantom.

The Carmi Rotary Club meets every Thursday at noon at the First United Methodist Church on Main Street in Carmi. Anyone wishing to learn more about this civic organization is welcome to attend a meeting or speak with any Carmi Rotarian.

1 comment
  1. Steve Pascal
    Steve Pascal
    May 28, 2021 at 10:56 pm

    Missile factory? Really? What about the hospital scam?

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