Located along the railroad tracks in rural Lee county is the town of Van Petten. It's a quiet little place, not much traffic to ruin your day and on the day I visited I even got a kiss from the Chief of Police!
A.G. Van Petten founded the town back in 1901 and started attracting settlers and in no time at all the town boasted a lumber yard, a grain elevator, a general store, a train station and a few houses. But despite the promise of prosperity every town along the tracks wished for Van Petten never really took off. And in 1931 the post office closed, effectively dooming the town....or so you would think.
Five years after the post office closed Leroy Henry purchased the land to get a farmhouse, only learning afterwards that the town came with the sale! And in the same spirit that's driven many a mid westerner he kept the town charter active, eventually passing it along to his daughter and son in law.
Babe and Dave Brandon are both in their mid eighties now and enjoy the best kind of city government one could ask for. Every six months one is the Mayor and then trades to become the Police Chief. The Brandon's have led pretty colorful lives themselves. They met when they were just kids back in the 1930's grew up near one another. They lost track during grade school but reconnected in their late teens and in 1950 became husband and wife. In the late 70's they moved to Montana and ran a general store, an orchard, they volunteered for the fire department and during one of the big fires Babe even got her picture in Life magazine.
In 2006 they moved back to Illinois and took up their current duties as the senior administrators for the town. They don't have a police car, but they Do have a fire truck, having purchased a retired one from nearby Harmon. They also have Babes first car, a vintage Ford model A that her father bought in 1949 for the princely sum of 100 dollars.
If you're ever up that way and you happen to be driving by consider stopping for a moment and posing for a photo next to the town sign. And if Babe or Dave are outside honk and wave. Many thanks to Kimberly Watley for introducing me to this charming couple!