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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 1994.    

    ILLIOPOLIS BEGINNINGS

Early Settlers

First, 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.

To 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.

A 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.

James 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.

Grandmother 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

Where 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.

The 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.

Up 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 Grandfather Postmaster.

Township 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.

Illiopolis Township was organized in 1861. Its Charter Officers were Ruben Smith, Clerk; Jesse A. Pickrel, Collector; Charles M. Turner, Assessor; and William Short, Supervisor.

The 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

The 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

As 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.

We 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.

 

Illiopolis Doctors

Dr. 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  

Thru 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.

The 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 goods stores.

Mrs. 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.

The 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.

 

The Opera House

The 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.  

 

  Tragedies and Amusements

The 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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