Early in the chilly morning of February 5, 1911, Ronald Reagan was born to a young family living above the bakery on Main Street in Tampico, IL. Rent for the three-bedroom apartment was $10 a month, affordable for the $1 a day Jack Reagan earned working for the Pitney Store down the street. Jack was a salesman and moved the family in and out of Tampico, Galesburg, Chicago, and Monmouth following work before finally settling the family in Dixon to become a shoe salesman in 1920 when Ronnie was 9.
The first thing I noticed about Tampico when I opened the car door was the quiet. Downtown Tampico could have served as the set of Mayberry--old brick storefronts lining both sides of one block surrounded by farmlands and grain silos. Most of the stores were empty or closed. The whole time I was there photographing, I saw maybe a dozen cars pass. Quiet.
After making a few pictures outside, I entered the RR Birthplace and Museum. Joan Johnson runs the site and was full of great stories and facts about the Reagans and their home in Tampico. She gave me a great tour of the three bedroom apartment where Ronald was born. The apartment has been lovingly restored to its likely early 1900's appearance. They even found the original wallpaper to reproduce. It was quite spacious and even had closets--rare for the time it was built. For most of these sites, the home is also the actual site of birth. The front bedroom overlooking Main Street is the room where Nelle Reagan gave birth to her two sons. I made pictures of the room and worked the windows, thinking about a young Ronnie looking out those very windows to the street below.
After photographing the buildings downtown, I made some pictures of the boyhood home down the street (now a private residence) then drove to Dixon to photograph the boyhood home there.
It must have been quite a free childhood for Ronald growing up in these small towns--free to run about, learning to swim in the local swimming hole, riding his friends' horses, all surrounded by open farmland and the hard working farmers who tended the fertile land.