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Large clouds of thick, white smoke billow from a locomotive's smokestack. A deafening blast from the train's horn alerts onlookers to its arrival as the shiny steel machine lumbers to a screeching stop.

The conductor is the first to alight from the packed train and as he steps down, he yells: "Parker City, Parker City! Change for the Big Four."

This could have been the scene in 1910 in Parker City which was located in the northeast corner of Johnson County, about two miles from New Burnside.

Parker City was a community of around 200 residents but it seemed to be much larger since the area was always busy with travelers on the rail lines that crossed at the site. The rail lines were "the Big Four" (the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway), which later became the Penn Central and the Marion to Brookport branch of the Illinois Central Railroad.

Parker City was typical of other small towns in the area that grew out of their close distance to railroads. A few others included Forman in Johnson County and Canaville (also known as Williford) and New Dennison in Williamson County.

"Parker City used to be a good size town," says Ray Boner, 90, of rural Marion. "And every time I was there, it was always busy."

Boner said he was about five years old when he first remembers going to Parker City. He says he grew up about two miles west of the community and would later travel there on horseback.

However, today all that is left of Parker City is a concrete foundation and the steps that once led to the old railroad depot. Where the village once stood, it is now overgrown with trees and brush.

Parker City started to vanish in the late 1920s with the coming of the new highway system in Illinois.

In his book, "Ghost Towns of Southern Illinois," the late Glenn Sneed wrote that "the coming of highway transportation placed passengers in automobiles and freight in trucks. Parker City gradually dried up and faded away."

However, Parker City did have its heyday. It was a thriving business community and always seemed to be much larger because of the customers crowding into the depot waiting on trains.

At one time, there were two hotels, two stores, a post office, dining rooms and restaurants. Also, two barbershops were always full of customers.

The Parker City Post Office opened for business Dec. 28, 1889 and closed down Oct. 31, 1941.

There were approximately 40 houses in Parker City during its peak.

"I remember the houses on the hill," Boner said. "But that was a long time ago."

Sneed said Parker City was named after George Washington Parker, a former president of the St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute Railroad, which was a predecessor to the Big Four.

Today, the people, streets and buildings are all gone and Parker City can be seen only in old photographs from a bygone era.

 

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