The Prairie Journal - Ahead of Its Time

by Terry Hogan

It's a bit ironic, I suppose, to say that a magazine about local history was ahead of its time, but I guess it must have been. It was a grand idea, and a pretty darn good magazine, judging from the copies I've been able to accumulate from time to time. Of course, I'm referring to Galesburg's own The Prairie Journal that first appeared with Volume 1, Number 1 in the Fall of 1983. The editor, Dr. James O'Hern proclaimed that the magazine would be published quarterly - September, December, March and June. Subscription was $12 per year or $3.95 per issue.

It was, at first, a large format magazine. The first issue sported a very nice photo of a bright yellow Stearman biplane flying against the green backdrop of Galesburg's farmland. Inside the cover, we are told that the plane was a Boeing Stearman N 251, owned by Bill Wilkins of Circleville, Ohio. It also tells us that the plane was damaged in a tornado in 1982, but was in the process of being rebuilt. It seems Stearmans are hard to kill. They just get put into baskets, carried off, and put back together again. Only something that loved could have that type of rebirth.

Speaking of rebirth let me be the first to speak the merits of a rebirth of The Prairie Journal or something similar to that. This first issue is just loaded with articles on early Galesburg, on the Stearman and the Stearman fly-in. It has an article on Ferris taking popcorn to the English Court. It lists all the manufacturing that was underway in Galesburg in 1909. Would you believe 100 factories in Galesburg in 1909 and none of them had plans to move to Mexico?

The magazine was also full of old photos of when Galesburg's downtown had trolley cars and businesses full of doing business. It shows a period in Galesburg's history when Galesburg, and nearly all towns, had their own unique appearance. It was a time before the homogenization of America.

In time, the format of the magazine was reduced to about 8 1/2 x 11 inches. I don't know when this occurred, as I don't, unfortunately, have all the issues. I do know that the Winter of 1984 issue (Volume 2, Number 2) has the smaller format and letters to the editor are included that speak in favor of the new, smaller format. The Spring of 1985 issue has a drawing of Carl Sandburg on the cover. This is the most recent copy of the magazine I have. By the Winter 1984 issue, Jean C. Lee had become the editor.

If you can't find something of interest in these old issues of The Prairie Journal, you must not have family ties in the Knox County area. There's something for everybody. And the information isn't limited to Galesburg. The Winter 1984 issue has a great collection of old photos and information about Henderson.

Of course, it couldn't be much of a history magazine of the Galesburg area if it didn't talk about the railroads. The Summer of 1984 issue has a green and black Burlington Northern locomotive on the cover that looks to be ready to run the reader over. Inside are articles on the opening of the Santa Fe depot; the Peavine - narrow gauge line, trolleys (interurban), and the Galesburg and Great Eastern Railroad (G & G.E.). All the articles had generous photographs. This issue also featured the town of Victoria and the mining operations that spurred the early economic success of the community.

If this was a well-researched article, I should tell you when the last issued was published. I believe I have a copy, but my wife organized my books and references for me. I am still looking for stuff a year later.

But if you are looking for background for the old family history or the town when your ancestors settled in, you could do a lot worse than tracking down past issues of The Prairie Journal. It was a fine local history magazine whose contributors brought to life a bit of local history.