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Minonk in 1902 by C. R. Denson

by Dave Uphoff - November 24, 2010

This article was taken from the August 18th, 1949 issue of the Minonk News-Dispatch in which editor C. R. Denson was interviewed about his coming to Minonk on August 18, 1902.
It was 47 years ago today that C. R. Denson first set foot in Minonk. He came in on the afternoon Illinois Central train from Bloomington for a visit with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Denson, who had moved here the previous March from Bluford, down in Jefferson county. He never left Minonk, although all other members of the family moved away.

Talking about changes in Minonk since that Aug. 18, 1902 day, Mr. Denson said: "The summer of 1902 had been even wetter than this year; without sewerage and very little tile, Minonk was a veritable quagmire. There was not a foot of paving or graveled streets, no concrete sidewalks and only a few blocks of brick ones (the board walks had been torn up the year before and replaced with cinders). Minonk was at its lowest ebb in a business way as the coal mine had been closed for nearly two years and many business buildings were vacant.

"The town was well fixed with hotels, however, with the Dasher and Woodford, while Mrs. R. Danner had the Arlington and John McGrail had a hotel on the site of the present Sutton block. John Gmelich had a rooming house on the Cave hotel site. The city park was a swamp, filled with thickly set small trees, many houses were badly in need of repair and the town looked "run down at the heels" in many respects.

"John Vissering, Sr., was mayor; P. M. Burton, city clerk and Arthur C. Fort, city attorney. The aldermen were J. C. Wickler, Jos. Stoneman, H. D. Fuller, Dr. P. M. Evans, D. W. Davison and Thos. J. Sumner. Josiah Kerrick was a member of the State Legislature. A. R. Wilcox was postmaster. Prof. E. L. Mills was head of the Minonk schools and the building which was destroyed by fire in December, 1938, was just being completed and the old building being razed.

"Vissering & Kohl had a general merchandise store in the south block, while Allen & Caldwell the two rooms in the north block occupied by Morrison's restaurant and Hayes drug store. H. B. Meils and E. Remmers had grocery and merchandise stores in the south block and Wm. Becker's grocery was where Poynter's store Is now located. Homer Miller had a grocery and newsstand in the present A & P room. C. E. Ridge, M. L. Rucker and Ed U. Ridge had grocery stores on the east side.

"In the north block was the Rawlings drug store, Ikey Rose's and E. Kahn's department stores and Forney and Hindert's furniture and undertaking establishment, which was about the farthest north, until one reached the Schlitz building, which housed the saloon of "Boy" Kelly and "Dude" Ryan. "Tonica" Ryan had his saloon where Ketchy's is now located and "Billy" Meyer was at the Princess Sweet Shop site. "Mike" Size had the old "Number 9" on the east side. Herman Biegel was in :the south block and there were several others.

"The Harris restaurant was in the Odd Fellows building and Charley Ackley had his paint shop in the basement. E. M. Hodgson had his drug store in the building now occupied by the Schmidt drug store, with J. W. Van Doren occupying one side with his jewelry store. R. A. Crawford and Dennis Ryan had livery stables and the blacksmith shops were run by Herman and Grant Christians, Erbland & Stoneman and Herman Kelm. Martin O'Connell was the monument dealer and Louis Lichenstein was a wool buyer. James Kerrick was the horse buyer.

"Kerrick & Humphrey were still running the mill but made only a special flour. A. B. Kipp and F. H. Goodrich had lumber yards and the grain dealers were J. A. Simpson, B. M. Stoddard, U. B. Memmen and R. M. Livingston. M. H. Pfaffle was a photographer and optician and Louis Burgdorfer, a photographer; A. H. Parks and Tom Pickard were implement dealers, the latter having hardware as did Hindert Bros. Thos. J. Radebaugh and Adam Dittman were carpet weavers and the real estate men were William Guy, Jacob S. Gerdes and D. J. Kerrigan.

"The attorneys were Thomas Kennedy, Fort & Fort, James A. Riely and Harry Thom. The newspapers were the News, published by A. K. Tate and the Register by AI von Nordheim. Meierhofer Bros, and Burster & Henning had the clothing stores. N. L. Davison and James L. Welch had the pop factory and Martin and "Micky" O'Rourke and Joe Hertschuh had cigar factories. The dentists were A. R. Wilcox and B. Newsome. J. R. Pray was the veterinarian.

"Edwin Goodwin had a brickyard in the southeast part of town and Clarke & Pickard had one just south of town. The barber shops were run by D. W. Davison, J. B. Nelson and John Snedden. John Ruskowski and Anton Doblesky had shoe repair shops. The meat markets were run by B. Pope & Son and C. S. Fuller & Son. A. M. Goodrich had a feed store in the old skating rink building while Priebe & Simater were the big produce dealers. At that time the Postal Telegraph Co., had an office in Becker's grocery and a line into Minonk to take care of that firm's business. The Western Union office was at the depot.

"C. R. Danforth had the private bank on the corner and the building contractors were Kipp & Perryman and Herman Leffers. Ernie Hewitt was the plasterer and Wm. White and John Farrell, the bricklayers. Ed Hoover was a specialist at lathing. Wm. Janssen and H. E. Wiechman were the harness makers. Meb Campbell was a house mover as was Fred Christians, who also had a feed stable. Phillip Kein and Joseph McCauley were painters.

"R. H. Monk and R. G. Clegg were the auctioneers. The doctors were F. W. Wilcox, H. A. Millard, J. F. Timm and P. M. Evans. Con Bonk did draying. Tjark Eilts was a brewery agent and ice man. R. E. Gibbons was an undertaker and had a small furniture stock. Miss K. M. Onken was a milliner. Pastors of the churches were: Catholic, Fr. Isadore; Presbyterian, Rev. Lawrence; Methodist, Rev. Watson; Baptist, Rev. Wallace; Evangelical, Rev. Naureth; German Baptist, Rev. Lohr; Polish Catholic, Fr. Bob.

"J. A. Mingers was a clerk in the bank and was also an insurance agent. Ed vonNordheim and J. C. Wickler were insurance agents and Marion Cannon was a well digger. D. H. Davison was the county surveyor. Mark Layton was the head telegraph operator at the Illinois Central depot and Howard Whitmore was the freight agent; M. N. Claypool was the Santa Fe agent. Chas. Garrett was fireman at the electric light plant, which ran only at nights and the service always broke down when we had a street fair and extra lighting was required.

"There was not an electric motor in Minonk, or even a fan and very few gasoline engines. There were probably not twenty residences that had bath tubs and not half that number with inside toilets. It was the "horse and buggy" days and hitching racks strung along the Main street. There was not a single auto in Minonk. Jacob McChesney was a wood workman; John Goodwin. was selling coal; John Jurgen was a tailor; Sam Lee had the Chinese laundry; Mrs. Mary Wheeler was a dressmaker and Janssen &Joosten had a branch piano store here.

Reminiscing, Mr. Denson said that the first young man he ever became acquainted with after coming here was Aaron Parks, who even at that time was In the milk business and who picked him up on the road just west of town. Mr. Parks had been delivering milk that morning and had started out In the country to try and take a few orders for enlarged pictures, a job I had been doing before coming to Minonk three days before.

"The first person I remember seeing was Micky O'Rourke, who was at the depot (as usual) and he directed me to the Rawlings drug store, where my father was employed. I afterward got to know him well. The company store, now the Vissering Mercantile Co., was boarded up; ponds stood in all parts of the town and mud was so deep in the main street at times that planks had to be placed in the oozy mud so pedestrians could balance themselves across.

"In those days, cigarettes were "coffin nails" and no person who smoked them was considered respectable; church people did not play cards and the young people of most of those families had to sneak out to get to go to even a party dance and the public ones were banned completely. The people were either drinkers or non-drinkers—no In-betweens. There were ten saloons here then and each paid $500 annual license and sold beer at 5c a glass and whiskey at 10c a drink. One-arm bandits were not in any of the ten places but it was whispered that some stud poker was played in back rooms. A woman in a saloon would have created a major scandal.

"Those were the days before germs, vitamins and all that sort of thing came into the lives of the people. They did not douse the babies with spinach and a lot of the other food so common in the diets today. Appendicitis was coming into popularity by enterprising doctors and when one was sent to some hospital for any ailment he usually died. There were no movies but a tent show with "Uncle Tom's Cabin", "Way Down East" and "Lovers Lane" came about once a year and legitimate stage shows were on at Schlitz opera house a number of times each winter and the chautauqua lecture course was usually here. Then we had temperance lectures and the play "Ten Nights in a Bar Room."

"Most of the young girls were not allowed to meet the trains and see the traveling men disembark (only families less strict allowed that). The only two places in town where ice cream was sold was in the drug stores and they handled it only during the summer. Practically everyone traded at home and the people who "slipped out" were criticized by loyal townspeople. Everyone had plenty to eat and wear and it was considered a disgrace to ask for county aid and going to the "poor house" was unthinkable. Soldiers drew pensions of from $6 to $14 a month after great efforts had been made by the congressmen to get them on with individual bills.

''Yet, the young people seemed to be more content than they do today. less restless; no drinking or gambling and I am inclined to think—more virtuous. They were either good or bad and were known that way. The total government debt was less than a billion dollars against 250 billion today— there was no sales tax, no luxury tax, no income tax, no unemployment tax, no social security tax, no inheritance tax, and very low local taxes. No reports to fill out - in fact we were free and not regimented as we are today."