By Sue Ann Hackett, as told by Carson Steinheimer
I was talking to one of my childhood/lifelong chums tonight and asked him if he had played by the brook, had any stories. Yes! Carson Steinheimer, son of Ray Steinheimer who had a drug store on the corner of State and Court where the Journal office is now, and his buddy Tom Lukeman, son of George Lukeman who had a car dealership (I think) east of the old High School on State Street, lived on Woodland Street.
Carson related that when they were about 10-12 years old they would take their bikes and load their lunch — a bottle of cream soda pop and a peanut butter sandwich — in their baskets. They pedaled down Woodland and east to Lincoln. [Morton Avenue was not built out there in this period of the 1940s.] There was a small bridge over the brook which connected to the State Hospital “Red Farm” where they raised hogs. They would eat their lunch by the brook and fool around. Sometimes they would ride south on the narrow road out to Diamond Grove Cemetery and eat their lunch there. Tom’s grandmother lived in that area.
One time they saw pop bottles floating in the brook with paper notes inside them. They took the cap off one bottle and read the note which said: “Help Help! Captured. Let us out!” They put the bottles in their bike baskets and rode downtown to the Police Department. The policeman read the notes and told the boys that they were probably written by men from the State Hospital who had been working at the farm, but he complimented the boys for bringing in the evidence.
[Carson became a dentist and lives in a Chicago suburb; Tom has homes both on Woodland and I think in Havana, Ill. Not sure of his work. Carson and Tom were in the famous Boy Scout troop at Grace Church (Carson attained Eagle rank) and have remained friends.]
[Side observation, nothing to do with the brook. Children of our youth in the 1940s-50s were “surrounded” by the three State Institutions and had interaction with the families, teachers and workers at them. We learned the Deaf signing alphabet and would practice short messages with each other. When in Junior High or early High School and starting to date, we might secretly sign “I Love you” to our favorites.]
The Town Brook Initiative of the Jacksonville Parks Foundation held a Town Brook History Contest in an effort to help reconnect the community to its waterways. The Jacksonville community has a long history and a myriad of connections with Mauvaisterre Creek and its urban tributary the Town Brook. The town grew up near its banks; the creek was used as a byway for travelers on the Underground Railroad; its waters were dammed to provide a water supply to support development; generations of kids grew up playing in the brook – hunting for snakes, looking for crawdads, exploring its banks. The stories, along with others, will be part of Brook Tales – a play written by Ken Bradbury and performed by his Lincoln Land Community College class. Performances May 17-18 (Saturday & Sunday) will benefit the Town Brook Initiative. Click the History tab to find out more, or to submit your story to the history project.