The lost town of Lewistown

Erika Ward

Lewistown, Illinois is a small town in the middle of a cornfield with one stoplight and a population of 2,318.  From the outside, Lewistown can be viewed as an agriculture-based community with not much to offer besides farming, the Fulton County Jail and the county courthouse.

 Delving into the community, one can learn about the rich history of the town as well as the closeness of the people.

 Lewistown is historically known for people such as Edgar Lee Masters, author of “Spoon River Anthology,” Harold M. Osborn, a teacher at Lewistown High School who participated in the Paris Olympics and Lila Acheson Wallace, co-founder of the magazine Readers’ Digest and Abraham Lincoln’s “Return to the Fountain” speech in front of the courthouse on Aug. 17, 1858.  

 The town also participates in the Spoon River Valley Scenic Drive, which occurs every year throughout Fulton County. During this event, there are plenty of tourist attractions such as: Oak Hill Cemetery, where Masters based his poems; Carnegie Library; the Rasmussen Blacksmith Shop Museum; Dickson Mounds State Museum and much more.

 Lewistown is also known to have a very close-knit community. Clay Ginglen, principal of Lewistown High School, grew up in the town and has been a musician his whole life. He participated in band during high school and toured the Midwest area during summer vacations playing drums for various bands. 

 Ginglen is an alumnus of Western Illinois University. He returned to Lewistown to teach band and chorus to high school students and band for elementary students  for 22 years. Last year, Ginglen  became principal at Lewistown High School (LHS).

 “LHS gives musicians an opportunity to explore their talent in music in a way that is rewarding to them and shows them what the power of expression can do for a person,” Ginglen said. “I like to push people and help them achieve their potential.”

 Ginglen also enjoys living in a small town instead of a city.

  “I’m not a fan of cities and being shoulder-to-shoulder with thousands of people,” Ginglen said.  “I like small, quiet environments.”

 Kerry Hatfill, a computer teacher at LHS, moved to Lewistown with her husband and children in August of 2002.  Her husband, Brad Hatfill, also works at LHS as a science teacher and is the head coach of the LHS boys’ basketball team.

 “On a personal level, it’s wonderful being able to have your spouse literally across the hall,” Mrs. Hatfill said. “It’s wonderful with his coaching, and of course I’m involved in that with the scorebook and helping with the fundraising.  When I was class sponsor, he would help me by building class floats in our shed. It’s been wonderful to share a career together and also be in the same building.”

 Mrs. Hatfill is also known for being very active in the community with activities through the school and her church.  

 “The thing about Lewistown is that I really do believe that we have a caring community,” Mrs. Hatfill said. “The staff that I’m working with is one of the most caring staffs I’ve ever worked with. They really do care about the students and if something happens they all come together for you.  There’s a genuine concern for others.”

 Currently attending LHS as a senior, Jamie Watson said she enjoys living in a small town.

 “I would rather live in a town over a city,” Watson said.  “I don’t like big crowds and traffic.  I love how towns are just calmer.

 “You know everyone here and feel safer because it’s so small. The only thing is that there isn’t a lot to do and you’re not really exposed to many different things.  You live more of a sheltered life in a small town.”

 Susan Maxwell, a lawyer for the State’s Attorney’s Office in Lewistown for over 10 years, graduated from LHS in 1991 and attended WIU to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Law Enforcement Administration. 

 Maxwell returned to Lewistown after graduating from law school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa in December of 1999.  

 “When I first came back to the area after law school, I think it was almost just easier to return to Fulton County,” Maxwell said. “After I got back in the area, I recognized the benefits of being ‘home.’ Most of my family lives locally and coming back allowed me to participate more in the typical, family stuff.  It also meant that I got to see my friends more and watch their kids grow up.

 “I like that I can live in a semi-rural area and still be at work in five minutes,” Maxwell said.  “I like that Promenade is one of the biggest social events of the year.  I like that ‘heavy traffic’ in Lewistown is pretty rare and usually lasts for 15 minutes on Friday nights after home games and during those two hellish weekends of Scenic Drive.”

 Maxwell believes that it is imperative for people pursuing professional careers to return to small communities to help enrich the town and help it grow. 

 “I think it’s important to show kids growing up in small communities that their opportunities are not limited just because they came from a small town,” Maxwell said. “Too many kids think that the only jobs that you can get in small towns involve either fast food or retail, and don’t consider that you can remain in the area in a ‘professional’ capacity.”