History of Toulon (City of), Il
From: Stark County Illinois and its People
J. Knox Hill, Supervising Editor.
The Pioneer Publishing Company
Chicago 1916


Section 9 of the act of March 2, 1839, under which Stark County was organized, provided that the county seat should be called "Toulon," and in Chapter VI will be found an account of the manner in which the location was selected. At the time the site was chosen for the seat of justice in 1841, the only house upon the original plat of the town was a small cabin, which was occupied by John Miller and his family. This cabin had been erected by Minott Silliman in the spring of 1835 and sold, with the land, to John Miller, the place afterward becoming known as "Miller's Point." Leeson's History of Stark County says: "In 1832 Harris W. Miner erected a cabin not far from the Toulon depot; and it is further claimed for him and this section that here the beginnings of cultivation of lands in this township were made, although Minott Silliman, who came later, does not state positively that any evidences of such improvement were observed by him."

On July 28, 1841, John Miller and his wife executed a deed, conveying to the commissioners of Stark County the tract selected for a county seat. The "ninety rods square" included in the deed was laid off into lots by Carson Berfield In August, 1841. The original plat shows sixteen blocks of ten lots each, with Miller, Franklin, Washington and Henderson streets running north and south, and Vine, Main and Jefferson streets running east and west. Between the north and south streets were three alleys, each twenty feet in width, named Plum, Cherry and Grape. Since that plat was filed in the office of the county recorder several additions have been made to the town, the most important of which is Henderson & Whitaker's addition, which consists of thirty blocks. Then there are Culbertson's Eastern and Western additions, the Assessor's addition and Turner's addition. These additions have increased the area of the town more than three times that shown by the original plat.

The first sale of lots in Toulon was held on September 14-15, 1841. Bidders were plentiful and 122 lots were sold. The highest price paid for any one lot was $86, which was paid for lot 10 in block 6, and the lowest price was $5, for lot 2, block 9, and lot 1, block 1. Among the purchasers were Oliver Whitaker, John W. Henderson, Jonathan Hodgson, Benjamin Turner, Cyril Ward, Minott Silliman, David Essex, Nero W. Mounts, John Miller, Henry Breese, Calvin Powell, Harris Miner and several others whose names figure prominently in early Stark County history. In October following the sale Benjamin Turner built the first "real house" in the town. A postoffice was established a little later and Mr. Turner was appointed the first postmaster.

John Culbertson, who located just outside the town plat in 1841 and brought a stock of goods, was probably the first merchant. He commanded a large trade in and around Toulon, built a flour mill and established a woolen factory, and was otherwise active in building up the new county seat. His investments in real estate were extensive and a neighbor once remarked: "Uncle John will not be satisfied until he owns all of this township and the one west of it." Another pioneer of 1841 was Dr. Thomas Hall, who was the first resident physician.

The first hotel was kept by Benjamin Turner, who also kept a small stock of goods in one of the front rooms. The building in which his hotel was kept was afterward removed to the northwest corner of the public square, where it was occupied by various persons as a mercantile establishment for a number of years. Other early hotel keepers were B. A. Hall and William Rose. Alexander Abel kept a tavern on the north side of Main Street, between Franklin and Miller, where the Virginia House was built by J. A. Cooley in 1849.

The first school in Toulon was taught by Miss Elizabeth Buswell, in an upper room of the courthouse, in 1843. It was known as a common school, while Miss Susan Gill, daughter of Elder Elisha Gill, taught a "select" school in an adjoining room. The first schoolhouse, still referred to by old residents as the "old brick," was built on Jefferson Street, in the western part of town. It was but one story high and was built by Ira Ward, Jr., at a cost of $600. T. J. Henderson taught the first school in the building after it was finished. The brick for the structure was burned especially for it by W. B. Sweet, and the lumber was hauled from the Illinois River. That was the beginning of Toulon's public school system, which has developed into two magnificent modern buildings, in which seventeen teachers are employed.

A Methodist class was organized just south of the town in 1841, with Caleb B. Flint as class leader. This was the beginning of the Toulon Methodist Church, the first religious organization in the town. A more complete account of the churches of Toulon will be found in Chapter XV.

In October, 1857, a movement was instituted for the incorporation of Toulon. At a meeting of the citizens, held at the clerk's office early in March, 1858, thirty four votes were cast in favor of the proposition and only two were opposed. E. L. Emery, Oliver Whitaker, Miles A. Fuller, William Lowman and Isaac C. Reed were elected as the first board of trustees. No record can be found concerning this first corporate government of the town, but on February 11, 1859, the Legislature passed an act defining the powers and duties of the trustees of Toulon.

A reorganization of the town government took place in the spring of 1868. At an election held on the first Monday of April in that year, Caleb M. S. Lyons, Davis Lowman, Amos P. Gill, Hugh Y. Godfrey and David Tinlin were chosen trustees. In the organization of the new board, Mr. Lyons was elected president; Mr. Tinlin, clerk; Mr. Gill, treasurer, and Miles A. Fuller was appointed attorney. On April 17, 1868, fourteen ordinances were passed and ordered printed in the Stark County News. The first related to public morality, health and police regulations; the second prohibited gaming houses; the third fixed a penalty for interfering with the town officers in the discharge of their duties; the fourth provided for the punishment of persons disturbing the peace; the fifth prohibited certain animals from running at large; the sixth related to streets and alleys and prohibited fast driving within the corporate limits; the seventh altered certain streets and alleys; the eighth and ninth dealt with labor upon the streets and alleys; the tenth forbade the sale of intoxicating liquors; the eleventh licensed and regulated the keeping of billiard tables; the twelfth provided for licensing peddlers and auctioneers; the thirteenth related to legal proceedings, and the fourteenth to the election and appointment of officers.

The railroad was completed to Toulon in June, 1871, and during the next year there were a number of additions to the population. Consequently the board of trustees on March 5, 1873, issued a call for an election to be held at the courthouse on April 7, 1873, "to submit to the voters of the said town the question whether the said town shall become incorporated as a city (village) under the general incorporation laws of the State of Illinois."

A majority of the votes were cast in favor of the change in municipal government and the following trustees were elected: Dennis Mawbey, James Nowlan, H. Stauffer, Benjamin C. Follett and Warren Williams. The village government thus established continued for thirty six years. On April 20, 1909, an election was held to decide the question whether Toulon should incorporate as a city. A majority of the votes were cast in favor of the change and the charter bears date of April 22, 1909. The first city officers were: George Nowlan, mayor; Arthur Shinn, clerk; Harry B. Davis, treasurer; Victor G. Fuller, attorney; F. C. McClenahan, Thomas J. Malone, William A. Newton, Orlando Brace, Amid F. Lehman and E. H. Lloyd, aldermen. Mr. Nowlan served as mayor until the spring of 1915, when he was succeeded by J. H. Baker.


On June 6, 1892, the board of trustees granted to Miles A. Fuller a franchise to construct and maintain an electric lighting plant, the life of said franchise to be twenty five years. Mr. Fuller and his associates went to work almost immediately upon the plant and the result was that on the evening of December 25, 1892, the Town of Toulon was lighted for the first time by electricity. Some years later the business was incorporated under the name of the "Toulon Light and Power Company." The power house, which is located on Franklin Street between Main and Vine, is equipped with modern electric machinery and the company besides furnishing light to the people of Toulon also furnishes power for pumping water for the municipal waterworks.


About the time the form of government was changed from village to city, the question of establishing a system of waterworks was agitated by some of the progressive citizens. The movement gained headway and on June 6, 1910, the city council passed an ordinance calling a special election for the purpose of voting on the question of issuing bonds to the amount of $15,000 to establish waterworks. The proposition to issue the bonds was carried by a substantial majority at the election and the engineering firm of W. S. Shields & Company was given the contract for the erection of the tower and reservoir and the installation of the pumping machinery.

Gray Brothers, well drillers, were employed to sink a deep well and during the summer of 1911 about four and a half miles of mains were laid, the mains being paid for by a special assessment against the property benefited. The well which furnishes the water supply is 1,448 feet in depth. A reservoir of 50,000 gallons and a steel tank mounted upon a tower also having a capacity of 50,000 gallons, hold a supply of water equal to any demand that is likely to arise. The ordinary pumping capacity is sufficient to furnish water for daily use, and in addition there is a reserve pump that can be called into requisition in case of fire, etc. The cost of the plant complete, including the special assessment for the mains, was about thirty thousand dollars. Few cities in the state, the size of Toulon, can boast a better system of waterworks or a more bountiful supply of pure, wholesome water.


The City Hall, located on Franklin Street, adjoining the water tower and the electric light plant, was erected in 1910 at a cost of $6,000. It is two stories high, with walls of concrete block, steel ceilings, etc. In the lower story are kept the fire engine, hook and ladder truck and other property of the fire company, and the second story contains the offices of the mayor, city clerk, council chamber, and in the rear a room for the members of the fire department. The building is heated by a furnace and well provided with toilet rooms and lockers for the municipal officials and employees.

On March 6, 1914, the council passed an ordinance for the construction of a sewer system, to be paid for by special assessment. The contract was awarded to W. S. Shields & Company, the same firm that built the waterworks. This firm has made a special study of sewer problems in connection with cities, and at Toulon an opportunity was given for the construction of a model system. A septic tank was built southeast of the city and about four miles of sewer laid, the total cost being about twenty five thousand dollars. So well has this system done its work that other cities about to install sewers have sent committees to Toulon to study the methods used, and all have gone away satisfied that the city "got its money's worth" in building the way it did.

A fire department was organized in the early '90s and Charles S. McKee was appointed chief a little later, a position he has held ever since. The first apparatus purchased for the use of the company was a second hand hose reel, which was bought from the City of Galva. Then came the hook and ladder truck. Later Mr. McKee went to Indianapolis, Ind., and purchased a combined gas engine and hose cart from the Howe Manufacturing Company of that city. With this acquisition to the fire fighting equipment of the city, Toulon is well prepared to combat any fire that is likely to break out. The company consists of twenty five members and holds meetings for instruction and drill on the third Monday evening in each month.

The Toulon Civic Club was organized at the opera house on Thursday evening, August 5, 1915. The objects of the club, as stated in the articles of association, are "to develop, promote and enhance the Sic, industrial, commercial and agricultural interests of Toulon and vicinity." C. D. McClenahan was elected president of the club; W. U. Sickles, vice president; and M. D. Dewey, secretary and treasurer.

Mention has been made of the establishment of the postoffice at Toulon in 1841 and the appointment of Benjamin Turner as postmaster. Mr. Turner continued in charge of the office until President Buchanan came into office in 1857, when he was succeeded by Oliver Whitaker. In 1915 the office employed two clerks, a man to carry mail from the office to the railroad station and return, five rural carriers, and the total receipts for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 1915, amounted to nearly seven thousand dollars. At that time the postmaster was Otto Bacmeister.

From the single log cabin of John Miller in 1841, Toulon had grown to a city of 1,208 inhabitants in 1910, with many modern homes. It has two fine public school buildings, a public library, Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Congregational and Methodist Episcopal churches, two large grain elevators, two banks, stock yards, several miles of cement sidewalks, a telephone exchange, telegraph and express service, a number of well appointed mercantile establishments, a weekly newspaper, a motion picture theater, an opera house, a base ball club, and on every hand are to be seen evidences of progress and prosperity.

Also see Toulon Township.

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