Historic Preservation Illinois Mid-Century Modern Monroe County Southern Illinois

Losing the Bee Hive Bowl

by Michael R. Allen

The Bee Hive Bowl in Waterloo, Illinois is about to end its long battle with redevelopment. after being listed on the market for over three years, the shuttered bowling alley, located on Illinois Route 3 just north of HH Road, will be demolished for yet another over-sized convenience store and gas station. The old Mobil station next door, a family-run affair housed in a building older than the Bee Hive, was wrecked last year for the same project.

Why does the demolition of a 1950s-era bowling alley in a small town outside of St. Louis merit my attention? For one thing, the transition tells an interesting story. For another, when I write about happenings in still-rural Monroe County, southeast of St. Louis, I am writing about the land that fostered my childhood. My attachment to the land and places of Monroe County runs deep, and its evolution since I left as a teenager disturbs, delights and intrigues me.

To the point, the Bee Hive Bowl was a county institution. The Bee Hive was Waterloo’s only bowling alley, and one of less than five in the county. Monroe County has always been Friday-night territory. Week nights are work nights for the farmers, especially in good weather. The bars attract small crowds, and the restaurants are closed by 9:00 p.m. But come Friday, people pack the taverns and restaurants to dispel some of the pent-up energy. When I was a kid, getting a lane at the Bee Hive was not easy on a weekend night. That did not matter too much to the adults, who could hang out in the restaurant eating fried chicken and drinking beer.

The sort of company and good cheer found at the Bee Hive was one of those things that connected small-town and country folks in Monroe County with everyone everywhere, at least in the United States. Every town, city and military base had a bar. Most had bowling alleys. Much is made of the correlation between bowling and urban working-class populations, but southern Illinois’ rural working-class (farm laborers and factory workers) loved their bowling, too.

All that has changed, of course. The Bee Hive closed up shop early in the 21st century, joining legions of bowling alleys in small towns and big cities everywhere. (In fact, the Bee Hive outlasted most of the bowling alleys in the city of St. Louis.) Obviously, in cities with diminishing density, the loss of bowling alleys makes sense. But in Monroe County, the towns continue to grow and increase population density. Of course, just like St. Louis, Waterloo has lost many of its manufacturing and well-paid blue-collar jobs. And young people there are as disinterested in a communal pastime like bowling as are youth in the urban neighbor to the west.

Hence, the Bee Hive’s impending demolition is not really the story of the loss of a retro modern building — it’s the story of the decline of a particular part of social life. Without bowlers, bowling alleys are hard to maintain. The new gas station and convenience store also tells us something about Waterloo. I’m not quite sure what that is — such operations are found alongside highways everywhere, and have little that is particularly local about them.

A side note that in intriguing is that the Bee Hive’s lanes now compose table tops at Gallagher’s, a popular restaurant and bar located in a historic building in downtown Waterloo. The owner had a use for the lanes that fit the new social life of the county seat. All is not lost, I guess, and Friday nights in Waterloo must be as fun as ever.

Architecture Historic Preservation Illinois Monroe County Southern Illinois

The Metal Roofs of Waterloo

by Michael R. Allen

I spent twelve pivotal years of my childhood living in Monroe, County Illinois, just southeast of the city of St. Louis. There I spent time taking in the historic architecture. Due to a mix of circumstances ranging from Germanic thrift to rural poverty, much of the remaining historic stock of the county retains a high level of integrity. Wooden window sashes, doors and porches remain. Barns have original siding. Walkways are often paved in brick. The county seat, Waterloo, offers a spectacular array of well-preserved brick and frame vernacular buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

One of the most noticeable aspects of Waterloo’s architecture is that many of the gabled and hipped roofs retain historic standing-seam metal roofs, maintained with silver paint. Some people even opt for new metal roofing when they replace a roof. There is no reason these roofs can’t last forever as long as the diligent owners keep them maintained.

Here is a sampling of metal roofs, all from just one side of one street: the north street face of Mill Street.

Agriculture Historic Preservation Monroe County Southern Illinois

Monroe County Corn Crib Still in Use

by Michael R. Allen

While driving in Monroe County, Illinois recently, I was delighted to find an intact historic corn crib still in use. This crib stands on the east side of Bluff Road between Fults and Kaskaskia roads. Corn cribs are used for storing whole ears of corn for livestock feed. Due to the widespread use of processed feeds since the middle twentieth century, corn crib usage is very low and corn cribs are poised to become an extinct agricultural building type.

The corn crib is part of a farm that includes a historic one-story, side-gabled frame house, replete with standing-seem metal roof, wooden window sashes and two additions. That level of historic integrity is not entirely uncommon on surviving farmsteads in southern Illinois. Many have been clad in newer siding, like this one, but metal roofs and wooden doors and sashes are common. Some farms still believe in the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” (Although I’m sure many farmers are simply working from “we’re broke, so we can’t fix it.”)