History of Marseilles, LaSalle County Illinois

Contributed by Nancy Piper


The first settlers within the present limits of Marseilles were Wm. And Wm. W. Richey, father and son, who in the winter of 1831 began an improvement in the ravine where coal was first successfully mined in 1854. For a number of years the creek bore Mr. Richey's name, but the locality is now known as "Grims's " Ravine.

There were no other settlers until 1832 when Ephraim Sprague erected a dwelling and saw-mill, as well as built a dam across the slough, now the head and tail-race of the Land and Water Power Co. The dwelling stood near the present office of Mr. Newton Ward, the saw-mill where the wheel-house of the Marseilles Manufacturing Company now stands and the dam in the slough, a few feet west of the present bridge, across the head race at Richard's mill, the water being turned into the slough by a wing dam extending diagonally across the river from the west end of the island to about the vicinity of the Morgan estate, on the north bank.

Mr. Sprague was succeeded by Lovel Kimbal, who settled here in 1894. He perceived the ultimate importance of the locality as a manufacturing point and determined to get control of the water power as well as the land about it. He bought out Sprague, whom he had forced to sell, and who left this part of the country vowing vengeance on the purchaser for, as he claims, some irregularity in the transaction. He succeeded in buying the other claims; indeed, the records at Ottawa show that he has, at some time, owned nearly every piece of land in this part of the country. Under the stimulus of his energy Marseilles, in 1836, became an objective point for emigration. A company was chartered in 1836, called the Marseilles Manufacturing Co., whose first directors were, Hon. Guerden S. Hubbard, one of the first canal commissioners, Dr. Robert P. Woodworth, Hon. James H. Woodworth, Lovel Kimbal and Augustus (A. D.) Butterfield. The capital stock was $200,000, and duration twenty-five years. A line of stages was put upon the road, and a town started, the plat of which had been recorded June 1st, 1835. It was called Marseilles from the fancies of the proprietor, Mr. Kimbal, who also gave some curious names to its streets, a few of which may be mentioned, as follows: Heckley, Valdivia, Mohican, etc.

A dam was erected across the river, just west of the one of Mr. Sprague, and a saw-mill put in operation. It contained two sash saws, and a lath and shingle mill. This dam went out and was replaced by another, at the north end of which a very large gristmill was also built, that at the time was said to be far ahead of anything in the west. It was burned April 14th. 1842 by an incendiary, believed by Mr. Kimbal to have been Ephraim Sprague. The Illinois Mutual Insurance Co., who held a policy on the property, refused to pay the loss, because one of their by-laws specified that no director of the company was permitted to take risks. Mr. Woodworth, who was a director in both companies, had taken the risk, and consequently this vitiated the policy. At least, the company never received anything from it, and broke up, Mr. Hubbard becoming interested in other occupations, Dr. Woodworth going to LaSalle, where he died of an accidental gunshot wound a few years later, Hon. James H. Woodworth moving to Chicago, where he was afterwards elected mayor, and subsequently a member of Congress, finally dying at Evanston some years since, Mr. Augustus Butterfield bought a farm and has since resided about here, and Mr. Kimbal never afterwards engaged in any important work, dying in the fall of 1848 of cholera.

At the close of his administration, president Martin Van Buren, while making a trip through the State, made Mr. Kimbal's house his headquarters during his stay here. A fishing frolic was instituted in honor of the president, the settlers coming to it on horseback, in wagons, carts, barefooted-indeed, in any way-so great a rarity was it to see a live ex-president.

A certain portion of the foremen and laborers who were at work upon the canal, remained as residents. Alexander Bruce, Esq., who superintended the building of the locks here, and who has been largely identified with the public works of this and neighboring States, has resided here many years. Messrs. Scott & Harrington, also, who have bought the largest proportion of the grain shipped from this place, began business here in 1849, in a general store. Mr. Thomas Scott, arrived in the State in 1845, and two years afterward settled at this place, where he has since resided. Mr. John Harrington arrived here in 1836, and succeeded Mr. A. D. Butterfield in the hotel located on the acre of ground, the title of which has recently been in dispute.

The railroad, called at first the "Chicago and Rock Island," also gave a new impetus to settlement. The first agent was Albert Butterfield, the total receipts of the office at this place for the first year being $200.00. John F. Clark, the present agent, informs the writer that the receipts for the year ending April 1st, 1876, were $40,000.

The list of postmasters, and date of their appointments, as taken from official sources, at Washington, is as follows. At one time the office was more trouble than profit, and it passed into a number of hands whose names are not recorded. Lovel Kimbal, appointed Nov. 9th, 1835; John Richey, July 28th, 1849; Albert Butterfield, Jan. 7th, 1854; David H. Slagle4 March 6th, 1866; David H. Slagle, Dec. 10th, 1872.  The office also became presidential at the latter date. Mr. Slagle was re-appointed in March, 1877.

From the burning of the Kimbal mill, until 1866 or 1867, the water power at this place was not extensively used. The Jennings saw-mill was put in operation on the south side, the water being taken from the river by a wing dam, the remains of which can be seen at the present time in the bed of the river just under the south end of the bridge. This mill contained one run of stone.

In 1857 Rodric Clark settled in Marseilles. He bought the land at the west end of town, the present business center, including parts of the original plat. He thought he Baw in the location the site of a manufacturing town which he designed building. For the accomplishment of this purpose, he associated with himself Messrs. O. W. Young and Isaac Underbill, capitalists of Peoria. This firm put up a bridge across the river as their first work, costing $40,000. It was commenced in the early part of 1865, and went out by an ice gorge in February, of the following year. It was again built, much better than before, and the Land and Water Power Co. chartered (1866), who began the foundations of the present dam, employing Mr. O. Hurd for the purpose. The clam, which is eight feet high and nearly one thousand long, was completed in 1867, under, the supervision of James M. Bratton, of Indiana, whose plans of construction had been adopted by the company, the first water being used in November of that year, by either the Brown & Norton Paper Co., or by Messrs. Wm, Richard & Co., millers, whose leases bear the same date.

About this time also the first paper was published by A. St. Clair. It was called the " Marseilles Gazelle."

The Marseilles Manufacturing Co., whose lease is dated June 11th, 1867, began work at their buildings and soon were in successful operation. The President, Mr. A. Adams, of whose sons the company is principally composed, has been identified with manufacturing interests in the west from an early day, having used the first ton of hard coal for smelting purposes ever brought to Chicago, and invented the hinge or folding joint for the sickle bars of reapers, as well as perfected the cornshellers, which the company now manufacture. They also make a windmill, invented by one of the sons, Mr. John Adams.

The water power and other advantages, after the Chicago fire, Oct. 8th, 1871, induced the H. A. Pitt's Sons' Manufacturing Co. to locate here, their works covering over three acres of ground, and employ, when in full force, from one hundred and fifty to two hundred operatives. Their patrons are to be found in nearly every state in the Union, and their threshing machines and horse powers have a worldwide reputation. The founder of the firm and father of nearly all the members, was a resident of Livermore, Mo., where he invented the combined thresher and separator, moving to Chicago in an early day to supply a growing want of the then infant West. From this source have sprung all the combined threshers in the market.

Messrs. Wm. Richard & Co. occupy 3 large four story grist and oat meal mill. They also own another smaller mill west of the larger one, but not running at the present time. The other is under the efficient charge of David Samuels, Esq. There are three paper mills at this place, one only being in operation, run by Messrs. Young & Rebling. Across the race north of Rickards' mill, is the repair shop of Mr. D. Hurd, which is fitted up with all the most approved appliances-lathes, drills, etc., necessary for successful work.  

The stores of the place are as follows: Three hardware and agricultural, three dry goods and grocery, two exclusively groceries, two drugs and books, besides about twenty-three shops of various descriptions. The first National Bank of Marseilles was organized June 27, 1871, with a capital of $50,000, increased in the fall of 1873 to $75,000. Its present officers are Alexander Bruce, President; J. N. Chappel, Cashier, and A. F. Jackson, assistant.

There are two papers published here at the present time: "The Marseilles Herald," a weekly, published by Messrs. Baldwin and Douglas, and " The Plaindealer," a monthly, Perry Simmons, editor and proprietor.


The preliminary services for the organization of the St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, were held by Rev. Edwin Coan, May 14, 1867. On June 30th, the parish was established. The house of worship was finished in November, 1868, during the ministry of Revi E. DeWolf. Since that date the pastors have been Revs. Jonas Green and Matthew McGill. The parsonage was built in 1869.

The first Congregationalist Church was organized September 23, 1860. Rev. C. C. Breed was called soon after, and after one year's labor, resigned, and was succeeded by Rev. P. Blakeman. The next minister was Rev. E. H. Baker, during whose pastorate the present house of worship was completed. He was succeeded by Rev. J. T. Hanning; he, by Rev. O. Y. Ma}', and he, by Rev. Mr. Rowley. The present pastor, Rev. Albert Ethridge, was called in 1874. The membership is now two hundred and ten.

The Universalist Church was organized in 1859, in East Marseilles, where during the following year the church building was erected. It was removed to its present location in 1873. The present membership is about forty, with a still larger attendance at the Sunday school. The following have been the pastors of this congregation : Revs. J. M. Day, T H. Tabor, W. C. Chaplin, A. Abbott, A. H. Lanning and A. Tibbetts.

M. E Church. Pastor, Rev. T. V. E. Sweet; Membership, 80; Sunday school membership, 80; Superintendent of Sunday school, Mrs. Cutting.


Marseilles Land and Water Power Company-Bird Beckford, Pres.; J. N. Chappell, Sec'y and Treas. Organized 1867; amount of paid up capital, §212,500.

Marseilles Light Guards-Organized April, 1875; first public parade July 4th, 1876; J. W. Preston, Capt.; B. A. Roath, 1st Lieut.; D. H. Slagle, 2d Lieut. The roster numbers sixty-six members. The company has been assigned to the 10th Battallion Illinois State Guards.

Marseilles Lodge, No. 417, A. F £ A. M.-Organized 1864; D. H. Slagle, W. M.; P. Evans, S. W.; E. T. Eagle, J. W.; E. Butterfield, Treas; C. H. McKeever, Sec'y. Membership 55. Meets 2nd and 4th Saturday evenings of each month, in Bennett's Block.

Marseilles Encampment, No. 156, I. 0. 0. F.-Organized December 4th, 1874; H. G. Daker, C. P.; Lewis Eddy, H. P.; E. T. Eagle, Scribe ; Wm. Hamicle, Treas.; Theo. Formhalls, S. W.; W. Butterfield, J. W. Meets 1st and 3rd Thursday evenings of each month. Membership 18.

Juniata Lodge, No. 201,1. O. 0. F.-Present officers: "Wm. Wilson, N. G.; Hiram Whitman, V. G.; Arthur Crosman, Sec'y.; O. A. Thorn, P. S. ; James Rolla, Treas. Organized 1856; membership 47. Meets every Monday evening.

[The Past and present of La Salle County, Illinois : containing a history of the county, its cities, towns, &c., a biographical directory of its citizens, war record of its volunteers in the late rebellion, portraits of early settlers and prominent men, general and local statistics, map of La Salle County, history of Illinois, Constitution of the United States, miscellaneous matters, etc, etc.. Chicago: H.F. Kett & Co., Ottaway & Colbert, printers), 1877. Page 323 -327]

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