Many histories have been written about Taylorville and the surrounding area, but to give a complete account now after 150 years of growth and prosperity would be impossible to do in this article. Subjects such as government, industry, religion, education, culture, transportation, families, wars and others deserve in depth coverage, so let us review some highlights in the history of our town.
On May 24, 1839, when the town was located by a commission appointed by the legislature for that purpose, Illinois was still a new state where the hardy pioneers and hunters were moving westward. They cleared forests, pushed back the red man and blazed the way for the steady tide of immigrants coming into this land.
And so it was with the area we know now as the City of Taylorville. In the more than twenty years since the first white settlers located here in 1818, many families had come, the county of Christian (Dane) was organized and a county seat selected. At the time of the location of the county seat, the towns of Edinburg and Allentown were rivals for that honor, but the location was made through the efforts of Daniel C. Goode, who owned the land on which Taylorville was built.
The town was named for John Taylor of Springfield, one of the commissioners who located it. The first house erected was a small frame building 12 x 12 feet with H. M. Vandeveer being the builder. It served as his residence, clerk's office, court room, etc. until a new court house could be built in 1840. The new building was 32 feet long, 22 feet wide and the construction cost was $2350. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas argued cases and practiced law in this tiny wooden structure which finally found a permanent home on the Christian County Historical Society grounds.
Buildings were moved in to the county seat from Edinburg, which at that time was located just to the north of the west edge of Taylorville, and from Allentown. The first business was Samuel Reece's grocery store, followed soon by Mr. Gilbert who opened a second store and doctors office, occupied by Dr. Slater, then Dr. Ralston.
There was much activity in the little town in the 1840s after the new court house was built. The first school was taught by John W. Wheat and the first sermon was preached by the Rev. Michael Shunk, both in 1840. On January 1, 1841, the first marriage took place when John Gilbert and Clara Ann Young were wed, the ceremony being performed by Rev. Aaron Vandeveer. The Great Eastern Stageline passed through the town daily. Several churches were built including the Cumberland Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal, Roman Catholic and the Baptist Church. The Davis Memorial Church was erected in 1853.
No place seems to escape crime, and Taylorville was no exception. The first county jail, made of logs, was built in 1846 just off the south east corner of the square where the "Breeze Courier" is now located.
In 1842 James H. Morrison was buried in the plot of ground that we know today as Oak Hill Cemetery. Young Cemetery is another very old burial ground. Familiar to many today is the Veterans Memorial, as it faces the front entrance to Oak Hill Cemetery and was erected in 1895 to the soldiers and sailors of Christian County by Francis M. Long Corps No. 110, Womens Relief Corps.
The first school taught in Taylorville was by John W. Wheat in 1840, with classes being held in homes or available buildings until the brick seminary was erected in 1850. The lower story was used for school purposes, the upper story as a Temperance Hall. The location was just north of the present day Post Office.
The first man in Taylorville who could be called a manufacturer was Abel Conner, a blacksmith. Jesse Langley built a horse mill on Spring Branch, a mile and one-half east of Taylorville. The power was obtained by a wheel propelled by cows. In 1850 Dr. Goudy built the first steam saw and grist mill. The first steam flouring mill was built by Wm. T. Sprouse and Co. in 1853 in the west part of town. This mill was in operation many years and at one time was converted into a woolen factory, carding and spinning. The rapid growth into the county created a need for more mills and also for the manufacture of farming implements. The Sattley Bro. manufactured from 550 to 600 sulky plows annually after the start of their operation in 1869.
There was one drawback to the growth and development of industry in these early days. The eastern part of the county was served by the Illinois Central Railroad in the 1850s but there were no railroads coming through Taylorville. As early as 1856 Dr. Goudy was sent to the legislature from this district for the purpose of getting a rail system into the town. However, it was 1869 when the first railroad came into Taylorville. After the advent of the "Iron Horse," the town improved rapidly. Good and substantial buildings were erected, trade and business more than doubled and the population increased to 3000. The rail system later became known as the Baltimore and Ohio.
Taylorville and surrounding area residents were always eager to learn about the news of the day, and several newspapers had their start and their demise. The first newspaper in the town was the "Independent Press" started in 1858. The "Breeze Courier" was born the "Taylorville Daily News," having the distinction of being Taylorville's first daily newspaper. It was established in July 1893 by H. G. Barnes and J. O. Sanders. Eight months later (April 30, 1894), it was sold to a lawyer, Frank Reed, who took over the operation, and it has remained in his family to this present day. It also has the distinction of being one of 51 independently owned newspapers in the nation that has been owned by one family for more than one hundred years.
The year of 1883 saw some important happenings in the town. The Antlers Hotel was built on the corner of Market and Walnut Streets, a grand three story brick structure. The fourth floor was added later by owner E. V. Condon. On April 5, 1964, the hotel was purchased by Dominic Frisina and the name changed to the Frisina Hotel. Extensive remodeling took place, adding fine dining areas such as the Camellia Room, the Melody Room, the Gold Room and the Zebra Room. This great hotel served the community for many years. In this same year, 1893, theatrical entertainment began with the building of an opera house by H. M. Vandeveer. After years of providing fine entertainment for the community, it was sold to Ernest Hoover. Later it became the Gem Theatre, then the Capitol Theatre, and presently it is Memories on the Square, a wonderful place for large gatherings.
The history of Taylorville city waterworks dates back to 1886 when an election was held to issue bonds. Two years later the first hand-dug well was completed at the old water plant on South Cherokee Street, and a water tower was constructed behind the City Hall. This greatly assisted the fire department, and records show that an ordinance creating a fire department was adopted in that year. The first fire station, a small two-story brick building, was on the site where the present building is located. The first equipment was man-drawn. It was not until 1906 that the first big step forward was taken when a team of horses was purchased from St. Louis for $360. giving the department speed that it had never known.
The first local telephone company in Taylorville was organized and owned by J. N. C. Shumway. The Central Union Telephone Company operated the toll lines and later took over the business. In 1905 the Christian Co. Telephone Co., owned and controlled by local interest, was organized with the head office in Taylorville.
In July 1889, Taylorville residents hailed the arrival of electric service with the incorporation of the Taylorville Electric Company. Most electric systems, in the beginning, did not operate during the day as there were no appliances, and on moon-lit nights street lights weren't used.
The Taylorville Woman's Club has brought culture to the city for over a century. It was founded in 1898 for the purpose of providing a city library. A building for that purpose was completed in 1903 with Miss Eva Bourne as the first librarian. Today, a new city library is located on Vine Street.
So much could be and should be said concerning the coal mines, which have been such an important industry in the community for so many years. As early as the 1880's it was realized that this would be a big part of the economy for years to come. On March 1, 1886, a meeting was held to organize a coal mining company, and two years later a contract was made for sinking a shaft. The location of this was between Main and Market Streets just east of the Wabash railroad. It was in operation until 1915. With the discovery of so many veins of coal in this area, there was an influx of workers, bringing their families, many from foreign countries. Other mines soon opened up, and at one time there were three mines in the Kincaid area, one in Taylorville and one in Pana. A shaft sunk at Hewittville was later acquired by F. S. Peabody and was known then as the Peabody Mine No 58. The mine wars of the 1930s are a part of Christian County's history. Carl D. Oblinger's book, "Divided Kingdom," published in 1991, describes in detail the events that took place at that time.
The fertile soil in this area brought many settlers here in the early days. Agriculture has always been one of the county's largest industries. Not only does the farmer help feed the world, he also creates other businesses as dealers of machinery, fertilizer, seed, etc. The early settler planted corn and wheat mainly but with steady progress in the manufacture of farm equipment, the work for the farmer was made easier, and more acres went into production for various crops. The introduction of soybeans to Christian County in the early 1900s changed farming greatly. Frank Hulbrink was the first man in the county to raise soybeans. Mr. Elmer Waddell stated that he bought his first seed in 1917 through the University of Illinois for seven dollars a bushel and that planted twenty acres. In recent years fewer people are farming, but the size of the farms have increased due to modern machinery.
At the turn of the century, the town was experiencing growth and progress, and again the county had outgrown the second court house. It had been built in 1856 at the cost of between $15,000 and $16,000. The brick structure stood in the middle of the Taylorville square and was surrounded by dirt streets and hitching racks for the horses. The present Christian County Courthouse is of white stone with a central tower containing a clock with four dials facing each side of the public square. Construction of the building started in 1900, and the cost was $100,000.
St. Vincent's Hospital on South Walnut Street was established by the Sisters Adorers of the Most Precious Blood, Ruma, Illinois, in 1906. This institution ably served the needs of area residents until 1954, when on December 31, 75 patients were moved from the old hospital to the beautiful new St. Vincent Memorial Hospital. In 1948, the "Hoover Field," a tract of 12 acres of land eight blocks north of the old hospital was purchased for the site of the future hospital. From 1922 until 1936, the hospital had a school of nursing.
Life cannot be all work with no pleasure. The Chautauqua had provided entertainment in the county for several years, being organized in 1900 in the Edinburg-Sharpsburg area. The Taylorville Chautauqua opened at Manners Park August 23, 1914. The first program featured Kaffir Boys' Choir and Adam Bede, billed as "one of the best chautauqua lectures in the field." The chautauqua was a series of assemblies featuring a program of lecturers and concerts designed to appeal to all ages. Canvas tents housed the early meetings but in 1916, the present building was erected. Manners Park had just been established about two years before, when in 1912 nearly 50 acres of land was purchased by the City of Taylorville from the heirs of Charles A. Manners for the purpose of creating a park. Improvements have continued throughout the years with baseball diamonds, tennis courts, picnic areas, lake fishing, playgrounds, a Boy Scout open air pavilion and a large modern swimming pool.
Let us take a brief look at the wars our country has been involved in. Christian County has at least one soldier, serving in the American Revolution, who is buried in this area. Next was the War of 1812, The Mexican War, Indian Wars, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korean Conflict, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf. Men, and women, too, have proudly served their country and many gave their lives.
Toward the end of the century, several new Taylorville establishments were in business and many of these still remain. The original First National Bank of Taylorville had its beginning in 1868; Taylor, Doyle and Fraley Law Firm, 1868; Christian Co. Title Co., 1869; Miley, Meyer, Austin, Spears and Romano Law Firm, 1871; Anderson Jewelers, 1875; Bulpitt Furniture, 1878; Marblestone's Clothing, 1878; The Daily Breeze, 1893; Reese and Reese Law Firm, 1899; Krumsiek Memorial, 1900; Pauls Shoe Store, 1905; and Summers Clothing, 1910. (List from 1989 Sesquicentennial edition of "Breeze-Courier")
Progress in the city continued in the new century with population increase, new businesses, homes, churches and schools. Now it was also time for a new post office. The present building was ready for occupancy on November 20, 1917. It is on the corner of South Main and Franklin Streets and was constructed at an estimated cost of $46,000.
In the fall of 1922, Bertrand Hopper of Kalamazoo, Michigan, purchased the old E-Z Opener Bag Company plant. The abandoned mill was turned into a bustling producer of high grade paper. Many changes took place within the plant the many years it was in operation. The city and residents benefited greatly from this large industry. Soon to follow was another of Taylorville's largest businesses, the Sangamon Co. This nationally-known company had its start in this city in February, 1931. A new and modern building was erected on Route 48 West for manufacturing greeting cards and stationery. A. J. Westrick was president of the company until his death in 1961, and from that time his sons Al Westrick and George Westrick have continued to manage the company.
In 1914 an airfield was located on the site of the present high school, and there was a landing strip just off the Mt. Auburn "hard road." It was not until 1944 that the present airport was established. Another first for the city of Taylorville was a radio station, WTIM. Broadcasting for the Moyer Broadcasting Co. began on January 19, 1952.
The YMCA is, without a doubt, one of the best things that has happened to our city for the benefit of our youth and adults, also. The charter was granted Nov. 8, 1980, and a building erected the following year. Roy Bynam was the first director, serving in that capacity until 1983 when Jon Robinson took the position, which he still holds today.
Lake Taylorville was dedicated June 30, 1962. It contains more than 1000 acres and has 144 miles of city-controlled shoreline. It was built by proceeds from the sale of bonds and without state or federal aid. The lake has been a source of enjoyment for many during the last forty years.
It is not the intent of this writer to purposely omit names or events from this article, because every person, every occupation and every event is a part of the history of Taylorville. This is a wonderful place to live with its many fine churches and schools, good government, its many businesses and industries, beautiful parks and cemetery, many worthwhile organizations, culture and endless good features.
This article will end with some humor, for what would life be like without some joy and laughter each day? Before the humor begins, let's always remember our state basketball champions in 1944. "They defeated Elgin 56-33 at the tourney in Champaign and became the first undefeated team in history to win the title." Dolph Stanley was the coach. And now, on to another game given the title "The game that never was!" "There never has been a football game before or after like it and if a rerun could be shown on TV, it would probably rival the Super Bowl," said Johanna Tinnea (Sesquicentennial edition, 1989). Football history shows no game was scheduled between Illinois and Notre Dame in 1921, and yet headlines in papers were Illinois 16, Notre Dame 0. The game was actually played in Taylorville between rivals Taylorville and Carlinville. Coach Hoover from Taylorville got the message that Carlinville was secretly "loading up" with Notre Dame players, so he decided to contact his good friend at the University of Illinois, the result being that several of Coach Bob Zuppke's Fighting Illini came to Taylorville, unbeknown to Carlinville. A crowd of over 4000 gathered at Hoover field and betting stakes were high.
With all the secrecy that went on, Carlinville was stunned when the game ended with Taylorville the winner, and Taylorville was also richer by $50,000. "Stunned and bankrupt, Carlinville fans watched in silence as the victory parade started down Walnut Street, headed by a donkey labeled 'Carlinville,' and the Taylorville Band played 'Under the Double Eagle.'"
And to end it all is a "True Story" composed by Amy Powell Bierne, a retired school teacher, who resided at the Frisina Hotel:
A True Story
When I was small I went hip-a-ty-hop,
To get a shinbone at the butcher shop;
A nickel or dime was what I should pay--
That was the day they gave liver away.
The shop was small--several people there
Just east of the bank, south side of the square;
I was so little no one noticed me,
So I stood there waiting my turn, you see.
In walked a dark stranger--tall as the clock
And he strolled right up to the butcher's block.
"How much for round steak? I want just a pound,"
"Twelve cents and a half, when you take the round."
So the butcher sawed off a slice of meat
Weighed up a pound and wrapped it nice and neat--
Tied it with a string very carefully,
And handed it over the block, you see.
The stranger took out his wallet, so keen--
Searched for the pennies--exactly thirteen--
"Why is it?" he said, with his head quite bent,
"That the merchant gets that extrie half cent?"
John Alman looked up with nary a blink.
Picked up his hatchet as quick as a wink.
Slick as a whistle cut a cent in two--
Handed over the change without adieu.
Do you think it was the paltry half-cent
He craved? Or move to win the argument?
That customer vanished into the street--
John Alman went calmly on selling meat.