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Minonk Township

Harry D. Smith and Robert W. Webster

This report was orginally published in conjunction with the Sesquicentennial Celebration of the State of Illinois 1818-1968–Woodford County, Illinois. The report has been prepared by Barth Weistart for use by in connection with the Minonk, Illinois Sesquicentennial Celebration 1854-2004.
The township is a full Congressional town, and is designated as Town 28 North, Range 2 East of the Third Principal Meridian. It is situated in the extreme northeastern corner of Woodford County and is bounded as follows: On the north by LaSalle County; on the east by Livingston County; on the south by Panola Township and on the west by Clayton Township.

The land is quite level, there being scarcely enough fall to allow an effectual drainage; and it was at first supposed that much of the township was too flat for tillable land, but by ample ditching, this has proved to be of the very best quality. It produces immense crops of corn, oats and other grain. A large amount of pork and some cattle are raised. The township is entirely devoid of timber and running streams of water.

The settlement of Minonk dates back to the time the Illinois Central Railroad was built through this section of Illinois. It was completed in 1854 and Samuel Work came here to act as station agent. He held this job for 15 years.

Another interesting item about the I.C.R.R. was one condition of its charter which stipulated that alternate sections of land for a distance of six miles on each side of the line were to be donated to the railroad company to aid in its construction, so at one time one-half of Minonk Township belonged to the railroad company.

The location of the town was secured by David A. Neal of Salem, Massachusetts. A plat of the village, 786 feet wide on each side of the I.C.R.R. and extending along it for 3,690 feet, was recorded in the office of the Recorder of Woodford County Nov. 7, 1854. This plat was laid out and surveyed by Peter Folsom, deputy surveyor of Woodford County from Section 7 of the township, for Mr. Neal, owner of the section.

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As soon as it became known that a town was established accessions began being made at once. A boarding house for the railroad men was the first building. Charles Dobson, from near Pattonsburg built the first home and moved in August, 1854. That fall, in partnership with Americus Pogue, he opened a general store. A post office was soon established with Mr. Dobson as postmaster.

The C. W. Goodrich family came from New York state, and built the second home. Goodrich opened a grain and lumber business with a James Parker as his partner.

The italicized material in the Minonk history is taken from LeBaron's Past and Present History of Woodford County, dated 1878. The Chicago, Pekin and Southwestern Railroad

The Chicago, Pekin and Southwestern Railroad was completed in 1872 and crossed the I.C.R.R. here. The city and township had much to do with this by securing its location through this part of the county. It was on a promise of assistance of $50,000 voted by the township January 16, 1869, that the company consented to run the road through its limits.

While there may be some doubt whether a second railroad has materially added to the interests of the city, but few will dispute that the country has been greatly benefited thereby. One record says, "Much has been saved to the farming community in the way of freights, as, by the means of this line, there has been opened a direct route to Chicago, and also, competition has doubtless reduced freight rates not a little." The Goodrich and Parker firm bought much of their lumber in Chicago due to the direct connection. All grain was also sacked for shipping.

Illinois Central Middle Division

The Middle Division branch of the Illinios Central Railroad was completed in 1873 and extends from Minonk east to the main line in Kankakee. In Minonk this line was known as the P. G. Eich because, for 50 years, he was the engineer on the passenger trains which made two round trips daily. At that time there were 12 passenger trains in and out of Minonk daily on the three railroads besides many, many freight trains.

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Jonathan Macey came from Indiana to operate a hotel, first called the Webber House. This was later replaced by a fine three-story brick building, with running water and all modern improvements; considered the best hotel in Woodford County. This was called the Hotel Woodford.

As there is a first in everything in every such new village, so it was here, and the first death recorded as having been that of La Fayette Taylor who moved here with his folks in the spring of 1856 (they were the third family). This young man was attending a meeting and in stepping suddenly from a seat upon which he had been standing, he received an internal injury from which he died.

H. A. Christians, a native of Germany, opened the first blacksmith shop in 1856. His daughter Clara's birth was the first to be recorded. The first physician was Isaac Garrison; he came in 1856. As the population increased, there was a demand for schools and church services. In the winter of 1856-57 the first school was established with Frances Reeder as teacher. The school treasurer's book shows that on April 6, 1857 as the teacher, she was paid $79 for four months' service.

A Presbyterian evangelist, Rev. Mr. Frost, held the first religious services. These meetings continued for a while and were held in the hotel building in 1856. At that time little thought was given to denomination. The first wedding was that of George W. Simpkins and Mary Sutton. In the summer of 1856, the first Sunday School was organized by A. D. Danforth and meetings were held in the depot. A Fred Melhorn opened up the first meat market, and the first bank was opened in 1869 by A. J. Baker. Three years later this was purchased by a group of men and operated under the name of Jenkins, Dunn and Company. In 1895 it was sold to C. R. Danforth & Company. Mr. Danforth served the community in the banking business for over 40 years. In the early growth and development of Minonk no incidents of a startling character are recorded. In fact down through the years Minonk has been noted as a practical and matter-of-fact town.

By 1857, the population of the township had so increased it was thought advisable to organize as a separate precinct, so after an order was obtained from the board of supervisors an election was held April 7th and the poll was 22. Nearly every man got an office and some more than one! After a few years the people realized the need of many things-roads, sidewalks and public improvements of various kinds-so a meeting was called which resulted in having the town incorporated under the General Act of the State, and an election for five trustees was held September 30, 1864. It was also voted that all of Section 7 be embraced in the corporate limits of the town and a plat was so made and recorded.

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The town existed and flourished under this five-trustee organization for three years when a move was made to obtain a city charter. This was obtained March 7, 1867 and the first election was held the following October 7th. The charter divided the city into four wards.

The first trustees, who operated three years, were Reuben P. Bell, A. Cholwell, C. W. Goodrich, Henry C. Dent and M. A. Cushing. The first officers under the city charter included the first mayor, John Stoner, one alderman from each ward and a clerk. This organization continued for five years when the style of government was again changed with an election held April 15, 1873. Elected were a mayor, attorney, treasurer and clerk besides four aldermen.

Thomas Sutton, Dr. E. A. Wilcox, Dr. Stonier and Daniel Hollenbeck are others mentioned frequently in early history.

The first school house with John Peck as teacher, was erected in 1857. It was a frame building 30x30 and cost $300. A frame building was built on the east side in 1864 and in 1901 the cornerstone was laid there for a brick high school building which cost $32,000. The first class to graduate was in 1886; F. T. Wilcox, Lena Simpson, Daisy Christians and Carrie Vance were the graduates. A frame building was erected on the west side, to be replaced in 1912 by the grade school brick building.

Minonk has always been proud of her churches. In the early days church organizations preceded church buildings. The pioneers were the Presbyterian in 1856; Methodist in 1857; Baptist in 1858; St. Paul's Lutheran in 1868; and Immanuel Lutheran in 1916. None of these groups were long in getting a building and as time passed so did these early structures. With changing, remolding, rebuilding each now has a church of which to be proud. In the early days, there was a German Baptist church, but in 1912 this was merged into the First Baptist. Also there was a Negro church on the west side, but no data is given on it. The parishioners of St. Patrick's Church, in the early days, held services in a private home every two weeks. A Father Keenan was in charge and their first church was on the west side. The present site was purchased in 1880.

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Minonk has always had its full share of clubs and lodges, going as far back as 1857 when the Masonic lodge was chartered.

A.F. & A.M. Rob Morris Lodge No. 247, of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, with J.B. Garrison as Worshipful Master, and Samuel C. Carothers and Richard Chenowith as Wardens, was authorized by the Grand Lodge, October 7, 1857. This is, comparatively, one of the "ancient" lodges of the state, as the number of lodges in the state at present, is nearly 800. It was named after the venerable "Poet Mason" Robert Morris of LaGrange, Kentucky, who has made his namesake many pleasant visits, and from whom it has received a number of valuable tokens of friendship and regard. The present membership is about 60.... The regular meetings are on the first and third Wednesday evening of each month. I.O.O.F. A lodge of this order was established, at this place, October 28, 1868 and is known as Minonk Lodge, No. 377. Its first principal officers and charter members were: S.W. Allen, John Morris, John Stoner, John Gmelich and S.W. Barger. This institution, though comparatively young, has increased in numbers quite rapidly; and today, numbers about 70 members.... The meetings are held on Tuesday evenings of each week.


In 1874, the Minonk Blade, was established by Irving Carrier as an independent paper; it was sold to H. C. Hedge in 1876 and he made it a staunch Republican paper called the Register. This paper changed ownership a time or two until C. R. Denson bought it in 1904 and changed the name to the Minonk Dispatch. The Minonk News was established in 1878 by S. C. Bruce. It changed hands several times until C. R. Denson bought it in 1913 and consolidated it with the Dispatch, calling it the Minonk News-Dispatch, which is still being published by Denson Brothers at this time (1967).

Woodford Station

The Village of Woodford was laid out for the proprietor, John Warren, in 1874, and a switch established and a station house built the following year. Jacob M. Holder was appointed agent. There are about a score of buildings there at one time. On the location of the station Henry Patton opened a store, and the government authorized a post office, of which Mr. Patton was appointed postmaster. He afterward sold out to Samuel Kirk, who also succeeded Patton as the postmaster.

The place also contained a blacksmith shop which was run by George French, and a grain elevator operated by J. Forney.

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Brick Yards

The Eagle brick works were established April 1, 1889, by Joseph Stonier and Thomas Willy. They employed 16 men, and made 1,500,000 brick the first year. The ownership of this firm changed hands several times and in 1896 was known as Pickard and Clark brick yard.

The first brick building was erected in Minonk in 1878 by Louie Lichtenstein. It was a handsome three-story building containing an "opera house" above the store rooms below. Sometime around 1900 the third story of the opera house was removed. This building is still standing (1967) and is good for many years to come.

Chicago & Minonk Coal & Tile Works

The Minonk Coal Company was incorporated in 1869 with Dr. Samuel Ewers as president and manager. The stock was fixed at $6,000 at $25 per share. Coal was found at a depth of 314 feet, the vein being four feet thick. The quality was poor and it was not thought advisable to work it, so the stock was sold and the company reorganized. The new company found a second vein of coal from two and a half to three feet thick at a depth of 553 feet.
The company found itself unable to proceed with the work, so a partnership was formed with Miner T. Ames of Chicago, who furnished enough capital to proceed with the work for a time. The old stockholders could not keep up with their share of expenses, so they sold out the company to a company known as the Chicago & Minonk Coal and Coke Company, with Miner T. Ames as president and general manager, in which capacity he continued up to the time of his death January 13, 1890. The heirs then took charge of the property with Knowlton L. Ames as general manager. (1896).– A new cable engine was placed in the mine and about 300 men were employed in mining coal. The tile and brick works employed 100 men, and turned out an immense quantity of vitrified drain tile, paving brick, sidewalk brick and hollow brick every year. They had the largest car loading of drain tile at that time anywhere in the United States.

At the time Thomas A. Edison had made two electric generators and, being a good friend of Miner T. Ames, gave him one of them so that he could have electric lights at the mine. When the big store at the mine was destroyed by fire a new store was established up town at the corner of Chestnut and Seventh streets. In order that the store could have electric lights instead of coal lamps, they strung a pair of wires which gave Minonk the first electrically lighted street in the world.

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This store was also destroyed by fire and, in 1896, Mr. Ames erected a handsome department store of three rooms in the corner of Sixth and Chestnut streets. The building was 80x100 feet and was handsomely fitted up with oak counters and fixtures and contained a $40,000 stock of merchandise and a refrigerating machine for meats, butter, eggs, etc.

In 1900, a second mine was sunk about a mile north of the first one. The first mine was closed and the second mine was operated about a year then it closed. It was idle until about 1904 when W. G. Sutton and J. S. Webber of Rutland leased it and started operations. A short time later, Mr. Webber moved out of town and Mr. Sutton purchased the mine and operated it under the name of the Minonk Coal Company. About 300 people were employed and they mined about 450 tons of coal a day. Mr. Sutton operated the mine until 1951, when it was closed for good. This ended the era of coal mining in Minonk.

Priebe & Simater

Among other enterprises in Minonk that paid out a large amount of money every year to the farmers in this locality was the produce firm of Priebe & Simater. Mr. Priebe started this business in 1879. On January 30, 1885, he and F. J. Simater formed a partnership, and increased the business. They afterward put up a large building. In 1892, they put in a cold storage plant, and built an addition to the building. In 1895 they put in the ammonia system of cold storage, and added another room to their building. They were the heaviest shippers of poultry and eggs in the State of Illinois, and had branch houses in Illinois, Iowa and Missouri, selling poultry all through the east and in Europe.

Minonk Electric and Power Co.

The Minonk Electric and Power Company was incorporated in February 1890, with a capital stock of $15,000 and has done a general lighting business. The plant consisted of two boilers, two engines, two incandescent dynamos, one municipal dynamo and one arc machine, with several miles of pole lines.

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Water Works System

The first water works system was installed in Minonk in 1887 at which time Josiah Kerrick was mayor of the City. There was a $10,000 bond issue voted to pay for the system which was installed by the Fairbanks-Morse Company at a cost of $9,825.00. Wooden mains were laid to carry the water, but the system proved defective and it was not until September 2, 1889 that it was paid for. Most of the wooden mains were then replaced by iron mains.

Telephone Company

The first telephone switchboard was placed in the rear of Harris and Hershey's drug store in the early nineties and Grace Cushing was the first operator followed by Josie Jacek who held that post for 15 years. The business grew rapidly and before it was one year old was sold to A. B. Kipp and Company who moved it to their lumber office. The company built the present concrete building in 1911. The first telephone was installed in the J. A. Simpson Sr. grain office.
In December 1858 a group of men gathered at the school house and organized the first cemetery association. They purchased the first five acres of the present cemetery in 1859. The first burial was that of three children of Rev. John M. Brown, whose bodies previously had been buried in the Presbyterian church yard.

St. Patrick's Cemetery was purchased in 1886; prior to that time they had use of a cemetery a few miles from Minonk.

The City Park was a cow pasture in the early days and was often referred to as Sangers Frog Pond, after Alderman Sangster.

The businesses that played a part in the development, growth and advancement of this little village through the years, were many and varied. The old mill, Minonk round house, the old skating rink, the first produce house of Priebe and Simater, old cooper shop, millinery stores, August Shroeder's shoe shop, harness shops, Pickards wagon works, the Minonk Electric and Power Co. and Minonk Telephone Co. were a few of the old-time establishments.

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The coal, tile and brick industries, the baking industry, the sauerkraut factory, thimble factory, O'Rourke Brothers cigar factory, Martin O'Connell's monument works, Minonk Bottling Works ("pop" factory), cement block factory, The Uncle Tom Candy factory, Sam Lee's Chinese laundry and R. Granert & Son clothing factory were the outstanding industries. Some of the firms mentioned here have been covered in more detail in the fore part of this article. Aside from farming these were once the thriving businesses in the city and township. Incidentally, Samuel Wylie from Vermont, assisted by his brother Joseph opened up the first farm in the immediate territory–Section 5.

Minonk, so it is presumed, reached its peak in population in 1896 when there were about 3,000 people living here. As the industries closed and moved away, so did some of the people. The census of 1960 showed a population of about 2,000.

The following manufacturing firms are in business here in 1967.

In 1934 Arthur Zivney came to Minonk from the State of Wisconsin and started the Minonk Dairy Products Company. On May 1, 1934 the plant began operations in a wooden frame building, 32x55 feet, with 2,223 lbs. of milk the first day, which was made into American cheese. The demand for the product was accepted by a ready market.

Business expanded rapidly and by the end of 1936 the plant was receiving 33,000 lbs. of milk per day. A need was seen for plant and quality improvement and a careful policy of "plowing back" all earnings has been followed in the ensuing years.

In 1948-49, the building expansion plans were fulfilled. An addition 60x80, two additional stories with a 40x60 boiler room were built to house the new spray drying equipment. Manufacture of Spray Non-Fat Dry Milk Solids began April 1, 1949. Cheese has not been made commercially since 1947. This is the oldest industrial firm in Minonk which has operated continuously under the same firm name and by the same family.

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The plant has a capacity of 300,000 lbs. of fluid milk per day. Two million pounds of 92-score butter is made each year. Four million pounds of Non-Fat Dry Milk Solids are sold each year to the baking and meat industries. Thirty people are employed to run the plant and their wages run over $200,000 per year. The amount paid out for milk each year runs over $2,000,000.

The Minonk Baking Company

The Minonk Baking Company started operations in 1960, moving into the same building which housed the former Sally Ann Bakery, owned and operated by the late J. E. Morganstern. This baking firm employs about 40 people and produces about 3,000,000 loaves of bread a year. Their annual payroll amounts to about $300,000.

The Martha-Maid Manufacturing Company

The Martha-Maid Manufacturing Company came to Minonk in April 1964 and moved into the building previously occupied by the R. Granert & Son clothing factory which had manufactured suits and overcoats. They started operation on November 1, 1964 under the supervision of Jack Beegun who is general plant manager. They employ between 50 and 60 women and, according to Mr. Beegun, many more experienced sewers could be used. In a year, this plant produces about 1,200,000 ladies lounge robes of all styles. The amount of money paid out for all types labor at the plant is about $400,000 per year.

The city of Minonk enjoys the unique distinction of having the only post office by that name in the world. A letter can be mailed any place in the world and addressed, simply, Minonk, U.S.A. and the letter will be delivered here without delay.

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Now you may be wondering now Minonk got that name and what it means. (This is from a paper, supposedly the Minonk News-Dispatch.) When Mr. C. O. Waldrip was superintendent of the Minonk schools, he received a letter from a group of Camp Fire Girls in Selah, Washington stating that they liked the name and wanted to give it to their group.

They asked that a 5th grade girl send them the meaning of the word Minonk. The letter was given to Miss Gertrude Beale and she and her 5th grade pupils found this–C. L. Corliss, associate editor of the Illinois Central Magazine states that the origin of the name is contained in William K. Ackerman's "Early Illinois Railroads" published by the Fergus Publishing Company of Chicago in 1884. A copy of this book is in the Chicago library.

Mr. Ackerman says, the name Minonk appears on a map published by Thevenot. It is of Indian origin. In Ojibway dialect it means good place–Mino, good; onk, place.

Minonk was given its name by Mr. David Neal, chief engineer for the Illinois Central Railroad at the time of its construction through here. Before this it was shown on the map as Marquette.

And so , we can well say and believe, truth is stranger than fiction and as one author wrote, Irving's hero of Sleepy Hollow would not have been less surprised had he taken his 20-year nap in the vicinity of Minonk a century ago, because 20 years in the early development of Minonk brought many, many changes.