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Illiopolis Business Association
The History of Illiopolis
The following text is a speech
that was given by Kinahan Rule to the Sangamon County Historic Society in about
I wish to thank the program chairman and the Historical Society as a whole for
giving me the opportunity to relate to you some of the early history of
Illiopolis Township and the Village of Illiopolis. My sources of information
are, as the story was told to me by members of the family, particularly my
Grandmother, Cornelia Frank Dake Rule, a Great Granddaughter of James Hunter.
Other sources were the 1876 Edition of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County,
The Sangamon County Histories of 1881 and 1891, and visits with various
members of the early families who came to the community. My most recent visit
with Mrs. Mildred Pfeifer, who is in her elder nineties, helped me with
verifying some of the places of business and events of later periods in the
communityís history. It was suggested I bring some of the early items used by
the HunteróDakeóRule Family members. Pictures were nearly non-existent then
unless people sat for an artist, which was limited moreóoróless to the very
wealthy. I might add also, many things have been lost or destroyed because of
death of family members, moving, fire, and the fact these items just had no
further use. I know in our family particularly when my grandparents built our
present home, my Grandmother packed everything she could at the time the first
home was torn down. There were many things of her great grandparents and parents
that were burned for the lack of storage.
help you picture the period of the beginnings of the settlement of this part of
Sangamon County, Ninian Edwards was Governor of the newly created State of
Illinois. He being our third governor served during the period of 1826ó1830.
The Capitol of the State was in Vandalia. Illinois had only been a state
eight years when Ninian Edwards took office.
Mrs. Anderson, a widow, and her family were the first to settle here on Section
34. She arrived in 1826. James and John Hunter, my ancestors, arrived here in
December 1828. Those early settlers that followed were: James Hampton in October
1829; Samuel and Chesley Dickerson in 1831; Josiah Kent in 1836; and a Mr.
Allen, William Bridges, John Churchill, William Gregg, and Joel Watkins of
unknown arrival dates. As was customary of the times the first settlements were
located in or near the timber areas along the Sangamon River. Since the township
was primarily prairie, this prevented its rapid development. After the railroad
was built in the early 1850ís we then saw the gradual development of the
prairie land. Until that time the roads or trails followed the higher ground to
avoid the swampy low lying areas. Improved all weather roads did not come until
the paving of old Route U.S. 36, known earlier as Route 10, in the 1920ís and
the surfacing of the rural roads with gravel and oil in the 1920ís and
1930ís. I might digress here and add my Grandparents and Father told of the
deep mud on the roads. It would be so bad that a person would have to use heavy
harness and put extra horses on the rigs and wagons to get thru. It was not
uncommon to break the double trees when traveling the roads during bad weather.
Many times people could walk faster to their destination than the horse drawn
vehicles could make the journey. The trip to the cemetery with a body was a very
trying experience up into the 1920ís because the roads were so very bad. The
distance was less than two miles from town to Riverside Cemetery. With the
coming of the first automobiles they were put in the shed and the battery stored
for the winter by November and were not taken out of storage until late Spring,
when the roads had dried out and had been graded.
Hunter was born in Loudon County, Virginia August 14, 1778 and as a young man
came across the mountains to Gallatin County, Kentucky. He met Rachel Scott, a
Virginia girl, born October 17, 1783. They were married and to this family were
born nine children in Gallatin County. They came to Sangamon County in December
1828. The homestead was located in the bend of the old state road in Section 24.
Grandfather accumulated a sizeable acreage in this area. It was my understanding
that each one of the children received 160 acres or its equivalent in money. My
Great Grandmother, Sarah L. Hunter Dake, shared equally with her aunts and
uncles due to the fact she was raised from infancy by her grandparents.
Dake was the daughter of James Hunter, the fourth child and third son in the
James Hunter Family, and Lucinda Warnick. Sarahís Mother died six days after
her birth. Her Father left her with his parents and went to Iowa and remarried.
He passed away out there in 1845. On April 18, 1861 she married Sylvanus Dake in
Springfield. Grandfather Dake came to Illinois in 1856 from Cattaraugu County,
New York. First, he worked as a fireman and later as an engineer on the Chicago
& Alton Railroad. Later he was an engineer on the Wabash, St. Louis, and
Pacific Railway. He was engineer on the Decatur to Danville run during the
LincolnóDouglas Debates. To show his esteemed passengers the quality of his
favorite engine, he sped away at fifty miles per hour. Douglas became quite
alarmed and Lincoln enjoyed the speed and urged him to go still faster. From
1859 to 1864 he was agent here at Illiopolis Station. He gave up the station
after much urging of his wife because of the platform was so dangerous in bad
weather. Earlier another agent slipped and fell under a train and lost a limb.
When he left the railroad he opened the first lumberyard here. By 1891 it was
estimated 100 million board feet of lumber had been handled thru the lumberyard.
This business was operated by the family until sometime in 1930.
Origins of Illiopolis
and why did the name of Illiopolis originate? The Township got its name from a
City of Illiopolis that was laid out in the Northwest Quarter of Sec≠tion 18 in
1834, when the State Government was contemplating moving the Capitol at Vandalia
farther north. This city was never built. The proposed city was conceived and
laid out by John Taylor, Eli Blankenship and Governor Duncan approximately one
half mile south of the present village. This city was de≠scribed as being the
geographical center of Illinois. Some lots were sold. A hotel was built, its
proprietor being Jesse Kent. The building burned and was never rebuilt. Of
course, you all know how the influence of the Long Nine resulted in Springfield
being named the new State Capitol. Consequently, any further efforts of the
proposed City of Illinois were abandoned.
original village was laid out and platted around the Railroad Station in the
center of section 7 by William Wilson, Colonel Timothy Carter of Springfield,
and Thomas Mather, a Vice President of the Union Pacific Railroad. The plat was
recorded under the date of October 15, 1856. The village was first named Wilson
in honor of the Chief Justice, and also, one of its proprietors. The first house
was built in 1854 by a Mr. Ganson, the station agent for the Railroad Company.
The building served as a home and store. To supply water for the engines the
Railroad had a large windmill to pump the water to the water tower tank.
to 1859 there were few housesó Grandfather Dake said one or two, when he came
to the village. After President Lincoln assumed office he commissioned
organization did not come to Sangamon County until after the general election
Tuesday, November 6, 1860. The Commissioners appointed by the court submitted
their report on March 1, 1861. Originally, twenty-two townships were proposed
then New Berlin Township was split from Island Grove and Wheatfield (Lanesville)
was split from Illiopolis thus making twenty-four townships in the County.
Township was organized in 1861. Its Charter Officers were Ruben Smith, Clerk;
Jesse A. Pickrel, Collector; Charles M. Turner, Assessor; and William Short,
first village council was organized in 1869. The Charter Members were David
Binkley, John S. Hampton, John Blain, Miles H. Wilmot and Peter Rasar.
Public Schools Come to Illiopolis
first public school was established in 1840 and the first building was built in
1845. The slow coming of the public school was attributed to the sparse
settlement of the area. There is no record of the first religious services being
held in the area. This, also, was attributed to the same reason as in the
instance of the slow development of the schools. The first schoolhouse in
Illiopolis was a frame building built in the winter of 1861-62. The building was
used for both school and religious services for sometime. As the village grew in
1867 a brick two-story addition was built on the front of this first building.
At this point the school became a graded system. In 1880 the frame building was
torn down and a two-story addition the same size as the brick building was
added. Also, a hall and stairway was added to the front portion of the building.
Four classrooms resulted from this remodeling and four teachers were employed.
By the turn of the century the school had grown further and the discipline had
gotten out hand. In 1911 Mr. Patrick Sullivan was hired to correct this
situation. He was beloved by all during his thirty-six years in this position.
He was strict, but administered punishment with love at the same time. In 1912
was the first graduating class of the four-year high school. Illiopolis had the
only four-year high school East of Springfield up to 1938ó39, when Tri-City
High School was organized and Riverton became a four-year High School. Soon
after 1912 another two-story addition was added to the school to provide more
classroom particularly for the high school. In 1925 the school burned.
The new High School and Grade School buildings were built in 1926. Since
then the Grade School was closed and a couple additions were built on to the
High School to accommodate the whole system in one physical facility.
Churches in Illiopolis
stated before, there is no record of the first religious service being held. The
early services were held in the home or school buildings. So far, I have not
located any pictures of the first church buildings in Illiopolis. The first
buildings of the Methodist, Catholic, and Christian congregations were frame
buildings. As Mrs. Pfeifer described them as just little country churches
frequently seen throughout the rural areas. These buildings were built in the
1860ís and 1870ís. To give you an idea of the architecture of these
buildings, the main portion of the Christian is the only remaining building. The
Methodist built a new building around 1904 and another building in 1970. The
Catholics built their first church in 1867. The present building was built in
1895.It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the County outside of
Springfield. The Christian Church first met at the school and the Methodist
Church before building its first building. The building was remodeled around
1914. It remains very much as it was when completed. The most outstanding
feature of this building is its beautiful stained glass windows.
had some very outstanding pastors at each of these churches. Probably, one of
the most remembered is Father Charles Manuel. He came to the commun≠ity in 1877
and remained till his death in 1901. He would go to minister to the sick and
needy often times wading miles through the deep mud during the time of bad
weather. When there was a problem often times he and Great Grandmother, Sarah
Dake, worked together to help those in need. Probably during these early times
of difficult and inconveniences we saw our Christian beliefs being truly
practiced in the everyday living of the time.
Bernard Stuve was the first Doctor in the community. He stayed about eight years
before moving to Springfield to begin a law practice. The Stuve home was a very
small story and half home that stood east of the Old Illiopolis Hotel on Mary
Street. The first Mass said in Illiopolis was in this home in 1866. Other
Doctors that served this early period were W.R. Vanhook, William Maxwell, Frank
Hall, J. P. Cowdin,Mayes and his sons Corwin Mayes and Dugan. Later came Doctors
Wilcoxson, V. B. Standford, and Robert Bower.
Modern Improvements and New Businesses
the years, many improvements came: the first fire truck was purchased in 1926 ,
a Rio. The water system and the curbing of the street were installed in the
1930ís; and the sewage plant in the 1950ís. We can boast today of wide and
excellent hard surfaced streets that are well lighted.
early businesses in the village served the general needs of the community. By
the turn of the century there were four or five grocery stores, some of whom
become general stores with dry goods; a millinery shop; a tailor shop; two
hardware stores; two drug-stores; a jewe1ry shop; three banks; a bakery; a pop
factory; a broom factory;: blacksmith shops;, three hotels; grain elevators; and
a brick and tile yard. J. W. Miller operated an early bank in the community.
Henry Fait, Jim Bradley, and J. Capps operated the early grocery and. or dry
Lewis came here from the Dawson area to open the first Rooming House in the
1850ís. This site was at the corner of Mary and Sixth streets. The building
has been remodeled and added to make up the present building. The Sears House
stood next to the tracks at the corner of Louisa and Fifth Streets.
This building burned in the early 1920ís. A two-story building brick
building was built to provide space for the Ford Auto Agency for many years.
Across the street stood the McGuffin House later becoming the Perkins Hotel. The
new Post Office stands on this spot.
livery stable built and operated by Mr. Thomas Sutherland around 1908 or 1910
was an outstanding structure of the times. My Grandfather, Thomas 0. Rule,
designed and built this building for Mr. Sutherland to his specifications. This
building has a truss supported clear span roof. These trusses were to carry the
weight of the loft. These trusses can be adjusted as needed by adjusting the
turnbuckles. Even today this building, which has seen many varied uses, still
stands in good condition.
Opera House was built by the Masonic Lodge after a big fire destroyed a large
portion of the downtown area in the early 1890ís. This was probably the finest
building of its time in the County outside of Springfield. This building stood
till a sewer gas explosion on the 4th of July 1950 cased it to burn. This was a
very sad day, because so many fine memories of the times past came to an end.
The auditorium was outstanding. The acoustics were excellent. There were
dressing rooms in the basement and the stage could be accessed for scenery and
equipment changes for the performances. I remember the beautiful painting on the
ceiling. Even though it faded over the years, it was never changed. On the
second floor, the Masonic Lodge had a large lodge room, reception rooms and a
dining room that seated over a hundred people.
community has seen tragedy as well as amusement from the events over the years.
Some of those I thought worth mentioning are: the so-called riot of 1872 when a
fight erupted over the throwing of firecrackers and finally ending in the
shooting and fatally injuring of one man after several days of fighting. In
about 1905 the Catholic Rectory was being remodeled and the jacks and cribbing
gave way and the house fell killing one man and injuring others. The rectory was
ruined, therefore, resulting in building the present rectory. Later one of the
operators of the tile yard was oiling the machinery of a night getting ready for
the next day, and he became entangled in the flywheel. He was found sometime
later and the machinery still was running. For the amusing side, I believe with
all its disgust there were lots or laughs when a large cache of moonshine was
found south of town. The local author≠ities dumped their find down the town
tile. Those who imbibed and the high-school boys, went down to the next block
and lifted the manhole cover and scooped the booze into bottles. As you can
guess, the park was full of many drunk and sick fellows. Everyone had a jug and
was freely offering it to their friends.
In closing there are many people who contributed much to the development and growth of this area that were not mentioned specifically. This was not intended as a slight. Bather, I tried to cover the important events. I believe, I have been very fortunate to be old enough to remember the details related to me by my family and others.
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