Brief Marshall History: Marshall, Illinois, was founded in 1835 by two individuals (William B. Archer and Joseph Duncan, who later became the Governor of Illinois), the land being purchased for $200. The town’s claim to fame is the fact that the National Road (now old Rt. 40) cuts down through the center of town. During the 1800’s, this road ran from Chicago to Florida, making it the central road of travel in the United States at that time. Interestingly enough, if you walk along the main street of Marshall today, you’ll see much of what was seen in those early years of the town’s founding, including the infamous Archer House Hotel. This was a favorite stagecoach stop from its founding in 1841 and was even rumored to have housed a young Abraham Lincoln many times during his years as a practicing attorney. As the government county seat since 1935, Marshall would naturally have been one of lawyer Lincoln’s stops during his travels throughout the state.
Brief Harlan Hall History: Along with the Archer House, another historic building is Harlan Hall. Harlan Hall was built by Howard Harlan in 1871 as a wooden livery stable. In 1872, however, the frame structure was replaced with a brick two-story building housing the livery stable on the first floor with the second floor and balcony serving as an opera house. A completely equipped working theater, with a stage for theatrical performances, was to serve Marshall as a social, intellectual and cultural development center. It was to seat 1,000 people although looking at the main hall today, 300 would be more like it. Over the years, the stage was dismantled and the upstairs’ area served as a roller rink, basketball court, silent movie theater, reception hall and social activity center. In 1954, it was purchased by the Loyal Order of Moose (an American organization) and was in private use of the Moose members of Marshall until it was sold to the city in 2001.
Needless to say, the entire building was a complete mess. Talk of tearing it down was debated but thanks to the hard work of concerned Marshall citizens, enough money was raised to remodel the downstairs and upstairs hall. The hope of restoring Harlan Hall to its former glory days is still uppermost on the Marshall Historical Society’s agenda.. Money from the state has been promised but not yet received to finish all the work needed to be done. In the meantime, residents are quite excited and happy to at least have the downstairs completed to be used for dinner parties or special occasion gatherings, meetings by citizen groups or attending the ever-popular $3.00 & $4.00 Senior Diners’ Club lunches served Monday through Friday in the downstairs meeting room.
"What’s for Lunch?"– The Harlan Hall Senior Diners’ Club
: Mostly, it’s the senior citizen lunches that keep Harlan Hall the busiest. All year round, it’s in use five days a week, 11 a.m. to 12:30, for older folk who sit down in Harlan Hall to a home-cooked meal. In the comfort of summer air-conditioning or winter heating, and a congenial, happy atmosphere, everyone is welcome for $3.00 or $4.00 to savor delicious full-course homemade lunches. Those who can’t make it to the serving site are on the carry-out menu list with their meals being delivered by volunteers. According to Barb Troxel, the catering chef who runs the entire show, at least 15 lunches are delivered regularly to different homes with around 24 being served at the Hall on a daily basis. The biggest crowd she had was 62 in-house with 30 deliveries but usually, the average number of people she prepares to feed is around 45.
Barb prepares a monthly menu which is full of everyone’s Midwestern American favorites: Sloppy Joes, Pork loin with gravy, fried chicken, taco salad, breaded pork tenderloin, chicken and noodles, grilled ham and cheese . . . . These are just a few selections that can be found on the menu. She makes sure all meals come with vegetables and dessert of some sort. And very little from Barb’s kitchen comes from mixes. Made-from-scratch is her motto. Anyone digging into one of her meals can certainly tell she adheres to that.
Barb’s menu carefully explains how the lunches are operated so no confusion arises: "Milk, tea and lemonade are available for all meals. Meals are $3.00 for seniors 60 and over, $4.00 for seniors 55 – 59. (No one will be denied for inability to pay for all or part of the meal.) Sometimes substitutions are necessary in our meal plans. We still guarantee a nutritious and balanced meal. Our maximum capacity is 60. Please call one day ahead to reserve your spot!"
Barb is in the Harlan Hall kitchen by 6 a.m. to get everyone’s meals ready by 11:30 but she’s out around noon. A crew of volunteers takes care of all the dirty dishes and clean-up, which are the chores she hates the most. She also runs her own private catering service so cooking for the Seniors is nothing too complicated for such an experienced chef. She enjoys preparing meals and providing a service to the community at the same time. There’s no profit involved here. The three and four dollars paid per meal, plus subsidies, take care of the food costs. Her personal prep and cooking time are her own giving-back-to-the-community. Still, her selfless efforts do pay off for her catering service. Not only do people hear her praises sung by all those who enjoy her meals but she is given all Harlan Hall catering events. Good deal all-around for everyone.
As for the Wieck family, my father is the one who’s signed up for these with my mom being the gopher to pick them up at 11 a.m. and bring them home. During my time here, I’ve taken over that job by heading down to Harlan Hall where "Mr. Wieck’s" labeled take-out lunch is waiting for my arrival. It’s been a lot of fun visiting with those seated inside, mainly because in a small town, we all know one another. I’ve sat down to visit with several church members, neighbors and even my primary school teachers from years ago. It’s a time to catch up on what’s been happening in the community, and in their lives, during my time abroad.
And speaking of lunch, it’s time for me to head out the door to pick up Dad’s meal for today: Sweet & Sour Pork with rice. How appropriate for one coming from China!
Wishing you all a great day, here’s a Marshall, Illinois "Ping An" (peace) coming your way.