Girard - Still Keepin'
Just four short miles south of
Virden sits the town of Girard, a village of
about 2,200 people. One of the first settlers in the area was a Frenchman
by the name of Girard, who built a sawmill on the banks of Mill Creek. By
1834 more pioneers were also living in the area, including W.T. Bristow,
Daniel Black, Elisha Smith, Dr. Edwards and Colonel George Mather.
With the settlers becoming more numerous, a
stage line from
Springfield to Alton,
began to run through the area. Built along an old
Trail, this road would later become
State Route 4 and
In 1834, Dr. Edwards and George Mather laid
out a town site and named it Girard after the Frenchman and his mill.
However, their plat was never recorded and the “town” wouldn’t actually be
established for more than two decades. About a mile and a half north of
the present-day town of Girard, a man named John Henderson established a
stage stop in 1835. He would later sell the stop to John Virden, for whom
the town of
Virden was named.
By 1843, there were enough settlers in the
area that a school house was built in the southwest corner of Girard
Township and was taught by Elizabeth McCullough.
In 1852, when the Chicago & Alton Railroad was
built through the area, there was much more interest in establishing the
town. In the spring of 1853, another town site was laid out by Barnabas
Boggess and Charles Fink, which encompassed much of the same land as the
1834 plat. Lots were then sold for $20 each.
The first homes were located near the square,
the first of which was brought in from the country by Barnabas Boggess.
Another was built by Sam Boggess, which also served as the town’s first
boarding house. J.S. Warfield built a new home and established a
blacksmith shop. The first privately operated school was taught by Harriet
In 1854 several businesses were erected
including Alfred Mayfield's General Store and W.E. Eastman’s drug and
merchandise store. J.W. Woodruff built a warehouse and shipped the first
carload of wheat from Girard. Daniel Macknett established a lumberyard
which he owned until 1893. It would operate for more than a century. The
post office and the first hotel, called the Girard House, were also
established in 1854.
The town was incorporated on February 14,
1855. That same year, the first flour mill was built on Mill Creek by H.
Hall and the first church was built. It was a shared building utilized by
all denominations until each could build their own.
A brickyard was established by William
Lancaster in 1857. Operating until 1898, many of the buildings that still
stand today were made by the brickyard. The first newspaper was started
that same year – the Girard Enterprise. It was published until 1879
when the Girard Gazette also began. The Gazette
still operates today.
In 1858 a public school was built after the
town had voted to support a property tax to meet its expenses. The wooden
schoolhouse would serve all grades until in burned in 1870.
oldest business in Girard is the Deck Drug Store. It was originally
established by Dr. Clark in 1865, who had an office on the upper level. He
was joined by Lewis Deck in 1884 who ran the pharmacy and later became the
sole owner. Passing the business to his sons, the drug store was family
operated until 2001. It was then sold and operated by new owners before
closing down a couple of years later. This was the first time that Girard
was completely without a pharmacy of its own. Today, the building operates
as Doc’s Soda Fountain and Deck’s Pharmacy Museum. Still serving up great
old-fashioned treats and filled with pharmacy memorabilia, it’s a great
place to stop.
Two years later, in 1867, Bowersox Clothing
Store opened. Though changing ownership several times, it remained in
business until 1976. That same year, F.W. Ring came to Girard and opened a
baker and restaurant. A well-educated and accomplished musician, he also
organized and trained a band which became the best in all Central
traveling by train to every major celebration of any kind to furnish
Girard really began to grow when the Girard
Coal Mine was sunk in 1869. Throughout the years, Girard would be called
home to nine different mines, at their peak employing some 600 men. The
Girard Coal Mine closed in 1922, dealing a terrific blow to the town. Only
one mine is in operation today.
The St. Nicholas Hotel was built on the south
side of the square in 1870. A new two-story school was built the same year
of red brick which contained eight rooms and seven teachers. The State
Bank of Girard opened in 1873, which operated for decades.
By 1870, Girard was called home to about 1,500
people, three steam flour mills, a butter and cheese factory, numerous
merchandise stores, a lumber yard, two hotels, and five churches. The
school served some 400 students.
In 1879, a fire started in a coal mine shaft
while all the men were down below. Extremely frightened for the friends
and loved ones, the townsfolk rallied and every bit of salt in the city
was dumped into the shaft, saving the men from certain death.
A Lock Factory was established in 1880, that
would operate for the next 40 years.
Dodson’s Opera House was opened in 1893,
serving as the cultural center for the town. Road shows, vaudeville
companies, musical troupes, and home talent productions were held there
regularly. Later it also showed first run movies.
Continuing to thrive during its coal mining
years its public square was lined with various businesses often not found
in so small a town. Unfortunately, many of these first building,
constructed of would had been destroyed through the years by fire. When
they were rebuilt; however, they were constructed of brick. The last two
frame buildings were destroyed by fire in March, 1909. Later that year, in
October, a larger fire took the businesses of ten men on the west side of
the square, even though they were built of brick. The fire was thought to
have been started by a burglar because the safe of Dr.Riffey’s drug store
had been rifled. The next year, another fire took out several buildings on
the northeast corner of the square, including the Girard house Hotel.
The first cement highway to raise
out of the mud stage was State Route 4, which passes all the way through
Macoupin County from north to south. It was built through Girard and
Virden Townships in 1921. Girard then began to work on its streets, first
around the square, which was paved, and the other roads were oiled and
1922 was not a good year for Girard as the
closing of the Girard Coal Mine dealt a large economic blow to the community. Making
matters worse was a mining disaster which occurred in December. When gas
ignited an explosion of an unused part of the mine, several men were
riding through the tunnels to the bottom of the shaft. The men in the
first car were terribly burned. One man would die from his wounds and 16
men were injured.
State Route 4 was designated as
bringing lots of travelers through Girard for the next four years. The
designation was removed in 1930, when the road was realigned through less
populated areas to the east.
After World War II, the town declined as
people began to drive their vehicles into larger cities to do their
Today, Girard’s population is about, 2,200
people and the village provides numerous peeks at its history. On the
square, visitors will find several historic buildings including the Ring
Building located on W. Center St. on the north side. It features Mesker
ornamental sheet metal and cast iron facades that were very popular in the
late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The handsome former People’s Bank building
is also located on the north side of the square. Organized in 1893, the
bank built this building in 1919. Unfortunately, the bank itself was a
casualty of the Great Depression. An old brick building on the northeast
corner displays a fading ghost sign on its side designating it as the Hall
Brothers Lunch room.
The classic 1950’s Whirl-A-Whip Drive-In at
309 N. 3rd St. still offers food and 50 flavors of ice cream in the
A "must visit" is Doc’s Soda Fountain/Deck’s
Drug Store Museum located at 133 S 2nd St on the Girard square. After
operating under three generations of the Deck family, for 117 years, the
store was sold. Today it operates as Doc's Soda Fountain, offering soda fountain ice cream and a free drug store museum.
Just about four more miles down old
you will come to the tiny little town of Nilwood,
Girard Chamber of
PO Box 92
of America, October, 2010.
Pre-1930 Segment of Route 66,
Illinois - Chatham
Doc's Soda Fountain and Deck's Museum still
stand on the square in Girard,
Kathy Weiser, October, 2010.
Deck's Pharmacy Museum is filled with old
goods, remedies, and memorabilia. Kathy Weiser, December, 2010.
Legends' General Store
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