By Ila Ulrich, former editor of the Cairo Citizen
Grand Chain, Illinois is a small town that at one time boasted restaurants; a movie theater; at least three grocery stores; a farm implement dealership; a train depot; a jail house; taverns; several denominations of Christian churches, an elementary and high school combined; a Catholic school, a post office; a bank; a productive orchard; cemeteries; and a volunteer fire department.
A couple of years ago the town’s final grocery, Huebotters Grocery and Hardware Store, closed after Joyce Huebotter Ellis’s husband died and she was no longer able to continue operating the store her father and mother had maintained for years..
To make a long, sad story short, all that remains of the earlier elements of the town is the school building, the grocery store/hardware building, the post office, the bank, the building that was called the Eastern Star building, the old jail house, some of the churches, the volunteer fire department; and the cemeteries. St. Catherine’s Catholic Church established in 1896 is expected to close in the near future.
But the small town refuses to die. A group of dedicated people formed the Grand Chain Development Association with the goal of encouraging new business and tourism. In addition, two former students of the Grand Chain Community School purchased the school property. It now houses administrative offices and classrooms for JAMP Special Education Services and offices of the Legacy Training and Development Corporation. Its gymnasium is also used for local events and entertainment.
According to executive director Lynne Chambers-Ketchens, the Legacy Agency’s mission is to promote health and expand arts in underserved communities. The Agency serves the delta region, not just southern Illinois. It works with counties and communities. Their website states the goal to “alleviate poverty of mind, body and spirit through the power of Knowledge.” The website also includes the most recent newsletter of the agency.
The agency obtained funding from Carbondale Community Arts for art projects at the school and for the village. Lynne’s husband, artist Robert Ketchens, completed a sculpture interpretative of the history of the village. He also supervised completion of an inter-generational mural created by JAMP students as well as community participation.
Chambers-Ketchens currently is consulting with Pulaski County and others interested in a long considered bike trail proposed to follow the old railroad bed from the town of Karnak to the village of Grand Chain. The agency’s phone number is 618-634-9619 and the website address is www.legacytdc.org.
Huebotter’s old store buildings, whose architecture would fit nicely on a western movie set, have been purchased by Tony Xelhua who also owns a Mexican restaurant about a mile from town. Las Maria’s Mexican Restaurant is open Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. and Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. and features both Mexican and American menu items.
Volunteers from the Association operate a small library and a consignment shop in the former Huebotter property on a part time basis.
Nick and Lisa Dover are renovating a portion of the property for a new and secondhand furniture store—La Nook—scheduled to open in the next week.
The old jail house—probably no more that 10 ft. by 10 ft.—has been refurbished and made into a tourist attraction.
Two storage facilities provide storage space.
Apartments are available in the Eastern Star Building.
A few years ago, the Grand Chain Lodge and Campground Restaurant located a few miles out of town on the Ohio River made a wonderful getaway place for people who wished to spend time in a quiet place on the river or for former residents to stay while visiting relatives who still lived in the vicinity. A small boat ramp was available for fishermen to use. Unfortunately, the lodge and restaurant were not able to continue in business. Recently a former patron decided to purchase the property and restore the restaurant and lodge and assume operation of the campground
Phil Campbell, from Herrin, said the restaurant is expected to be operational for service by the third week of September. He has done extensive work in the dining room, kitchen, bar area and the lodge rooms in preparation for opening this month. In the beginning, he said, the restaurant will be open from 3 to 8 p.m. on a daily basis and eventually on the weekends for breakfast. The bar will stay open later and will have sandwiches available. A convenience store is already open in the lodge building.
Campbell said he also purchased 10 acres along the river from Pulaski County and plans to create a staging area for major events to draw patronage to the area next year. He said he has gained experience in setting up such enterprises as the owner of franchised Harley Davidson dealerships in Marion as well as in Louisville, Ky.
The lodge features four rooms with two queen beds in each room. The campground has space for 25 recreational vehicle spots and 10 tent camping spots. Two cabins for rent house up to six persons in each cabin. The cabins each have a complete kitchen area. The campground features a shower/toilet facility.
The Grand Chain Development Association and the Village of Grand Chain sponsor a Grand Chain Day festival each year. This year the event will be held Sept 28 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. A flea market includes booths which offer arts and crafts as well as other items for sale. Food venders also will be available throughout the day along Main Street. The parade of farm tractors, antique cars and floats is to begin at 3 p.m. An apple pie baking contest is also scheduled with judging at 11 a.m. Pies must be at the food section by 10 a.m.
The library has scheduled a 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. reading from books published by the London/Laurel County Writer’s Group of London, Ky. during the event. Ila Ulrich, former editor and reporter at the Cairo Citizen, reporter at the Metropolis Planet and Public Relations Director at Massac Memorial Hospital in Metropolis is to host the reading. Other members of the not-for-profit writer’s group have been invited to read from their contributions to the two books—Kentucky Kaleidoscope and Cornucopia—but due to the distance they may not be able to attend. In that case, Ulrich plans to have local friends and relatives help with the readings. The books will be for sale following the readings.
Anna Lee Heisner, a member of the Grand Chain Development Association, said she hopes the book reading will be mutually beneficial for the town and for the not-for-profit writers group from Kentucky. “This is one of the things we hoped to do at our little library,” she said.
Call Mike Mayer at 618-634-2548 for details of the parade and the antique tractor and car show. The number to call for details of the pie baking contest and the flea market booth rental is 618-634-2367. Those interested in local lodging or camping reservations should call 618-634-4411.
Grand Chain is located along Illinois Route 37 in Pulaski County, approximately 20 miles north of Cairo.