Continuing east from Interstate 55, about 17 miles along the way, we come to Forrest. The Village of Forrestville was founded in 1866 and, it too, owes its beginnings to the railroad industry. Somewhere early in the 1900’s the town’s name was shortened to Forrest and that’s the way its been ever since. In retrospect, Forrest became a rather significant hub in the railway histories of the area and its foundation of civilized emergence hung onto that activity in a more active way than its counterparts along Route 24 in the Prairie Central district. The east west lines of the TP&W railroad intersected the north south lines of the Wabash in Forrest and the industry flourished there well into the 1980’s before the domestic impact of the economy brought the north south route to a close. While the TP&W still moves on the east west lines in a reduced functionality the hustle and bustle that was connected to the “hay day” of the industry in the area has gone.
However, the Historical Society of Forrest has undertaken a renovation effort that has restored the old Forrest Hotel and the Wabash (later the Norfolk & Western) Depot to prominence. Now they are show pieces with the hotel being renamed the Hampsher Hotel and serving as an active Bed and Breakfast with charming furnishings and the Depot being redone into its original structure and providing a museum of sorts for railroad memorabilia and displays. There is also a refurbished N&W old time red caboose on hand for added historic recognition so the legendary history has been reborn and is available for the public to enjoy. The town also has a commemorative festival entitled “Wabash Days” that brings a carnival country fair atmosphere into play and further highlights the great old days of railroad history.
Forrest has a current population of 1,800 and it has migrated from railway dependency into the typical self supporting infrastructure that keeps the community thriving and comfortable. It has multiple facets of business and service in all the categories of community necessity along with amenities that support additional avenues of functional purpose. Financial, Insurance, Groceries and Supplies, Automotive Sales and Service, Home Repair, Dining, Parks and Recreation, Quick Stops, Places of Worship, Real Estate, Transportation, Medical, Construction and many more – over 60 different businesses and services that cover every need and convenience to keep things on an even keel.
Forrest is also the location of the Prairie Central School System’s Lower Elementary and Junior High and, like the other towns in this showcase, they are surrounded by a very active farming operation that interfaces extremely well with all of the other interests. Forrest is another fine “small town” (or village) in this area that continues to move with the times and maintain a healthy community spirit and camaraderie that makes it a good place to live and a town with plenty to offer for those who visit.
Writers Note: All of these towns in the Prairie Central Route 24 Corridor Showcase have an extensive and extremely interesting history that dates back to the mid-19th Century and each of the individual stories is well worth a reading excursion for anyone interested in the area’s beginnings. These historical accounts are full of intrigue, famous names, and even strange circumstances and is highly recommended for local knowledge – you can find most of it on their web sites or, in their libraries and museums. If you have need of additional information you are urged to visit the Forrest Web Site or, give City Hall a call at 815-657-8226. See you at the Caboose!