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Articles & Local History > Tourism Keeps Small Town Up & Running

Transcribed from Daily Gazette, Sept. 5, 2001 B1

Take a walk down historical Main Street in . . .


Amy McElhiney pulls several creased sheets of paper from an envelope addressed to the Tampico Historical Society. Sent anonymously for reasons unknown the photocopied article describes declining populations, troubled schools, boredom, problems, and the overall demise of Small Town USA.

"In other words, we're dead," she said, laughing. "We just forgot to lie down."

Amy and her husband Lloyd, active members of the historical society and on-site guides at the Ronald Reagan Birthplace and Museum are two long-time  residents that believe Tampico is still on its feet.

True, this small village in southern Whiteside County has lost 62 residents in the last 10 years with the population decreasing to only 772. The town also gave up a local high school four years ago when Prophetstown and Lyndon annexed it as part of Unit 3. It's only built two new homes in the last 10 years because vacant property's scarce. It hasn't been able to attract any new businesses in a long time.

And in spite of regular tourists visiting the birthplace of the 40th president and locals stopping at the Dutch Diner for lunch and a piece of the diner's famous pie, the community isn't exactly bustling.

But then there's the glue that holds most small towns together. The cohesiveness and enthusiasm of its residents and stable businesses, its government and dedicated volunteers make things work when outsiders say death is imminent.

Consider the grit of Tampico's forefathers even before a township was established in 1852. Crossing rolling prairies interrupted by sloughs was difficult and caused travelers to become mired down in the lowlands and have to wait until hopefully help arrived.

Because of its swampy nature the township was less attractive to settlers and was not occupied as early as other parts of Whiteside County. According to Tampico history records, several famiies came and left the area within two years. In spite of small numbers, the first school was built in 1856.

By 1871 the Chicago Burlington and Quincy railroad arrived and located a station on land owned by J.W. Glassburn. His entire 160 acre farm was includded as a platted community and in 1875 Tampico was incorporated as a village on Glassburn's property.

During those four years a post office and additional school buildings were built and the rapidly growing settlement was prospering. Then disaster struck.The fire of 1871 destroyed two of the buildings. In January 1875, a second fire occurred causing $35,000 worth of damage.

Six months later, on a summer day, a tornado roared through Tampico destroying or damaging 41 buildings and property in an area one half mile long and 40 rods wide. The loss was estimated at $30,000.

An infant was reported missing and rescuers tore through the ruins of the THC Dow home to find her unharmed. The rest of Whiteside County was left unscathed.

On May 4, the Tampico Tornado, a village newspaper was established and burned out 13 days later. Six other builldings burned, causing $23,500 damage.

Again in May, 1887, the Tampico elevator burned and but for a change in the wind, would have taken the rest of the village with it. Once again, the community united and in the face of defeat, rebuilt.

Now, the McElhineys proudly point out the Tampico Main Street Historic District.

"This means the buildings are more than 100 years old," she said."All the businesses on both sides of the street are named to the National Register of Historic Places since 1982, except the Dutch Diner, which is only 20 years old and not on the registry," she said.

The buildings include the office of Hasmukh P. Shah, M.D., Sneltzer Insurance Agency, the Tampico Historical Museum opened to the public in May 1992, the Tampico Library and the Garland Funeral Home believed to be the oldest business in town.

"I believe it's over 100 years old," said Tom Garland, funeral directory and owner since 1984. "Originally it was owned by the Parent family, then sold a couple of times before I bouth it," he said.Garland was raised on a farm between Tampico and Walnut and has chosen to live, work and support a community he knows well.

On the same side of the street is the Ronald Reagan Museum. Upstairs is the apartment his parents lived in and the bedroom where he was born Feb. 6, 1911. Though the furniture is not the original property of the Reagan family it is typical of that era. On the back porch is a window that opens directly to an adjoining apartment where Reagn's mother, Nelle, was said to have passed little Ronald to her neighbor to watch when she had occassion to go somewhere.

Along the west side stands several empty buildings, the Good Times tavern and the bank. A Mr. Glassburn operated a private bank until 1920 when it was converted to a state bank. About the same time, the First National Bank of Tampico was organinized. Both banks went out of business by 1933 during the Depression.

For 14 years Tampico was without a banking institution. In 1947 Tampico National Bank opened with a capital structure of $70,000. Total deposits on the opening day of business were $137,000. The name remained the same for fifty years until 1997 when it was sold and is known today as UnionBank/Central - Tampico Branch.

At the end of the blockis the Dutch Diner, not as historic as some but equally as popular.

"We are known for pies (more than 20 different kinds), price and portions," said owner Beverly Adamson. She and husband, Terry, bought the restaurant in 1995 from Stanley and Alta Heading who started the business in 1980. The restaurant does not serve alcohol, is smoke free and gets a laarge crowd daily.

"People come from all over to eat. We also bake pies for individuals and other restaurants," Adamson siad. "Sometimes we start baking at 4a.m. At Thanksgiving, we bake around the clock."

They employ 20 people, including some of their 12 children. The Adamsons are not natives but moved to the community by choice 30 years ago.

Larry Specht has been a long-time area resident and is serving his first term as mayor after eight years as a council member. "The town is improving itself. People are fixing their houses and yards up to look nicer. We don't have a bad (looking) section of town now," he said. "During the summer we have lots of tourism. It really helped when the Reagan Trail was inducted. It goes right through Main Street, Tampico," he said. He would like to see opportunities for new housing and businesses. "It's hard for small towns to grow. The only way to promote industry would be to tear something down because farmers don't want to sell farmland," he said. Specht said they need to raise the tax base and that would require a referendum. "It's not been raised in 25 years. We need money to keep operating and upgrading," he said.

For the  fiscal year 2000-01, the village claimed property taxes of $9,881 for the general corporate fund and sales tax of $25,118. The community received $63,938 on state income tax and $10,393 on state local use tax. They also received other taxes for special purposes.

According to Linda Taets, appointed village clerk for 28 years, schools are another issue. "We want to keep the community going with schools (the biggest employer). There is talk about building a new school (elsewhere) and keeping the elementary children in their hometown. I think eventually we'll see it on a referendum," she said.

Robert Appleman's job is to keep the streets saafe. Since 1972 he has been the only police officer and chief, working various shifts and always on call. "Occasionally we get calls about domestic disturbances or bar fights," he said. "Mostly loud dogs, loud cars and juveniles. We have a low crime rate, nothing major. Tampici is a very quiet, nice community" he said.

Kids can walk safely to the park. Poppy's grocery store or Casey's to get a pizza. People still pick up their mail at the post office and wave at the summer tourists. Sometimes a dog disturbs the peace.

Photo: TRY A PIE: The Dutch Diner in Tampico is famous for its delicious pastries. Owner Beverly Adamson displays some of the 20 varieties of the diner's fruit and cream pies. Adamson and her husband Terry, bought the restaurant in 1995. They employ 20 people, including some of their 12 children.

NJT student Judy Schmidt

TAMPICO AREA HISTORICAL SOCIETY - MUSEUM - FAMILY HISTORY LIBRARY/RESEARCH CENTER  119 Main St., P. O. Box 154,  Tampico, IL  61283   www.tampicohistoricalsociety.com   tampicoareahistory@gmail.com  We are an all-volunteer organization so your donations are always appreciated!  Sign up to receive our e-newsletter. Thank you!  Visit us on FACEBOOK.