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Remembering Minonk of 1908

Submitted by Jari Lynn Oncken - January 26, 2016

For many years I have been the proud owner of C. R. Denson's Minonk City Directory, printed in 1908. He was the illustrious publisher of the Minonk News-Dispatch. So much information about Minonk and our early citizens can be found within its pages. Let us become acquainted with Minonk of that time.

Within the pages of this informative directory, 1256 names with occupations and addresses are listed. Minonk's population including suburbs was fully 2400. I don't believe we have ever exceeded that number even when all buildings on the three blocks of Chestnut, two blocks of West and East 5th Streets and two blocks of Oak Street were filled with at least 100 businesses. We had that many in 1901 and even on into the 1950s. In 1908, 87 advertisers are listed in this directory. There were also residents in Minonk with businesses in their homes. In the 400 block of Chestnut there was a men and boys clothing store owned by Will and Al Meierhofer and a millinery shop for the ladies run by Miss Louise Stimpert. Peter Minnes, Pius Sutter, and Otto Klatt were the saloon owners. All sorts of hardware supplies could be purchased at Hindert Brothers Hardware. Farther south, Alva Parks' Implement and harness maker William Janssen shared a building. Druggist Eugene Hodgson's business was also located in this block. There were two general stores owned by the Cassens brothers and Owens and Wiltz, and the Christians brothers ran a blacksmith shop.

Every building in the 500 block was filled with a business. The Minonk Bank was located on the south corner and in the basement was a shop owned by colored barber J. B. Nelson. Two doors north of the bank stood J. T. Denson and Sons' drug store and Burster and Henning's men and boys clothing store. Vissering and Kohl, H. B. Meils, Homer Miller, and Allen–Caldwell Co. sold general merchandise. Three saloons in this block were owned by Frank Halfman, Ryan and Becker, and Meils and Carls. James Van Doren had the jewelry store and two doors north were H. C. Forney's furniture store and undertaking parlor. Farther north stood the Bijou Theatre, Benjamin Hill's Candy Kitchen, and Gus Fischman's meat market. Robert Mc Kay's was the only restaurant in town.

The Schlitz Opera House was located on the south corner of the 600 block. Michael Kelly's saloon and Juliza and Emmyline Wagester's millinery shop were situated on the first floor. Many events took place on the top floor including balls, moving picture shows, professional stage acts, bazaars, and commencements. North of that were the stores of William Gaisford, carpet and rug weaver, and William Wright, real estate. Other businesses in that block were Arthur Goodrich's feed and grain store, Priebe and Simater Company Produce, and the Minonk Produce Company, F. J. Simater, proprietor. There were also numerous businesses located on 5th and Oak streets. One can only imagine what life was like in Minonk back then.

David A. Neal of Salem, Massachusetts, bought land along the path of the Illinois Central Railroad and named some of the towns along the line after Indian chiefs he hunted with back in Massachusetts. Tonica was named after Chief Tonica of the Narragansett tribe, Panola after chief Panola of the Nipnuck tribe, and Minonk and Wenona of the Mohegan or Mohican tribe. In its dialect Minonk means "high point" and according to the U. S. Coast and Geodetic survey, Minonk is the highest point between Kappa and Tonica. Neal also drew up the plats of the villages. Minonk's plat was recorded November 7, 1854, the same month the first train came through town from the north on the Illinois Central. The trains on the Pekin branch of the Santa Fe also traveled through Minonk. The coal mine operated by Sutton and Webber employed two hundred men. The brick yards did a big business. The poultry business was very extensive, Minonk probably being the largest shipping point in the state for live and dressed poultry. We had four hotels, four grain elevators, and a lumber yard. The banking facilities were the best. Our town was the largest in Woodford County at that time. In 1882, we were the first town in the country to have incandescent lights while big cities had the electric arc lights. These lights were first installed at the coal mine and then in 1885 in the homes. We were also the first in the county, in 1886, to have a high school.

In 1908 Minonk had the Westside School and the Eastside School. All of the grade school students west of Oak Street attended the Westside School. The grade school students east of Oak, along with all high school students, went to the Eastside School. Churches here were organized in the following order: Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Christian, Catholic, German Evangelical, German Baptist, St. Barbara's Polish Catholic, and Advent Christian. There was also a colored Baptist church from 1883 to 1896. Minonk's many benevolent societies included the Masons, Odd Fellows, Woodmen, Forresters, Knights of Columbus, Eagles, Court of Honor, Rebeccas, Royal Neighbors, W. C. T. U., G. A. R., and several others.

Minonk and the surrounding towns were kept informed of happenings of the week by two newspapers-the Minonk Dispatch, C. R. Denson editor and the Minonk News, Geo. Werkheiser, editor.

We are blessed to be part of this community with its rich history and to able to step back in time and picture the Minonk where our early ancestors lived and worshipped.