Shannon, Illinois, History One That Generates Pride

By Suzy Barile

In this world of social networking, with self-promotion at our fingertips, it’s easy to get information about oneself out into “the world.” But is that what’s best when tackling a serious matter such as a review of artwork or a film or a book? Can we legitimately review ourselves and not seem self-serving?

I’d say “NO!” if asked by my Intro to Journalism students. Yet as I paged through Shannon, Illinois: 100 Years – 1860-2010 published late last year by the town’s 2010 Sesquicentennial Committee, I couldn’t help but want to issue a glowing review, despite the fact that it includes a piece I wrote on one of the town’s first physicians, my great-great uncle Richard Caswell Swain.

At 272 pages, Shannon, Illinois is a comfortably-sized hard-cover, coffee-table-worthy book jam-packed with history, anecdotes, celebrations, and photographs about a town that was “founded in 1860” and chartered in 1869, but had its stirrings some 40 years earlier as settlers headed west in search of new lives found lead in the mines of the prairies of Illinois – lead for making ammunition, vessels, pipes, roofs, tanks, coffins; the list goes on and on. So many settlers arrived that by the time the Village of Shannon became an official town, it already had farms and homes, a railroad stop, churches, a hotel, and a school, everything any growing and thriving town needs.

Richard C. (Bunky) Swain and Ella Swain by Suzy Barile
Richard C. (Bunky) Swain and sister Ella
I knew little of Shannon until I began the research into my ancestor. He moved there to practice medicine at the behest of his brother-in-law, Freeport, Illinois, postmaster, lawyer, and newspaper editor Smith D. Atkins, a former Union soldier who saw promise in this man who also had served during the Civil War -- as an assistant surgeon for the Confederacy -- and apparently suffered from what today is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the 1860s, however, he was a drinker, among the thousands of soldiers who came home from the war damaged, labeled as suffering from hysteria, melancholia, and insanity. Swain seemed unfit to treat anyone, until his sister’s husband intervened.

His move to Shannon in late 1865 was apparently a welcome one for residents of the village, as he immediately began seeing patients, soon building a thriving practice. His wife and daughter followed him in early 1866, just as talk of incorporation was taking place, and he continued treating his neighbors until a train accident in January 1872: While attempting to board, he somehow slipped and was pulled onto the tracks. He was killed instantly.

Swain was not the only doctor to serve Shannon and its surroundings, and he and others who made the town what it is are remembered fondly in chapters entitled “People of Our Town,” “Businesses of the Past,” “Businesses of Today,” and “Memories.” Readers will learn about the area’s first residents, its first businesses, the groups and organizations that were a part of a growing farming community, and most importantly, about Shannon today.

It took a little more than a year for the Souvenir Committee of the Sesquicentennial Committee to raise the funds and gather information – stories and photographs -- for Shannon, Illinois, the second such publication to examine the town’s beginnings (a paperback titled A Memento of Shannon, Illinois Centennial Celebration 1860-1960 was produced for that milestone). This newest committee’s success is reflected in the new volume’s “Introduction”: “It has been a very exciting journey. We have learned a lot … To the best of our knowledge, we have done our best to issue a Shannon Book to be proud of…”

If my words have been self-serving, my apologies. If they make you want to order Shannon, Illinois, then such self-servance has been well worth it!

(Shannon, Illinois: 150 Years – 1860-2010 was designed and produced by its editor and Foreston, ILL, resident Kathy Pasch and printed by Walsworth Printing Group of Marceline, MO. It is available by contacting Carolyn Deininger, Box 626, Shannon, IL 61078.)

No comments: