The History of Tonica, LaSalle County Illinois

Transcribed by Nancy Piper

Tonica was laid out by Mr. A. J. West, owner of the land on 'which the original plat was made in 1853. This was shortly after the Illinois Central Railroad began running its trains, crossing the river at LaSalle by descending and ascending to and from the bottoms along the river. In 1854, the bridge over the river was completed, and more travel and freight was the consequence. Tonica began to partake of the increase of trade, and a few stores and shops were erected. Among the first to erect houses on the town site was Major Newton, who built his house at the south end of the main business row, and being- appointed postmaster, kept the office here some time, The Union Store, built and operated by the surrounding farmers, and managed by Henry Kingslcy, was among the first opened. Shortly afterward Simon Foss erected a store near the corner where the new brick store now stands. In 1868, Mr. Burgess purchased the building erected by the Union Store Company, and has occupied it since. The company had kept the store about twelve years. The next merchant after Mr. Foss was Mr. O. Cushman, who opened the first furniture store in Tonica.

Mr. W. J. Wilson started a good drug store on Pratt's corner, where he remained until the fire of 1867. This calamity was a severe blow to the town. It swept out of existence nearly every building on Main street in the business part, and had it not been for a brick structure towards the south end of the row of business houses, the destruction would have been complete. The work of rebuilding commenced at once. Mr. Wilson built again on the corner, A. P. Landes next, G. W. Keller and J. K. Brokaw after Landes, and J. P. Bassett joined to Keller and Brokaw a good brick. Nearly all who rebuilt profited by the lesson of the fire, and erected substantial brick structures, which are now used. Shortly after the establishment of the depot, two small warehouses were erected; but the enterprise, not proving remunerative, they were abandoned by their owners, who sold them for other purposes. Subsequently a large one was erected, which does all the grain trade of the town. The shipping interest of Tonica is chiefly confined to live stock, principally hogs. The town has the reputation of shipping more pork than any village of its size on the Illinois Central railroad.

In 1867 Mr. W. J. Wilson erected a grist mill, which is yet operated. Its chief trade, like that of the village, is with the surrounding farmers.


As soon as the population of town demanded it, a school was opened in an old frame one-room building, located in a corner of the site of the town cemetery. It was moved here for the purposes designated, having been a dwelling previously. Before long it proved inadequate, and a larger building was erected, being located in a more central part of town, and the old house moved, as steps were being taken to layout a village grave-yard. This second building was used until 1867, when the present four-room house was built. Since that time a good graded school has regularly been maintained.


In 1874 the Tonica News was established by C. M. Keller, who a year later sold to the present editor, W. A. McGrew. He is at present issuing a five-column, good local paper. A small paper called the Tonica Local is issued each Saturday by W. A. Flint. It is printed at Wenona.


The Methodists were the first to occupy the field here. They formed a class as soon as the town was established. About 1855 they erected their first church, while under the ministry of Rev. J. G. Evans. This is now used as a parsonage, the present commodious house of worship superseding it in 1859. They have about seventy members at present, and an attendance at the Sunday-School of nearly one hundred. The pastor is Rev. R. S. Russell.

The Congregationalist Church was organized January 7, 1857 with sixteen members. Of these only Warren Burgess and wife, and Mrs. Annie Barrass remain. The organization was effected in the Baptist Church by the Rev, G. B. Hubbard, who remained pastor until 1860. They worshipped in the school house until 1861, when they erected their present church. Rev. Hubbard was succeeded by Rev. Wm. McConn , who preached until his death in 1865. He was followed by Rev. J. W. West, whose ministry extended, until 1871, when Rev. J. C. Myres came and remained until 1874. He was succeeded by the present pastor, the Rev. H. Avery. There are now one hundred and forty communicants, and as many or more attendants at the Sunday school,

The Baptist church was organized in 1856. The members, as well as those comprising the organization of the Congregational church, principally carne from Lowell, a small village some three miles east of the site of Tonica, which was soon abandoned on the laying out of the latter place. They erected their church the same year they were organized, and very kindly permitted other denominations to use until they could complete a house of their own. They have now ninety members and about sixty Sunday school scholars. The pastor is Rev. Williams, who has also charge of the church at L'Ostant,


Tonica Lodge, No. 298 I. O. O. F. -Officers: Archy Neil, N. G.; T. W. Leeder, V. G.; W. Flint. Treas.; Alfred Heath, Sec'y, Meets at Tonica every Wednesday evening.

Tonica Lodge No. 36, .A. F. & A. M. -Officers: E. N. Wood, W. M. ; G. W. Howe, S. W. S. W. Allen, J. W.; A. Curtis, Treas.; J. R. Casy, Sec'y. Meets at Tonica each first and third Saturday of the month.

[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 344-345]

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