|Oquawka History continued|
Three spots on the east bank of the Mississippi were well known to the natives and named by them. Upper Yellow Banks or Denison's Landing, now New Boston; a second south of Keithsburg about three miles they called Middle Yellow Banks and the third being Lower Yellow Banks or Oquawkiek. They were named The Yellow Banks because they were made up of yellow sand.
It was not until 1829 that these lands were brought into market. In 1830 a third treaty was concluded by which the Indians agreed to cross over the Mississippi peaceably to make their homes a little nearer to the setting sun. The reader can easily comprehend from the foregoing what the attractions were, as far as society is concerned, on the banks of the Mississippi in 1827.
It was here at Lower Yellow Banks that Dr. Galland erected his crude log cabin nor far from the river and began his trade with the Indians until aforesaid, becoming discouraged and wanted to sell. In September of 1828 he sold his interest to S.S. Phelps who then began his extensive trade with the Indians.
Following is a short biography of the founder of Oquawka. Stephen Summer Phelps was born in Palmyra, New York, August 1, 1805. His father and mother, Stephen and Lois Phelps were natives of Weathersfield, Conn. The parents of both removed to Palmyra at an early day and there the young people were married and remained until after the birth of their children. From there they moved to Canandagua, New York where they opened a Hotel known as the Phelps House. Stephen Summer was the fifth child in a family of seven, having two older sisters and two brothers younger than himself.
Emigration began to wend its way westward. The Phelps boys, among others, turned their eyes toward the undeveloped west, and walked from Canandagua to Kentucky where he taught school for several months, after which he returned to New York via Illinois, performing the return trip also on foot.
In 1820 Alexis accompanied by a younger brother, S. S. Phelps, came to Illinois and selected a residence for the family near the present sight of Springfield. Here they broke eighty acres of land the next spring and built a log house. In the fall of 1821 they were joined by the remainder of the family. They remained in Sangamon County four years and then moved to Lewistown. S. S. Phelps engaged in the Indian trade for his father and traded through all the country north and east of Peoria. In the fall of 1826 he built a trading post at Starved Rock.
In 1828 S. S. Phelps was married to Miss Phebe Chase of Fulton County. Leaving his young wife t her home he went to join his brother Alexis, who in the mean time had gone to Galena and engaged in lead mining, and who now wrote that if Summer would come and assist him, he would give him one third of the profits and assume all risks. He accepted the offer of Alexis and arrived in Galena the first of March 1828. Alexis sent him on to Dodgeville, Wisconsin where he put up a furnace as the brothers proposed to engage in the smelting business. Mr. Phelps also put up a log cabin at Dodgeville for his home. Everything now ready, he started for Fulton County for his wife. On his slow journey through the wild and unsettled country he was taken sick from mineral poisoning caused by working with the lead and had to abandon mining.
About this time a Jeremiah Smith, who afterward built the Mill commonly known as "Jack's Mill" landed at Yellow Banks and proceeded to Lewistown on foot. He brought the news that Dr. Galland who had settled at Oquawka was discouraged and wished to sell his claim. The father of S. S. Phelps sent Smith back to buy the claim for his son and paid $400.00 for it. As soon as his health was back to normal from the lead poisoning, Summer and his wife took possession of the purchase and September 10, 1828 set up their household goods in the crude log house previously occupied by Dr. Galland. S. S. Phelps was accompanied by a younger brother, William, and for many years the lives of the two brothers were inseparable.
The brothers soon established an extensive trade with the Sac and Fox Indians. William went to Upper Yellow Banks, New Boston, and succeeded in holding a position opposite the mouth of the Iowa River for the purpose of trading with Chief Keokuk's people who had a village on the Iowa River a few miles above where it empties into the Mississippi River. After remaining there until their trade with those Indians was secured, William returned to Oquawka. About this same time Dr. Galland had become discouraged with his newest location and sent word to the Phelps Brothers that if they could hold his claim there they were welcome to it. William moved down there and after several skirmishes with both red and white man, held his position and thus had access to the Indian villages of a large scope of country.
By 1832 Blackhawk was creating lots of problems along the Mississippi.S. S. Phelps was offered, by the government, the office of Commissary and ranked as Major, but remained at the Trading Post at Yellow Banks, as it was thought that he could exert more influence so near the villages of the dissatisfied savages than in a more active service.
The settlement at Oquawka now consisted of the log dwelling and a crude structure which was called a store. More settlers had moved into the area and the site of this early settlement was situated on the end of Knox Street near the river.
The Indians at this time were divided into two bands. One under Chief Keokuk and the other under Blackhawk. Trusting to his friends among the Indians to warn him in case of danger, Mr. Phelps did not build a Fort and promised to warn the neighboring settlements if any difficulty with the Indians arose. Their only safeguard against an attack was the huge logs which formed the walls of the dwelling. It was during this unsettled time with Blackhawk and his followers that Chief Tama, who was a good friend of Mr. Phelps, and Tama's wife, were at the home of Phelps visiting and to get word of what was happening in the war with Blackhawk.
A drunken group of fifty or more soldiers surrounded the Phelps dwelling demanding that he turn over to them the Indians he was harboring or suffer the consequences. Mr. Phelps handled this situation by stalling the soldiers while a friend and neighbor, William Cousland, slipped from the house and succeeded in warning other settlers and friends who hastened to the Phelps house, surrounding it, and the drunken soldiers surrendered and were put under arrest. A Judge Pence assumed command. Mr. Phelps thanked the rescuers and told them that he would warn them when it was time to fortify. "The time has come when we must defend ourselves, not from the Indians, but from the white men."
The settlers now proceeded to arrange for protection in case of more trouble. Forts were built on the Pence farm and in Oquawka. The Blackhawk war was fought to the north of Oquaw2ka, mostly along the Rock River. Not long after the above incident happened, Blackhawk was conquered and taken prisoner to St. Louis. It was during this Blackhawk trouble that Abe Lincoln made one of his many visits to Oquawka and he became very close friends with the Phelps family.
About this time Gen. Scott passed down the river with a portion of his army and enroute stopped at Yellow Banks to shake the hand thank Mr. Phelps for his services in saving the lives of Chief Tama and his family, and in so doing kept the friendly Indians from going on the warpath and killing many settlers.
In 1830 S. S. Phelps was joined by his brother Alexis in Oquawka and after the close of the Blackhawk War they interested themselves in improving the town.
Many new settlers had moved into the area and more were steadily coming. With improved river transportation it began to look as if Oquawka would become a prosperous and growing city. The little log cabin to which Mr. Phelps had added more room, and also built a small warehouse to, was joined with the building close by, of a fine hotel known as the e Pioneer House. It was a two story building with large front porch supported by large all wooden columns which were hand hewn from solid logs and ornamented by hand in St. Louis and brought up the river by boat. At somewhat near the same time another building had been built and was known as the Catfish Hotel. To provide ice for warm weather use, there had been an excavation made into the side of a sand bank and lined from the frozen Mississippi, hauled to the icehouse, stacked inside and covered with sawdust to keep it from thawing.It would last all summer long this way. These buildings were all located on, or very near to Block 56, now the property of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur C. Melburg and Kent Hamilton.
About this same time in the years 1833-34, Alexis Phelps built the beautiful two-story home on Block 42 on a high sandy bank overlooking the Mississippi River just a block north of the Phelps Brothers store. This old house is still standing and was put on the National Register of Historic Places on April 28, 1982. It is now the property of the Henderson County Historical Society. It is a great desire of the Historical Society that enough funds can be raised to restore this part of Oquawka's historic past.
East street in Oquawka is 75 feet in width, each alley 20 feet wide, each lot 50 foot front by 150 foot in depth, excepting the lots in fractional blocks on and near the river and those fronting on North and South Market which have the depth indicated on the lines of lots. All of which is hereby certified at Oquawka in the County of Warren and State of Illinois this Ninth day of July, A.D.1836 by Alexis Phelps, Deputy for Wm. C. Butler, County Surveyor.
Know all men by these present that the undersigned owners and proprietors of Oquawka do hereby give and set apart for public use all streets, alleys, and public grounds as marked on the plat of said town, excepting 50 feet square between the west end of Knox Street and the river on which is situated the store and warehouse of S. Phelps and Co., which they are to continue to use and occupy until required to remove their buildings for the corporation of said town which is not to be done until the expiration of two years from the 1st day of may next after which said 50 feet square is to be appropriated for public use.
Still in anticipation that Oquawka would become a large city due to its favorable location on the river, which at that time was the only form of transporting the things needed for survival and the expanding of most any business of that day in time, so after the plating of the town, notices were sent East as far as New York that lots would be sold at auction in July, 1836. At the specified time men came in large numbers from all over the country. Gov. Duncan of Illinois, who had already bought a fourth interest in the town from Alexis and S. S. Phelps for $50,000.00, offered the Phelps Brothers another $100,000.oo for their other interests, but they refused the offer. It is said that lots sold on an average of $900.00, some running up into the thousands.
While Oquawka did not grow into the city its founders anticipated it did become, before the days of the railroads, a wonderful business and shipping center. For instance, in 1847-48, there were shipped from Oquawka by river, 5200 head of hogs; 130,148 bushels of wheat; 430316 bushels of corn; 7084 barrels of flour; 2250 barrels of pork; 1034 barrels of lard; 9 barrels of beef; 440 barrels of corn meal; 359,776 pounds of bulk pork; 12,555 pounds of butter; 21,580 pounds of hides; 4880 pounds of bacon; and in addition, three flat boat loads of pork, tow of corn and one of hay, besides a large amount of various articles, among them being furs in the among of $11150.20. In 1852 the total exports clearing through Oquawka were $441,746.oo and the imports $412,880.00. With the advent of the railroads, however, the business began to dwindle and the dream of a big city vanished.
Mr. Phelps was ever first in forwarding the interest of the town. He and his brother, Alexis, built the first school house and supported the first teacher.
When Henderson County was separated from Warren County in 1841, the brothers donated 200 lots to the County, thus securing the permanent location of the county seat in Oquawka. The first meeting of the Commissioners of Henderson County was held on April 19, 1841 and the first County Commissioners were:
At this meeting the County Seals were authorized. The County Commissioners Court Seal was to be an Indian in a canoe design and the Circuit Court to be the Temple of Liberty. At this meeting, too, the contract for building of the new Court House was awarded to Alexis Phelps. The Commissioners order 175,000 brick and 227 perch of stone to be contracted and delivered for the erection of the new Court House, also twenty-two window frames and six door frames. Alexis' bid was $1219.00. Prior to the separation of Henderson County from Warren County, the first session of the Warren County Circuit Court was held March 28, 1831 in the home of S.S. Phelps at Lower Yellow Banks which was the temporary County Seat, the permanent County seat having not yet been located.
In plating the town of Oquawka the Phelps Brothers also made some other great contributions in lots to be used for churches and schools. For the Churches, theses lots were listed as Lot 12 in blocks 75 and 37 and Lots 10 in block 48 and 8 in block 75. Each denomination to have their choice of lots as they were prepared to build thereon. For the Schools, Lot 9 in blocks 5,37, and 75 and Lot 7 in block 48. The whole of Block 35 was appropriated as a public square and on Henry Street and on Warren Street between Fourth Street and Fifth Street there was fifty foot of frontage on each side of the streets called North Market and South Market, evidently intended to be used as a marketing place for farm produce.
The old fenced section of the Oquawka Cemetery, where the founder of our town and where so many of our loved ones lay at rest, was donated by the Phelps Brothers.
Twelve years after he first arrived in Oquawka, Sumner Phelps had prospered to the point where he in 1840 was able to erect a fine new house. He located on the south edge of town overlooking a large curving bend of the river. The house was originally built an almost duplicate of his brother Alexis' home. This historic old home is now the property of Mr. And Mrs. Max Richmond and is still in good condition considering its age.
Oquawka history does not state as to where or when the first Church or School was built. The first record found was the building of the Presbyterian Church. The Church is on Third Street on Lots 10, 11 & 14, Block 53 and was built in 1842-43. There have been new additions and changes through the years but as a whole the old portion is still the same. The old walnut siding it was sided with is still in place under the newer aluminum siding. This Church is used today as the United Methodist Church.
The Church bell was donated by S.S. Phelps and Alexis Phelps and first was rung at the funeral of Alexis Phelps who died December 11, 1846. It is noted that the bell arrived just before this event and a crew of men worked most of the night to have it in place at the time of the funeral. It is well to note here that Abraham Lincoln attended the funeral of Alexis Phelps and sat with the family. Many of the people thought Lincoln was just one of the many Phelps bothers because of the amazing resemblance between him and the Phelps.
The first history of the building of a Methodist Episcopal Church dates back to the 1850's. That being the M.E. Church that was dedicated on September 21, 1856. This old building still stands and at the present time is Dennis Johnson's TV Sales and Repair Shop. The bell of this old church has been removed and now is displayed in front of the Johnson home on 5th Street in Oquawka.
The first newspaper published in Oquawka and Henderson County was the Oquawka Spectator, founded February 12, 1848 by Col. John B. Patterson. This paper suspended operation with the January 22, 1908 edition.
The Oquawka Plaindealer was the second paper. It began on July 24, 1852 by Francis A. Dallam. This publication was later sold and moved to Biggsville.
There was formerly a Democratic paper published at Oquawka known as The Henderson County Democrat. History does not reveal the name of this publisher but mentions that it was sold to a Mr. Fred Simpson of Oquawka. Mr. Simpson continued to publish the paper until April 1, 1890 when he sold it to L.I. Hutchins who continued to publish it for about fourteen years.
The Henderson County Journal was established by Eugene A. Hail in May, 1872. He later moved the paper to Macomb in June of 1873 but returned it to Oquawka in August of 1878 and remained the Editor until 1923 when Ray E. Brooking purchased it from him. Mr. Brooking published the Journal until the early 1940's when he sold his interest to C.M. Bell & Paul G. Bell. The Bells have since moved the publication to Stronghurst and the papers name has been changed to The Henderson County Quill and still serves Henderson County well.
On February 3, 1955 the Riverside Press was born. Arthur C. Melburg and Louise Louck being the Editors. It more or less carried the local home town news and the business advertising. It served the local area well until early or mid 1960's when it ceased publication.
But on May 17, 1978 an all-new weekly newspaper appeared in Oquawka mail boxes. The publisher, Augustine S. Hart III had become acquainted with the area while attending College in Monmouth, Illinois and decided to make his home just a few miles north of Oquawka and a year or so later started the publishing of "Oquawka Current". The Current has done well and we look forward to receiving it every Wednesday. A local publication is important in a moderate sized locality, and we hope Oquawka can help keep the "Current" flowing, or should it be said, anchored here on the Oquawka shores of the Mississippi.
It was through the search for publishing material that the Editor of the Current discovered that a 5 acre valuable piece of land bordering on the banks of the Mississippi that had been given to the Boy Scout organization by LeRoy and Clarence Delabar back in 1956, was about to be sold for a low price of $3400.00. Through the efforts of Mr. Hart and a Board of Directors and pledges of money from many interested citizens of a wide area including Iowa, $20,000.00 was raised to pay appraised value to the Prairie Council of Scouts. This 5-acre tract of land is now known by the name of "Delabar Mississippi Youth Park". It is located just above the northern city limits of Oquawka and joins the southern boundary of the beautiful Delabar State Park that was also a gift of the Delabar family on the 3oth day of March, 1959.
It should be added here that the publisher of Oquawka's first newspaper, the Spectator, was the man chosen by that great Indian warrior, Blackhawk, to write his autobiography.
If it had not been for the Mississippi River there is little doubt that there would have been an Oquawka here to live in and enjoy. As early as the 1820's there was an occasional steamboat pass this area on its way to the lead mines in Galena with supplies for Galena and a Fort also on the upper Mississippi.
But in the day that Isaac Galland built that first little log cabin that the Phelps Brothers turned into a trading post and then into the town of Oquawka, the mode of travel was by canoe and flat boats. As more settlers moved in and farmland developed and crops were raised, the need for better transportation prevailed.
Steamboats were being improved each time a new one was built and served the communities along the river with great success. As our town grew, warehouses were built along the riverfront to store the commodities until a boat came along to carry them down the river to a point of distribution.
It was at this point in time that our city of Oquawka really reached its peak. From the early 1840's through the 1850's, Oquawka was a booming town and on it's way to becoming a large city.
Some roads were connecting nearby communities but they were crude and could only be used as weather conditions dictated but they were the only means of transporting the early settlers produce to the shipping point at Oquawka.
At this same period, 1840, the Railroads were beginning to run their shiny rails all directions in the country and since most of the emigration was headed toward the West the railroads came that way too. The Phelps Brothers could see that the coming of the railroads were definitely going to open up the West.
As history states in 1849, the Peoria & Oquawka Railroad Company was formed and began selling stock at $100.00 a share and it was estimated to cost $6000.00 to $10000.00 a mile to develop so perhaps Oquawka missed their first and only chance of becoming a big city when in 1851 a county wide referendum to allow the County to subscribe to $50,000.00 of Peoria & Oquawka Railroad stock was defeated. By 1855 the Peoria & Oquawka Railroad Company line had reached Monmouth.
But from that point the Oquawka part of the railroad began to angle off toward the southwest to Burlington, Iowa, so our town was completely by-passed by the railroad that originally bore its name. It wasn't until 1869, when the Rockford, Rock Island and St. Louis Railroad Company built a line along the Illinois side of the Mississippi River that Oquawka got its first railroad. This section of tract was eventually bought by the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy Railroad. This provided Oquawka with much faster transportation of people and commodities. There was a passenger train (always the DOLLY to the citizens of Oquawka) north in the early morning and return in the evening. About mid-morning each day a freight train would bring a lot of supplies needed by the townspeople. This freight train would then make its return run in the afternoon and return to the main line of the railroad at Gladstone.
This branch of the C.B.& Q. served Oquawka until 1952. A commemorative run of the "Dolly" was made on Saturday, February 16, 1952. A large crowd of people were there to take the last ride on the Dolly from here to Keithsburg and return, and many more were just there to see "her" for the last time.
For a number of years after the railroad reached Oquawka, the river was still an important mode of transportation, especially for heavy and bulky material. Large rafts of logs were cut and tied together on the upper river and floated to their destination with the help of steamboats But more and better vehicular roads were being built that drained away the large volume of commodities that used to be shipped from Oquawka by boat. In 1852 Oquawka's population was 1800. In 1865 it was estimated to be 1000.
Yes, Oquawka still has the old Mississippi and a steamboat passing her shores occasionally. We also have many more boats pushing barges holding many tons of farm produce, fertilizer, coal, heavy equipment, etc., but they stop only occasionally at our town. Yet the old Mississippi is still a very important part of Oquawka. It draws many people from far and wide for boating, fishing and just to come and watch its waters flow by.
Starting from the levee that was once the abandoned railroad bed we come to the Oquawka diner, owned and operated by George Olson, Jr. In 1952 George and Ida Olson along with their children, George Jr. and Donna, started this small riverside restaurant. Small, because at the time they opened, it was just a small place with very good food. About a year later they enlarged by moving what used to be an old city boat or warehouse and later the Jim and Harry McOlgan fish house, to the east side of the Diner, thus giving a much larger seating capacity for the patrons. George Jr. is still running the Diner today.
In an earlier day yet, just east of the Diner was the Hodson Canning Factory. It has long since been gone.
Just two years ago in 1984 the old brick structure that used to be the quarters of the Moir Bank that Abe Lincoln stood in front of and gave his part of the Lincoln-Douglas debate, had to be torn down because of deterioration. During its past useful years it was known as the Blue Goose Tavern.
Just across 2nd Street was a large brick building that was built in the 1880's and was called the chicken factory. It also at one time was a roller skating rink. East of this building was an old frame house, at one time a residence, but later was used as a cream and milk buying station. Next to the alley was one of the several ice storage places that were scattered at different places around town.
On Schuyler Street there are many empty buildings along this once store lined street. There are still some of the old brick buildings that remind us of those more prosperous years of the 1840's and 1850's. It seems as if no record has been found that tells us when most of the remaining old structures were built.
Only just a few years ago the old Hodson building that had stood vacant and in bad condition caught on fire and is now only a memory. Oquawka's Tastee Delite now occupies the site. Then next to the Hodson building had stood another old building known as the Patterson building. It had been torn down shortly before the Hodson fire. It, like the Hodson Building, also was a three-story building, and there are folks around yet that can remember the dances held there.
In the same block and just east of these two buildings mentioned had stood Oquawka's most recent Hotel. It was one of the older buildings in our town having been built by John McKinney, Sr. in 1844. It was their home until 1873 when they moved to Aledo. No record can be found as to what use the house was put to until 1907 when history shows that Mr. & Mrs. J.W. Braun bought the house and started a Hotel. Mrs. Braun died in 1923 and the Hotel was closed until later in 1923 when Robert McDill leased it. He finally gave it up and it was locked up.
When the Braun estate was settled Mrs. Grace Knox bought the building in the spring of 1924 and ran a Hotel there, known as Knox's Inn until her death in 1958. Later it had several owners. Wm. and Marge Delabar owned it for a while and in 1958 sold it to Gladys McDavid and she sold it to Ardyth Endicott in 1961
Jess and Marge Parrish then purchased it and operated it as a Hotel and then converted it into a Shelter Care Home. Mildred Delabar Kelly leased the home and ran it as a Shelter Care Home for seven years. After the closing of the Shelter Care Home there was some question as to who the owner was and in April of 1980 fire burned this beautiful historic bit of Oquawka so badly that it had to be completely demolished.
Earlier in 1976 as Oquawka was preparing for our Nation's 200th Birthday, fire broke out on the south side of Schuyler Street between 3rd and 4th Streets, burning all the buildings up to the Meloan Drug Store and doing a lot of smoke and water damage to it. This building, one of the most attractive buildings in the business district was built in 1876 and served as our Drug Store for many years. There are still quite a few old buildings standing and in use today that were built back in the "boom time" of Oquawka. Some, the time of erection can be found but others have not been found as yet.
The three story brick building on the corner of Third and Schuyler Streets, now occupied by Mickie's Odds and Ends, was erected around 1846 and was a furniture factory run by Joseph Chickering and Son until 1861 and then he went into the merchandising business. Early in the 1900's the second floor contained Oquawka's first telephone system. The building has been used as a grocery store by several individuals. The buildings on to the east as far as the alley were also built in the 1880's, except possibly the one used now as Melburg's Tap operated by Alvie Louck and Sally Bowman. In the early 1900's Joseph Wiegand and Son manufactured cigars and ran a tobacco store here. It has been a Tavern since then. The old brick next-door east was a Harness factory for years. This business being operated by J.S. Linell.
The Peters Barber Shop next to the alley was built in 1852 as a Barber Shop and according to Chauncey Peters, who is till cutting hair here as his Dad did before him, tells this writer that it has always continued to be a Barber Shop. At one time a billiard parlor was a part of the Barber Shop.
The big Opera House east across the alley was built in 1895. It in recent years has been converted at least in part, into apartments on the upper levels. This beautiful building surely deserved a better fate. Many of Oquawka's citizens still remember the better days of this proud addition to Schuyler Street. The stage and auditorium were on the second floor with a large seating capacity on the main floor and a balcony across the back that held many more seats. There was some great entertainment that appeared on that stage. The first moving pictures in Oquawka were shown here. At one time there were Doctor's offices in the smaller rooms overlooking the street. On the lower level at least in the 20's and 30's the Post Office occupied the entrance closest to the alley and the First State Bank served Oquawka from the eastern entrance for many years. On June 18, 1947 Henderson County bought this building from James H. & Daisy Devore. Since the Court House was not large enough to accommodate all the County Offices, the County made offices for the State's Attorney and County Superintendent of Schools on the 2nd Floor. The Superintendent's offices was later moved to the 3rd floor when more space was need. The Supervisor of Assessments office was also on the 3rd Floor. The County Treasurer's office was located on the first floor which had housed the old First State Bank. These County offices were all moved to the Court House in 1967. The building was then sold and the east downstairs room has served as a Hardware Store in recent years.
Built against the eastern wall of the Opera House is another much older building. No record has been found as to what year it was erected but it appears to be like somewhere in the mid 1880's. It has served several businesses. R.W. Meloan had his first pharmacy here before moving into the building across Schuyler Street now occupied by the Oquawka Current office. A bakery at least once occupied the structure and at least two grocers made it a place to purchase and resell peoples need for groceries. Now this 3 story brick houses the Unit #115 school offices on the ground floor and the 2nd and 3rd floors belong to the Masonic Lodge # 123.
Next-door east until recently the Bank of Oquawka, is the luxurious old home of Harry McAllister. Mr. McAllister served as Henderson County Circuit Clerk. Records have not been located yet as to when this home was built. The Bank has made large additions to accommodate better banking conditions but the old home is still intact with the additions. The upstairs rooms at various times held Lawyer's, Doctor's, and School offices.
Crossing the 4th Street we find Hamilton's Super Market built in the mid 1940's, the Post Office and a fairly new building housing the Stanton Insurance Agency and some apartments. East across the alley we find the Del Devore Garage building erected in the late 1920's or early 1930's. It was used as an Ambulance barn for the North Henderson Ambulance Service, but they are in with the Oquawka Fire Department. The Village now owns the building.
West of the Del Devore building, Bill, Henry and Gus Schlotzhauer ran a Livery Stable many, many years ago.
Crossing 5th Street we find the old Jim Devore Garage built a short while before the one previously mentioned. It has been in recent years an Auction House. An adjoining building of two stories has been used as an apartment. The Alexander Lumber Company is the last business place on the north side of Schuyler Street today except for an old gas station now used as Vice's Fish Market. Alexander Lumber Company has served Oquawka's building material needs for many years. Residential places extend out to 9th Street and a little beyond. Now lets go back down Schuyler Street to where the Mississippi washes our shoreline.
Here at the west end of Schuyler Street and near the rivers edge we can look up or down the river and not see any warehouses as had been before the days of the railroads. A Ferry that was there as late as the 1920's is long gone. No steamboat is there or is one in sight around the bend. In fact the old boat landing is there but under several feet of water, raised by the building of Lock and Dam No. 18 six miles below town in 1936-37.
Cottages line the riverbank from Charlie Wayne's big grain elevators all the way to the Delabar Mississippi River Youth Park, a distance of at least two miles. The first summer cottage to be built in Oquawka was built by Dr. W.S. Phelps, a Dentist of Monmouth, Illinois. It was erected in 1919.
Just a mile or so north of Schuyler Street, before the Lock and Dam No. 18 was finished in 1937, was one of the best sandy bathing beaches any one could find anywhere. There were at one time two dance halls, one operated by Johnny Goempler and the Queen's Paradise operated by Tony Pusatere of Monmouth. It was not an uncommon sight to see over 1000 people on a holiday or weekend at this beach before the building of the dam raised the waters and caused the sand to mud over and make it unfit for swimming. The dance halls didn't last long after the sand beach was lost. It might be in order here to say that the building of the locks and dams, including 18, was to create a nine foot deep channel for the heavy loaded steel barges and the huge tow boats to navigate on. It's not uncommon in the year that Oquawka has reached its' 150th birthday to have seen nearly a million ton of products pass up and down the river in one weeks time during a busy season.
Let's go back to Schuyler Street and start up the South side of that street. Of course with the railroad gone, the old Depot that used to sit on the south side of Schuyler is gone and a parking lot for boat trailers and cars is where it once stood. A button factory built in the late 1920's also once took up part of this parking lot. This button factory was operated by John LaFond, a long time river man, who knew a lot about the pearl button industry which is an important part of our city's history. Just a block and half north of Schuyler Street, in an earlier day, had been probably Oquawka's largest industry. Clamshells were shipped in by rail and the blank buttons were cut then shipped elsewhere for finishing. It is well to add here, that at one time long ago, this same building had been the manufacturer of excelsior, but the venture failed and the building became the button factory. Now back to Schuyler Street and across 2nd street, we find the home now occupied by Thomas "Bud" Ruberg. This must be one of Oquawka's oldest buildings still standing. If anyone reading these pages knows the history of this home, the writers of these words would like to hear it.
Going east up Schuyler we come to what used to be Olson's Fish Market. The old house in connection with this fish house used to be the home of some of the Delabar family. To the east of the alley an old frame building, long gone, was used as a variety and candy store and operated by the J.J. Delabar family.
Another frame building next to the candy store was used for various businesses and at least once as a restaurant. The City Hall is next in line. This was built and donated by Mrs. Martha Moir to be used as Oquawka's Library and it was used as a Library for a number of years. But for some reason, probably lack of interest, it closed its doors. A Hat Shop was run there for a while and various other ventures. Now this old building built around the turn of the century, houses the City Hall and Village Water Office.
Crossing 3rd Street, where for many years had stood the large two story brick building that was known as the Haffner Building in the 1930's, more recently is the Fisherman's Inn. Next was another building known as Biggs Dry Goods Store until purchased by Fred Schlotzhauer in 1913. Fred ran the store for many years and then sold it to Charles Ricketts. The next owner and operator was Chet Stotts who had run and operated several businesses in the Oquawka through the years. In another old frame structure adjoining the Stotts store, was the Braun Hardware Store. The Brauns operated this store, father and son, from the very early 1900's to the 1940's. The Hardware Store changed hands several times during the next few years, when at that time Chet Stotts added this building plus another that adjoined that at one time had been a garage, to his Dry Goods Store, thus having a wide variety of items to offer the people of Oquawka. These stores were a big asset to our town until they all burned in the big Oquawka fire of 1976. In the next year after the fire, another big store building was erected by Gene Stotts, a son of Chet, for a grocery store and within the past year the store has come under new management. The current operators being Tom and Linda Mann.
The Current Office is next in line. It is in the old Meloan Drug Store building that was built in 1876 and barely saved from being consumed in the fire of 1976. It did sustain smoke and water damage. R.W. Meloan had his pharmacy here for a lot of years and then was followed by his son Wade, who served Oquawka in the same capacity as his dad, until World War Two called for his services. It will be mentioned here too, that the Meloan Drug Store also had a soda fountain that turned out the best malted milk shakes and Stooge Specials in the world. Anyone remember them besides us? During the late 1940's Earl Riggle ran a Jack Spratt Grocery here. The grocery store moved into a new building and Wade started the Drug Store again and ran it until 1976.
Cross the alley again now and we find the Continental Telephone Company's relay building. It replaced another one of Oquawka's fine business houses that had been built many years ago. It had served as a grocery store, implement store and to this writer as Bill Morey's Variety Store. It was last uses as the Russell Manning Construction Company office and an Antique Store.
Moving next door east we find Crazy Mary's Pizza and Restaurant. This old frame structure originally built a little south of present City Hall and was a Saloon operated by Mr. George R. Noble. In 1913 the building was moved to its present location. It ha s been a restaurant many times and for many years.
The Stultz Brothers operated a Dry Goods Store in the old frame building next to Crazy Mary's for 25 years and when they retired from business they sold this store to Chet Stotts. This old frame building was torn down some years back and a new building was built. The new building served as a Law Office for a time but at present time it is Ron James Insurance Office. Next-door east used to be a Barber Shop run by Mr. Bob Trimble. Bob also served as Oquawka's bandleader back in the good old days when almost every small town supported a band. This rebuilt building today is the Shear Elegance Beauty Salon operated by Sandy Decker and Sandy Hainds.
Then sandwiched between the Beauty Salon and the Senior Citizen's building at one time was a Tailor Shop operated by Art Melburg. This small building gave way for the remodeling of the Beauty Salon.
Then comes the Senior Citizens building. A completely remodeled old store built around the turn of the century by John Noble's father, George. Though this building is not as old as some of our other Schuyler Street buildings, it is an important one to Oquawka. It has served as a Hardware Store and the Sig Lumbeck Grocery Store operated there for many years.
Through the efforts of Leman Dennison and Page Randall Sr. and several others interested citizens seeing the need of a Senior Citizen and Community Center in Oquawka, they met on December 10, 1974 to get the organization under way. The organization was chartered on March 17, 1975 and the building above mentioned was purchased on June 22, 1977. A Board of Directors was chosen, those members being: Leman Dennison, President; Cecil Peterson, Vice-President; Gladys Liby, Secretary; Berneice Tidd, Treasurer; and Page Randall, Sr.
Ruth Swann and Wade Meloan were the fundraisers. Through their efforts, and the generosity of many people, the necessary funds were raised and the remodeling of the building began in 1978, and on October 3, 1978 was dedicated as the Oquawka Senior Citizen Community Center. It has been a great asset to our town and senior citizens under the management of Berneice Tidd, Cecil Peterson and currently Cora Detrick, who had served as Manager for the past five years.
Crossing 4th Street we find a frame building currently the Showboat Tavern operated by Bernice Tennant. In an earlier day this was a grocery and restaurant operated by the Haffner Brothers. They had an ice house just to the east of the building that would always be filled with ice from the river, usually in January or February, and covered with saw dust to keep it from melting. This ice was used to keep perishables longer and also to make ice cream that they also had for sale.
There was yet another ice storage house adjoining to the east that belonged to Oquawka's fresh Meat Market. This old frame meat market was owned and operated by Casper Nelk and GOOD was the meat that came from there. Today in about this same location as the meat market was, is the fairly new Illinois Public Aid Building. At one time there was a frame residence to the east next to the alley.
Crossing the alley was the old frame and stucco building that was always referred to as Kokus Hall. James Kokus at one time showed movies in this place, and later it was used as a basketball court to play school basketball games in. George and Gertie Thye operated the State Theatre here from 1949 to 1958. They sold the building to Kenneth Jern and he ran a Barber Shop in the front of the building. It was purchased by Evelyn Lindbald in 1977 and was torn down to make room for the expansion of her restaurant, the Village Hub. At the time of purchase, Evelyn was operating from an old frame building that had originally been run by several others before her. One of the earliest was George V. Johnson, just deceased this year at age 93. He was also a watchmaker and sold jewelry there.
Next, at one time, stood a large brick like tile building built by George Green in 1917-18, and was used as a garage that was better suited for his work and to replace the one he had been using across the street. In later years the garage was run by Dell and Jim Devore. They later moved to new garages built across the street. In the early 1930's the room that had been used as office or showroom, was made into a barber shop and the larger areas were used as a City Garage until 1980, when at that time it was in such need of repair and at the inflated cost of heating an old building, it was decided by the City to build a new City Garage and maintenance building using part pf the old Town Square. The new building was built in 1979 and moved into in 1980. This old building was torn down and still remains an empty lot.
Moving across 5th a more recently built and attractive building was built in the 1940's by Earl Riggle and he operated a grocery store here for a number of years. Today a tavern has replaced the grocery store and is operated in the spring, summer, and fall by owner and operator, Ted Jones. In an early day though, a blacksmith shop in an old frame building use to stand here. It was operated by Simp Wilson who also did some veterinary work. Close next door was another frame building that also was a blacksmith shop run by a brother of Simp's, Fred Wilson. On this same location in the 1930's W.D. Colley, who had been Oquawka's shoe repairman for quite a number of years, built a frame building. Dr. LoVene had his office in this same place for a number of years. Then for a time it was used as a residence. At the present time it has been put to use as a Video Tape Rental business operated by Mr. And Mrs. John Hawkins.
Next is the area where Louie Louck has his produce stand today. This is the location that years ago S.S. Essex and son Clifford had their carpenter shop. They were fine carpenters and many of the houses still are in use in Oquawka today that were built by this father and son.
Across the alley now, we come to what used to be a vacant half block that the upper grade school boys used as a baseball field. Now a beautiful new Bank of Oquawka building is located there. It was first opened for business on July 14, 1984. The Bank of Oquawka was chartered on September 9, 1919 and to this writers knowledge has always served Oquawka form the building at the corner of 4th and Schuyler Streets that one time served as the home of Harry McAllister. The Bank of Oquawka is Oquawka's only banking institution today.
Several banks have served Oquawka in years past. Probably the very first was the "Banking House of S.S. Phelps and Company". We have no idea as to where this bank was located or as to the years of service. There is information about the failure of the Bank through an old letter written to Bill Boden, an old friend of S.S. Phelps in 1861.
Possibly the second banking venture was the Moir Bank that was located in the old two story building, probably known to more local folks as the Blue Goose Tavern, on the corner of 2nd and Schuyler Streets.
There is a record of a First National Bank in town as late as 1908 and also a record of a Farmers and Merchants State Bank as late as 1919. But there is some indication that this bank might have, that same year, became The First State Bank. This bank served Oquawka, along with the Bank of Oquawka, for many years before it closed its doors permanently.
This has covered some of the history of the business area or Main Street as many of us call it. There is much more there if it can ever be recovered. Oh, if only some of these old buildings could talk.
Through these many years since the Galland log house was built, the changes have been immense. First was the trading with the Indians, then the influx of more and more settlers, making the needs of the community greater. The river was till the main mode of transportation. As farming increased, so was the need for storage buildings for grains. Warehouses were built along the river to facilitate the shipment of these commodities. Supplies were brought in as the needs arose, thus the imports as well as exports were very important to the growth and well being of Oquawka.
The river was an important source of our food supply too with it vast supply of fish for the markets as well as for recreation. It brought the huge rafts of white pine logs from the north for sawmills, which made them into lumber to build our homes. It supplied the clamshells the pearl button factories needed to cut out the blanks used in making of buttons for our clothes. Today this same old Mississippi brings the needed tourists to Oquawka that help our town survive. Boating and recreation is a big assist to our economy today. We don't have the beautiful sand beach of 50 years ago but the boaters coming to town can speed to areas of sandy beaches quickly in the fast boats of today. As was mentioned previously there are at least two miles of cottages along the riverbank today. Some are made for summer use; others are beautiful homes that are used year round.
Some points of interest in the changing years of our town might be mentioned here. The first telephone system or exchange was established in November 1898, to be operational by January 1, 1899 by the Farmers Telephone Company but before it was completed the name had been changed to Henderson County Telephone Company. At some later date it became the Bell System.
The first arc lights appeared in the city in 1899-1900.
Most of the city sidewalks were laid of brick in the years of 1899 to 1901.
The old Town Hall and Fire Station and site location as endorsed by the City Board at a special meeting July 1, 1901. Those Board Members were J. Kessel, President; Gordon, Reeder, Maley, Auld, and Noble the Trustees. It was accepted in September 1901 and used the first time for the October meeting. This building is in Block 59 and still stands.
The Standard Oil Company was given permission to build a bulk plant south of the stockyard in July of 1901. The stockyard mentioned was located close to where Red Tee's residence is.
February 10, 1902 a fire bell was ordered at a cost $45.00. A wooden tower for this bell was built at the southeast corner of the Fire Station.
July 13, 1903 the first water works was okayed. To be built on Fish Market Square. The water rates were set at the July 20, 1904 meeting.
Frank W. Reeder was granted a license for a shooting gallery at the board meeting of August 8, 1904, also a billiard and pool table license. The license was later transferred to J.AS. Strip in March 1905.
It was passed that clam shells be bought to pave the streets with from the button factory. This was at the April 1906 meeting.
At a special meeting on July 31, 1906 a proposition was presented by Fred S. Moore for the erecting and maintaining of an electric light plant. It was passed. Then an ordinance was passed granting Fred S. Moore a franchise to erect and maintain such a plant. Those on that board were Frank Stultz, President; Maley, Robinson, Wilson, Schlotzhauer and Morey, Trustees.
On August 12, 1907 an ordinance was passed to build cement sidewalks from 4th street to the C.B. & Q. tracks on north and south sides of Schuyler Street.
The light plant was to be purchased from Fred S. Moore. An election was held on November 11, 1907 and passed in favor of buying by a 109 to 77 plurality.
This light plant was on Warren Street close to the railroad track. The City operated this plant for many years. The electricity it produced was a 250-volt type that was somewhat unusual because for new appliances that were being improved in the larger and more populated areas were of 110 volts. After the city signed a franchise with the Illinois Power Company in the early 1940's the city got out of the electric power making business and the plant ceased to operate.
Water Well No. 1 was still located at this site so the building was still used for water testing lab and storage of city material until the fall of 1980, when, due to the deterioration the city decided to tear it down and put a new small block building to house the No. 1 well. It improved the looks of the area but it's kind of sad feeling to see another bit of history disappear forever.
The old button factory that had been just north across Warren Street had been gone since the late 1920's.
The old rock-faced ice house that was also across Warren Street but a little more east, and where the skeleton of the supposed ice house "Murder" was found, is also gone.
Since we are on Warren Street with the history just related lets move four blocks east on Warren from the river, to the corner where the Henderson County Jail is now located. On this site in 1840, an old blacksmith shop sat here, operated by an old friend of S.S. Phelps named Bill Boden. It has been stated that Abe Lincoln watched Alexis Phelps lay some of the brick on this beautiful old Court house being built across the street in 1843.
This Court House was built on lots donated to the County by the Phelps Brothers to assure Oquawka to be the permanent County Seat of Henderson County. The foundation wall for the building was laid by Woodworth and Merrill. Stephan A. Douglas presided as the Circuit Judge during this time until November, 1843. It might be added here too, that after the formation of Henderson County and while the new Court House was under construction, the first timer of the Circuit Court was held in a storeroom belonging to Col. J.B. Patterson with Stephan A. Douglas presiding. It might be of interest here that the first Court in Warren County was the Probate section of the County Court of Warren County. This last bit of history having been taken from an old 1914 edition of the Henderson County Journal. In this year of 1986 the County officers are: Eula M. Rodgers, County Clerk and Recorder of Deeds; Daryl "Pete" Thompson, Sheriff; Eileen Nolan, County Treasurer; David W. Painter, Circuit Clerk; Stephen Reed, State's Attorney; Kris Beals, Coroner; Donald Gibb, Superintendent of Educational Service Region, and Eloise Smith, Supervisor of Assessments.
The County Jail took over the site of the above-mentioned Bill Boden Blacksmith Shop in 1935.
Directly east of the Court House across 4th Street is the old two story brick building that served the City as Fire Station and City Hall. It was built in 1901. A wooden tower at the south and east corner supported the fire bell. The bell alarm system was replaced by a steam whistle after the light plant had been built and in operation. To those that were aroused from sleep by this fire whistle will remember the bone chilling sound.
A wooden water tower had been erected across Warren Street about 1904 to supply the city with the needed supply of water. This old wooden tower was replaced by a new all steel tank and tower in 1926. This tower and water system served our city's needs until October 1979 when the all new well and tower were put into operation, the location on the southeastern corner of the old Town Square. The old steel tower was dismantled in the spring of 1985.
Since we are at the Town Square, or Public Square as it is named on the plat, we should mention Norma Jean, the elephant that is buried there. She had been killed by a bolt of lightning on July 17, 1972 while tethered to a small lone oak tree. Through the efforts of Wade Meloan this put our town on National TV and in the newspapers throughout the country. A nice monument stands where she is buried and was erected by Mel Robbins of Oquawka.
Just to the east of Norma Jean's grave a nice big swimming pool was built in the mid 1970's to supply a place of recreation for those that like to swim.
The city garage built 1979-80 is located on the northeast corner of this same public square. A tennis court and basketball court is on the northwest corner. There has been quite a number of good trees donated by Bill Wandell planted to beautify and give shade for the area.
Another full block of Oquawka known as the Reunion Grounds has been an important area of history especially since the Civil War. The ownership of this block through the years leaves some unanswered questions but the City acquired it at a public auction Saturday, December 17, 1927 and the deed was recorded on January 4, 1928. Trustees of this sale were listed as Mrs. Florence Boden and C.F.W. Schell. After the City acquired it, it was called a Tourist Park, but in an earlier day these grounds were crowded each year when the Civil War Veterans held their reunion. They had some big celebrations in those days.
For a number of years this entire block was unused. Then in the early 1930's the Oquawka Band Fairs as they were called, which were more or less carnivals, were held there. Of course in that day we had a great bunch of guys that volunteered their talents on band instruments into a weekly band concert in the warm months of the year, and it was this group of men with the help of our businessmen and interested citizens that would sponsor this event.
Later as the interest of the people diminished toward this type of entertainment the Band and the Band Fairs disappeared from the scene. The City still owned the Park.
Through the benevolence of the son of an early comer to Oquawka back in 1856, Justus Schlotzhauer, the son of Charles Schlotzhauer and brother of Fred, at his death left a large some of money in trust to be used for something to help the elderly. In 1961 an organization of fifteen prominent citizens was formed with Leman Dennison a Chairman. The Village deeded this block to the Schlotzhauer Foundation October 1, 1962. The beautiful Schlotzhauer Home for the ambulatory elderly was built on the southwest part of this old Reunion Grounds as the result of the much time, thought, the building site a gift of the City and the thoughtfulness of Justus Schlotzhauer. This new home was ready for use in 1967 and has been a great asset to Oquawka. The local citizens took great pride in helping finance this project.
On July 30, 1979 the Henderson County Housing Authority purchased the northern half of this old Reunion Grounds and was building four new buildings. One containing two apartments, the other three buildings having four apartments. Thus Oquawka had another niche addition, the Page Randall Senior Citizen Housing Complex. These new units held an open house dedication Sunday, June 1, 1980.
At the present time the same Henderson County Housing Authority have almost completed two more four-unit apartments that will be ready for occupancy very shortly. These new apartments will be named The Leman Dennison Senior Citizens Complex in honor of his time and work involved in having these additions brought to Oquawka for the betterment of the community, as was Page Randall.
Another part of our history that can be taken in part from a clipping of the Hawk-Eye, the long time Burlington, Iowa newspaper published on Sunday, October 20, 1974.
The third grade class of Mrs. Isabelle Reeder, Unit #115 teacher who lives in Burlington, has researched the old Civil War Monument history. They discovered that Mr. and Mrs. John McKinney, Sr. provided the plot for $1.00. The William Rice family gave an additional 13 feet from an adjacent lot. The first land transfer was dated July 28, 1874.
The monument was designed and built by W.W. Webster of Muscatine, Iowa of fine Italian marble. On the base are carved the names of 200 soldiers of the County who died in the service of their country. A life size figure of a soldier stands on top of a fluted nine-foot column. This statue is in the center of a raised 25-foot diameter stone circled mound. Four cannon are placed equal distances around this circular mound. The total cost was $3300.00 paid for by donations that ranged from $5.00 to $50.00. There are members of this third grade class that will remember this interesting research of some of Oquawka's historical past.
Plaques were erected in the Court House lobby honoring the servicemen and women who served their country so bravely during World Wars One and Two.
Oquawka has a fine volunteer fire department. Years ago the fire fighting equipment amounted to a hose cart and a hand drawn and hand pumped pumper to fight the fires. In 1928 the City got it's first motorized fire truck and we still have it. There are many around Oquawka yet that remember Harry "Had" Noble and his love for that old Model T and the way it "roared" to fight our fires. Today there are three trucks that are quickly manned by an all-volunteer group when a fire alarm is received. They also have a rural area to protect too.
Of course the old 1901 firehouse was too small for all the newer equipment. In 1967-68 an all-new building was put up just east across the alley on South Market (Warren Street) to house all the fire fighting equipment. It also has a large meeting room, small kitchen, shower and rest room. The cost in 1968 of this new building was $13, 500.00.
Oquawka put on a great celebration in commemoration of our nations 200th birthday from June 11, through June 13, 1976. There were many people from near and far came to see and hear the various programs that interested local folks spent time and work to prepare. It was well done and appreciated by all.
It would be remiss if the roads and a few other things were not at least mentioned in this bit of history. There will doubt be many omitted but certainly not intentionally.
The first paved road to touch our town was began and finished in the late 1920's. That being the road to Monmouth. The paving to Gladstone followed shortly after, early in the 1930's.
The pavement from 8th Street on Schuyler to the railroad tracks was put in in 1930. A great improvement.
Oquawka used to have a brewery too. In 1846 William and James Moir and David E. Roberts started making beer just at the south edge of town. But in 1847 it was completely destroyed by fire. A larger one was built and did a large business for years.
During the early years 1900's through the 1920's during warmer months of the year, Showboats would advertise their coming, along with the name of the stage show they would be presenting. They would tie up at thefoot of Schuyler Street and many people would turn out to see these shows. Some of them were good. A Showboat was usually a two-story frame building built on a wooden barge with living quarters on the second deck and the lower deck built into a theater with a nice stage. This was pushed by a fairly good-sized steamboat. Most of them had a steam calliope and would draw people to the riverfront just to listen to the music or to sell them tickets to the show. Some of the names of these Showboats were the Cotton Blossom and the Golden Rod.
There are some beautiful old homes still standing that should be mentioned. The Jamison home where Leonard Schell lived on the corner of 3rd Street and Warren; the Roy Parsons home just across Warren to the north; the Dr. Eads home where Jane Hamilton lives on 4th and Pike. Then on the corner east across the alley, the R.W. Meloan home, more recently owned by Dr. and Mrs. Ruth Swann; Etta McFarland home, now the Mrs. Earle Kloster residence. It was built in the 1850's. There are several more but the research time is limited, but there is one more that has to be mentioned and that is the "Smith House" built in the mid 1850's. It is said that Alfred Knowles, the first Clerk of Henderson County, built this architectural masterpiece. It is made of brick and is not a large dwelling but according to an article taken from an old Chicago Daily News paper, this building was on the Historic American Buildings and an architect named Earl H. Reed was the Director of this survey. He had this to say about it "By no means a big or imposing house, the Knowles abode is nonetheless interesting as a type of early brick architecture in Illinois." In 1869 it became the "Smith House", Oquawka's only hotel at that time. This historical old house is located in Block 74 on 4th Street and is the property of Mr. and Mrs. Clyde Simpson.
One other old home must be mentioned here before we move on to other important history. It is the current home of Mr. and Mrs. Ralph J. Wenzel, Mr. Wenzel being a recent newcomer to Oquawka. The home he bought was built back in 1861-62 by Robert Moir. It is a beautiful home yet today and looks well taken care of.
While dwelling on historical houses lets go back to the corner of Warren and 4th Streets and the fine old Court House. We dwelt some on the start and early construction a few pages back. The finished building however will be described as the records show.
This Court House followed the then current prototype of temple portico with cupola above. It has a center hallway dividing the lower floor into a symmetrical office spaces for the County and Circuit Clerks, the Recorder and County Judge. The second floor consists of but one big Court Room. There have been a number of alterations. In 1905 the circular brick columns were stuccoed over and the original wood shingles were replaced. In later years two brick vaults were added as the County business grew over the years.
These seem to be the only changes in the original Court House until 1966 when the County Board meeting of January 19, 1966 let a contract for $170,000 remodeling job. The contract going to Eddingfield Construction Company of Oquawka for the general construction work, Hines and McClintock of Monmouth for electrical work and Holt Plumbing and Heating.
The two story Court House will add offices for the County Superintendent of Schools, Board of Review, States Attorney, Treasurer, Magistrate, new Chambers for the Associate Judge, jurors room, three new vaults, a room for the County Clerk's office and two extra rooms for further expansion. This new office space to be added to the back of the original building. And it is with pride to add that this nearly $200,000.00 renovation was done without need of bond issue. The amount of the cost is being financed by treasury surpluses accumulated over the years and sale of the County Farm. An earlier request for a $100,000.00 bond issue 21 years before had failed to pass. In recent years a large law library had been added in a basement room. The 1986 Court House and yard should make Oquawka proud. It is a beautiful building.
The usual Courtyard cannon from World War Two sits on the southeast corner of the yard. The first cannon to occupy this spot was a Civil War cannon and was donated to the scrap drive during World War Two. The prize to see in the corner of this Courtyard is the old Jack's Mill burr. Imported from France it was used to grind corn meal, chicken feed and wheat at Jack's Mill from 1829 to 1940. Jack's Mill was about two miles east of Oquawka on Henderson Creek. It was built by Jeremiah Smith in 1829 and was purchased by Andrew Jack in 1835. The original mill burned 1851 but Jacks rebuilt and eventually sold out to Newton Wood. In 1850 Jacob Radmacher emigrated from Germany and operated a brickyard on the bluff just north of the Mill, which was known as "The Devil's Half Acre." The house located just 300 feet from the Mill was used as a Stage Coach Inn and Tavern. Before the hard road was put in between Oquawka and Monmouth, the old Monmouth-Oquawka road crossed a covered bridge that was only 75 or 100 feet from this old Mill. It was a sad day when the Oquawka area let these old landmarks be torn down in the early 1940's. Conrad Radmacher had bought this old Mill from his father, Jacob, who in turn bought it in 1870. Conrad "Coonie" Radmacher died while grinding corn at the old Jack's Mill in 1940. How many are there that can remember the good looking, snow-white headed "Coonie" working this old Mill?
Then we have to mention the old Allaman Covered Bridge just south below Oquawka that washed away in the Henderson Creek flood of 1982 and the long and time consuming hours spent raising the needed funds to rebuild the salvaged parts recovered from the flooded creek by the Henderson County Historical Society. With the help of a State Grand and many contributions and fundraisers, Ray Shafer and Sons of Biggsville and members of the Historical Society rebuilt the bridge. The original plans and tools of Jacob Allaman were used during reconstruction. The new bridge was completely rebuilt and replaced in its original place and dedicated in a very impressive ceremony on Heritage Trail Days on Saturday, September 29, 1984.
Oquawka's City government is still run as it was back in the mid 1850's. The governing body consisting of President and six Trustees and City Clerk. They are elected to office by the vote of the people of the City. Since it's infancy as a platted village 150 years ago there have been many prominent people serve the City in this capacity. The first President of the City was S.S. Phelps and was again serving as President at the time of his death in 1880. There seems to be no record of how many times or years Mr. Phelps served as President, but there is little doubt as the record shows as to who served Oquawka the most consecutive years. Russell Manning was elected to the office and served as President from 1941 to 1964. That's 23 years and a long time of service to the community.
In 1979 Oquawka got it's first woman President, when the previous President resigned office. Barbara Lumbeck was appointed to fill the President's post. A few months later at the regular election she was elected with a 93% vote of confidence. That vote of confidence has been repeated and she is still serving the City of Oquawka very well.
Since it's early years and before the platting of the town, Oquawka has had at the time then obscure people walk the ground we live on. To name just a few that may be of interest: Lt. Robert Anderson was here during the Black hawk War and he later became a General and was in command of Fort Sumter when it was fired upon by the Confederacy which was the incident that touched off the Civil War.
Zachary Taylor, a regular Army Col. in the Black hawk War, later was a General in the Mexican War and was elected President of the United States.
Jefferson Davis was a Lt. In the regular Army and Commander of a troop that came up the Mississippi River to Oquawka by steamboat and later became the first and only president of the Confederacy. It is said that the only time Lincoln and Davis ever met face to face was in Oquawka and that of course was during the Black hawk War.
But probably without doubt the most famous of Oquawka's early visitors and frequent visitor at least through 1858, was to be the 16th and possibly the greatest President of our United States, Abraham Lincoln.
One of the Lincoln-Douglas debates was held in Oquawka. On October 4, 1858 Douglas spoke and on October 9, 1858 Lincoln spoke.
A story that has been told that in the fall of 1831 S.S. Phelps was on his way back to Oquawka from a stop in Sangamon County where his father also had a trading post and store, when he met 21 year old Abe Lincoln only recently moved to Illinois.
/The physical similarity between the two men was astounding. Both were tall and slender with deep-set eyes and gaunt carved features. It is said that the two were often mistaken for brothers.
Becoming immediate friends Lincoln accompanied Phelps back to Oquawka for a visit and to see the Mississippi River. An early winter storm snowbound Lincoln in town and he remained for several weeks as a guest in the Phelps cabin. During this period, the story goes, Lincoln and Alexis who at one time had been a schoolteacher, read from a trunk full of books. S.S. Phelps said, "I can still see Alexis and Abe sprawled on the floor in front of the fireplace with the books." Abe was a very interesting visitor and a golden friendship began that lasted for life.
In relating this early history to Bill Boden, an old friend of S.S. Phelps, said "All my family came to know and like Abe. He was a very likeable fellow but none of us was as close to him as Alexis and his grief was deep when Alexis died in 1846." No one but the family knew that it was Abe Lincoln sitting with the mourners, so great was the resemblance to the Phelps Brothers.
The founder of our town of Oquawka, S.S. Phelps departed from this life on December 23, 1880. In the beautiful area his generosity furnished for a Cemetery lies all that is mortal of this old Indian trader.
Just this year on January 31, 1986 a great granddaughter, Laverne Cooper Slover joined him in this same Cemetery. She was the granddaughter of William H. Phelps who was the son of S.S. Phelps. Laverne's grandfather, William, was the first white child born in the town.
Laverne was 88 years old and has left one daughter, Ruth Allen of Biggsville and three sons, Wendell, Keith, and Richard of Oquawka, ten grandchildren and eleven great grand-children to carry on with some of the blood of this old pioneer that has placed Oquawka on the banks of the mighty Mississippi.
We should do some backtracking to Schuyler Street and name the businesses form the Junction of Schuyler and Route 164 east. On the north side of Schuyler Street in the home that the Emil Jern Family lived in, is now the law office of William E. Nolan. North of his office on 9th Street is the Laundromat built by Vannie and Opal Parrish and now owned by David and Elaine Hinshaw.
On east in Butcher's Addition is the car wash built by Elbert Richardson and now owned by Brad Inghram. Mr. Richardson also built and ran the Green Lantern Tavern east of the car wash. It had several owners and was destroyed by fire several years ago.
Next going east is a large building owned by the McKenzie Dredging Company of Galesburg, and on the east of this building is the liquor store owned by the Barton Montgomery family. The University of Illinois Experiment Farm is the last building going east. The year this building was built is unknown but it has been there many many years.
Starting back down at the Junction again is a gas and service station built by Gillette Dixon in 1935 and he ran the business for 18 years. Ernie Darnell is the present operator of this station. Across Route 164 is the Fast Break station, which was originally built as a Shell Station.
On the corner of Route 164 and 11th Street is an ice cream shop owned by Jon Dawdy and this summer is being operated by Jon, Kathy Sells and Wava Smith.
Across 11th Street east is the Henderson County Rural Health Center. The land for this lovely building was donated by Ivah Tinker Hugnagel in memory of her parents, Maude Chapin Tinker and Charles Tinker. The Health Center was built in 1980 and dedicated in 1983. There are two Doctors and one Dentist on staff. The Oquawka Professional Pharmacy is in this building and is run by Linda Volin Robbins, registered pharmacist and her husband, Tom. The Robbins have purchased the brick building owned by the Mason Lodge downtown and will be moving their pharmacy in the near future. This Health Center and pharmacy are a great asset and service to our community and the neighboring communities as well.
East of the Health Center is the Oquawka Bowl now owned by Gordon and Martha Peterman. This building was originally built as a skating rink by Bobby Brown. He sold it to Russell and Fran Kennedy and they remodeled it for a bowling alley. The Kennedy's also built the Sands Motel east of the bowling alley and Fran Kennedy still operates it.
East of the Motel is the Long Branch Tavern built by Bill and Fanny Lox. The business is now owned by B.R. Bruner. Years ago on the site of this tavern stood Farmer Noble's melon stand. Oquawka is very famous for their watermelons and cantaloupe and years ago the melon growers trucked load after load of melons to the Chicago and St. Louis markets. In times past there were several melon farmers as the sandy soil was ideally suited for growing this crop. Now there are but a few growers left. One we should mention is Charlie (Crack) Craig who is 94 years young. It was a familiar sight to see him go to his melon and pumpkin patch driving his little tractor with the large sun umbrella. Charlie will celebrate his 94th birthday July 5th of this year and he and Lillie have been married 70 years. As far as we know they are the longest married couple in Oquawka.
Years ago Mr. (Ghost) Yeager and other truck gardeners made their rounds every few days in horse and wagon selling their fresh vegetables door to door. The only gardener left who raises and sells their own produce is Lloyd (Flunky) and Velma Meyer at their market on North 7th Street. Customers come from all around this are to buy their fresh vegetables and melons every summer.
Several businesses that come to mind and are long gone are Spangler's Fish Market at the corner of Schuyler and 6th Streets where Chuck Rosenthal now has his Barber Shop. A Feed and produce store once stood where the Stanton Insurance Agency is now. C.F.W. Schell's Weber Wagon Shop south of the now present Henderson County Jail disappeared years ago and made way for the new buildings. There was once a windmill just north of the old Harry McAllister home, which no one remembers, but a picture taken in the 1890's verifies its existence.
In reminiscing we think of Jim Kokos delivering coal and ice to most of the homes in town; Schell's bear; Blooch Louck and Pete Hoskins watermelon pickle factory; Arthur Stripes' livery stable where the Phillip's 66 Station stood east of the new Bank; Louck's Pool Hall; Arthur Stripes' skating rink where the chicken factory once was; Tony Stenzel's blacksmith shop and more will no doubt come to mind later.
The present generation will not remember any of the following businesses but they were a very important part in the development of Oquawka.
In February of 1853 William Wiegand had a Blacksmith Shop located in Swartz Addition. It burned in November of 1856.
July 5, 1853 the old warehouse building above the Pioneer House, which was being occupied as a dwelling by a German citizen, Gotleib Smith, was burned to the ground.
July 1853 Louis Haas established a vinegar factory one door north of A. Wittman's grocery store. The building burned in 1856.
August of 1853, the oldest frame house was moved to the lower part of town by Mr. Catlin. The sills that were of burr oak were sound as a dollar. It was necessary to move the house in order to make room for the extensive warehouse about to be erected by S.S. Phelps.
The Oquawka Academy opened on October 15, 1850 at a fee of $3.00 per student for twelve weeks. In May of 1851 Mrs. E.A. Francis opened an Ornamental School at the first house southwest of the Court House. March of 1853 Mrs. Burkles opened a High School. Her husband, Dr. H. Burkles had his office at the American Hous. April of 1853 Mrs. Montgomery and Miss Stewart opened a school in the brick School House.
In January of 1855 Henry Lohmar opened a Tin Shop in the storeroom of F. Odendahl on the hill on Schuyler Street. Mr. Lohmar had worked in the largest cities in France, Germany and America and knew his trade well. May of 1855 Shores and Hand opened a Meat Market, and Samuel N. Snook advertised for sale family groceries, drugs and liquors at his store on Front Street. In June, Struck and Radmacher had just burnt their first kiln of brick and had them for delivery at their brickyard. This kiln was located east of town at Jack's Mill.
In October of 1856 the City Brewery run by Christian Bruce and Leopold Liberman offered a choice quality of beer by the barrel or gallon. This partnership was dissolved by mutual consent Feb. 10, 1859 and the brewery business was purchased by Peter Egger.
During the week of October 15, 1856 the streets of town were thronged with teams pulling wagons laden with grain. Through trade with Iowa using the Ferry, many farmers from Des Moines County, Iowa found a good market at Oquawka which was miles nearer than the points where they had been trading.
December of 1856 A.D. Frazell was paying cash for furs- mink, otter, muskrat, and deerskins at No. 1 Front Street. Mr. Frazell was an old Indian trader and was Agent for the North American Fur Company. From 1828 to 1834 S.S. Phelps was a competitor of the North American Fur Company and after that date he became a full partner, doing business under the firm name of A. & S.S. Phelps until some time in 1849, some 3 years after the death of Alexis Phelps, when the business affairs were concluded.
On April 1, 1856 a new hotel was opened, The Pennsylvania House, by David Welsh. It was located near the public landing which was more convenient for people traveling by boat.
In June of 1856 Wm. Heuer opened a cigar factory and tobacco shop opposite Edwards Store. In October of 1857 he moved his business to the former E. Chapins Saddlers Shop.