City History

In the Beginning

Washington, IL was founded in 1825.  There are currently 15,134 people living in Washington, according to the 2010 census. Washington is located 10 miles east of Peoria, the "River City" of central Illinois.  The first settlement in the town of Holland plaqueWashington, or its vicinity, of which we have any account, was made in the spring of 1825, by William Holland, Sr., who came here from Peoria, then Fort Clark. He was formerly from North Carolina, and was employed by the Unites States government as a blacksmith for the Indians, who then inhabited this part of Illinois, and for several years after settling here he continued to work for the Indians.  Prior to his removal here, he had built a log house near the site of A. G. Danforth's residence.  It was the only house and his the only family in or near Washington until 1826. At the time of his location here, Holland's nearest neighbor was Thomas Camlin who lived on Farm Creek, some three miles east of Peoria. Camlin was a pleasant gentleman and a good neighbor, always ready to entertain his guests with spicy stories and thrilling incidents of his personal adventures with the Indians, whom he used to shoot at a distance of one-half to three-quarters of a mile, and Holland whiled away many a pleasant evening in his society.  William Holland, Sr., was born in the county of Lincoln, North Carolina, in 1780.  In the year 1815 he removed to Illinois Territory and settled at Edwardsville, in Madison County, where he remained three years; then removed to Menard County, where he remained two years, and from thence to Peoria in 1820.  During his long and eventful life he was married three times, and was the father of twenty-one children, fourteen by his first wife and seven by his second wife. He had eighty-two grandchildren, and fifty great grandchildren.  He died at his late residence in this town on the 27th day of November, A.D. 1871, at the advanced age of ninety-one years. Up to within a few years of his death he was vigorous in body and in full possession of his mental faculties. His son, Lawson Holland, was born in North Carolina, and came here with his parents.  In the spring of 1826 Holland commenced improving a farm in the northwest quarter of section 24, town 26, range 3 west of the third principal meridian, just east of the original town of Washington, and embracing a part of Holland, Dorsey, Walthan and Robinson's addition to the town.



Early Settlers

In 1826 William Thompson of Ohio, William Weeks and John Redman of Indiana, came to this settlement; one located on the place known as the old Johnson farm, one on Highland Park Addition and the other on the old Peter Portman farm. Ira Crosby of New York came in 1827, locating on the Jas. R. Crane homestead.  The same year George Burrow of Tennessee and Wm. Birkett of Lancashire, England, located here. The Birkett families living here are mostly all descendants of this Wm. Birkett. In 1828 James Harvey, the father of Wesley B., came from Ohio and located on the Benjamin Kindig farm. Peter P. Scott of Ohio located in Wrenn's grove in 1830. Henson Thomas, a son-in-law of Heath's and father of William and Simon H. came from Ohio in this same year, also James McClure of Indiana, who made some improvements on the farm now occupied by George Hagenstoz.  There were now thirteen families in Washington, besides small settlements in Deer Creek and Morton Townships. One of the early marriages in Washington was celebrated at Reuben Bandy's home, who came from Kentucky in 1831, between Lawson Holland and Elizabeth Bandy in October, 1833. Abraham Van Meter of Kentucky located here in 1831, the Van Meters still living here being descendants. Rev. Nathan Curtiss, a Methodist minister, located here in 1831 and was one of the first ministers.  The descendants of his three daughters, Mrs. Peter Fifer, Mrs. Chas. Kern, and Mrs. Wheaton, were among our best citizens. In 1831 our first politician appeared on the scene. Col. Benjamin Mitchell of Virginia.  He was elected to the legislature in 1834 and the State senate in 1836. He died in 1840. He was succeeded in the senate by Major Cullom, father of Shelby B. Major Cullom is buried in our cemetery. In 1832 quite a number of immigrants came, among whom was John Durham of Baltimore, Md.  He occupied the dwelling just recently rebuilt by Mrs. Wm. Witte, and was for a long time proprietor of the first saw mill operated here. About this time Walter and Thomas Birkett of Lancashire, England, John Johnson of Ohio and the Rev. Richard McCorkle of North Carolina located here, and from this time on the country began to fill up rapidly.

Early Buildings

Wm. Holland, Sr., built the first home and improved the first farm in the vicinity of Washington.  The second house in the town was built by Wm. Weeks on the place now known as Highland Park. The third house was built by Chas. S. Dorsey of Kentucky in 1831, on the site of the place now owned and occupied by Dr. C. H. Anthony.  It was occupied by Dorsey as a dwelling and store. In it was exhibited the first stock of goods offered for sale in Washington, consisting of dry goods, groceries, boots and shoes, etc. The goods were purchased at St. Louis by Dorsey.  The above were all log cabins.  The first frame house was built by John Lindley and used by him as a store room, he having bought the stock of goods brought to town by Dorsey. This building was on the same site as now occupied by Capt. Sheppard's brick stores on South Main street. The carpenter work was done by Robert Smith, one of Washington's first carpenters.  The sixth building was a log house built near the present site of Harlan Kingsbury's brick store occupied by Benford's grocery. the seventh building was a one and a half story log house built by Samuel Hawkin's on the north end of H. L. Price's lot, used as a dwelling. The eight building was a two-story frame, built on the present site of Henry Denhart & Co.'s bank. It was used by August Whipple as a dry goods store. This was the second store opened in Washington. Dorsey was one of the active business men connected with Washington's early history. We find his name figuring in all its earlier enterprises and connected with one of its largest additions. The above mentioned buildings were erected prior to 1835. In 1834 William Holland, Sr., laid out the original town of Washington, being a part of that part of town lying east of Main street. The first parties to buy these lots were Joseph Kelso, Sr., and a Mr. Wagner, who bought three lots each at $1.50 a piece upon a year's credit. This part of town was heavily timbered and a great deal of the timber was used in the construction of Kelso & Wagner's houses which they built in the year 1834. Kelso built the first house in the original town and also opened one of the first farms wholly on the prairie.  The same year Styles and Titus Hungerford built the old Sherman house on the site now occupied by the Danforth Hotel (today is Amoco lot next to WRC). The old Sherman house was moved and rebuilt and is occupied by Jarvis Waughop on Washington Street (now Zinser Place). The blacksmith shops up to 1835 were rather primitive. At that time Brazilla Allee built the large two-story frame building on South Main street which Perry Birkett rebuilt. Allee used part of the building for a blacksmith shop and Wm. Spencer used a part of it as a wagon shop.  This was the first shop in town in which wagons were manufactured. The manufacture of tinware was first commenced in 1848 by Chas. N. Anthony. Before that time tinware, stoves and stovepipe were brought here and sold by the merchants.  The first grist mill was built in 1827 on the Holland Homestead.  It was run by horse power and called a band mill.  The first flour made in Washington was in 1826 or 1827 by means of breaking the wheat with a pestle in a mortar and sifting through a hand sieve.  These were the only milling facilities until 1836 or 1837 when Wm. Kern built a flour mill near the site of Jacquin's brewery, just north of the T. P. & W. tracks on North Main Street.  The venture financially proved a failure.  The next flouring mill was built by A. H. Danforth & Co. in 1845. It was the first brick building erected in Washington. The brick used in its structure were made by Danforth, near the site of the mill.  This mill was bought by Wells and John A. Andrews in 1851. It was operated by them nearly a half a century, until their deaths. Although this was the first brick building in town, bricks had been manufactured here by Hamilton Riddle as early as 1837. They were used for building chimneys, cellars, etc.

Early Schools

The first school in Washington was a subscription school taught by Geo. H. Shaw in a school house built of logs. The log school house was afterwards used as a dwelling by Lawson Holland. The school teacher Shaw was the first surveyor and laid out the original town.  The second school was taught in the house built by William Weeks as a residence in the present Highland Park addition, by Eli Redman. This was also a subscription school and numbered among its pupils W. B. Harvey, Lawson Holland, Mrs. H. Riddle and Matthew Holland. In 1830 John Berry taught a school in a log house on the Geo. Hagenstoz farm, which was used until succeeded by the district school in 1837 or 1838.

Early Churches

The first religious society was organized by Jesse Walker, a Methodist preacher, in 1828 or 1829. The first meeting was at Wm. Holland's whose family and the family of James Harvey constituted most of the society at that time. Harvey and Holland were the only male members.  Then meetings were held in private houses, until the public school house was built, in which they held their meetings until 1840 or 1841, when they built the church near the site of E. L. Meyers' residence on North Main Street. In 1832 the Christian church was organized by the Rev. Richard McCorkle in the school house on the old 'Squire' Baker farm. The Presbyterian church was organized in 1834 by Rev. Flavel Bascum and Leonard Foster, a committee of the Presbytery of Sangamon.  The meeting for the organization was at Dorsey's store.  There were some Baptists here as early as 1831, but their church was not formally organized until 1835, when Rev. Thos. Brown officiated. The German Evangelical Church was organized in 1854 and its first minister was Rev. Jacob Schaefle.  The German Evangelical Lutheran Church - St. John's Church - was organized in May, 1869, in Sickler's hall, by Rev. Holtgreve.  St. Mark's Lutheran Church was organized April 26, 1875, at the home of Josiah Snyder. The congregation had previous to this worshipped with the German Lutheran Church but on their voting to exclude the English language the English church was organized. The Catholic congregation was organized in 1876 under the direction of Father Mayer. The first funeral was that of a child of Henson Thomas.  The child was buried in the graveyard on the old 'Squire' Baker farm.  The funeral services were performed by Rev. Zaddock Hall.  The first adult buried here was a Mr. Pembrock, a stranger who had stopped on account of illness at the residence of Wm. Heath, where he died.

Early Firsts

The first Physician, Dr. R. F. Goodwin of Vermont, located here in 1832. He was a successful Physician and also a good business man.  He and Dr. G. P. Wood were for several years partners in business and were the proprietors of Goodwin and Wood's addition to Washington. Dr. G. P. Wood removed here from Vermont in 1835 and formed a business partnership with Dr. Goodwin.  They practiced their profession with marked success. Dr. Wood's history and services are too well known to require more than the mention of his name.  He died in 1871. Dr. R. W. Burton came from Kentucky and settled here in 1838. He practiced his profession and also kept a stock of drugs and medicines.  His was the first regular drug store opened in Washington. He was a good citizen and took an active part in all of the enterprises undertaken by the citizens.  He died here in 1859.  The first Lawyer to gain a footing in this new community was Thornton Walker of Virginia. We know very little of this party as to his success, etc.  In 1829 William Holland and William Thompson were elected to the office of Justice of the Peace for this precinct.  They were among the first elected in this county.  Their territorial jurisdiction was co-extensive with the boundaries of the county which then embraced a broad expanse of territory east of the Illinois river and extended northward to Chicago and southward to Jacksonville.  The first member of the Board of County Commissioners from this place was James Harvey.  He was succeeded by Benjamin Mitchell. Prior to this time, however, and while this was a part of Peoria County, William Holland was a member of the Board of County Commissioners.  The first land sales for this district were held in Springfield in 1830 or 1831. Prior to that date no title could be acquired to any land in the district.  The settlers, however, recognized the justice of securing to each of their number the benefit of his labor and gave effect to this idea by appointing Col. Benjamin Mitchell, agent or registrar of claims.  By this arrangement and the paying of twenty-five cents to the registrar, each applicant secured the registration of his claim and the right to buy the land he had improved when it came into the market.  This gave the lands a commercial value in the hands of the holder and also enabled the person making the claim to sell and transfer if he so desired.  These claims soon became an important item in the limited commerce of those early times.  The postage for a single letter in those early times was 25 cents.  Many remained in the office for some time on account of the inability of the persons to whom they were addressed to pay the demanded charges.

The first paper printed in Washington was in 1853 by A. A. Couch and Albert Parker from Peoria and it was called "the Washington Investigator."  After two years it ended its career and for ten years we were without a paper.  Thomas Handsaker, in July, 1868, established "The Washington Herald," which was conducted in a manner creditable not only to Mr. Handsaker, but also the community and vicinity. Mr. Handsaker's death occurred some years ago and the paper ceased publication. On Nov. 24, 1876, the first number of "The Tazewell Independent" was issued by H. A. Pilaster and George N. BonDurant. Mr. BonDurant's interest in the paper was purchased by Mr. Pilaster on the 16th of March, 1877.  In its first publication it was strictly non-partisan.  Later on, about 1878, the paper was converted to a republican paper and A. H. Heiple became editor and proprietor and the name was changed to "The News."  "The Washington Post" was established April 9, 1898, by B. S. Wright. On May 1, 1899, the paper was purchased by Paul R. Goddard.  The Post rapidly forged to the front and practically covered the whole territory of northern Tazewell County and part of Woodford county.

One of our early banks in Washington was established in 1858 under the name of A. G. Danforth & Co. Henry Denhart & Co.'s bank was established in 1866. The old Prairie State bank established before 1858 had the unique history of being the first and only bank of issue in the county at that time.

Early GovernmentSquare Electric Pole - Sept 1991

The only official records of the town of Washington extant today date back to 1839. When E. E. Heiple was elected clerk of the city of Washington in 1878 he received a letter from a relative of an early settler, Dr. Carr, who stated that he had one of the books containing the early proceedings of the town and would send it to him upon request.  While the book of proceedings only contains a few years of the early history of the town it throws a light on the first organization.  The first date in the book is Monday, August 20, 1838.  Washington at that time had a town organization and was governed by a Town Board of four Trustees.  The first members of the board, as shown by this record, consisted of E. A. Whipple, J. Kern, B. Allen, and A. H. Danforth. May 4, 1839, occurred an election at which James Brown was elected president and Wm. G. Spencer, George W. Danforth, Peter Shelly and Thomas Fish, trustees.  Thomas Fish was appointed clerk, Jacob Kern assessor, A. H. Danforth, Haven Pierce treasurer and E. A. Whipple street commissioner. At the first meeting of this board the following resolution was passed; "Resolved: That the corporation line be extended a half-mile each way from the center of Commercial Square so as to contain one mile square.  All laws in relation to the corporation boundary passed May 5, 1838, are hereby repealed." At a meeting held May 11, 1840, it was ordered that a public well be dug in the Public Square and that it be walled with rock and a pump put in the same. May 7, 1840, R. M. Burton was appointed clerk of the town board. The last entry in this book of proceedings was on September 4, 1841. It was ordered that a fine be imposed on Sample and others for discharging firearms in the Public Square. This record was signed by William Holland as President.  That closes the records of Washington until the town was incorporated under a special act of the Legislature of the State of Illinois, passed February 10, 1857.  On March 25, 1857, the Board of Trustees met and organized. All members were present and were qualified by David Kyes. The first trustees were: John L. Marsh, R. B. M. Wilson, James Smith, Dan L. Miles and Jacob Sonneman. John L. Marsh was elected first president of the board, R. C. Dement clerk, Thomas Cress constable, Asa H. Danforth treasurer and Thomas Fish street commissioner. James Smith offered the first resolution: "Resolved, That any person riding or driving on any sidewalk inside the corporation of the town of Washington shall pay a fine of $5.00, to be collected before any Justice of the Peace for the use of the inhabitants of the said town."  The board of trustees elected in 1858 was Elias Wenger, Ben Tobias, Dan L. Miles, Jazer Sickler and Jacob Sonneman; W. P. Springate clerk.  The board elected March 7, 1859, was Ben Tobias, John A. Andrews, Jazer Sickler, S. Y. Weiser and T. O. Brown was elected president, Wm. Springate clerk and Asa H. Danforth treasurer. The first dram shop ordinance was passed April 19, 1859, and the first licenses were granted to George Jacquin, A. Vetterhiefer, and Henry Bartlette, May 3, 1859. September 16, 1859, Ben Tobias and Jazer Sickler were appointed a committee to receive propositions to build a jail. they reported they could buy a lot for $175 and get a jail built for $125.  Report received November 1, 1859, a lot on Jefferson street was bought for $175 and a contract to build the jail or calaboose was awarded to Jas. Smith & Sons for $136.  The city of Washington was organized and the first election held April 16, 1878.  Peter Fifer was elected first mayor and E. E. Heiple clerk.  The first council on April 18, 1878, was Peter Fifer, Mayor; E. E. Heiple, clerk; John Dougherty, attorney; T. C. Sonneman, treasurer; aldermen, Henry Mahle, Henry Denhart, Jas Cameron, short term, one year; D. J. Chaffer, Lawson Holland, E. Rapp, long term, two years.  A contract was made with G. C. Morgan to install the water works Dec. 22, 1887. W. D. Harvey was the Mayor of the City.  A contact was made with the Sun Electric Light Co. and signed February 3, 1891.  The incandescent lights boiler blew up and destroyed the plant February 4, 1895.  The plant was then moved near the depot on 1891 and arc light installed.  The Eagle Electric Co. was installed in 1900 with arc lights.  In 1906 Washington was the model little residence city.  It had all the modern conveniences which go to make a happy and contented lot of people.  It was a wealthy and progressive class of citizens.  The business Square of Washington was paved with brick in 1903 and one year later South Main Street was paved to the corporation line.  A contract had been let for the paving of the street to the city limits on the north. It was not long until the streets were paved to the city limits east and west. Gravel roads connected at the city limits and ran in the four directions, the gravel road being nearly completed on the west all the way to Peoria. A fine water works system owned by the City, an electric lighting plant and many more conveniences added to the comforts of this time.  An interurban railroad was soon to be built from Peoria through Washington to connect with Chicago.  Washington already had three lines of steam railroads which placed us in close touch with the outside world and afford competing freight rates. This information was taken from a reprint of the 1906 book "Picturesque Washington, Illinois." This book was updated by a committee designated by the Washington Historical Society and reprinted by the Washington Historical Society in 2000.  This book along with a book entitled "Early and Continuing History of Washington, Illinois and Vicinity are available at the Washington Historical Society located at 105 Zinser Place.

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Click Here for additional pictures of Washington through the years, created by Don & Dee Lott.

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