Answer Man: More details emerge about Imbs Station

June 21, 2013 

As soon as I spend hours poring over dusty tomes to research some obscure local subject, I immediately have a dozen old-timers clamoring to tell me the rest of the story as soon as the column is published.

Such was the case again when my recent piece on Imbs Station brought out a raft of funny, heartwarming tales from some who lived in the area and one who is related to the earliest residents. So let me fill in the sketchy details I first offered on this dot on the map on Imbs Station Road between Illinois 163 and Triple Lakes Road.

As it turns out, my friend Larry Betz, president of the Belleville Historical Society, once lived in what was the little village's train station. He bought the place in 1972 and was soon getting an earful about the area's history from mechanic Archie Rehg, who ran the ARCO service station across the street.

"Archie lived a couple hundred yards away, and he'd walk over to the station, pull out his chair and sit out front, leaning against the wall most of the day," Betz said, chuckling. "He have maybe two or three gas customers a day."

As it turns out, the settlement apparently nearly was called Rehg's Station. When St. Louis milling magnate Joseph Imbs was looking for a place to build a grain elevator, he negotiated to buy property from Nicholas Rehg. But, Betz said, the two men had a spat, so when Imbs sent in the papers to establish a post office there in 1896, he wrote down Imbs Station as the name, perhaps out of spite.

It was quite a happening place in its day, says Gladys Mehrmann, of Columbia. One of her grandpas was William Rehg, and he sold Case tractors and other farm equipment at the implement shop that later turned into the ARCO station.

"The house where Grandma and Grandpa lived was a beautiful gingerbread home," she said. "In summer when I heard the train (which once ran from East Cardondelet to the Imbs Mill in Belleville), I would run out the back on the hill, the engineer saw me and he would blow the whistle and wave."

Across the street was the brown-shingled building that Betz bought. It served as not only the train station, but also a saloon (run by Nick Rehg), shoe store, harness repair shop and small grocery store. Later, the Rehgs added a dance hall, where Betz's grandparents, who owned a farm nearby, celebrated their wedding reception in 1914.

"Then outside was a ball diamond," Mehrmann said. "When it was not being used, it was a pasture for sheep. It had no lights. By the implement shop was an old orchard where all the old, used implements sat."

In addition, the once thriving community had a blacksmith's shop, a county highway garage -- even a Ford dealership, Betz said. (Archie and Nick once served as Stookey Township road commissioners, Clyde Wehmeier, of Millstadt, told me.)

"So it was quite a thriving community," Betz said.

One well-remembered landmark that no longer exists was a steeply arched bridge that climbed over the Cairo Short Line (later Illinois Central) tracks as you approached Imbs Station from 163. (It was the same type of scary bridge longtime Belleville residents may remember on South 11th Street by the Henry Raab School.)

Joe Quevreaux remembers his late father-in-law, who lived nearby, telling him about one memorable dance he attended.

"He said some guy got drunked up and came down that dang hill there and went over that bridge far too fast," he said. "I guess his car went halfway airborne and then swerved from side to side. Anyway, there were all these old cars parked alongside the road that were attending the dance and he must have sideswiped a whole bunch of them. Holy cow."

So what took the wind out of Imbs Station's sails? Using his customary dry sense of humor, Archie Rehg once gave Betz a quick answer: Sears catalog.

"Instead of people coming in to buy their bib overalls and everything, they could just order them out of the catalog," Betz said. "He said that was the beginning of the end for the community."

According to "Illinois Place Names," the post office closed in 1908. The bridge is gone and even Betz's house burned shortly after he sold it in the 1980s. Maybe that's why Quevreaux still gets goose pimples when he looks at a section of the old railroad rail he salvaged and put alongside the woods at his house.

Today's trivia

What would famed aviator Charles Lindbergh's name have been had his grandfather not changed his after being charged with embezzlement and bribery in his native Sweden?

Answer to Thursday's trivia: Those familiar with legendary historical moments probably know that the famous message Samuel Morse sent on his new electronic telegraph on May 24, 1844, was "What hath God wrought." Sent from the U.S. Capitol to the old Mount Clare Depot in Baltimore, the biblical quotation comes from Numbers 23:23. What you may not know is that the message apparently was selected by Annie Ellsworth, daughter of U.S. Patent Commissioner Henry Leavitt Ellsworth. And, by the way, Roswell, N.M. -- the famous UFO town -- was named by businessman Van Smith to honor his father, Roswell Smith, who married Annie Ellsworth.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or or call 239-2465.

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