The History of Mendota, LaSalle County Illinois

Transcribed by Nancy Piper


The thriving city of Mendota is the result of the crossing of the Illinois Central and C.B.&Q. railroads. About the close of the summer of 1853, the Central road was completed this far, and by October or November the C.B. &Q. The site of Mendota was then an unbroken prairie. The settlement had all been made about the groves surrounding it and the prairie, now rich and productive, was then considered worthless and unfit for occupancy. Several settlers, among whom were D.D. Giles and others, were watching the course of the survey to see where the crossing would be made. This was known in the spring of 1853, and Mr. Giles, then a merchant at Homer, erected a building for a general store on what is now the west side of the street, opposite the depot. This was the first building erected on the side of Mendota.

During the summer, the brick warehouse was erected by the railroad companies. This was the first brick structure in town. The present passenger house and hotel was commenced that summer and completed sometime the following spring. Mr. Penton was appointed agent. While the workmen were constructing this and the warehouse, they purchased the greater part of their food and clothing of Mr. Stiles, crossing from the buildings to the store, what is now Main street, then grown high with grass and affording excellent pasture.

Mr. T. B. Blackstone, engineer for the Central railroad, laid out the town on section thirty-three, in township thirty-six, north of range one, east of the third principal meridian. He had purchased the south half of the section, another part was owned by the Central Railroad Company and the remainder by John West. The present express office is on the exact center of the section and from its location the surveys were made. Mr. Blackstone, now prominently connected with the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis railroad, did much to aid in the growth of the town. During the summer while the railroad was being constructed, John Kelley erected a small frame house and in it opened the primitive hotel of town. A man named Cheek opened a saloon, a shop or two was added and the town was becoming a reality. The railroad company claimed the right of naming all stations on their line, hence the number of Indian names. This place was known as the "Junction" and the company gave to it the Indian name "Mendota," meaning "connection" or "joined to." It was applied by the aborigines to the junction of rivers and was the name given by them, more especially to the junction of the St. Peters River with the Mississippi, just below the falls of St. Anthony.

The two railway corporations had gangs of men working on all points from Mendota. These obtained their goods here and the settlers in the groves about the junction came here with their product, and getting goods in exchange soon made a brisk trade. The enterprising spirits then in business quickly saw the town that must arise and though many of them had vague ideas of the practical use of a railroad, thinking passenger traffic would be the main business and that it would aid them in their efforts to erect a town, they exerted all mans in their power to create a large place.

Hence, during the winter of 1853-54 and the summer following, an unprecedented growth was seen. Nothing was heard but the sound of carpenter's tools and by the autumn of 1854 the population was nearly one thousand. That summer the brewery was started by Dietrich Volk; as the location of town was low and we, he fitted up a cellar at Homer, where he stored his beer.

A drug store was opened by Haass and Erb, on the corner of Main and Jefferson streets. It is now occupied by Max A.F. Haass. This same time Dr. Gorham opened another drug store in a building north of Wilson's scales. A meat market was established in the autumn of 1853 by Longdon & Douglass and in 1854 a second was opened by Tompkins & Peart.

The first hotel of town has been noticed. It was built by John Kelley in 1853 and was sold to Mrs. Shedd the next summer. The depot hotel was erected during the winter of 1853-54, and was opened by Mr. Pelton in May of the latter year. The German House was built by G. Pohl in 1854 and was moved in 1867 to make room for his block. John Hess erected the Humboldt House during the summer of 1854 and kept it until a few years ago. A hotel was built immediately after the completion of the Mendota House by a Mr. Conklin on the lot now used for Kinney's lumber yard.

Finding the town was not coming that way, Mr. Conklin soon moved his building to the spot now occupied by Kellenberger's office. It was afterwards known as Reed's Hotel and was burned in 1862. Mr. Furhman came to the village in the summer of 1853 and opened a harness shop. As business then was not good, owing to the custom of using oxen, he soon sold and removed to Minnesota, where he remained till 1857 when he returned and has been in business since.

In the summer of 1854, a trade in lumber was started and for some years was the most important branch of business in town.

The rapid increase of settlers during the winter of 1853 and the summer following led the residents to see the need of a town government. In the spring of 1855, meetings were held agitating the question and before June an election for Town Trustees was held, which resulted in the choice of the following gentlemen: J. H. Adams, Sampson Lamb, U.B. Golliday, C.H. Johnson and D.G. Bly. The first mentioned of these was chosen President of the Board at their preliminary meeting on June 18th, and the last named was elected Clerk. The first meeting of this board for business was held on July 6th, when the boundaries of the town were defined, ordinances were passed for the granting of licenses, grading of street, and their limits, for the collection of taxes, making of sidewalks, etc.

The limits of the village, then containing some three or four hundred inhabitants, were declared to be the sectional lines of section 33, which would accord with the survey of Mr. Blackstone, when he platted the town. This original plat has since received several additions. During the summer of 1855 building went on with great rapidity. The practical benefits of the railroads were being felt; it was discovered they could carry freight as well as passengers and if not as cheaply as the canal, much quicker. The active minds of the early settlers were ready for any move in their interest and Mendota was fast growing in population, business and wealth.

Stores of every kind were being erected and occupied, while mechanics' shops arose on almost every street corner.

During the war, the town was an exceptionably good shipping point. By the Illinois Central Railroad large quantities of army supplies were sent South and from the commencement of the war until 1866 the population more than doubled.

In 1865 Tewksbury & Carpenter established the present organ manufactory. They then occupied but oen room and employed but few hands. In 1875, a stock company with a capital of $100,000 was formed and the present works occupied. They now (1877) employ over one hundred hands and sell several thousand instruments annually.

The Union Mills were erected at Troy Grove in 1859 by Mr. John Gregg. In 1864, he removed them to Mendota and has now an extensive business.

The Eagle Mills were built several years ago by Frank Kortick, who used the building for a carpenter shop. In 1870 it was purchased by Mr. Linsott, who converted it into a mill.

The Mendota Bank was organized as early as 1856 but the resident partner moving to Chicago, two years after, the business of the bank was gradually wound up, by Mr. G. M. Price. In 1860, Kelsey & Price reorganized the bank and continued until 1871 when Mr. Kelsey retired and Mr. Erlenborn took his place and remained until 1874 when Mr. Price assumed control and conducted its affairs until the present summer, when he closed up the business to enter another branch of trade. The First National Bank was organized in 1865 with a capital of $65,000. Col. E. A. Bowen was chosen President and E.W. Fassett, Cashier. The first year Mr. Fassett resigned and Mr. Gifford was elected to the vacancy. Mr. Bowen and Mr. Gifford are still connected with the institution. In 1873, the stock was increased to $125,000 and the bank is now one of the strongest in the State. The Germania Bank was established in 1874 by A. & J.M. Erlenborn, with John Goedtner as Cashier. The bank is now doing a good business.

The oil works of H.S. Clark & Co. were established in 1869, by Mr. Wells. They are now enjoying an extensive trade.

An excellent planing mill was started here in 1866 and another added a few years ago. Two cigar manufactories are in operation and two wholesale liquor stores, while a large number of saloons are supported.

One year ago, a button factory was established, by a company representing at capital of $8,000. Mr. Herrick is Superintendent and General Manager. The company have established a good trade.

In addition to these industries mentioned the city supports a large number of stores and shops of all kinds and the trade of Mendota in all its branches must aggregate an immense yearly sum of money.

The population by the winter of 1866 was fully two thousand and steps were taken to secure a city government under the general State law. The election to decide this step was held on March 4th, 1867, at which time 238 votes were cast in favor of the city corporation and 64 against. On the 11th the board of trustees met for the last time, divided the city into four wards and defined their boundaries and provided for an election to choose city officers to be held on April 9th. On this date Boyd Lowe was elected Mayor; George Guy, City Clerk; Thomas Forester, City Marshal; E. A. Bowen, Treasurer; D.Y. Lowe, Assessor and Collector; D.A. Cook Attorney and Jacob Nisley Supervisor. The aldermen for the first ward were Wm. Wyrick, Geo. M. Price, and Frank Meisenbach; for the second ward they were E.A. Bowen, Wm. Van Vleit and Frank R. Jewell; for the third J. W. Edward, Perkey Stone and Patrick Dunn; and for the fourth John Gilman, G.W. Jones and J. M. Hall.

The city government was now complete and is yet maintained. This form of rule was an additional source of gain to Mendota, as by it enterprising citizens were in a measure assured of aid in the management of large business interests.

The Present Mendota City Officers (1877)

May, M. A. McKey; City Clerk, J. O. Sanford; City Marshall, Thos. Forristall; City Supervisor, J. L. Nisley; City Attorney, W. Evans; City Treasurer, J. L. Watkins. Board of Aldermen; 1st ward, Samuel Dudgeon, David Frank, E.C. Quimby; 2d ward, E. B. Carpenter, A. Hoffman, L. Marks; 3d ward P. Dunn, E. Coleman, P. Castle; 4th ward, M.S. Andress, N. Linus, S.E. Rogers. Township officers: Supervisors, L. Marks, Stephen Arnold; Clerk, Geo. Guy; Assessor, W.W. Kopfer; Collector, D. C. Andress.


The schools have, like the town, sprung rapidly into existence. The earliest school in town was held in a small frame structure, erected in 1854 on the site of the present City Hall. The rapid growth of the town necessitated the erection of an additional house, and a similar edifice was erected in the eastern part of town. In 1858 more room was demanded and the present City Hall was built. This, with the aid of a few small houses rented for temporary use, supplied the necessary room until 1867 when the present commodious school house on the east side was completed. The next year that on the west side was finished. These cost about $35,000, and are an ornament to the city. Several small one-room buildings have been erected in parts of town convenient to the residents to accommodate the small pupils, who are instructed a year or two in these when too small to go the distance required to attend the large buildings. Thirteen teachers are employed. Several private academies and schools have been opened from time to time in town, but the increased growth of the public schools superseded these and they finally abandoned the attempts to establish their schools.


The Presbyterian Church was organized in the old school house, already described on August 26th, 1855, with five members. They were William and Anna Smith, Hannah B. Fisk, Mr. Scullen and James McDowell. The two latter are the only ones yet communicants here. The organization was made by Rev. John Fleming and Rev. C.R. Fisk. In June 1856, the first pastor, Rev. James S. Henderson, was settled here and remained until 1861, when his death occurred. He was succeeded by Rev. Robert C. Colmery and then by Rev. S. H. Weller. At present Rev. N. S. Dickey is supplying the pulpit. They worshipped in the school house a short time and then in the present Library Hall. In 1856 they completed their present house of worship, which they have since used. The membership is now one hundred and sixty and the attendance at Sunday school very good. Since the organization until the present time four hundred and ten persons have been admitted to membership in this church. In 1866 nineteen were received from the Second Presbyterian Church, which that year united with this congregation.

In 1855 the Methodist Episcopal Church was organized with about twelve members, two of whom, James Kenworthy and Nancy Bates, are still communicants. They were organized in the old school house, where all the denominations met, and where they had one Sunday school in common. Here the Methodist society worshipped a few months and then went to Hasting's Hall, where they organized their Sunday school and elected Rev. Wm. Edwards, now an old man, and an early resident of Mendota, its superintendent. In 1857 or 1858 they erected their church edifice which they yet occupy. Their first pastor was Rev. U.P. Golliday, who presided at the organization. The present pastor is Rev. F. A. Reed. There are now one hundred and sixty members and an attendance of two hundred scholars at the Sunday school.

The Church of the Holy Cross, German Catholic, was organized in the school house, about 1858, with seventeen families. The priest was Father Murphy, who had also organized the Irish Catholics in 1854. They met in various places until 1869, when they completed a house of worship, a very commodious brick structure, costing about $8,000, which they now occupy. Their membership includes about ninety families, and a Sunday school of over fifty scholars. The priest is Father Cronaur. The Irish Catholic congregation is one of the oldest in Mendota. As soon the labor on the railroads made this a central point, Father Murphy came and organized a church. This was early in 1854. They had then about fifty members and met for service whenever they could find a room. In 1858 or 1859 they erected their present house of worship and now have a good Sunday school and a membership of over one hundred.

The Baptist church is the largest in Mendota, numbering at present two hundred and eighty-seven members and a Sunday school of nearly three hundred pupils. This congregation was organized October 28, 1854, at the house of Rev. N. Denison, with six members. These Were Rev. Denison, Moses Dix, Richard and Orson Waste, Reuben Spencer and George A. Richmond. In a few days eleven others united making seventeen persons in all. They met for divine service in the public school house, then in a ware house and next in a ball, until the completion of their house of worship. This was erected in 1856, and used until 1869, when the growth of the congregation necessitated a larger one and the present structure was erected. The old one was added to its rear and is used as a lecture room. The Rev. Denison lived only one month after the organization. His successors here have been Rev. S. B. Gilbert, fourteen years; Rev. W. M. Haigh, four and one-half years; Rev. T.T. Potter, two years, and the present pastor, Rev. T.M. Colwell, who is now serving his second year.

The German Evangelical church was organized in 1867 with about twenty members. Their earliest meetings were held in the school house and in private houses. In 1868 they erected the house of worship they now occupy. The membership has increased to over eighty and the Sunday school attendance to something over that number, the Rev. Charles Lindemann is the present pastor.

The German Lutheran Church was organized in the spring of 1858, in a public hall, with thirty-five members, by the Rev. Hilldenbrend. They met here about one year, when they built their present structure. The old church is used for a German school building. The membership is now about the same as when organized. The Sunday school contains about seventy pupils. The Rev. Mr. Hampelmann is the present pastor.

The United Brethren church is the youngest religious organization in town. It was organized in July, 1875 with nine members. These were Daniel Faler and wife, A. Shouk and wife, J. and Mrs. Billings, Archey Williams and Rev. U.D. Wood and wife. The first pastor was Rev. J.G. Designer, who remained until the autumn of 1876, when he was succeeded by the present pastor, Rev. C. Wendle. There are now about fifty members and a Sunday school of over one hundred scholars. This congregation purchased the church built by the New School Presbyterians and soon after purchased by the Congregationalists, when the Presbyterian churches were united, who, not being able to sustain an organization here, sold their church and disbanded the congregation.

The German Lutheran Seminary

This institution is about one mile east of the Mendota depot and was opened about three years ago by the German Lutherans, who started at that time a Theological Seminary. The building was erected in 1856 for a Female Seminary and for some time a good school was maintained. The Lutheran church, under whose care it was fostered, removed the endowment and the institution went down. It remained closed until the German Lutherans purchased the building at the time mentioned and opened their present school. A good attendance is now maintained and the seminary is in a flourishing condition. In 1857, the Lutherans opened a church here and erected the present house of worship. When the College passed into the control of the German Lutherans, they gained also the church which is now conducted in connection with the Seminary, divine services generally being conducted by the College professors. Both College and church is a credit to Mendota.

Mendota Public Library

This is one of the most prominent and potent educators of the town. The project of establishing a library was discussed by the more prominent citizens for some time before the year 1870, but not till this time did it receive an active form. On April 27th, 1870, Mrs. Maria Simpson, Mr. and Mrs. J. E. Smith, Miss A. L. John, Miss Mary Crocker, Dr. Woodbridge, Wm. Edwards, E. A. Bowen, Joseph Hunter and Dr. J. A. Hoffman, met to consider the question and to decide upon some line of action. On May 7th, they met again and the Mendota Library Association was formed, with a capital of one hundred dollars, and a charter obtained. Seven trustees were appointed, of whom Dr. J. A. Hoffman was made President, James Hunter, Secretary and E. A. Bowen, Treasurer. By means of festivals, a course of lectures and other means, money was raised to obtain the first installment of books. In the winter of 1873, Mr. and Mrs. Willard Graves, who had been warm friends of the Library cause, came forward, and very generously presented, the Association with the proceeds of the sale of a farm, two thousand dollars cash, and a mortgage, bearing interest, of seven hundred dollars. In addition to this, they gave a deed to the Library building and lot, the entire donation being' valued at about $6,000. This munificent gift met with a response from the Lecture Association, who gave all their funds, $150, and from the Mendota Lyceum, who gave theirs, $100. A committee was at once appointed and sent to Chicago, 'who purchased seventeen hundred books, and on their return the Library building was put in order and formerly opened on September Sth, 1874. They 'were then free of debt, and had about $700 bearing interest, and the membership had grown to about forty. The memberships were placed at five dollars each and entitles the person to life privileges and the free use of the Looks. There are now over two thousand volumes on the shelves, and nearly two hundred members enjoying' the privilege of reading them. The librarian is Mr. L. D. Moody. The building is open every Tuesday and. Saturday.

The Press

The pioneer paper of Mendota was the Mendota Press, the first number of 'which was issued June 26, 1855, by O. R. Fisk, editor and proprietor. He afterwards sold to the Andrews Brothers, who ran it a short time and sold it to a Princeton firm They soon sold it to a Mr. Bond, who changed the name to the Observer. Mr. Bond sold to Crooker & Beck, who, after running it one year, closed the office. After it had remained closed a year and a half, .Mr. Crooker sold the office to Mr. Ruggles in 1863, who changed the name to the Bulletin; which paper he still publishes.

A paper caned the Chronicle was started in 1869, by Snell & Merrill. F. D. Ford soon afterwards purchased Merrill's interest, and a little later Snell's. In 1870, he consolidated with the Bulletin, 'where he remained until 1874, when he started the News, which on Dec. 2G, 1876, was purchased by the present editor, Wm. Parker.

In 1858 a German paper, called the Mendota Democrat; was started by Frank Meisenbach and G. Pool; the next year they sold to an Ottawa firm, who took it to that city.

Some time before the war a paper was started by Mr. Fisk, called the Times. Mr. Fisk, being a warm sympathizer with the south, was compelled one night in 1861, by a company drumming for recruits, to make a speech and to run up the stars and stripes. In June his paper collapsed.

The city of Mendota, being at the junction and being the terminus of a branch of the C., B. &; Q., enjoys excellent privileges as a shipping point. The trade of the city extends over much territory, and absorbs the choice trade of the small towns adjacent to it, to many of which it sells goods by the wholesale.


Mendota Caseno Society. Officers: Jacob Kohl, President; M. Stern, Secretary ; E. Wohlers, Treasurer. Meets first Tuesday evening of each month.

Allemania Lodge No. 411. Officers: Jacob Kohl, N. G.; G. Fisher, V. G.; A. Henne, Secretary, Recording Secretary; D. Yolk, Treasurer. Meets each Thursday evening

Mendota Turnverein. Officers: C. Henning, First Speaker; John Hardall, Second Speaker; Theo. Giere, Secretary ; John Wilmeroth, Treasurer ; Caspar Ruedy, Cashier; Jacob Reul, Turnwart. .Meets every Tuesday and Friday evening.

Bethany Commandery No. 28, K. T. Officers: J. ,V. Edwards, E. C.; C. Ruedy, Gen.; Wm. Hall, Capt. Gen.; L. Goodwin, S. ,W.; B. :Moss, Capt. G. Meets first Friday evening in each month.

Mendota Lodge No. 416,1. O. of G. T. Officers: C. H.. Scofield, W.C.T.; Mrs. H. K. Gallup, W. V. T.; Joscphus Gallup, W. S.; Mrs. M. F. Evans, W.T.S..; S. Schouse, Treasurer ; John Lark, ,W.M.; Ida Evans, D. M. . Meets every Thursday evening.

Star Templars No.2, U. O. of A. T. P. J. Forrest, T.: Mrs. Pierce, V. T.; S. Schouse, P. T.; C.H. Scofield, Rec.; Geo. Shiettell, F.; Mrs. Geo. Shettel1, Treas.; Chas. Pierce, M.; Mrs. H. O. Adams, Lecturer. Meets every Tuesday evening. .

Mendota Lodge No. 176, A.F. and A. M. Officers: Wm. Jenkins, W.M.; J. Scheidenhelm, S.W.; James Clark, J.W.; S. Femburg, Treasl; Fred. Haskell, Sec'y; B. Moss, Tyler. Meets second and fourth Tuesday evenings.

Mendota Chapter No. 79, R. A. M. Officers: E. Rice, H. P.; J. W. Edwards, E. K.; Geo. W. Tewksbury, E. S.; C. Ruedy, Capt. H. ; Wm. Jenkins, R. A. C.; S. Fembnrg, Treas.; Fred. Haskell, Sec'y ; B. Moss, Capt. of G. .Meets second Tuesday evening in each mouth.

Mendota Council No. 32, R. and S. M. Officers: J. W. Edwards, J. G. M; C. Ruedy, Deputy; R. Gilmore, P. O. of W.; B. Moss, Sentinel.

A. O. of U.W. Officers : A. Dean, P. M. W.; P. J. Forrest, M. W., George Shettell G. F.; George Morey, O.; C. H. Schofield, G.; M. Coonan, F.; Wm. Nolan, R.

[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 314-323]

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