Marshall County
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Town of Wenona

History

Wenona was laid off on the 15th of May, 1855, by the Illinois Central Railroad Company, on one of the alternate sections granted by Congress for the construction of the Road. It lies on both sides of the railway track, 20 miles below La Salle, and about the same distance nearly due east of Lacon, near the county line. It is one of the most important stations between Bloomington and La Salle.

When the surveyors, in 1851-2, went over the great prairies with compass and chain, to mark the route of the Central Railroad, the region of Wenona was uninhabited for a number of miles in each direction. The first house, a mere shanty for the track-men, was put up on the site in 1852; and with the completion of the road from La Salle to that point in the next year, the passenger station and freight house were erected, and a good-sized dwelling also built for Gr. W. Goodell, the Station Agent and first Postmaster, the Post-office being established this year. In June, 1854, the Presbyterian Church was organized - the first in Wenona. During the winter of that year, Wm. Brown brought a stock of goods to the place, and had a building opened for their sale. When the town was laid off, it contained nine dwellings and about fifty inhabitants, besides a floating population of at least thirty. Its progress during the next few years was not marked; but since 1858 it has grown rapidly, and is now a thrifty village of several hundred inhabitants, with two hotels, a number of stores, and other branches of business in proportion. A great amount of grain is annually shipped at this point, and a considerable trade is carried on with the surrounding country, which has become thickly settled. The town was incorporated March 5th, 1859, by a vote of 28 to 3 ; and Solomon Wise, George Brockway, John B. Newburn, F. H. Bond, and Emanuel Weltz, were elected Trustees.

Movements were early made in Wenona toward the founding of a seminary, which were consummated in 1857, and a building erected soon after. The institution is a promising one, and is on a very liberal basis, its laws providing that it “shall be forever free from sectarian control."

Transcribed 04 Feb 2012 from History of Putnam and Marshall Counties, by Henry Allen Ford, 1860

A History of Wenona As Broadcast over WMMJ about 1947

The following script was prepared by Principal Wade L. Eberly of the Wenona Community High School (1938-1948) and broadcast over WMMJ, Peoria, in a series of programs called "Your Community:"

Whoever relates the history of Wenona, Illinois, all or any part of it, must inevitably refer to the year 1855 which can be considered its birthday insofar as the people of the community are concerned.

The town was laid out May 15 of that year by the Illinois Central Railroad and was given the Indian name, Wenona. Then it stood in the midst of an immense prairie, located on the highest ground between the Wabash and Illinois rivers with not a settler or house within miles of it. The first buildings completed were a railroad shanty, depot, freight house, dwelling for the agent and a post office. A village government was organized in 1857 and the town incorporated in 1859.

The town was laid out with regularity on both sides of the Illinois Central railroad and subsequently became known as Wenona and East Wenona, each a distinctive municipality, that was later merged and referred to only as Wenona.

Much of the transformation of Wenona from a treeless prairie town to a city of beautiful shade trees was due to the aesthetic tastes of the Hon. John O. Dent, a son of one of the earliest settlers on Sandy, who first entered the land upon which the town was built in 1849. This man was responsible for the origin and operation of the first "Union Township Fair," held in the fall of 1871 at Wenona. It was at the Union Fair in 1872 that the Big Bend Veteran Reunion Association of old soldiers was organized, an organization which held annual meetings for many years to follow. Fifty-five acres of land were purchased at the southeast limits of the town by the "Fair Society" to be used as the fairgrounds, the cost of which including improvements until 1880, was $20,000.

While Wenona may have been termed an agricultural community in its early days, it did not depend entirely upon the farmer's trade for prosperity. Enterprising men among the settlers saw to it that industry was developed to greater extent than was true in some of the neighboring communities. Early factories included the Patch & Swift Iron Foundry, located on the site of the present Ernest Pomerenke residence; the Wenona Zinc Works at the north edge of the town; the skinner Tile Factory, near the Yare residence; the F. M. Myers Nursery of the near north side; the J. T. Monk Wagon Factory, on the site of the present J. J. Marks, Sr., residence; the Beecher Flour Mill, on the C & A tracks north of the slag pile; the Hodge planing mill and lumber yard, the main building now the G. F. Beckman home, and the famous Burgess Stock Farm, with its barns located on the block now occupied by the Eilts blacksmith shop. This firm was considered the largest importer of thoroughbred draft horses in the United States, many of which were obtained from England, France and Belgium.

The largest single industry contributing to the growth and prosperity of Wenona was its coal mine, located in the northeast quarter of the town, east of the Illinois Central tracks. The mine was opened under the Hamilton-Hodge-Monser partnership and was incorporated November 9, 1882, as the Wenona Coal Co. The partnership was soon dissolved and ownership passed on to E. L. Monser with Geo. S. Monser production manager and W. E. Monser sales manager. The vein of coal varied from 3' 6" to 4.' Peak employment numbered 550 miners and the average payroll approximated $30,000 per month, paid to employees in gold coin for a number of years, later cash at the mine and finally by checks at the bank. The mine operated from 1882 to 1924, at which time it was closed never to reopen. A new union scale was said to have made it unprofitable for the company to continue mining such a thin vein.

It was during the operation of the mine and World War I that the population of Wenona reached an all-time high of 1892 inhabitants. It was said by old timers that on the day after pay-day at the mines, the Chicago & Alton depot was so crowded with people that the railroad could not accommodate its out-of-town passengers.

No people's story is complete without giving due recognition to spiritual guidance and educational training. Schools and churches are forever a part of civic progress.

The first school building in Wenona was erected in 1858 on the ground......(the remainder of the newspaper article is missing).

Contributed 10 Jun 2015 by Peggy Thomas. Script prepared and transcribed by Wade L. Eberly for Peoria Program, 1947 is an approximate date.


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