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The History Behind the Two Projects

by JariLynn Oncken - October 07, 2011

On June 16th Hein Construction Company from Peoria began laying concrete storm pipe in the west side of Minonk. This is the last major leg of the storm water separation project that will leave Minonk with separate storm and sanitary sewers. These pipes range in size from 8 to 24inches; the larger pipes were laid at the lower ground level on W. Eighth Street and then at the higher elevation to the south smaller pipes were used. The majority of this project will be completed around the end of October including the last leg on W. Fourth Street.

An old wooden watermain.

As the hi-hoe was crossing W. Fifth Street going south on Johnson it dug up two pieces of the original 1887 wooden water main. On July 6, 1887 the question of putting in a system of waterworks was discussed. A motion was made to bond the city in the amount of $10,00 to pay for the system. The bonds would draw 5 per cent interest. Motion carried with all aldermen voting in the affirmative including M. Gulshen, Joe Stoneman, J. E. Sangster, N. L. Davison Jr., E.A. Ewen and D. W. Davison. Josiah Kerrick was mayor then. This first waterworks system was installed by the Fairbanks-Morse Company at a cost of $9, 825. Soon after, the system proved to be defective and it was not accepted or paid for until September 2, 1889.

This old wooden main that carried water to Minonk's residents was constructed similar to wooden barrels with reinforced steel bands and creosote on the outside. One of the employees of Hein Construction said it looked like the main was made of hollowed out cypress tree trunks. No one is sure how far the main reached from the first water tower that stood on the site of the present and fourth tower. Over the years pieces were uncovered near the former Masonic Temple building located on the northwest corner of Walnut and W. Sixth Street, the Baptist church on E. Fifth Street and on E. Sixth Street between Chestnut and Oak Streets. In the history of Minonk as written in the 1896 program booklet for the area Civil War veterans' reunion in Minonk it stated that by then the wooden main had mostly been replaced with iron pipes. As of that year the waterworks had successfully saved the city during several disastrous fires and was worthy of its cost.

All together Minonk has had four wells and four water towers. The first well was 1,850 feet deep and when the drillers got to the depth of 546 feet they hit the same vein of coal that was then being mined. In the Engineering News of December 22, 1888 it stated the pump well and reservoir in Minonk were finished and the steam pump had been put in position. Minonk residents drove their teams and wagons to the well on Sunday and filled their containers with steam-heated water that was used for Monday morning washday. Since the water cooled over night it needed to be heated to boiling the next morning on the old kitchen cook stove. The second well was 2,002 feet deep and was drilled near the first one and both are located inside the present and third pumping station. The third well is located south of the ambulance building on the 600 block of Jefferson Street and the present well was dug on the north side of the West Side Park. All four wells are in operation and tap water from the St. Peters Sandstone Aquifer, a deep vein of water that begins near Lake Superior and travels south to Texas.

Minonk's first water tower was erected in 1894 and stood on the site of the present one across the street and to the east of the park. In 1900 Joe Cody of Peoria and foreman Philip O'Connor built a standpipe type of tower in the east side of the park with a brick foundation that supported a metal storage tank. Then in 1916 a new steel tank was installed on the old foundation. This tank, made of a special alloy developed by the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company, was supported by a cement-"cup" in place of wooden timbers to keep it from rocking. In addition to that tower an 8,000 gallon steel compression tank was built as a standby in case of a fire. A gasoline engine was used to power the pump and maintain working pressure of forty-five pounds. Our present elevated water tower also built by this same company was erected in 1960 and holds 150,000 gallons of water and the reservoir located on the northeast corner of the park holds 128,000 gallons of water.

Hein Construction workers have been doing a fine job of replacing the concrete sidewalks and driveways and repairing the streets that were dug up during this project. In addition to this project a crew from the company tore out the sidewalk along the north side of Pop's Sweet Shop at the north end of the 500 block of Chestnut ("Main") Street (southwest corner of Chestnut and W. Sixth Street). This sidewalk was laid atop the open foundation. Originally this building and the two to the south were erected in 1896 for the Chicago and Minonk Coal and Tile Works and housed the third mine store. All miners were required to shop there. The first store was located at the first mine on north Chestnut Street.

In 1882 mine president and general manager, Miner T. Ames, who was born in New York, went back east for a visit and met a friend who worked at Edison Works in West Orange, New Jersey. This man came to Minonk to light the diggings at the mine but instead he strung electric wires to light the tower, engine rooms, tile factory, (the largest producer of drainage tile in the world) and the mine store. People came to Minonk from far and near to witness this miraculous invention. Minonk then became one of the first, if not the first, cities in the world to have incandescent lights. As far as it was known no city in the country had these lights, although Los Angeles and a few others had arc lights. Later on, after trial and error, Miner T. was able to light our city. The American Contract Journal of December 1885 reported that at Minonk the Western Edison incandescent system of electric lights was being put into residences. The citizens were taking one hundred and two lights of sixteen-candle power, each at thirty-five cents per month for the summer months and fifty cents for the winter. After the first mine store burned a second one was erected at the corner of Chestnut and Seventh Street and a pair of wires from the mine was strung along Oak St. to this store. It also burned and then the third store was built on Chestnut Street.

In 1900 the second mine was sunk about a mile north of the first. It was in operation one year and then in 1901 the mine and mine store were closed. Minonk miners went to work in Rutland, Wenona, Toluca and Roanoke, many had moved to these towns. W. G. Sutton and J. S. Weber of Rutland leased the mine and reopened it in 1904 and that same year Vissering and Kohl Mercantile, located on 456 Chestnut Street, bought and moved into the vacated mine store.

The foundation of this building is in good shape. Of interest were the seven windows and two doors located at the basement area and the high top children's shoes that were found there. One wonders if these shoes were sold at the mine store or at Vissering and Kohl's.

Quite a bit of Minonk history came to light during these two projects and that is of great interest to all the history buffs who call Minonk their hometown.

An old underground door and window are exposed after excavating the sidewalk on the north side of the Vissering building.