Before the arrival of the settlers in the early 1800’s this area was covered in prairie grasses as tall as a man, with an abundance of deer, wolves and rattlesnakes. As kids we would search for arrow heads in the freshly plowed fields of dirt the color of coal. I imagined we were in old Indian hunting grounds, since Indian villages were said to be located in surrounding areas.
In 1878 a railroad was built which went through present day Cullom and a post office was established the same year. The name came from Illinois Governor, Shelby Cullom. <To my knowledge, a governor in Illinois who didn’t serve time in prison!> Technically, Cullom is a village not a town and was incorporated in 1882.
I thought I would take some time over the next few weeks and introduce you to my small town. Located in Central Illinois, smack dab in the middle of some of the most flat, fertile, farm land in the mid-west. Agriculture plays a vital role in our economy. Surrounded by soybean and corn fields, don’t blink as you drive through, you might miss us.
Our main business district is one block long, no stoplights needed. The grain storage bins loom over the town like skyscrapers. The only traffic jams will be the line of tractors with wagons and semi-trucks hauling grain to town and then shipped out by rail. On crisp fall days, the background music is the hum coming from the grain dryers signaling another successful harvest.
The closest fast food restaurant, movie theater, and big box store is twenty miles away, and within a couple hours you can be in downtown Chicago.
THE TOWN WHERE THE BALLOON GOES UP
It is not exactly known when Cullom had it’s first balloon ascension, but it was reported one went up in 1898. Every August Cullom has a Homecoming Celebration. It grew out of a celebration started by the St. John’s Catholic Church in 1889. It eventually turned into a community affair, people from surrounding towns would return to town to visit with family and friends. The balloon ascension became a part of this tradition. It is said the only times the balloon didn’t go up in August was during World War II or if bad weather would prevent it. Some even say Cullom holds the distinction of having the longest continuous annual balloon ascension in the United States.
The early days had smoke filled balloons, it would be an afternoon affair watching the balloon being filled with the black smoke. The balloonist would take the balloon up and parachute from a rig hanging below the balloon. Most years, the second Thursday in August is when the Celebration with a balloon ascension begins. It has turned into a three day and night party, with a livestock and domestic arts fair, and flower show. The addition of a fireworks display on Saturday night caps off the festivities. Today, people visit with friends and neighbors as the modern balloons are filled in a matter of minutes. The official start of the Homecoming Celebration wouldn’t be complete without the Cullom Balloon Ascension!
I’ve got some more old photographs and stories, stay tuned…