Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Hooppole, Illinois, Hopes and Hardships.

Nestled in the heart of Henry County, Illinois, lies the small village of Hooppole, with a population of 169 (2023). Its name is as unusual as its story. Legend has it that the area was once a haven for coopers (barrel-makers) who ventured from Rock Island searching for the pliable hickory saplings abundant in the region. The wood from these trees made excellent hoops for barrels, thus inspiring the curious name "Hooppole."

In the late 19th century, hopes for progress and prosperity soared in Hooppole with the promise of a railroad. The Hooppole, Yorktown & Tampico Railroad (HY&T), nicknamed "The Dummy," was envisioned as an electric interurban line to connect Hooppole to larger markets. However, financial constraints and a lack of enthusiasm from some landowners led to a less-than-ideal route and, ultimately, a steam-powered operation.

The Evanston Avenue (Broadway today) Steam-Dummy Locomotive, Chicago, Illinois. 1864

The first car of this steamed-powered train was designed for the engine. The engine was enclosed to look like a passenger car, hence the name 'dummy.' The story goes that if the horses saw the engine, they would get spooked. It was thought that the more familiar appearance of a coach presented by a steam dummy compared to a conventional locomotive engine would be less likely to frighten horses when these trains had to operate in city streets. Later, it was discovered that the noise and motion of the operating gears of a steam engine frightened horses rather than the unfamiliar outlines of a steam engine.

The HY&T officially began service in 1909. Despite its limitations, the railroad proved instrumental in opening up the area, allowing farmers easier access to sell crops and giving residents a lifeline to larger towns like Chicago. It was hardly a smooth ride, though. The twists and turns of the track, resulting from land disputes, were a constant source of amusement and frustration for passengers.
HY&T Depot, Hooppole, Illinois. 1952

Through the first half of the 20th century, Hooppole remained a small agricultural community. While the Great Depression brought hardship, the folks of Hooppole possessed a resilient spirit. The HY&T Railroad, however, faced mounting challenges. After declaring bankruptcy in 1943, a dedicated investor named Howard Mathis kept the line chugging along for another decade. Sadly, the "Dummy" made its final run in 1954, marking the end of an era.

Today, Hooppole stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of rural America. While the railroad is gone, a sense of history lingers. Life in Hooppole maintains its quiet, small-town charm.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

1 comment:

  1. The "ramp" coming from the front of the engine appears to pivot and provide access to the road. Have you ever seen a ramp like this before or since?


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