Note to Readers: This column will increase in frequency to run every other Tuesday.
Genoa Mayor Mark Vicary is so busy finishing the last two classes toward his master’s degree he must have a hard time staying awake at City Council meetings. I had recently been to a town called Genoa just over the Sierras in Nevada and wanted to tell him all about it. He explained how he has been burning the midnight oil to complete his coursework, all the time handling a new job in the airline industry, where he received a recent promotion.
So I kept my phone call short, but mailed him a packet of Genoa, Nev., literature. We went there last month with my wife Kay’s Sycamore High classmate Joyce (Van Ostrand) Wensman who lives nearby in Gardnerville. She wanted us to witness the annual re-enactment of the Pony Express mail run from St. Joseph, Mo. to Sacramento, Calif., which dates back to 1860 before trains and planes could carry the mail faster.
The route covered almost 2,000 miles and usually could be ridden in less than 10 days. But the mostly teenage riders faced harrowing obstacles including blizzards, Indian attacks, robbers and steep trails that sometimes crippled their mounts. This method of delivering the U.S. Mail only lasted 19 months, but has become one of the legends of the wild west.
It was a thrill to see the rider trotting into Genoa at 7 a.m., passing saddlebags full of mail and watching the next rider with a fresh horse gallop away. In the back of my mind I could see a similar scenario back here in Genoa, Ill., when the Pacific Hotel (now a credit union at 501 W. Main St.) was a stopover on the Chicago-Galena Trail for stagecoaches and riders in the late 1800s.
I can just picture a team of sweaty horses pulling the Wells Fargo stage up in front of the hotel as the mail pouch was dropped off and passengers alighted for a drink, a meal, or overnight stay. We get to see that stagecoach pulled by a team of similar horses on Main Street each Genoa Pioneer Day, this year Aug. 25.
During our visit to this other Genoa, it dawned on me there must be more towns with the same name across the country. So I did some online research and found at least four. There is Genoa, Neb., with a population of 2,005, north of Kearney and Lincoln. It was first settled by Mormons who dropped off a wagon train heading out west in 1846.This has a similar history to Genoa, Nev., which was settled by Mormons in 1851 who called it Mormon Station, then in 1855 was renamed Genoa, after the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. The population of the Nevada town has dwindled to 221 people, though.
Oldest of all Genoas (outside of Italy) is in New York. That town was first named Milton in 1789, then changed to Genoa in 1808. The population is about 1,900 today. It is where Thomas Madison, founder of Genoa in Illinois, first lived.
Vicary can proudly boast he has the most thriving Genoa in the country, with a population of 5,200 and the expected arrival of an Amtrak station within the next couple of years. He did say he would enjoy making contact with the mayors or town leaders in those other namesake communities, so maybe after he gets that master’s degree, he will have the chance.
• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column will now appear every other Tuesday on this page.