What would Mayberry look like today?
I have a pretty good idea because I grew up in a Midwestern town in the 50s and 60s not unlike Mayberry. Delavan, Illinois is a town of 1,700 residents, a 30-minute drive south of Peoria.
When I was a pre-teen, Delavan was a sleepy little village with one full-time policeman and a couple of barber shops: Bale’s and Whistler’s. Whistler’s was most like Floyd’s. There was also a bowling alley, one grocery store and a church positioned every few blocks with taverns tucked between. Our park had two small ponds stocked with fish. Opie-looking kids dotted the shorelines most weekends. My beagle trotted beside my bike everywhere I went, especially to the park. We had one interconnected school building containing grades one through twelve. Of the 50 students in my 1970 high school graduating class, I started kindergarten with half of them. Like I said, it was a sleepy little town, not unlike Mayberry.
So, how would Mayberry appear today? I visited my 87-year-old parents this past Father’s Day, so I can tell you exactly what’s changed in Delavan. Some of the changes have been for the good, some not.
The first thing you see when you enter Delavan on Route 122 from the east is a new 20-acre medical marijuana plant. That’s right. Delavan has become the pot capital of central Illinois. What would Barney think?
This is not to suggest Delavan will compete with Boulder, Colorado any time soon. There’s no low-hanging fog over the city park, not yet anyway. The Mary Jane production is for medical purposes only. Still, my grandparents are buried at Prairie Rest Cemetery a half mile down the road, and I’m concerned with what might be leaching into the soil. When I meet my grandfather at the pearly gates, I expect he’ll have a Cheech and Chong grin on his face.
Main Street in Delavan has had a major facelift in recent years, thanks to the investments of a local resident. Several long-vacant buildings on the west side of Main have been remodeled. What once were a grocery store, post office, and café are now a pizza tavern, upscale restaurant, a wine store, and a yet-to-open brewery. Delavan residents no longer need to travel to Peoria to enjoy a good meal and a bottle of $40 wine, and it won’t be long before Delavan’s Otis can stop making his own moonshine. He’ll be able to buy it on Main Street, within walking distance of his jail cell.
On the downside, Delavan no longer has a bowling alley. In an era dominated by video games, rolling a ball at stationary pins has lost its luster. The town is also without a barber. Bale's and Whistler's shops have long-since closed. The town’s grocery store mysteriously burned to the ground several years ago, having previously lost most of its business to a new Walmart in a neighboring town.
My dad now gets his hair cut at Great Clips by a revolving cast of “stylists” with names like Tracie, JoJo and Tina on days when he and my mom drive to Walmart to buy groceries. It’s not the same as gossiping with neighbors while you wait your turn at Floyd’s—I mean Whistler’s.
Mayberry may not have gone down the same path as Delavan, but it’s not hard to imagine. I hear they recently opened a Walmart in Mount Pilot.