Cullom, Illinois ~ Agriculture, Celebrations & Balloons

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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.

Grain Storage Bin

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.

Balloon Ascension Every August
During Cullom Homecoming Celebration

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…

Later… Barbara

Starting in the afternoon people would gather to watch as the fire was built and the black balloon would be filled with smoke.

A photograph of one of the old smoke balloons

Cullom Homecoming Celebration 1909                       ~ everyone dressed up for the occasion!

An early photograph of Cullom’s Rail Station              ~ the trees in the background are where the    Village Park is today

Cullom Post Office in 1900 located on what is now Maple Street ~ notice the mud street

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10 responses »

  1. Barbara,
    My family has lived in cullom for so many years!!! We currently dont have anymore family in cullom but we have a long history there!! I am the daughter of Kerry Polizzi and my grandmother is Myra Schwanke… The last time i was present in cullom was for Jeff Hahns funeral and to my surprise, you are a hahn too! My dad talks about the Hahns all the time!!! Great website and a lovely village!

    -Nicole Polizzi, 12 years old

  2. Nicole, Thank you for such kind words, it was so nice to meet you. It meant a lot that you and your Dad attended my Brother’s funeral The kind story your Dad told during the funeral gave an insight to my Brother’s personality and gave us all a chuckle when so greatly needed. I hope you get the opportunity to visit often!

    • Barbara, yes we will certainly try to visit more often! My dad always likes a good laugh too and im glad that his memories and stories enlighted the family and people at the funeral… But we will take a visit to cullom this spring and say hello to everyone and enjoy the nice quiet country from the busy roads of chicago!
      -Nicole Polizzi

      • Glad to hear you get to come back for a visit… you guys must come and see me… Tell your Dad to follow the scent of wet cement Happy Easter!

      • Hahahaha yes i will tell him that happy easter to you too!

        Nicole polizzi

  3. Great site. We are looking forward moving back to Cullom. My husband Josh is the son of Red and Jean Floyd and when he brought me to Cullom for the first time in 2006 I fell in love with this small village and thought what a great place to raise children. If everything goes smoothly we will be in Cullom by August just in time for the celebration.

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