History of Bloomington, Illinois
From: History of McLean County Illinois
By: Jacob L. Hasbrouck
Historical Publishing Company
Topeka-Indianoplis 1924


Bloomington was a paper city. That is, it existed on paper before it existed in fact. When a committee from the settlement at Blooming Grove went to Vandalia in 1830 with a petition for the formation of a new county out of the east part of Tazewell County, the Legislature granted the petition and chose the name for the county and for the county seat. The county was named McLean in honor of Hon. John McLean, one of the great men of Illinois at that time, who had just recently died. The county seat was given the name of Bloomington, partly as an easy adaptation of the name of Blooming Grove, and perhaps following the names of other Bloomingtons in one or two other states.

The act of the general assembly provided that the county seat should be located on land donated for the purpose, not less than 20 acres. Of this donated tract sufficient land should be reserved for the county building, the remainder to be platted into lots and sold and the proceeds used for county purposes. In the previous year, on Oct. 27, 1829, James Allin, who came here from Sangamon County, had entered from the government the east half of the southwest quarter of section 4 in township 23 north, range 2 east of the third principal meridian, containing 80 acres. The 80 acres north was entered by Robert H. Peebles on Aug. 11, 1830. Allin later acquired the Peebles land, probably under a prior contract. Lemuel Lee and Isaac C. Pugh were appointed by the Legislature to choose the site for the county seat of McLean County, but they were deterred by the "deep snow" of the month, December, 1830, and did not make the trip to this county to decide on the location until some time in the spring, and their report was first acted upon at the May meeting of the county commissioners in 1831. The report of the commissioners was that the county seat should be located "on the land of James Allin on the north end of the Blooming Grove, for which we have his obligation for the donation of 22 1/2 acres of land." On the same date Dr. Isaac Baker, the first county surveyor and county clerk, was appointed to advertise a sale of lots on the following July 4th. At the next meeting, June 7, he was employed to plat the land. This original plat of Bloomington is on record on the first page of the book of deed records in the court house. The auction sale of lots was duly held on the advertised date, and the lots were bid off at small prices. Milo Custer, the local historian, made a careful study of records and compiled a list of buyers of these lots on the first sale, from which the following appears, giving the name of buyers and the prices paid: Bailey H. Coffey, lot 10, $15; Joseph B. Harbert, lots 7, 9 and 53, $20; William Harbert, lots 11, 12 and 47, $50; John W. Harbert, lot 8, $15; M. L. Covell, lots 4, 5, 29, 30, and 37, $70; Rev. James Latta, lots 1, 2, and 3, $15; Ebenezer Rhodes, lots 22 and 23, $20; Jonathan Cheney, lots 17, 19, 21, 24, 31, 56, and 57, $80; John Maxwell, lot 20, $10; Jesse Havens, lots 15 and 16, price unknown; James K. Orendorff, lot 18, $29; David Trimmer, lots 13 and 14, $10; David Wheeler, lots 27 and 28, $10; Bailey Kimler, lots 25 and 26, $10; Cheney Thomas, lot 34, $20; Asahel Gridley, lot 33, $50; William K. Robertson, lot 35, $30; Nathan Low, lots 36 and 62, $40; Orman Robertson, lot 32, price unknown; James Latta, lot 39, $16; Alvin Barnett, lot 46, $20; Frederick Trimmer, lot 48, $10; Samuel Durley, lots 45 and 52, $50; Jesse Frankeberger, lot 44, $30; John W. Dawson, lot 43, $30; Seth Baker, lot 58, price unknown; Caleb Kimler, lot 59, $22; Asahel Gridley, lot 60, $52; Samuel, John and William Durley, lot 55, $50; Lewis Bunn, lot 54, price unknown; Absalom Funk, lot 51, price unknown; Amasa C. Washburn, lot 50, $11.50; John Kimler, lot 49, price unknown.

The three loth fronting south on Washington Street between Center and Main, together with the center lot fronting on Jefferson Street in the same block, were reserved as the site for the court house. The northwest and the northeast corner lots of this block were sold to M. L. Covell and James Latta, respectively. However, at a subsequent date the two lots, were deeded back to the county commissioners, so that the whole block afterwards became the property of the county. There were twelve blocks of six lots each in the original plat.

For seven years after the embryo village was laid out, there was no sort of legal government other than that of the voting precinct and the county government of three commissioners. Some of the names of the early commissioners were Seth Baker, Jonathan Cheney, Timothy B. Hoblit, Jesse Havens, Andrew McMillan, Joseph Bartholomew, William C. Johnson, William Orendorff, James R. Dawson, Nathan Low, William Conaway, Israel W. Hall and Henry I. Clark.

The legal incorporation of the town of Bloomington took place in 1843, when a majority of its citizens voted for incorporation. The government was transferred from the county commissioners to a board of trustees. Matthew H. Hawks was the first president according to records that have been preserved, Merrit L. Covell the first clerk, Wells Colton attorney, and William McCullough constable. The board of trustees, aside from the president, were Bailey H. Coffey, John Magoun, James T. Walton and William Gillespie. All these names have become historic in the annals of Bloomington. Bailey H. Coffey became second president, and the board was made up of Abram Brokaw, Samuel D. Luce, Goodman Ferre and William H. Ailing. The later members of the board by years were: 1846-Goodman Ferre, president; A. Brokaw, J. E. McClun, William Platt. 1847-Bailey Coffey, president; Joshua Harlan, Charles P. Merriman, William McKisson, Hugh Taylor. 1848-C. P. Merriman, president; John Foster, William G. Thompson, John W. Ewing, George W. Minier. 1849-G. W. Minier, president; John Foster, W. G. Thompson, Ezekiel Thomas, John W. Ewing.

By the time the village of Bloomington had lived a corporate life of four years, its population was 800, that is in the year 1845. It doubled in the next ten years and in 1850 was 1,600, while by the year 1855 it had reached 5,000. This growth was remarkable, when it is considered that it was a time of general business depression, and also that the Mexiean War had taken place in the period mentioned.

The era of permanent and steady progress was coincident with the building of railroads to the thriving new town. In 1850, the legislature legalized the incorporation of the Chicago & St. Louis Railroad, now the Chicago & Alton; also the Illinois Central Railroad. These two pioneer steam transportation lines crossed at Bloomington, or more exactly at North Bloomington, now Normal. This fact assured the young city of a future expansion and substantial growth. There was a spirit of progress and enterprise among the people of that date which boded mulch success in future plans for the enlargement of the city. Chief among the reasons for confidence of the public was the leadership of such men as David Davis, Asahel Gridley and Jesse W. Fell, all of whom worked and planned for the great future which they confidently believed would be Bloomington's.

On Feb. 19, 1850, the legislature had passed a law by which the city of Bloomington should become specially chartered on an affirmative vote of the people. This election was held March 5, and 164 voters favored the act and 26 opposed. Thus the city became legally incorporated under a special charter A city government was soon afterward elected with Rev. David I. Perry as the first mayor.

The complete list of mayors of Bloomington from its incorporation until the present time with the years of their incumbency are as follows: David I. Perry, 1850; Charles P. Merriman, 1851; John H. Wickizer, 1852; William Wallace, 1853; John W. Ewing, 1854; Franklin Price, 1855-56; Amasa J. Merriman, 1857-58; John 1W. Stillwell, 1859; H. S. Herr, 1860; George W. Parke, 1861-62; Amasa J. Merriman, 1863; Joel Depew, 1864; E. H. Rood, 1865-67; John M. Stilwell, 1868-69; T. J. Bunn, 1870; B. F. Funk, 1871-75; John Reed, 1876; T. J. Bunn, 1877; E. B. Steere, 1878; John Reed, 1879; E. H. Rood, 1880; John W. Trotter, 1881-83; B. F. Funk, 1884-85; Lewis B. Thomas, 1886-88; J. It. Mason, 1889-1890; C. F. Koch, 1891; D. T. Foster, 1892-94; G. M. Smith, 1895; Edgar M. Heafer, 1896; D. T. Foster, 1897; C. F. Koch, 1898-99; Lewis B. Thomas, 1900-03; George C. Morrison, 1904-05; James Neville, May 1, 1905, to Aug. 17, 1906; A. G. Erickson, Aug. 17, 1906, to May 6, 1907; Edward Holland, 1907-09; Richard L. Carlock, 1909-11; Albert L. Moore, 1911 to September, 1913, when he resigned; James Costello, appointed to succeed Moore and elected for term ending 1915; Edward E. Jones, 1915 to 1923 under commission form; Frank E. Shorthose first mayor under restored aldermanic form, 1923.

The list of city clerks of Bloomington has included such well known names as John M. Scott, afterward judge of the Illinois Supreme Court; William M. Orme, famous in Civil War times; Harvey Hogg, who was killed in battle in the Civil War; O. T. Reeves, afterward circuit judge; W. B. Lawrence, afterward many years police magistrate; Samuel W. Waddle, who was later one of the city's well known bankers; Major Rolla N. Evans, who held the position with distinction for twelve years; C. C. Hassler, well known as soldier and poet.

The list of city attorneys also included many well known names, among them Judge Scott, William M. Orme, Harvey Hogg; Hudson Burr, afterward a leading financial leader of the community; Joseph W. Fifer, afterward Governor of Illinois; Ira J. Broomfield, well known veteran of the Civil War; B. D. Lucas, John T. Lillard and T. C. Kerrick, all well known lawyers; A. E. DeMange, afterward owner of the street railway system; Saint Welty, afterward circuit judge; Jacob P. Lindley, a leading lawyer; Miles K. Young and William R. Bach, both afterward states attorneys of McLean County; Ben Goodheart, who afterward became leader in Modern Woodmen affairs; Louis FitzHenry, now Federal judge; Richard M. O'Connell, who served through the entire commission form period and is now corporation counsel.

The men who have served the city as chiefs of police include Orrine Curtis, William McCullough, Allen Withers, Jonathan Glimpse, A. T. Briscoe, George Bull, W. G. Boyce, Elliott Miller, James Stone, Thomas G. Keogh, J. E. Bentley, E. J. Potts, F. J. Maxwell, R. W. Schroeder, C. W. Hitch, Fred L. Lang, John J. Jones, Paul Gierman.

Bloomington is provided with a fine park system. For many years it fared very poorly, for there were insufficient funds, but with the vote to levy a two mill park tax in 1899, money to more adequately care for the parks was afterward provided. The parks are under a board of park commissioners, during aldermanic form of city government, but under commission form the commissioner of public property had charge.

Miller Park, formerly known as Miller's pasture, was purchased in 1887 from W. T. Miller for $17,000, of which sum $5,000 was raised by private subscriptions. It originally consisted of 39 acres, but later the addition of a wooded tract called Stein's Grove, and now known as Forest Park, has added much to its beauty and spaciousness. A lake comprising 18 acres was created by building of two dams across the natural ravine which ran through the park from northeast to southwest. The first dam in 1896 created only a small pond of water. Then about 1903 the contract was let for another dam, 1,800 feet in length, 200 feet in width at the base and 30 feet wide at the top. A core of yellow brick clay extends down through the center of the dam, 24 feet wide at the top, 14 at the bottom. It makes the dam impervious to leakage. The top of the dam forms a driveway all around the west side of the lake. Bathing houses and beaches were built, and thousands enjoy swimming in the lake during the summer. Certain fish days are permitted, and boating is allowed. A handsome pavilion and animal house, the latter being a good sized zoo, add to the attractiveness of the park. The county erected a $50,000 granite monument to the soldiers of the wars up to the World War, which was dedicated in 1913. It contains the names of all soldiers and sailors of the wars from this county up to that time.

The park area of the city was doubled by the purchase in 1922 of 90 acres of land lying west of Main Street and east of Miller Park. The land had belonged to the Meyer family, having been the former site of the Meyer brewery. It cost $48,000, payable in installments. Under Mayor Jones, last mayor of the commission form, and Mayor Shorthose, first mayor of restored aldermanic form, the new park was named Highland Park, and was much improved. A free municipal golf links was laid out and many other changes for the good of the public were made.

The city owns many smaller parks. One is Franklin Park, given to the city in 1856 by David Davis, William F. Flagg and William H. Allin and named in honor of Mayor Franklin Price. Today it is a handsomely wooded plot in the midst of a fine residential district. Trotter Park is adjoining the city water works and was named for Mayor John Trotter. Withers Park, or Library Park, is just east of the public library, and is a playground for children. A handsome marble piece of statuary by Lorado Taft is erected there, having been paid for by money left for that purpose by Georgina Trotter. It represents Indian children at play with animals.

O'Neil Park, a comparatively large tract of land, lies north of Chestnut Street and west of Hinshaw Avenue. It has never been improved to any great extent, but serves as playground for amateur baseball clubs and other sorts of sport for people in that vicinity. It was bought for $7,200 under Mayor Carlock, and contains twelve acres.

From its very early years, Bloomington had had a volunteer fire department, the first apparatus being the famous Prairie Bird fire engine, bought in 1855. Cisterns located at convenient points furnished the water supply at first. The first engine house was built at 104 North East Street, and in 1857 the site of old engine house No. 1 was purchased, and an engine house and calaboose combined were erected. The second company was organizd in 1858 and another hand engine was bought. Company No. 2 occupied rooms at the corner of Front and Madison, then in the 200 block West Washington, then in the 100 block North Madison. Various other changes in the hand apparatus took place until April, 1867, when the first steam engine was purchased and the first paid firemen were employed, a driver and engineer. The apparatus and personnel of the department continued to expand until along in the '90's, when there were three engine houses and two steam engines and many hose and ladder trucks. After the disastrous fire of June 19, 1900, the fire department was further expanded, until five houses were in use: One on East Front in the 200 block; one on North East, 100 block; one in 100 block on North Madison; one at Center and Walnut, one in the 900 block on South Main; one on West Chestnut near the C. & A.

During the commission form of government, the whole apparatus was changed to motor vehicles and concentrated in the one engine house, on East Front Street. Henry Mayer was chief of the fire department for twenty seven years, retiring in 1923, and being succeeded by Rolla Neal, the present chief. The apparatus is now thoroughly up to date.

The superintendent of water works and fire chief were filled jointly from the construction of the water works until 1887, and from then to 1890 were separate. In 1890 the superintendency of the electric light plant was joined to that of water superintendent. The following men have held the position: M. X. Chuse, E. J. Rowley, M. H. Eldridge, H. W. Schmidt, Seth Noble, Chester C. Williams.

After floundering the black mud of Illinois for many years, Bloomington undertook in 1869 to do its first paving. Grove Street from Main to the Illinois Central was paved with macadam, then Chestnut Street from the Alton depot to Center. Pine block pavement was put down on Jefferson Street in 1870 under Mayor T. J. Bunn. In 1877 the first brick pavement in this city or in the United States was laid by Napoleon B. Heater on the west side of the public square. From that time brick pavement became standard, and at present there are many miles of brick pavement in Bloomington Many blocks of asphalt and one street of concrete road are also laid.

Bloomington possesses a great system of sewers. The first sewers were built to take care of flood waters in the sloughs on West Market and North Mason Streets. From 1876 to 1880 sewers were constructed to take care of the drainage of the south slough. The great valley sewer, taking care of the whole north' and northeast sections, was put down in 1900.

Before the digging of the first coal shaft, known as the north shaft, Bloomington had relied on wells for a water supply. The coal mine was flooded with water, which eventually proved the wrecking of the mine for fuel purposes. However, it discovered the underground lake or river which since that time has been the reliance of the city for water supply.

Tests having failed to exhaust the flow of the underground stream, the city bought land in the vicinity of the coal shaft and sank a well and constructed a standpipe for pressure purposes. This was in 1874. The first plant was completed in 1875 under Mayor Ben F. Funk. The one large well supplied the city for 28 years, and then a number of small tube wells were sunk as a substitute for the big well. Under Mayor James S. Neville a 10,000,000 gallon concrete reservoir was built, into which the streams from the wells were pumped. This cost about $30,000, and more than justified its cost.

But in spite of all, occasional dry seasons would bring the visible supply so near to exhaustion that the city was constantly threatened with water famine in summer or autumn. In 1909, R. L. Carlock was elected mayor on a platform of a more suitable water supply. On his accession, the council submitted to the people a vote on a bond issue of $150,000 for water works extension. The bonds were voted, and the money was wisely spent in complete rejuvenation of the water works. Five circular well pits were dug, and below them large pipes were sunk into the depths of the gravel beds, through which fed the stream. Centrifugal pumps were put at work in the bottom of each well pit, thus raising the water into pipes, thence emptied into the reservoir. This system was a great improvement over the old one, and justified the expenditures.

But when the commission form of government was on, the commissioner of water works, John G. Welch, advocated a new and supplemental supply aside from the one from which the city had drawn its supply for 30 years. Accordingly a tract of 10 acres was bought a mile west of the present plant and located on another lay of ground. Here test wells were sunk, showing a remarkable supply of water from an entirely different vein. Three wells were then sunk and a covered reservoir built. Pumping machinery was added, and from the start the plant produced a daily supply almost as large as at the old plant. The city now has practically two independent sources of supply, with machinery to work either or both as occasion requires. The daily capacity of the two plants is about three times the requirements of the whole city in ordinary circumstances.

Since 1890, the city of Bloomington has owned and operated its own electric light plant. Prior to that a private corporation, the Bloomington Electric Light Company, had sold the city its current for lights. The electric light plant is in the same building as the parent water works, thus inducing economy of operation. The equipment of the plant has cost upward of $150,000 in its various stages. The city supplies light for streets and public buildings, but does not sell current on a commercial basis. Some years ago, William K Bach, then city attorney, estimated the yearly cost to the city at $65.37 for each street light, which had been reduced from $103 per light when the plant was made a municipal plant.

A modern experiment in an improved form of municipal government was carried on in Bloomington between the years 1915 and 1923. It was the adoption of What was called commission form of city government, to replace the older form of management by a board of aldermen, which had been in vogue since the organization of the city under the general law in 1897. The agitation for the adoption of the commission form was carried on during the year 1913-14, it being claimed by its advocates that a government composed of five commissioners would be more efficient than the larger body of fourteen aldermen which up to that time had had control of the city.

The election to determine whether the citizens desired the new form of government was held on April 6, 1914, at which time the vote for and against the proposed change stood as follows: For commission form, 8,970; against, 3,974. Majority for change, 4,996. It required a year to work out the details of the change. In the spring of the year 1915, the primaries were held to choose eight nominees for commissioners and two nominees for mayor. These ten names were then placed on a ballot for the election, and from them was elected one mayor and four commissioners. At the primaries there were 49 candidates for nomination, and from these the following were chosen for mayor: Edward K Jones and John W. Rodgers; and for commissioners the following eight names: Edward R. Morgan, R. L. Carlock, John F. Anderson, Mrs. Helen Clarke McCurdy, George W. Monroe, Alex G. Erickson, Louis F. Rittmiller and W. H. Kerrick. The election was held on April 6, and E. E. Jones was chosen mayor and the four commissioners were E. R. Morgan, R. L. Carlock, John F. Anderson and A. G. Erickson.

The council was organized the first of May, with the following assignment of departments: E. E. Jones, mayor and commissioner of public affairs; Edward R. Morgan, commissioner of accounts and finances; A. G. Erickson, commissioner of public health and safety; John F. Anderson, commissioner of streets and public improvements; R. L. Carlock, commissioner of public property.

The above five members composed the city council for the four years from 1915 to 1919, inclusive. In the latter year the second election was held. There were 17 candidates in the primaries for the 10 positions on the ticket. E. E. Jones was again nominated for mayor, and his opponent was John B. Lennon. The men nominated for commissioners were J. J. Nevin, L. J. Saich, A. G. Erickson, E. R. Morgan, John F. Anderson, John G. Welch, Frank J. Morgan, and George J. Meyers. All the sitting members of the council were renominated except R. L. Carlock, whose place on the tallot was taken by John G. Welch. In the succeeding campaign, Lennon for mayor and the following candidates for commissioner: Nevin, Salch, Meyers and Frank Morgan, ran as a Labor ticket, working as a whole against the other candidates known as the administration ticket. In the election, Jones was elected mayor by 286 majority over Lennon, and the whole "administration ticket" for commissioners were elected, E. R. Morgan, Welch, Anderson and Erickson.

This form of administration continued for another four years from from 1919, and in the summer of 1922 a petition was circulated for calling an election to revert back to the aldermanic form of government. R. M. O'Connell served as corporation counsel during the entire commission form period.

The commission form went out of existence in the spring of 1923, when the first mayor and board of aldermen under the returned aldermanic form were elected. The commission form had existed for eight years, during which conditions in general were much disturbed owing to the World War and its resultant upheavals. However, it was generally considered that much progress was accomplished during the eight years of commission form. In the second term of four years, the only change in departments was that in the public property department, where John G. Welch succeeded R. L. Carlock, retired.

In the summer of 1922 an agitation was started for the purpose of returning to the former aldermanic form of government, abolishing the city commission. This was brought to a head in a petition signed by voters which was submitted to the city council asking that an election on this question be held. Corporation counsel having examined the petition the number of signatures was found to be sufficient and the election was held July 11. It was at the period of the great railroad shop strike, and many working men of the city were unemployed. This in turn gave rise to much general discontent with existing conditions. The vote cast at the election was small, only 5,000 of the 14,000 qualified voters of the city having cast their ballot. The verdict, however, was for abolishing the commission form, the vote standing as follows: For aldermanic form, 2,846; for commission form, 2,149. Majority for change, 697. The total vote cast in the election was very light, being less than 5,000 out of the total number of 14,000 registered voters.

The actual change in the form of the city government did not take place until the following spring, in April, 1923. The candidates for mayor under the new regime were Frank E. Shorthose, a veteran Alton engineer, and Emerson J. Gilmore, a business man. Shorthose ran on the Republican ticket, Gilmore on the Democratic. Shorthose was elected by a vote of 5,222 to 1,800 for Gilmore.

The aldermen elected in the several wards of the city at this first election were as follows: First ward, DeWitt G. Gray and Ralph B. Greene; second ward, Val Simshauser and Paul Sholz; third ward, M. B. Hayes and Frank H. Blose; fourth ward, G. Noble Paxton and Charles H. Kurtz; fifth ward, Richard Barry and Frank J. Donovan; sixth ward, I. C. Ryburn and Fred Beckman; seventh ward, Charles H. Lawyer and John G. Larson. At the same election, Charles T. Evans was elected superintendent of streets and James H. Kimes, city treasurer.

The new city administration met and organized in May, 1923, and was running along smoothly and with general satisfaction, when Mayor Shorthose was taken sick and died on the night of Jan. 4, 1924. His funeral at the Consistory on Jan. 7 was one of the largest ever held in the city. Frank H. Blouse, who had been elected acting mayor Eby the council, took charge of the executive office and carried on the work of mayor until a successor was elected for Mayor Shorthose.

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