THE PRAIRIE HISTORIANS
Volume 12, June 1982, Issue 2
Nason, It's Heyday, & It's Decline
From the Centralia Sentinel, May 26, 1974
Nason; A Dreamer Who Had A Nightmare
Fifty years ago (1924) the new town of Nason was boasting it would become the last of the great coal
mining towns in Southern Illinois. It never even came close, but although it's gone down two times,
this time Nason swears it's going to make it to the shores of Rend Lake. Then it was a model mine, and
a well laid out dream city--- now Nason intends to become a resort, a retirement haven for sportsmen, and
a home for those thousands who work at a new tire plant in Mt. Vernon and the Waltonville Inland Mines.
Joe Sunderland and Lester Collins, a former mayor of Springfield, are promoters who are trying to revive
Nason, and say they are going to turn the 122 acre mine site into a junior six-flags as a tourist attraction.
(Editors note; I wonder what happened to that plan?)
Founder Albert J. Nason dreamed on a grand scale, his city was designed for a future 15,000 residents, it
was well zoned, landscaped with parks, and the streets curved about in an interesting pattern. Lands were
set aside for each church, and in the center was to be a public swimming pool. Homes had to be set back
25 feet from each street, and each lot was 75 feet wide. In a small way, it almost came to life in this big
field of red top.
A.J. Nason was president of the small Illinois Coal Company and listed his mine as
"No. 10". If people did not buy lots in his masterly planned city, it was not his fault, but his modern mine
The decor that he hatched up for his mine was for it to resemble a large Spanish monostary with the
yellow stucco tipple with it's red tiled roof to look like the bell tower. Although his dream never quite came
true, the ornate chimney is still referred to as " the Nason steeple", and the huge structure can be seen as far
away as Mt. Vernon. It is also used as a navigation mark for Rend Lake.
The mine was not built to match the grandiose drawings released in his "Nason News", but it was still the
most artistic and modern mine in Illinois. The buildings still stand, and in no way can they be called ruins.
The massive brick walls with hand laid brick stepped buttresses are between soaring round brick arches.
The roofs of many were done in the planned Spanish tile. The foundations for the machinery and
generators were all independent tapered curves with chamfered edges. It is hard to believe the labor it must
have taken to build these forms.
Engineer Habensteir was sent down from up north, and the shaft was started down 725 feet in March 1923,
to a seam of coal 8 to 10 ft. The first coal was hoisted just before Christmas of that year.
Oltimers say that A.J. Nason's model mine only lasted 3 or 4 years before it went into receivership. That
Consolidated reopened it but again it closed in 1932, and that it reopened in 1938 and closed Oct. 19, 1951
under Bell and Zoller.
Dow Roberson dug the first spade of dirt from the shaft, and worked there until it closed, and when it did
they were mining the coal directly under his farm.
From The Nason News June 9, 1923
A.J. Nason's coal Co. owns 30,000 acres of coal in this section, all in Jefferson County, and mostly on the
east side of the Burlingtion Railroad.
Contractors are working with all possible speed the work on the Jefferson Southwestern Railroad, the new
line which is being and which will when completed, give Nason direct connection with four trunk lines
and one smaller railroad system. The original plans called for completion by July 1st, but it may be delayed
because of excessive rains during May which seriously inteferred with the grading operations.
The building of the railroad into the new town under rush orders is reminiscent of the gold camp days of
the West when newrailroads were rushed with construction gangs working day and night to reach the new
Personal Items in Nason News
Sinkers at the Nason Mine raised a fund for the purchase of a piano to be used at the church services held
at the the town house in Elk Prairie, Rev. Louis Jones, who is an employee at the mine, conducted the
J. Warner Louth, former street commissioner of Mt. Vernon, has had 15 teams engaged in grading the
streets of Nason for the last few weeks. He was also former highway commisioner for Mt. Vernon
Township. He is an experienced road man and has built some real streets for the town of Nason.
Fred Ratliff, Mt. Vernon photographer, has been given a contract by the coal company to take a series of
photographs showing the progress of the work at Nason in sinking of the mine, and in development of the
The discovery of a big underground stream of water delayed the sinking work on the shafts for some time,
but has gone far in solving the water problem for Nason. Since it was discovered that there was such a
great water supply, a number of well have been sunk. Matt Heck, supt. of Nason's mine at Springfield,
claims special powers as a "water witch", and is said to have detected the presence of water before it was
struck. Chief engineer Cecil W. Smith, who is great believer in the divining rod, failed to use this
instrument before the sinking of the mine started, which accounts for the fact that the water was struck
without prior warning.
Mrs. Howard Will, who conducts the restaurant, the first business establishment to be opened in Nason,
has purchased two dairy cows and plans to conduct her own dairy.
The Mammoth, a well known Mt. Vernon dept. store is planning to open a store at Nason as soon as a
building can be completed. It promised to be one of the first stores established in the city.
The Nason News has not yet applied for entry in the mails as secong class matter because the Post Office
has not yet been established at Nason. With the coming of the R.R. there will be regular mail service, and
a Post Office will be promptly established.
Note: The following information comes from talking to a number of people, former residents of the Nason
area; Calvin Darnell, Ernie and Velma Lee Rhynes, Gordon and Hilda Metcalf, Nela Place, and her sister
Mona Fairchild, and others.
The first baby born in the town of Nason was Dimples Nason Williams, and she was presented with a
silver dollar by A.J. Nason for whom she and the town was named.
A passenger train "The Toonerville Trolley" ran to Mt. Vernon twice a day. It was painted green, and a
contest was held to name it. No one seems to remember what official name was chosen, but it was
referred to as; the Humming Bird, The Bull Frog, and the dinkey, but to most it was referred to as
The Toonerville Trolley after a comic strip that was popular at that time.
Boswell School, a one room country school, sat in what later became the Nason coal yard. It was torn
down as the mine began to develop, and grade school was held upstairs over Threlkeld's Drug Store until
a new school could be constructed. The new school was prefabricated, and put up in sections. The high
school was located out east near Budiselich's. The gymnasium wasn't by the high school, it was up town
north of the main street, across from John January's to the west. When the Nason High School consolidated
with Waltonville, the gymnasium was moved to Waltonville.
Ernie Rhynes recalls that one year Nason won the Jefferson County Basketball Tournament. He recalls that
one team member was a Zekert boy, one a shaw, and one was Uyril Beasley who fainted three times
during the game.
An old man came to Nason and dug all the wells, he had a team of horses and a windlass, and bored them.
Twenty eight inch tiles were then dropped in. He hit water in white sand at about 25 feet, and it was real
At it's peak Nason had about 1500 residents, a quite a number of business places. Butch Rabacchi
(pronounced Ra-back-ee) had a store, then up by the Baptist Church was Tigo's Store. Bertilino Brothers
had a store with an ice cream parlor in it, and along side of it "Black" John Crivokapich had a bakery.
Across from Tigo's to the north, Lon Baker sold cars, he also owned the building where The Silver Dollar
Tavern has recently been, and it was first a lumber yard. Later Sheltonscran a garage there, and Pig Ivan
Bichanich ran a store there for a while.
Benoist Brothers Hardware was in a big two story building, and next to it was Threlkeld's Drug Store.
Movies were shown at night up over Benoist's, and a woman named Bush played the piano there.
(silent movies probably) Burton Kirk and Louie Miles ran barber shops, and a cafe named the Bearney was
located on the road toward the cemetery. Berthal Bean ran a boarding house east of town toward the
Christian Church. It was a big old two story house known as the Evans House. (probably the old G.W.
Evans home, he was the son in law of Stinson Anderson, Lt. Gov. who also lived in Elk Pr.) Her husband,
General Bean, helped build the company houses in Nason.
Lee Crosno, Audra Milliner, and Arthur Puckett worked on the survey crew that laid out the town of Nason
while they were still in high school. (Lee graduated in 1926.)
An early resident was Clem Visona show came in about 1923 from Utah. (Sam Reynolds always called him
Jim Cazoni) Clem's wife had taught music at a university in Italy, she was very well educated and was a
fine woman. She was Catholic, but would occasionally attend the Christian Church. She had a beautiful
singing voice. She could never understand why people were allowed to talk and visit the church, and
always referred to John Nelson, the minister, as The Little Priest. Her daughter Rosie said that her mother
cast a side a fine career to marry a commoner.
The Budiselich family consisted of Dan, who became a state liquore inspector, Bill, Paul who later owned
a restaurant near Nashville, Tenn., John Jr. who ran the Queen Bee Tavern on the north side of the square
in Mt. Vernon, and their father, John, who was a coal miner.
Mona Fairchild told me that she knew all the Budiselich kids and she remembered a Register News article
about Paul and his restaurant. It seems that a reporter had gone into the restaurant to eat and that they
charged you only what you thought your meal was worth. He ordered a big steak with all the trimmings,
and paid the cashier 25$. She accepted it very graciously, and when he interviewed Paul, Paul
explained that more people paid too much then there were those who paid too little.
Some more old timers were " One Arm Pete" Valorich, and Big Ivan and Big Albert Bongari.
When they were digging the mine, they struck quick sand, a big vein of it. They brought in an Irishman
who had some experience along that line, to come and stop it. He ordered out a bunch of bailed straw, a
rare commodity in these parts, most straw here was put into stacks. Well anyway, they kept pushing in
those bails of straw, and were just about ready to give up when it lodged on something and they got it
stopped long enough to concrete it in.
After the mine closed, about 1927, things got so bad in Nason that about 80 houses burned to the ground
and the insurance collected, It got so that you couldn't even get insurance on one.
Calvin Darnell lived in Nason when he was a child and recalls that people took their clothes and left,
leaving their homes furnished and would even leave dishes containing food sitting on the table. It was as
though suddenly the people had just disappeared. He said that stores were abandoned in the same fashion,
and that kids began to haul furniture from a store there to furnish their club houses with it. In fact some
of the club houses were better furnished than their homes.
Gordon: We had some dandies working at the mine back then, Old Henry Baumgarten, Steve Cash, Joe
Fico, Bill Kahuth, Joe Hahuth, Adolph Tosetti, Little Joe Stelmazewski, Eli Burkich, and Frank Gajewski
to mention a few.
One time when I first started working at the mine, they didn't have the second shift going yet, and there
wasn't much coal coming out. Sometimes it would be thirty minutes or more before any came through.
One night we didn't have much to do, and Joe Fico and Old EIi Birkich went to sleep on the conveyor belt
with their feet together, then turned on the conveyor belt which would have dumped them into a coal car,
and let it go until they were almost there. You never heard such "cussin" in your life.
The only time that would have matched it was when we wired Joe Fico's bicyle up in the roof of the wash
house. We had clothes hangers that you pulled high up to the ceiling of the wash house with chains. Joe
always rode his bicyle to work, so one night we waited until he had gone to work, and we hooked his
bicyle to one of the chains, padlocked it on, and hoisted it to the cieling. I think he was mad enough to kill
if he could just have found out who did it.
Poor old Frank Gajewski used to shoot powder down there in the mine, he'd save the copper wire that he
used to shoot it with. Wvery once in a while a piece of wire would be hanging down, and he would pull it
out and save it. One time we took a piece of burlap, shoveled it full of coal dust, and rigged it up with a
piece of wire hanging down so that he would be sure to see it. Sure enough, he pulled the wire out and in
the process it dumped about 1/2 a ton of coal dust on top of himself.
There was a lot of horse play going on down in that mine, Nela and Mona (Peterson then) said a whole
bunch of men stayed at their house (Dan Peterson's) and slept in the barn when Nason was being built.
Their mother, Manessa, packed their lunches and cooked for them. One was the old man heck, who always
wanted 6 eggs in his lunch.
Mona; I taught school at Nason for two years, 1925 and 1926. After I got out of high school, I went to
Carbondale with Mary Berger (Hurst then) then we both taught at Nason School which was new then. I
taught 3d grade. There was eight teachers, Aunt Blanch Hester, and Mrs. Redfern whose husband was the
Principle but didn't teach a class. I think Gale Sledge and his sister Gladystaught one of the years that I did,
and that Baker taught the year before I did.
During this time, a family named Crivokapich ran a bakery in Nason, and had a boy named Mike in school.
Mike came down with Pneumonia and was very ill. Mr. Redfern told me to go over there and see if I could
do anything. They lived east of the school, and when I arrived, the mother was just beside herself and
stood wringing her hands and crying. I was worried to death too, because I thought he was going to die.
I really didn't know what to do, but Granny Hester had just recovered from pneumonia and the Dr. had us
to soak a wool cloth in turpentine and oil, put it on her chest, and cover it with a heated dinner plate. Mrs.
Crivokapich didn't speak English; and I had a terrible time trying to explain that I needed a piece of wool
material. Her skirt was wool, and she wore a wool cap like thing on her head that had long tails like a scarf
that she wrapped around her neck. When she finally understood, we took the scissors and cut one tail off.
I found some turpentine etc. so we fixed it up on his chest and covered with a hot plate. In a little bit he
began to sweat, and I kept him covered up real good. They had sent for Dr. Wells, and when he arrived he
told the old man that we had done all anyone could do. Well, Mike recovered, and from that time on I was
a hero in their eyes. Everytime the old man seen me walking past, he would run out and bring me some
goodies from the bakery.
Mona and Nela* We had a well, but it was dry a large part of the time. Dad had a little sled that he used to
haul a barrell of water from the creek with. When wash day came, Mom would hitch old Bess to the buggy,
and her and Aunt Mary Peterson, Charlie's wife, would go the creek to wash the clothes. We kids always
had ponies to ride, and we would go along. They heated water in a big kettle and strung out clothes lines to
dry the clothes on. We thought it was great fun.
We lived west of Nason, and every summer two families would come in covered wagons and camp in
Wilbank's woods which joined our place. Incidentally, the woods is still there, right at the edge of the lake.
One of the women had T.B. and laid out on a cot all the time. We kids were sure fascinated with their life
style and wished we could travel like that.
Knowing this, Dad (Dan Peterson) would really work on us kids, he would tell us that if we worked real
hard that summer that maybe after we got the harvest in we could go in a covered wagon to see Uncle Dan
at Popular Bluff Mo. We could just work our tails off, and about the time our dreams were really getting
big, he would kinda take the edge off. He'd say "now if we make this trip, you kids will probably have to
walk an ahead and beg some eggs and chickens etc, for us to eat on the way. Well we sure didn't want to do
that, we just wanted to ride in a covered wagon. Of course we never made the trip, but it sure kept us
working and sparked our imaginations, it kept us happy all summer just thinking about it.
Nela: We had a path wore through Wilbank's woods that came out over by Jim Pitchfords. One time Dad
had taken his straight razor over for Jim to sharpen it. We were getting ready to go to church one sunday
morning and Dad sent me over to get his razor. He started to shave and began to complain that the razor
was so dull it wouldn't cut hot butter, that Jim surely must not have sharpened it. I said " why Dad, it's as
sharp as it can be, I whittled sticks with it all the way home, and it done just fine". He should have whipped
me, but he didn't.
It seems that we were forever carrying everlasting yeast back and forth from Aunt Mary's. Her and Mom
both baked two or three times a week, and everytime Mom got ready to bake, the yeast was at Aunt Mary's.
There was an old man named Rutter who lived across the creek bottoms, he made baskets of all kinds and
sold them. His wife Nora (Noris) would come over to our house and Dad would get her to play the piano
and sing. She couldn't play the piano at all, she would jsut pound her hands up and down on the keys and
sing at the top of her voice, it was just awful, why it was just ridiculous the things Dad used to get people to
Abner Cemetery, near Nason, was originally Abney Cemetery. It was there long before Nason ever exister.
Legend has it that an Inn or Tavern once was on the site of the present Elk Prairie Town House, and that a
man named William Abney, (1802-1852) was knifed and killed in a brawl there. He was buried near by, and
was the first to be buried in Abner Cemetery. His wife Lucinda was the dsu. of Joshua Roberson, who was
among the earliest settlers in Moore's Prairie. Lucinda later married Sam Parks. She and Wm. Abney had
7 children, but not all reached maturity.
Submitted by: Stacey Jones
THE PRAIRIE HISTORIANS
Volume 19, March 1989, Issue 1
The Forgotten City
By Nadine Peterson Rightnowar
In the early 1920's a road ran from the Big Muddy River on the west to
past the Elk Prairie Christian Church, on east through Elk Prairie Township.
Another road ran north and south from Antioch Church on the north, past
Abner Cemetery on the south. Boswell School House sat at this cross-road.
The Prairie land was flat and the soil of poor quality. The use of lime
and fertilizer to improve it had not been introduced yet, or if so was not
in common use in the area.
Around 1921, Mr. Nason came to the Prairie from Pennsylvania with plans
to lay out a city and to construct and operate the largest coal mine in the
United States. The Charles Peterson farm was the first acreage bought for
this purpose, 80 acres for $75. an acre, top and bottom, purchased by
Mr. Nason came, looking over the land and was well pleased. It seemed
to fit his dream and construction began in early spring. Since there were no
highways or railroads near, the first construction materials were brought in
by truck. As winter came, horses and mules were used and a smoke stack,
the tallest one in the country, was built on the former site of Boswell
As news of the new mine spread, workers arrived from all directions, many
of foreign descent. Soon small shacks and tents began to spring up to house
Surveyors were brought in to lay out Mr. Nason's dream city which was to
be shaped like a wagon wheel. Much like Paris, France, it's streets were to
be built extending out from a central hub.
In the new town of Nason, there were two main streets, one of which was
named Jefferson, and businesses soon filled both sides of each street; a
bank, lumber yard, butcher shop, barber shop, hardware store, and a well
stocked Company Store were things could be purchased adn the money taken
from your pay check to pay for them.
At the mine site a large brick wash house, which contained a restaurant,
was constructed. The Jefferson Southwestern Railway was built from Mt. Vernon,
and the mine operated quite successfully for a few years. By 1924 a two year
high school consisting of two students, two teachers and two rooms was opened.
Many families moved into Nason, built beautiful homes and the town flourished.
It has been said that Mr. Nason spent his million dollars on the top
and robbed the bottom for it wasn't long before water began to come into the
bottom of the mine and when they couldn't correct the situation, the mine
was closed. It was re-opened three separate times through the years but
with no real success and in time the mine closed for good.
Homes were abandoned, some houses were moved out, businesses were closed,
and soon the mine became a forgotten industry. Some residents stayed on but
had to seek work elsewhere.
With the coming of Rend Lake some hoped it might attract retired people
and be revived, but in reality there was little left there to offer them and
it just didn't happen.
Today Nason stands, a dislocated, quiet little village, with no post
office by name.
Someone recently said "Nason is the only place in the United States
where you can go quail hunting and never get off the side-walk."
Submitted by: Stacey Jones