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Photo: Mercer County Historical Society|
Workers are shown in this photo taken at Kness Mine in Viola. The coal mine operated in the 1930s, one of four in the area at the time.
Photo: Ben Botkin|
Doreen Lilly, an employee of Morrison's Market, puts lettering on sign. The store has a long history of business in Viola, a Mercer County village.
VIOLA -- Like any small community, Viola has seen change in the last century.
Coal mines have closed and businesses come and go. Still, the city remains the same in other ways.
Everybody knows each other, and businesses are on a first-name basis with customers. Viola community leaders hope that the town's location at the intersection of Illinois 17 and U.S. 67 will lead to economic and residential growth in the near future.
Jim Morrison, president of the Viola Chamber of Commerce, believes that the intersection puts Viola in a good location in Mercer County.
"We think we can make a difference," he said.
Mr. Morrison, owner of Morrison's Market, grew up in Viola. Although he has seen businesses come and go, the community still has a family atmosphere with people who grew up together.
"Everybody knows each other," he said.
His parents, Harold and Sandy Morrison, bought the grocery store in 1977 from an owner who opened it in 1949. Jim and his wife, Amy, took over the store in 2000.
Harold Morrison said apathy about new businesses hasn't helped the area in the decades since he bought the store.
"We've got the best location in Mercer County, and we should be doing better," he said, adding that the village's chamber of commerce wasn't as active in the 1980s. "When the chamber first started, there was sort of a not-caring-about-business attitude."
Viola has its share of vacant building space along its Main Street. It's a reminder that the community has seen much since 1856, when the village was first organized by a handful of settlers.
Businesses have closed in recent years, including an insurance agency, a plastic plant and a hotel.
"Some survived and some didn't," said Mayor Kirk Doonan. "We're a bedroom community. We're not surprised by that fact."
In 2006, the village recounted its history in "Celebrating Yesterday, Building Tomorrow," a book written for its sesquicentennial.
In the village's early days, transportation was a source of prosperity. For example, cattle and pigs were sent from Viola in the 1870s and the village had two livery stables.
By the 1890s, the first bank opened. The village had a jail where drunks were tossed to sober up.
In the early 20th century, the jail was turned into a place where hobos could sleep and cook their food after hopping off the train.
It wasn't long before technology began changing Viola. Electric power came to the village in 1913.
In the 1920s, the automobile forced businesses to leave or change. The blacksmith shop disappeared, along with a wagon and harness shop.
Four coal mines in the 1930s provided work for residents at spots between Viola and the Edwards River.
Changes came to Viola in that decade that are still here. A paved road was built that connected Viola with Rock Island. Illinois 17 was finished in the 1930s, too.
That changed the work force.
With the highway and automobile, people began driving to industrial jobs in the Quad-Cities area.
In 1963, technology advancements came to Viola again, and dial telephones took away the need to talk directly to a telephone operator for calls.
A produce business closed in 1977 after 52 years.
In recent years, there have been infrastructure changes. The village got a new water tower in 1994. The village also had to move some water lines because of a project to widen U.S. 67.