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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

Trailer House Living

In the forties trailers were a new option in housing. A series of images from Heyworth were of a woman named Fern Downs living in a trailer in December -- before there were electric heaters or small gas heaters. There were three Fern Downs in McLean County, two of whom were cousins and descendants of the first man to settle in Downs, IL. The images were never used in the Pantagraph and I was curious why so many children were in the images -- Who would choose to live in a tiny trailer with two or three children??? It was a puzzling question until I found a small column on the editor's page on December 24, 1941.



Fern Downs, born 1904 and the daughter of George and Mary Downs, was teaching at Adrian School near Heyworth in the winter of 1941. For some reason she found her living accommodations unsatisfactory and took matters into her own hands. She purchased the trailer and placed it on the school grounds! I wonder what the living accommodations were. Even in 1941 young women were expected to live with their parents or with families of school children when teaching in rural areas. But Miss Downs obviously had some disposable income and spent it on a shiny new trailer!



How exciting for the children to see this interesting way of living. they must have been very curious about how she lived. For instance, where did she bathe? We know how she kept warm, because a stove pipe is obvious in one image. Also note the lamp, which was probably fueled with kerosene.



Fern Downs taught for over 35 years in McLean County and was principal of the Downs Grade School in 1944. She was an alternate delegate to a convention of the NEA in Indianapolis in 1943 and a delegate in 1953. In retirement she lived in Bloomington and was very active in women's and church activities. She also worked at the Withers Library and was the "How Time Flies" columnist in the Pantagraph for three years.


Excerpts from Trailer Topics and other publications about trailer life can be read at vintagetrailercamp.com on the History page.


As the Pantagraph said: "The students of Adrian School should be able to face the world with confidence. They are being taught by one who can."

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