MASON — The little town of Mason has changed a lot since Jerry Eident was a little boy in the late 1950s.
It's changed even more since Hubert Irey Gibson was growing up 100 years ago. Eident, writing as J.D. Eident, used an essay by "Grandpa Gibson" to lead into a series of short essays about Mason history that he has written and compiled into "Grandpa Gibson's Letter & Early Historical Notes of Mason, Illinois."
Gibson (1906-96) had a long and successful career with the Firestone Rubber Company after leaving Mason shortly after his father's tragic drowning death in 1924. But the "letter," written in 1978, shows that the old man never forgot where he came from.
Eident, a retired railroad man with a flair for poetry, said he began working on his 597-page opus after finding a copy of Gibson's essay among olds newspapers stored at the Mason Civic Center.
"I thought this manuscript would be a good springboard for what I wanted to do," Eident said. "I contacted the Gibson family and they were extremely gracious about sharing information on Mr. Gibson."
Eident said Gibson's essay is a treasure trove of information about early 20th century Mason, a community that had a thriving business community in the days before automobiles were a way of life for the general population.
"It's an incredible thing he did to leave this history, not only for his family, but for the town of Mason," Eident said.
The rest of the book outlines various aspects of Mason history, including how the area was originally settled, how business developed, and the role the Illinois Central railroad played in the town's growth.
"What I wanted to do is preserve the history of Mason's past," Eident said. "You go through Mason today, and you don't realize the incredible past of this town. It's kind of a glimpse into what life was like before electricity and modern technology."
Mason didn't have just one store in the first decades of the 20th century. It had a commercial "block" that included a post office, general, grocery and hardware stores, and even a bank. While Eident said the Mason of his boyhood didn't have nearly that amount of business, he said there was still a couple of grocery stores in town, as well as Jack Warner's Shell station at the north end of town. All are gone, though a number of merchants have tried to make a go of various enterprises at the old gas station site in recent years.
Eident said he derived much satisfaction from researching the book.
"I enjoyed the discovery part of finding things and linking them together," he said. "The most difficult part was the writing."
The book is available through Eident himself. It costs $30 if picked up in person, or $35 if mailed. Five dollars from each sale goes into a fund to benefit the Mason Civic Center.
Eident's address is 2585 N. 1325th St., Mason IL 62443. He may be reached at 618-238-4853.
Bill Grimes can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 132, or firstname.lastname@example.org.