MEMORIES I'LL ALWAYS HAVE OF
BY: ERV COPPI
Let me try to take you back some sixty years with memories,
both good and bad, I have of our town.
Try to picture Royalton almost three times as large in population
as it is now. Most of us were poor. Some households were very
large. The Roszkowski, Viemum and Tindall families all had ten
children. There were several other families with seven, eight
and nine children. Our livelihood depended on the coal mines.
We had three mines in Royalton over a forty-year period.
There was a very large ethnic influence in our town during those
early years. Two-thirds of the population was foreign. They were
German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Czechoslovakian, Austrian, Hungarian,
French, Lithuanian, Scottish and Irish, There were even a couple
of families from Wales.
The Ku Klux Klan terrorized some of the foreign families during
the late 1920's. They knew wine was being made in many cellars,
and they would raid a home, confiscate the wine, and I'm sure
drink some of it themselves.
Because of the huge foreign population, there were family-owned
grocery stores in every neighborhood. Some of them were:
Bogdajewicz's, operated by Chester Bogdajewicz and located across
from the old
East Side School.
Derbaks', which served the Russian families. The Bill Smillie
home is now in this
The Harris Grocery, which served the northern section of town
known as "Hi-Merry
Smorzeski Grocery, a very nice west side store operated by Vince
home of Norma Lee and Jim Bennett now occupy this location.
The Bertha Quoss Grocery was a favorite for many years.
The Village Market now occupies the location.
Others were operated by the Kadlubeck, Drust and Niebrowdoski
The neighborhood grocery with the record for longevity was Kozer's
Grocery. Operated by Mary Kozer and later her son Ted, it served
the entire town when many of the other stores closed.
There was also the candy store across the street from the school
building. It was operated by Mrs. Kinsman and later by Mrs. McDicken.
In addition to all these, and I'm sure some that I've forgotten,
there were at least a half-dozen stores on Main Street. Potocki's;
"Joker" Battaglia's; Blakley's; Charlie Tavaggia's;
Kroger's, managed by Jess Garavalia; the Clover Farm Store, operated
by John Lovelace; and a store that coal miners were almost forced
to patronize, the company store, operated by the Yuill brothers
of Herrin and managed by Jimmy Houston.
Today there are two places where you can buy gas. In the old days
when we called them "filling stations", there were at
least eight where you could buy gas and have someone fill the
tank for you. You didn't even get out of your car and gas was
fifteen cents a gallon. Coming into town from the north was Tom
Fairley's Shell Station; across the street, Sam Royster and later
Homer Howell operated the City Service Station; next came Tom
Mason's Texaco Service; then Adolph Polbinski's Standard Service;
Bill Jacquot operated a Conoco Station on Main Street and Johnny
LeVan had the Phillip's 66 Station.
At the western edge of town Adam Ivanuck ran a small store with
one gas pump. He sold candy, bread, cigarettes, cakes and nickel
pies and an occasional slice of luncheon meat in addition to gasoline.
It has always been said there were as many taverns as churches
in Royalton during the war years:
Church of Christ
"Big Charlie" Colo's
I guess it was a tie.
Royalton was founded by and named for Jim Royal. The Royal's lived
in the home on Royal Street now occupied by the Jim Jennings family.
I remember that when Mr. Royal died the city band was called on
to play at his funeral. I was a member of that group which was
directed by Herman Sims. We only knew one number appropriate enough
to be played at a funeral, "Holy, Holy, Holy." We played
it at the Royal home and again at the Miner's Hall where the funeral
Funerals in Royalton were much different in the old days. When
someone died, the body was embalmed at the small morgue in the
Miner's Hall. Because we had no funeral home, the body would lie
in state at the family home. All the furniture would be taken
out of a room, usually a front bedroom, and for three days and
three nights the body would be on view. A large purple wreath
was placed on the front door signifying to salesmen and other
strangers that a death had occurred. Food would be brought in
and members of a church, club or lodge that the deceased belonged
to would take "shifts" and sit up all night with the
The undertaker was Henry Rodenberg; his funeral director was Alfred
Moeller. On the day of the funeral, Alfred would wear a black
suit and a black derby hat. He and the pall-bearers would wear
thin white cotton gloves. The body would be taken to the church
or Miner's Hall for services, then haltingly driven to the graveyard
for burial. After the coffin was lowered by straps into the grave,
the pall-bearers would slowly remove the gloves and drop them
on the coffin.
Anytime someone had a contagious disease such as small pox, scarlet
fever or typhoid, a large bright red quarantine sign would be
nailed to the front door. Everyone in town knew you were ill.
Several doctors served Royalton over the years. Dr. Lewis began
his practice here, then moved on to Herrin for a long and distinguished
career. Dr. Davis practiced in Royalton in the 1930's. Dr. W.
R. Tweedy served the community for over fifty years and was one
of our most beloved citizens.
But, the doctor who nearly brought a hospital to Royalton was
Dr. Thornton. He built a large two-story white house, with a wide
driveway. Under the high back porch was a concrete runway which
sloped down into the basement area. This was originally intended
for an ambulance entrance for the hospital. You can still see
this house today. It is the residence of the CaIvert family on
South Dean Street. Dr. Thornton was married to Mary Royal, sister
of Jim Royal, the founder of Royalton. The local chapter of the
Eastern Star is named after her.
Two dentists are well remembered. Dr. Bonham, whose office was
upstairs over the Royalton State Bank building, spent many years
here during the twenties and thirties. The other man, Dr. Sprecker,
was not really a dentist at all. He was a dental lab technician
named McElwee. He assumed the name and license of a dead dentist.
He came from Ohio, set up his dental practice in a downtown office,
married a local girl and became one of our town's leading citizens.
When his true identity was revealed, he moved to West Frankfort
where he again became a successful dental lab technician. There
are still people in Royalton who say Dr. Sprecker (McElwee) was
the best "dentist" who ever worked on their teeth.
The coal mine was the heart and life of Royalton. The big mine
was the Franklin #7 North Mine. There was also the South Mine
which created the sections of Royalton known as "Pierce Town"
and "Hub Town." It was not as large or productive as
the North Mine but it operated throughout the twenties. In the
early 1950's another South Mine, a slope mine, opened for a short
You could set your clock by the loud steam whistle of the mine.
It blew at 7:00 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. The 3:30 p.m. and
6:00 p.m. whistles were the "work or no work" signal.
If the townspeople heard three long whistles, it meant
the mine would work tomorrow. If they heard one long and
two short whistles,it meant the mine would be idle tomorrow.
But this signal of one long and two short also meant trouble if
it blew at anytime except 3:30 or 6 p.m. It meant an accident
of some sort. When the whistle blew followed by several short
blasts, everyone in town came out of their homes and waited for
the dreadful news. Within minutes the word spread, someone had
been seriously injured or killed or worst of all, EXPLOSION!!
Two explosions occurred at the Royalton mine around the time of
World War I. Many of the men who were killed were members of the
Eastern Orthodox church. The new church was under construction
and the men would work a shift at the mine and another shift in
their off-time helping build the church. The men who were killed
were buried in the Orthodox cemetery, not facing east or west
as all the other graves were, but facing south toward the mine
and their new church. Today when you visit the Russian cemetery
notice the line of markers, all with the same dates, at the south
end of the graveyard, all facing south.
There was a hero in those mine explosions. His name was Springs.
He was a black doctor from Colp. Dr. Springs went down into the
mine with gas masks and rescue equipment, when no one else would.
He saved many lives and helped locate and recover bodies of the
dead. For many years after that, Dr. Springs would come to Royalton
on the anniversary of the explosion and conduct a memorial service
at the Miner's Hall. The service was held in October and the hall
would be filled to capacity. He would bring with him a choir from
Colp and provide a memorable program. Each year a different church
or lodge would serve a meal on this memorial day. I can still
remember the menu. It was always the same and was delicious: chicken
pie, mashed potatoes, slaw and angel food cake.
There was a dark side to Royalton history in the late twenties
and early thirties. Several murders were committed on Main Street;
two boys from West Frankfort were stabbed and buried in a shallow
grave near the South Mine; and violent warfare erupted between
rival unions, the UMWA and Progressive Mine Workers.
National publicity was received when two former Royalton residents,
"Red" Beason and Reggie Jewel, robbed a Colorado bank,
and former police chief Frank Bowling found a coffin on his front
porch. On the coffin, attached by a dagger, was a blood-stained
note threatening the policeman's life. There was even a house
of prostitution in our town. The European Hotel, located on South
Main Street, was a favorite hang-out for coal miners looking for
I remember the picnics at the "Blue-Wing" Hunting Club
on Memorial Day and Labor Day. Best of all were the Fourth of
July celebrations at old Curtis field. Three large grandstands
and a bandstand surrounded the playing field of this excellent
ball park. Besides baseball, holiday events included such depression-era
catch a "greasy" pig and climb a "greasy"
pole. A one dollar prize attracted many contestants. Some of us
were so poor we could not afford fireworks, so we dipped "cattail"
weeds in kerosene and lit them like torches.
I remember the lodge halls and dance halls that dotted Main Street...
The "Bon-Ton" ball room; the Lithuanian hall above Jakubowski's
tavern; Battaglia's hall above the Blue Front; the upper floor
of the Miner's Hall; a dance spot above the water works office
in the LeVan building; and Stella's beer garden in Perky's tavern.
I'll never forge the sights and sounds of the old Royalton. On
New Year's Eve, church bells, the mine whistle, the fire siren,
gun shots and Alex Barclay, dressed in kilts, playing his bagpipes
on Main Street. Johnny LeVan in his goggles and duster driving
his 1913 Model T Ford in parades. The circuses and carnivals that
would come to town, and the trouble some of them got into when
a "geek" bit the head off a chicken, The happy sound
of laughter of kids swimming. There was a swimming pool on the
east side of town years ago, but we had to swim in the Big Muddy
River at "Rocky Bottom" and the dam after the big pool
closed. I remember how the Russian kids would tease us because
they got off from school twice at Christmas time and Easter for
their holiday and ours.
I'll always remember the summertime ice cream socials, with real
home-made ice cream, held under a string of yellow light bulbs.
The school carnivals every October, with fish ponds, a haunted
house, a gypsy tea room and every mom donating a delicious pumpkin
Most of the old buildings and businesses on Main Street are gone
now. The cafes: Mary's Diner, McClinlock's, Christian's Restaurant,
Benny Tate's and Fletcher's Cafe; the candy store and Bellina's
Bakery, Dry Goods and Beer Distributorship have all disappeared.
The barber shops of "Brick" Hardcastle, Juniper Gibbs
and Steve Tulo are gone now. The recreation hall, from W.P.A.
days, with its' tennis court and playground, are gone. The old
depot and two lumber yards are no more. The Cox Theater, Royal
Theater, bowling alley, feed store, bank building and shoe shop
are only memories. But as long as State Route 149 winds its way
through Southern Illinois, visitors driving through must surely
feel that this was once a hustling-bustling town.
(Information taken from the 1993 Round-Up Booklet.)