A short bicycle ride into the past

You have the bike and the will to use it. But what to wear on a 50-degree day in February? How about what you have on? Maybe add a helmet and pants clips. And double-tie your Sperry Topsiders; you don’t want to stop to extract loose shoelaces from between chain and chainring.

After all, you’re on a flat, relatively short ride to a place that no longer exists, The Hub ballroom in Edelstein, Illinois, which featured a 5,000-square-foot, maple dance floor and, back in the ’40s, the top names in the swing business: Calloway, Ellington, Miller, Goodman.

Goodman. In Edelstein. Not 25 miles south in Peoria, the second-largest city in Illinois at the time, but Edelstein, which today comprises a couple dozen small houses, an even smaller post office and an oversized warehouse and storage yard for diesel generators.

Edelstein. Founded in 1887. The eastern gateway to Princeville. In August, an oasis of shade to sun-addled wheelmen and women. That Edelstein.

The Hub continued to burn for at least three weeks after the fire that destroyed it in 2009, but its days of empire had long been over. Just as Rome continued after dispensing with the lions and aqueducts, The Hub continued, on and off, for years. And just as Rome depended on the church and tourist trades, the Hub depended on bar bands and beer specials.

Today, The Hub is once again a flat piece of ground, just north of the old Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe right of way. Mile-long intermodal freight trains still follow the tracks, but they don’t stop, they don’t slow down, and they no longer rattle the old windows of the dance hall.

Few people remember swing when it was changing the landscape. I certainly don’t. But that doesn’t keep me from hearing the echo of a wild clarinet every time I pass a certain vacant lot.

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About 16incheswestofpeoria

Former bicycle mechanic, current peruser of books, feeder of birds.
This entry was posted in History, Report from the road and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A short bicycle ride into the past

  1. Craig Burgess says:

    Ah yes, the Hub. I remember their advertising. I knew about it primarily because my grandparents moved from Peoria to a small 40-acre farm whose mailing address *was* Edelstein, even if the property wasn’t in Edelstein proper (it was about half a mile off of Hallock Hollow, on the other side of Route 88). Gramps decided that being a sheet metal worker wasn’t all that life had to offer, so he became a weekend gentleman farmer.

    During my freshman year in college, my parents moved out of our old house and into a one-bedroom apartment, while waiting for their “dream home” to be constructed. So that next summer I had to live at my grandparents’ home. I also worked part time in my uncle’s grocery store in Peoria, called Engel’s Country Market. Ever since then, I’ve told people I spent that summer living on a farm and working at a country market.

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