Road Trips

The National Road and US 40 in Casey, Illinois

I’ve written about the National Road in Illinois many times before. But as I work to deprecate my old Roads site, I need to bring a few articles about the road in Illinois from there to here. This is one of them. This is based on recent research and a visit in 2007.

I wrote another post about Casey when I visited it again in 2014; read it here. Since then, Casey has leaned hard into having the World’s Largest of a number of crazy objects, displayed in the open on the city’s streets. Someday I’ll go back and photograph it.

So far, when we left a town on the National Road, the old road soon curved to meet US 40. That was not the case as we left Martinsville; Cumberland Road headed straight for Casey (pronounced KAY-zee). US 40 paralleled it to the north, but far enough away that we couldn’t see it.

Bing Maps 2021

WCBH, a radio station licensed to Casey, has such a powerful stick (that’s transmitter and tower in radio lingo) that it can be heard most of the way to Greencastle, Indiana, which is 70 miles east. When I was a sophomore in college, about 35 miles away in Terre Haute, they changed their format to something they called Classic Hits. They had a terrific playlist. I loved WCBH and listened to it a lot – secretly, because as general manager of my college’s radio station I felt honor bound to listen to our station. The format lasted for five years or so until the station had money troubles. A few years later, I got a call from a former radio boss who got the boss gig at the Casey station, changed its format to top 40, and wanted me to come work for him. I said, “You want me to drive where to work for you just on the weekends?” Now I know where.

I once worked with a woman who grew up in Casey. She was glad to leave the old town behind, she said, calling it dumpy and backward. But as we entered town, you could not have convinced me my old colleague was right. As we passed down Main Street, we could just make out the homes from behind the thick line of trees along the street. With only a couple exceptions, these homes, which looked like they were built in the first half of the 20th century, looked like new. Common frame homes stood next to large, grand homes in deep red brick with white trim, creating contrast. I pulled over and we walked along the street taking pictures. The trees were so lush that they blocked most good photo angles.

Casey, IL

I don’t know why I didn’t walk to the other side of the yellow house to take this photo, because the white house was imposing with its large, stone front porch, and I wish I had more of it in the image.

Casey, IL

One uncharacteristically dumpy former filling station was host to a large garage sale that day. It made me think of the old Paul McCartney song: “‘Buy, buy!’ says the sign in the shop window / ‘Why, why?’ says the junk in the yard.” Bonus points to anyone who can identify the rusty old car.

Casey, IL

Another former filling station seemed to be a museum of former filling station equipment and signs.

Casey, IL

I loved seeing the old Standard sign, an icon of my childhood not adequately replaced by the Amoco and now BP signs that have followed. I’m a little sad that the original windows on the building were replaced with those things that wouldn’t look out of place on a mobile home.

Casey, IL

Downtown Casey was tidy enough, but not as fresh and bright as downtown Marshall. Downtown began at State Route 49. This photo is the the north side of the first block west of State Route 49.

Casey, IL

A building on the southwest corner of this intersection had a few old metal signs attached to it. I liked this Gulf logo as a kid, I think because of the typeface used for “Gulf” has a fat stroke and a low centerline, and it is juxtaposed with letter spacing that brings out the weight of the individual letters. It still works for me; I can look at it for an hour, just studying the letterforms.

Casey, IL

I photographed the Odd Fellows building not just because “IOOF747” was bricked into the building, leaving a lasting reminder of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, but because it’s a crying shame that someone replaced the second-story windows with those out-of-place tiny modern sashes.

Casey, IL

Hunger was beginning to cloud our judgment, so we decided to head the rest of the way through town in hopes of finding a local tavern or lunch counter. No such luck. We’d have to get lunch somewhere down the road. But before we did, we encountered a lot of old pavement. I’ll share it next time.

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28 thoughts on “The National Road and US 40 in Casey, Illinois

  1. Funny how many old service stations get turned into junk shops! Er, used goods stores I mean.
    I think that’s a ’46 Plymouth too, but I’m looking for confirmation from an expert I know.

  2. David Serra says:

    JP and Marc are correct. From sales material for the 1946 model year most US manufacturers did not specify the year. It was simply the first postwar model. It may have appeared as early as December 1945 or as late as Fall 1946. Some were sold into the 1947 year. Design took place fairly quickly after the war, but manufacturing was subject to conversion of war plants back to civilian needs. Here’s one of several 1946 Plymouth brochures.

  3. It’s funny how people perceive their hometowns. It seems that we either think they’re magical or a lost cause. This place looks nice to me. Either way, I’m now officially dying to go for a drive.

    Good job, Jim.

    • I’ve been away from my hometown for long enough now – something like 35 years – that I no longer see it for what it was, but what it is. It’s nice when you can do that.

      • That’s a gift unto itself. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I’m part of a group working on a five year plan for my county. We did an online survey of residents regarding their thoughts on the community- strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, etc and it’s frustrating to read the very negative opinions people have of their own community. But I’ve heard these ideas for my entire life. We are Appalachian and poor and people here and from other places never hesitate to tell us how bad it is. Sigh.

        • Oh, that is hard core Appalachia. It’s difficult to tell someone that where you come from and how much money you have doesn’t have to hold you back. Our high school girls basketball team is playing for the state championship today. They come from a literal one traffic light county and are among the best in the state. :)

        • Truly it is hardcore Appalachia. My dad did something incredibly remarkable: he got out, he made a better life for himself than anyone who stayed back home, and he launched two sons into even better lives still. Dad grew up poor (though in many ways locally wealthy, given that his two grandmothers owned the two most prominent businesses in Handley), lived working class, and raised two sons into upper-middle-class careers. I can and do complain about what a jackass he was when I was a boy, and how it did some damage that I had to work hard to overcome. But better this than the life he grew up in.

  4. A college classmate grew up in Casey Illinois and I attended his wedding (i knew his tnew wife as well). They were married at Casey Methodisr Church.

  5. One of my earliest memories is of driving with my Dad and uncle Freddie down to Casey. Freddie had enlisted in the Army and had to go to Casey to catch a bus to where he would go into basic training. That must have been in the late 50s. Other then that I haven’t encountered Casey much.

  6. Adam Taylor says:

    I grew up in Marshall (on Archer Ave: old US 40, even), so I know Casey well. If you like big things, Casey will not disappoint you.

  7. Darts and Letters says:

    love that first former filling station, those are the kinds of places I love to make a u-turn and head back to for unhurried investigation, much to my s/o’s chagrin but the boys’ delight. My other observation here is how wide and spacious the main street is in Casey. Perhaps that’s just a matter of perspective across the intersection here? Is it just me or do a lot of small America towns have the really improbable wide streets? Is that the case here by any chance? Hope this finds you doing well, Jim.

    • It’s pretty wide. Here’s a view.

      Casey, IL

      It felt wider than most Midwestern towns while I was there. US 40/the National Road was a major road so perhaps it had a wider ROW than most highways.

  8. People don’t have enough respect for the places they lived. When in college, I used to ride my racing bicycle on training rides from Terre Haute to Marshall and often enough, onto Martinsville and Casey; and back, all in one day. It looks like those nice towns have spiffed up a bit. Good for them. And good for you for pronouncing Casey the “right” way.

    • That’s very cool! It would be fun to ride old 40 all the way to Casey. WKZI was when I was in TH the AM station owned by the same people as WCBH. In recent years WKZI was sold to a Christian broadcaster, and WCBH went it alone.

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