Marshall County

1976 Deep Are the Roots

Lacon Township

[Page 41]

A name that figures prominently in the early history of Marshall County is that of Joseph Babb. In return for service in the War of 1812, he acquired his first land in Illinois. Joseph was a native of Ohio. In the fall of 1831, the family left Lancaster, Ohio. The four-horse prairie schooner for the next four weeks and four days was "home" for Mr. Babb; his wife, Eleanor; three young daughters; and a son, Benjamin.

After arriving in Marshall County, Colonel John Strawn, an old friend of Joseph Babb in Ohio, kept the family at his house which was four miles east of the river near where Lacon is today, Joseph and Colonel Strawn began the search for a home site for the new family. In about two weeks' time the ideal spot upon a hill looking toward the river was located. As Mr. Dabb put his foot down with emphasis he said, "Here I will build my house."

The first home was a sturdy cabin which was soon erected. The industrious family continued to develop their home site and make improvements. The Babbs established the first road from Columbia (Lacon) to their property; also the first road from there to Pekin, Illinois which was the nearest marketing place.

Joseph Babb died in 1835. It is interesting to note here that his dying request was granted. He wanted to be buried on the hill north of his home; he wanted "to be able to see the road and watch his friends go by." The family cemetery remains today. The graves of his wife, Eleanor; Benjamin and Nancy Babb; and their three young daughters are also there.

Along with the hardships involved in the settling of the new land, the family was often frightened and annoyed by the Indians who had extensive camping grounds in the river flats west of the hill where the Babb cabin was located. During the Black Hawk War the settlement was the scene of several alarms although no actual battles took place in the area.

After Joseph's death in 1835 his son, Benjamin, kept the business going and eventually became the sole owner of the entire property. Benjamin married Nancy Jones in 1857. Only tv;o of their five daughters survived early childhood.

Their daughter, Estella Babb married Fred Collins of Lacon. In the early 1890's, Fred took his family to Chicago, Pittsburg and Youngstown, Ohio while working for Republic Steel. Fred's youngest child, son Walter B. married Charlotte Foulke in Youngstown and they became the parents of Walter B. and Richard Foulke Collins,

As these generations were growing up and rearing families, the Babb heirs retained ownership of the estate and rented the property.

In 1966 Richard Foulke Collins and his wife, Kathryn Ann (Ehlert) Collins from Cleveland, Ohio both graduates of Western Reserve University, returned to the homestead of his great-great-grandfather, located in Lacon Township about five miles south of Lacon on Route 26, They brought with them their son and two daughters.

The old family home which had been built around 1860 was remodeled and modernized, however, its original lines are still discernible. The picture with this account was made from the drawing of the Babb place in the 1873 Plat Book of Marshall County. Although many of the trees are gone, fences and roadways changed, the house on the hill still stands; its heavy oak beams are solid and secure.

In 1976 the old home is the residence of Richard and Kathryn Collins; their son, Richard; and daughter, Mary Ann. Another daughter, Laurie; her husband; and a granddaughter, Jenny, reside in Peoria, Illinois.

[Page 43]

Immaculate Conception Church

There were no local Catholic Churches prior to the l850's. A missionary priest cane once a month to offer mass in the homes of the people. The earliest priest identified was Father Montoni. He traveled to Lacon, Henry, Camp Grove, Kewanee, Minonk and other small towns.

The first church between LaSalle and Peoria was built in Lacon about 1852. It was dedicated as Immaculate Conception Church with Father Montoni as pastor. The town donated land for the church building which was constructed of log and frame sections. Father Lynch became pastor in 1853. He died in 1856 and was buried inside the church. This church burned in 1856 and was replaced by a frame structure.

The building of the present church began in 1866 at a cost of $13,000. With furnishings the cost amounted to $16,000. Father John Kilkenny was pastor at the time. Final payment on the note was made April 5, 1869, just three years after the building was begun.

In 1878 the pastor, Father Powers, helped organize a school in a house just east of the church. Four Sisters of Mercy arrived to staff the school. There were 50 pupils; 21 girls and 29 boys which crowded the schoolrooms. It was torn down and a new school built, 27-1/2 by 41 feet. The east half of the school was reserved for the girls and the other half for the boys. Each section had two downstairs classrooms and one upper story which housed a dormitory, recreation room and a chapel. It had a capacity of 120 pupils and was full.

In January, 1880, the school was incorporated by the Secretary of State in compliance with state laws as the Marshall County Industrial School. The school operated well until 1902, when the Bishop decided not to reopen it. The building was sold, part of it removed and the rest remodeled into a home by T. G. Breen.

Father Clifford became pastor in 1955. The Church was last remodeled in 1956. Steel beams replaced the wooden ones beneath the floor, a new heating system was added and the interior refinished. At that time, the body of Father Lynch was removed from beneath the floor and moved to the cemetery. His tombstone is still behind the east end of the Church. Another pastor. Father Campbell, who died in 1877, was buried outside the front of the Church. His tombstone was removed in 1975 when it became a hazard.

The Church is located at what is now 418 North Center Street, Lacon, Illinois.

(Church history was compiled in 1970, by John Wabel, Gene Dunn and Ron Lenz.)

Mrs. Kathryn Collins
R. F. D.
Lacon, Illinois

[Page 45]

The area of land known as Marshall County, Illinois was first settled about 1828. Within ten years, small groups of pioneers had established settlements. In January 19, 1839, this area became Marshall County, named after John Marshall, a well-known statesman. A board of commissioners was appointed and in turn, appointed three men from outside the county, to select a site for a court house. The settlement chosen was at Lacon and the deeds for same are dated June 4, 1839, lots 3, 4, and 5, Block 45. This was to include a jail.

Arrangements were made, contracts, bonds, etc, were drawn. Contractors White and Sheppard of Chicago were awarded the contract for the sum of $8,000. Bond was accepted January 14 1840. The Court House was to be 55 feet long by 40 feet wide; two stories; brick; roof and steeple to be framed, shingled with good walnut; twenty-two windows and one false window in front, twenty-four lights each of 10 by 12 inch glass; three outside doors and two back outside doors. Four columns in front, built in Grecian columns, Doris style. Flights of steps between two center columns were built. The contractors bound themselves to finish the Job on or before January 1, 1841. At the September term of conmissioners, 1840, R. F. Bell was ordered to procure two tin plate stoves for the Court House. Albert Barney was allowed ten dollars for making book cases for county records.

This Court House caught fire from a defective flue on the west side at 8:00 a.m. on January 5, 1853. The building and fixtures in the cavort room were a total loss. Books and papers and movable furniture were all saved. There was $5,000 insurance which was collected. At the February 1853 commissioners meeting, plans and specifications were prepared and a contract was awarded to Comegys and Brother and Card and Haggard. The building work was to be done and in the hands of the Board by November 1853. The original contract was $7,050.50, alterations $301.39, making a total of $7,35l.89. This Court House was built on the same location as the building that burned. While construction took place, a room was rented for $125 a year to store the materials and supplies.

Through the years more lots were purchased; November 1, 1857, one lot from Ira I. Fenn for $619.57; Lot 8, Block 45 from William Slowey, September 12, 1855 for $700.

In the year 1881, the supervisors realized more and larger rooms were needed. At first the Court House had been heated by wood burning stoves. Many, many cords of wood were piled, sawed, split, carried inside and burned. Later, coal was used. Minor repairs were constantly being necessary. The old jail, which was just to the rear of the Court House, was removed and hitching racks for use of the public, was ordered immediately. It was decided to put an addition on the Court House. The front of the building was removed at a cost of $35. The cost of the addition was to be $13,916, filed December 5, 1882. The board of supervisors engaged Valentine Jobst as architect and superintendent. Specifications dated May 20, 1882. Detailed description of the inside doors is very interesting. The staircase leading from the first to second floor were to have cast iron steps with open risers, treads on the upper surface, corrugated pattern; all suitable wrought iron carriages to support the steps, and securely bolted together; the banisters to have a hand rail of black walnut but the newels will be of light cast iron. The steps and hand rail are there today, exactly as described and used daily.

Some recent transactions that have involved changes and remodeling of the old building are as follows: In September, 1956, $50,000 was budgeted for an addition. August 12, 1957 and again in September, 1957, bids were received for a one-story addition to the north. Harold Fribble's bid of $37,500 was accepted.

In 1970 the court room was air conditioned. In June 1971, for $6,000, the Lippert property was purchased to become a parking area. In July 1971, Winkler Construction of Lacon remodeled the Supervisor of Assessment's office for the sum of $7,921.60.

Mrs. Florence Grieves
Lacon, Illinois

[Page 47]

First National Bank

One of the oldest commercial buildings in Lacon is the former First National Bank building located on the northwest corner of Fifth and Washington Streets.

The structure was built by Colonel Greenbury L. Fort; the bricks having been hauled into town from Samuel Buck's kilns in Richland Township.

In 1899 an enlarged corner entrance and a plate glass window facing Fifth Street somewhat changed the original design.

Today the building houses Jean's Dress Shop and outwardly looks much the same as it did at the turn of the century.

The picture below was made from the drawing which was included in the 1873 Plat Book.

[Page 48]

On the corner of Fifth Street at Fulton in Lacon stands a most interesting home built around 1850 by Edwards and Ann Whipple, possibly from Memphis, Tennessee. They had three children, and it is surprising for such a big house. The present owners, the Fords, are the only large family through its history to occupy the house, and there have been six owners.

The Whipples sold it at auction to Frances Chapman in 1876. She sold it to Cornelia Buchanan in 1886, and in 1926 Charles A. Riel, pharmacist, bought the place. In 1954, William D. and Lenna Blackburn had their name on the deed and September 3, 1959, Havadna Becker Ford bought it.

The rambling old, white house was built in elegant Georgian Colonial style and was remodeled about 1875 to the popular Federal style of architecture, The gables are in the Federal style and porches were added with all the white gingerbread trim typical of that era.

A formal garden was laid out in the Victorian manner, with geometric flower beds and walks. Originally the property was one-half block to Ida Street. Where Lenz Funeral Home now stands was a walnut grove. Some of the largest elms in Lacon had to be replaced by other shade trees, and the highway widening sacrificed two old sugar maples.

There has been considerable updating of the interior through the years. Hardwood floors were added. Fireplace mantels were replaced by those of the early 1900 's fashion. French doors were used inside. The dining room floor is walnut and maple alternating. The flattened arch between the master bedroom and a dressing room is typical of Ohio style architecture.

One unique feature is a large round heat radiator in the front parlor, topped by a round plate of brown marble which supports a finely detailed piece of statuary in the "Rogers" style of two leading characters from the opera, Faust. This was a wedding present to Mrs. Buchanan from her groom in the l870's.

In the latest remodeling, the original construction reveals old, handmade square nails, and some oak boards, four inches thick, twenty-four inches wide and eight feet long. One or two measure fourteen feet long. It took strong men to put those in place. Many interesting old bottles were found in the walls, attesting to the fact that two pharmacists had lived here. It has been suggested they were used to snake electric wiring through the walls when that modern convenience was added,

A prominent part of the exterior, now, is a red brick colonnade located at the back of the house leading into an herb garden. The present owner is a horticulturist who has uncovered much of the old black stone pathways of the once formal garden and has erected many rose trellises for her beautiful flowers .

[Page 50]

Greenbury L. Fort was an early prominent citizen of Lacon. Shortly after the close of the Civil War, he constructed this elegant mansion at the comer of Ninth and Prairie Streets.

For many years it was the home of the late Mrs. Elizabeth Specht until it became the property of the Catholic Church in the 1940's. During this time it became a convent home for the Sisters of St. Joseph.

When the St. Joseph's Nursing Home was constructed in the 1960's, the Fort mansion was replaced by the modern structure which stands today at Ninth and Prairie.

[Page 51]

"In September, 1856 the old jail having proven defective and inadequate to the wants of the county, H. L. Crane, N. G. Henthorn, and Edward White were appointed a committee to draft plans for a new jail and Sheriff's house.

"In December, plans and specifications were presented and bids invited.

"In January, 1857, Edward White received the contract to do the work for $12,000 and H. L. Crane, N. G. Henthorn, and W. E. Cook were chosen a committee to superintend the work. It was done during that spring and summer, and as the records have it, duly 'excepted.'"

This account taken from Ellsworth's Record of the Olden Times is the first record of the stately brick home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Klinker and family of 118 North Center Street, Lacon, Illinois.

When the building served as Marshall County jail a wing to the east housed the cell blocks and the front portion provided living quarters for the sheriff.

Some interesting history of the days when the old brick home served as the sheriff's home is recalled by Mrs. Jessie Hexter. When her father, James Twist, became sheriff in 1886, she was just a year old. Her brother, Jim, was born there in 1888 and her sister, Sue, was fourteen at the time.

Mrs. Hexter recalls many incidents that happened as she grew up. She vividly remembers seeing encounters the "law officers" had as they brought prisoners into the jail. They entered the front door and down the long hall to the section housing the cells; six downstairs and several on the second floor.

One evening she and her mother observed a young prisoner in the yard and when approached by Mrs. Twist he informed her he was afraid (he was the only prisoner) and he had crawled through the "wicket" (small opening through which meals were passed). Mrs. Twist, feeling sorry for the young man, permitted him to spend the night in the sheriff's quarters.

One prisoner was a tailor and Mrs, Hexter told of the coats with colorful linings he was permitted to stitch while incarcerated. He gave the scraps of pretty material to the sheriff's little girls. These were prized playthings, enjoyed by the Twist girls and their friends, the Hacker girls, next door.

When the present Marshall County jail was built in 1905, the 1857 jail was sold to the Louis Lenz family. The back portion of the building was removed and the front part remodeled into a comfortable six room home.

The property was acquired by the late Arthur Winters and after his death the Robert Klinkers became the present owners.

[Page 53]

In November of 1835, Samuel Rickey became the owner of 110 acres in the SE1/4 S1/2 Section one, Lacon Township (about five miles south of Lacon, one-half mile east of Route 26).

Samuel died in September, 1861 leaving a family of nine children, one being Charles E. Rickey. Since there was no will, it was not until l88l that the estate was settled and the land purchased by Charles from his brothers and sisters.

Charles farmed the land until his death in July, 1930. An unmarried sister, Mabel, and one unmarried brother, Samuel, became the owners of the farm, after paying the remaining brothers and sisters.

In 1970, a great-granddaughter of Samuel Rickey, Anna Murrie (Wier) Lewis and husband Logan, purchased the farm from her Uncle's heirs.

The home on the property is not presently occupied. It is believed to have been built in the l850's or 60's. An interesting landmark is a huge old burr oak tree used as a marker to designate the end of the Rickey-Coffman land. The tree and the distance from the house are mentioned in early records of the late l800's.

A hand-dug, hand-bricked well, 98 feet deep, believed to be dug about 1916, still supplies water for the farm. Fresh water is drawn year around in an oaken bucket from the canopy-covered open well.

Mrs. Logan Lewis

[Page 54]

On the corner of Main and Fourth Streets, Lacon, is located a handsome, well preserved old commercial building. It is believed to have been erected about 1864. Edwin G. Brereton purchased the site, lots two and three, block four, in 1864.

Some time ago, the present owners, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Miller found a letter from Chicago to the T and B Wagnon Manufacturer dated January 21, I864. The faded script makes reference to a shipment of buggy wheels and wagon parts. This no doubt establishes the fact that a carriage and wagon manufacturing business was operating in 1864 in the building still standing today.

Another discovery made when plastering was being repaired on the upper portion of the building, was the large wall drawings of various models of buggies, wagons and fancy surries. Unfortunately, since these were done directly on the wall, Mrs. Miller was unable to salvage the beautiful line drawings.

From the time lots two and three were first surveyed and purchased in 1837 they have changed hands many times and have been the location of various business ventures: wagon and carriage manufacturer, livery stable, Lacon Concrete Company, Lacon Woolen Mill storage and in recent years, B and D Lumber Company. The present owners are Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Miller, proprietors of Miller's Antiques.

The line drawing made from the picture in the 1873 Plat Book of Marshall County reveals the few changes that have been made to this old building. The large double doors on the second floor, right, where finished vehicles emerged are still intact. Other doorways, windows, walls and foundation are basically unchanged since 1864.

A visit with the Millers affords an opportunity to see another interesting "relic" uncovered in one of the lots; a small tombstone with the inscription, "Our Frankie, 1858." It is believed this site may have been the family burial plot of one of the early owners.

[Page 55]

The handsome three-story house located at 405 North Washington Street, in Lacon is presently owned by Raymond Thielbar, Jr. Several years ago he converted the big three-story into five apartments; two on each of the first two floors and a single attic apartment on the third floor.

For more than sixty-five years the house was best known in the community as the McMurtrie House. Before that it was owned and lived in by the McMahon family.

The story of the McMurtrie House goes briefly like this: In 1880 Leonard Courtland (L. C.) McMurtrie, an attorney in Lacon who later became Marshall County State's Attorney, purchased the McMahon property which included on it a one and a half dwelling. It was purchased from Ed McMahon.

L. C. then had the house remodeled to suit his own tastes. He had the first floor lifted and a new first floor with ten and a half foot high ceilings built. The original first floor then became the second floor and an elegant cupola was added to the structure, actually a spacious attic with windows. The view from those windows over the river was magnificent.

The McMurtrie family were prominent Lacon people for years. The first McMurtries coming to Lacon from Peoria in 1846 and locating first in the south ward. The first Courtland McMurtrie came to the United States from Scotland. His wife, Zillah, was Canadian.

The remodeling of the house on North Washington Street was done by Francis Robinson, husband of Emma McMurtrie Robinson. The dates for the remodeling were furnished by Emma McMurtrie Robinson now of Ursa, Illinois. She was the daughter of L. E. McMurtrie.

It should be noted that there is something a bit unusual about the local history remaining in the now modern apartment dwelling as it stands in 1976. It seems that during the time the McMurtries lived there a transient painter roomed and boarded at the house for a while. To pay for his living he did some of the redecorating and painted local scenes on the walls of the halls. Most of the scenes he painted in a mural style have crumbled away or have been papered over. However one scene remains (in 1976) and, although dim, is still discernible and reflects a scene from the Lacon past.

Painted at the end of the hall on the first floor is a view of the picturesque old pontoon bridge that was flung across the river and served the west and east side traffic for years. The old pontoon bridge has been gone for forty years but its memory lingers in a dim painting in the old McMurtrie House at 405 North Washington Street.

Eleanor Bussell

[Page 57]

This fine old Victorian home was a familiar landmark in Lacon at the corner of Fourth and Prairie Street until destroyed by the tornado of 1942.

The home was built in 1863 by Judge Thomas M. Shaw, the son of George H. Shaw who lived in Roberts Township at the "Point" (Shaw's Point). Judge Shaw was married to Nellie Hirsch of Woodford County. He was an esteemed, capable lawyer and served as mayor of Lacon several terms.

Judge Shaw was the brother of Dr. Henry Tesmer's wife, Elizabeth. They were the owners of the Sparland landmark, the Tesmer House.

[Page 58]

The house which stands at 715 German Street in Lacon is most familiarly known as the Robert's Home. Mr. Daniel Kress, an immigrant German carpenter, built the original six room home (three rooms up, three rooms down) in 1863.

In 1893, another immigrant, from Switzerland, Mr. Paul Robert came to Lacon and opened a jewelry store. He purchased the home on German Street and established the jewelry store which he operated until 1927. The business was the same location on Fifth Street, Lacon, as Hoppler's Jewelry Store today.

After Mr. Robert's death, his son, Jules, a professor of agriculture and science at Kansas State College, acquired the home. Through the years numerous changes were made; a new kitchen added, south porch enclosed, east and west porches removed, and a basement dug under the kitchen area. The main portion of the house with its interesting old horseshoe window to the south remains the same; the original glass is intact as Mr. Kress installed it back in 1863.

Since 194l Mr. and Mrs. Thomas R. Umbarger have resided in the home. They purchased the property in 1960. Mrs. Umbarger is an only great-niece of Mr. Paul Robert.

In recent years remodeling has been done to modernize the home. When excavating was done to enlarge the basement, Mrs. Umbarger was able to rescue many antique bottles that were uncovered. She highly prizes her unique collection.

[Page 59]

One of the very oldest brick residences in Lacon is the old W. E. Cook homestead at the north edge of Lacon, 711 North Prairie Street.

Ellsworth's Record of the Olden Times contains the following information about the Cooks. "W. E. Cook was born in New York in 1809. He followed the hatter's trade and in 1838 moved on to Ohio where he lived for nine years. He came to Lacon in l849 and the same year was elected to the office of County Clerk.

"One daughter, Belle, was married to S. M. Garrett. One son was George W. E. Cook who in 1873 still resides in Lacon. He has resided in the old homestead in the north part of Lacon which has been in the possession of the family since 1855. The brick part having been erected in 1837."

When the frame wing to the north was added is not certain, however, it was shown in an 1873 picture, the picture from which the below illustration was made.

Since it contained many rooms each with a fireplace, it is believed at one time it may have served as a hotel. Before coming to Lacon, W. E. Cook had been clerk in a general store and a hotel clerk, a business he may have continued in Lacon in the l850's-60's. The residence is located just north of the old Chicago-Alton Railroad.

About 1914 the Henry Weers family moved to Lacon from Minonk via train and moved into the spacious residence they had purchased from the Johnsons. Heirs of Henry Weers recall contractors removing the fifteen or sixteen room north wing.

After the death of Mrs. Mary Weers the property changed hands several times and is now owned by Edward Wigand.

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