Faith, Hope and Charity and the greatest of these – apparently – is Hope.
Not many people know that in the mid-1800s, the three communities of Faith, Hope and Charity were settled in western Vermilion County.
Located between the other two communities, Hope survives to this day. Even the state still marks its existence on Illinois 49, 5 miles north of Interstate 74, with a green road sign bearing its name, just like bigger villages and towns.
Faith, about 2 miles northwest, and Charity, about 3 miles east of Hope, are rendered to history. No signs of Faith exist, and the only remnant of Charity is that its church building is incorporated into a hog barn on the Roy Knight property.
Except for the church, any remnants of the older buildings have been disguised. One house, now only one story, is thought to once have been the two-story residence of Dr. C.L. Van Doren, the community's physician. The cluster of houses near Hope United Church of Christ is a combination of almost-new and new. Herb and Rosa Lee Osterbur live in a very old farmhouse, but it was moved to Hope from near Royal many years ago.
Rosa Lee Osterbur says the population of Hope is now about 18. She doesn't have to check the census records because she knows them all well. The Osterburs live across the road on a short lane just north of the church. Osterbur is considered the official Hope historian. Besides her family records of the community, she has collected any that can be traced back to Hope.
The downfall of all three small communities appears to be that the railroad went to Royal instead of taking the expected path near Hope. In the old days, towns with a railroad flourished while those by-passed gradually lost their businesses and post offices and eventually their identities.
One of Osterbur's prize possessions is a Vermilion County Atlas of 1875. The book indicates the landowners of the area at that time, including her earliest family members, Thomas Collison and George Harrison.
"Early settlers Jeremiah and Rebecca Butz have always been referred to as Uncle Jerry and Aunt Becky Butz," Osterbur said of a couple who appeared to be the movers and shakers of their day. "It was Aunt Becky who is responsible for starting Sunday school at Hope, which eventually led to the building of the church."
Among her mother's papers, Osterbur found an explanation written by Bertha Tillotson, her grandmother Bessie Donaldson Wires' cousin.
"The families of the Hope community would meet at one of the homes on Sundays and the men entertained themselves with horse racing.
"One day Uncle Jerry Butz came to the house and found Aunt Rebecca was not at home, on inquiry he learned that she had gone on horseback 'up on the ridge.' When she returned he asked her about her errand and she replied that she had been out to see if something could be done to stop the horse racing on Sunday. She said she had read in her Herald of Gospel Liberty that they could get some Sunday School literature for $8 and she had been out to raise the money. He remarked that it would be impossible to raise eight dollars in the whole community to which she replied, 'I have it in my pocket and I want you to go to Fithian and mail the letter,' which he did.
"When the literature arrived, she could not get anyone to be Superintendant and she was too timid to do it herself so Uncle Jerry came to her rescue and took over although he was not a Christian at the time."
Hope thrived at one time – two grocery stores, a blacksmith, three tile factories that produced field tile.
"The Germans that arrived around 1850 knew how to drain off the land from the old country. The land on either side of the ridge that runs through here where they want to build the wind farm was swampy," Osterbur said. "They settled the swampy land because it was cheap and when drained was rich farm ground."
Hope also had its own doctor, Charles Van Doren, who came to town from Kankakee County, according to Osterbur, and eventually married Uncle Jerry and Aunt Becky's daughter, Dora Butz.
The couple were parents of not one, but two Pultizer Prize-winning authors who claimed Hope as their birthplace: brothers Carl Van Doren (1885-1950) and Mark Van Doren (1894-1972). They won their prizes a year apart, Carl for "Benjamin Franklin" in 1939 and Mark for his poetry in 1940.
In 1936, Carl wrote "Three Worlds," which referred to the portions of his life Pre-War, Post-War and New World. In it, he recounts some of his childhood memories of Hope.
"I was born in a village then called Hope, in Illinois, and I lived there on a farm a mile away till I was fifteen, as happy as an animal. ... When I call Hope a village I used a word for it which nobody there ever used. Hope was a church, a school, a blacksmith shop, one store at first and two after a while, and ten houses, in which, in fifteen years, not more than fifty persons lived.
"It lay at a cross-roads on the long slope of a terminal moraine in the middle of a prairie. The horizon was a circle on the plain, and the sky bent down and met it in a level line. The sun came up out of Indiana as if it were the ocean. The sunsets were sky-high and horizon-wide and rainbow-colored. ...
"Although the village was a bare cross-roads in a cornfield, it was also the heart of a community, with bones, flesh, blood, and nerves of any community. Any community is a world.
"The church at Hope was a sober club for the encouragement of good behavior. The motto painted in bold letters on the wall behind the pulpit, 'Christian Character, the Test of Fellowship,' made up the whole creed. To be honest and decent in daily affairs was all that was required of any member and that was required rather by the community than by the church alone...
"In 1860, Hope was open prairie. In 1885 when I was born, the community was settled in its virtues and vices as if it had been there a thousand years...
"In 1933, I motored through upon it before I could take in more than flickering images of the church and the house where I was born. Most of the houses were gone. A stranger might go by without ever suspecting that it was once the centre of life for its society. Yet there a microcosm formed and dissolved and there the essential theory of an older America was compressed into three generations."
While Carl Van Doren considered his family's connection to Hope over three generations, Osterbur is part of seven generations of her extended family to live in or around Hope over all these years.
The Van Dorens moved into Hope so their children could be closer to school. Years later they moved to Champaign, so their sons could be closer to the university.
Others farmed on.
And the little white church built in 1884 for $1,600, with its arched entry and belfry, has now added a new entrance, which imitates the original arched doorway and accommodates chair lifts to make the sanctuary and the basement handicapped accessible. The original brightly colored-blocks stained glass – red, blue, yellow, green and more – still catch the sunlight shedding streams of color across the floor.
The pews with their padded benches welcome members of the Hope community and others each Sunday. The church is the glue that still holds Hope together.
"Every Sunday, you are so welcome to join us and every Sunday you get to eat," Osterbur said with a laugh.
The age-old tradition of worshiping and eating together has not passed away in Hope.
If you should venture north up Illinois 49, don't blink, or you will miss the community of Hope. Instead, take a leisurely drive those five miles off the Interstate, pull into the church drive, get out and take a look, a good look.
Van Doren's words live on – the horizon is still a circle on the plains and the sky still bends down and meets the earth in a level line. From your feet to that horizon are fields of brown wheat and the greens of soybeans and corn and as the wind blows with nothing to stop it, a peace emanates from that place called Hope.
GETTING TO KNOW THE VAN DORENS
Mark Van Doren
A graduate of the University of Illinois, Mark Van Doren (1894-1972) was nationally famous as a novelist, playwright, critic, editor and poet. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for his "Collected Poems."
Van Doren was a professor at Columbia College for almost 40 years, teaching Western literature.
After his retirement from full-time teaching at Columbia in 1959, Van Doren lectured at Harvard University. He also served as literary editor of the Nation and wrote short stories, novels and plays.
Carl Van Doren
Carl Van Doren (1885-1950) received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in 1907. He continued his education at Columbia University, receiving a doctorate in 1911.
He taught at Columbia until 1930. He was managing editor of the Cambridge History of American Literature and literary editor of The Nation and Century Magazine.
For his biography of Benjamin Franklin in 1939, he won a Pulitzer Prize. His other works include "The American Novel"; Contemporary American Novelists"; "American and British Literature Since 1890"; and "What Is American Literature?" His autobiography, "Three Worlds," was published in 1936.