Toluca + Animal Husbandry (1988-1989)
The new Interstate (I-39) connected the small town of Toluca, Illinois to larger towns with strip malls and chain stores and made the drive down the center of thee state faster. Before the highway was completed, we made these pictures in Toluca. We found 4-H club members to pose with their animals and small business owners who created their own worlds on Main Street in Toluca. Two giant slag heaps, from the coal mining boom visible from the highway, beckoned us. We made these photographs as graduate students on a stipend for contributing to Illinois State University Rural Social Documentary Collection archive established by Rhondal McKinney. This body of work showed first at the ISU university gallery, then the Marshall County Historical Society before enjoying its largest audience at Toluca’s Annual Labor Day Celebration in the storefront of Gene’s Electric on Main Street in Toluca.
View images on Flickr
Read Toluca Star Herald 7.27.1989 reportage
Read The Lacon Home Journal 9.14.1989 reportage
Essay by J. Shimon & J. Lindemann (1989)
The Santa Fe Railroad trains pass through Toluca, Illinois many times daily rarely stopping. 95 years ago, every train stopped for fuel and water; and the coal mines needed to supply them were the life blood of this central Illinois town. The founders projected the population to reach 15,000. It was a boom town with department and specialty stores, churches, theaters, dance halls, and 25 taverns to serve the stream of Italian immigrants who came to work in the coal mines. Toluca was a “wide-open rip roaring town,” a “man’s town” townspeople told us. It didn’t last though; by 1923 the mines closed and most businesses and workers left town. Those who stayed found work in Peoria, La Salle or Streator. Two giant slag heaps, looming like mountains at the edge of town, remained as a relic of the coal mining legacy. The ominous neon signs of the two family-owned Italian restaurants illuminate Main Street. Holiday music is piped from City Hall to encourage townspeople to patronize local shops during the Christmas shopping season. The Slag heaps, nicked “The Jumbo,” are seen as historical monuments rather than industrial waste and were saved from use as fill on the new highway by public petition. Neighbors wave then stop to chat on their way to the post office. McDonald’s and crack have evaded Toluca. Our photographs of Toluca examine how these people wished to be perceived and reflect a Christian work-ethic and value set. Members of the local 4-H club pose proudly with prize-winning animals and projects, local business people present us with the world they worked generations to create, old-timers related their folk tales about Toluca’s coal mining days, and the architecture of the town stands as testament to decades of struggle with layers of alterations reminding us of a historic origin. With these photographs, we explore an America that is being swallowed up by franchises and homogenized by consumerism.