Village of West Brooklyn

Lee County Illinois

Three men, Oliver P. Johnson, Demas L. Harris and Reuben Woods, are to be given credit for founding the village of West Brooklyn. It received its name by virtue of the fact that the land on which it was to be situated lay near the west end of what was called Brooklyn township. Plans for the village were laid in Ausut 1872.

First to start business in this new village were H.H. Carnahan, who started a general store in connection with the post office, the Hoerner brothers, who started a merchandise business and A. Nichols and son also engaged in the same business. The first grain elevator, erected by the West Andrus company of Chicago, was put in charge of Daniel Barr, who was succeeded by George McCormick. Laer, C.F. Guffin succeeded McCormick.

Dr. G.F. Schreiber was the first physician. He lived here for many years.

The first shoe shops were started by Albert Bieschke Sr., and Joseph Kesell, both of Chicago. The Blay brothrs manufactured wagons and buggies, and they also had a general blacksmith shop. They were succeeded by the Gruss brothers and later the business was taken over by Martin Gruss, a member of the firm.

The first hotel was operated by Mrs. Cheney who alter sold out to Wesley Hyde. After a short time, he in turn sold the business to Mrs. Henry Wilgum. At the time of her death she was succeeded by her daughter, Mrs. Katie Tressler. She erected the well-known Hotel Tressler..

Dr. E.C. White succeeded Dr. Schrieber as West Brooklyn's physician and surgeon. He also served as postmaster for many years. Herman Knauer also was in charge of one of the first blacksmith shops. The Derr brothers replaced Nichols in the mercantile business. C.J. Smith was one of the first paintes and decorators in West Brooklyn. August Chaon was at one time a mason in the village.

H.F. Gehant of Viola twp. followed Wm. Hoerner in the mercantile business. Gehant sought to improve the commercial and social conditions of the village and to make a comfortable living. He had modern business methods and his shelves were filled with the best merchandise money could buy. He also started the Brooklyn News. It was through his tireless efforts that the village was incorporated under the laws of Illinois in September, 1894. From that time, West Brooklyn took its place in the ranks of municipalities of Lee County. Gehant also was the first mayor. Those who succeeded him were: O.P. Johnson, F.D. Gehant, F.W. Meyer, Jacob Michel, O.L. Gehant (who served 19 years), John Dinges and Frank J. Gehant, who is our mayor at this time.

The first two grain elevators were destroyed by fire. The present elevator was built in 1907. It is owned by the Farmers Elevator company.

June 1, 1897, was the day H.F. Gehant founded the Gehant Banking company. At that time it had a capital and surplus of $100,000.00 It meets demands in matters of insurance, real estate and farm loans. The bank at the present time is operated by the sons and grandsons of Gehant.

In 1874 the first school house was built at the cost of $1200. In 1900 a larger and better school was erected. There were three teacher employed in this first school.

The Methodist church as the first church erected in West Brooklyn. A short time later a Catholic church was built. It was of a simple construction, but soon the congregation grew and a larger church was needed. In 1902 at the cost of $18,000 a brick structure with a 125 foot spire was built.

The first few families in the Catholic church were Francis Galisath, Modest Gehant, and Laurent Gehant, Frank and Wm. Halbmaier, Wm. Hoerner, Xavier Chaon, Joseph Huibsch, Leopold and Joseph E. Henry, Eelphan and Polite Bresson, Eugene Vincent, Martin Gruss and Albert Bieschke Sr. In 1908 this church was destroyed by fire, but was soon replaced by a new and better structure. The first pastor was the Rev. Liesing. He was succeeded by Fr. Berthold, Fr. M.B. Krug, Fr. C. Quinn, Fr. D. Healy, Fr. R. Hoerner, Fr. Bradley, Fr. B. Guccione and Fr. N. Thiry. Present pastor is James Lafferty who studied nine years in Rome.

The catholic Order of Foresters is the largest and strongest fraternal organization in the village. This group has a large and increasing membership. The Modern Woodmen of America is the next leading organization.

The village of West Brooklyn has been noted for its music. The Barrs orchestra, organied in 1908, was first to furnish music in the village. The younger folk began what was known as the West Brooklyn Cornet Band. For many years these two musical organizations furnished music for the whole county.

F.M. Yocum is credited with bringing the telephone to the homes of West Brooklyn.

One of the worst disasters that has happened in West Brooklyn took place on a Sunday morning, when a terrible fire brok out. It destroyed the west end elevator, the creamery, a hardware store, owned by F.D. Gehant, a meat market, an implement building and several other small structures. Almost every resident battled this fierce fire. Immediately after this fire the West Brooklyn volunteer fire department was organized. The village at one time also had a department store, but it was also destroyed by fire.

Josie Harris owned the first restaurant in West Brooklyn. She sold out to Elmer Long, who ran it for many years. In 1940 Arthur Gunn became owner and he added a hardware business. After these stores were closed, the village was left without a restaurant for many years until Arthur Vincent took up the business in the old hotel. In 1950 he sold out to Fred Hellmuth, who is now the present restaurant owner.

A big addition to the village was a cheese factory, which was operated by Mr. Umland. He was succeeded by Mr. Ruhland, Mr. Grab, and by the present owner, Mr. Liebzeit. The prosperous village store, owned by H.M. Caon and sons is operated by Wellington Chaon.

At present we have a garage owned by Howard Brucker. Saloons are operated by Carl Gehant and Sidney Bagnall. In the spring of 1950 Herschel Hoerner opened a new hardware store in the building which served as the Gunns restaurant.

Jacob Michel is our present postmaster assisted by Miss Zelda Koehler. Amil J. Bernardin and Gene Gehant are the mail carriers. The chief amusement place is the bowling alley.

The oldest person living in West Brooklyn is John Fassig, who celebrated his 90th birthday in March. Fassig has watched the village grow from the very beginning. He was born on a farm about one mile south in 1861. If members of the younger generation are able to prosper and advance commercially and socially as their ancestors did, the village will continue to be among the leading municipalities of the county.

From the Dixon Telegraph May 1, 1951 - written by Darlene Choan