Welcome to Illinois Genealogy Trails

Finding Illinois Ancestors

History of Dorchester Township
Transcribed from "The Story of Macoupin County 1829-1979
Submitted by Source #1

Early Chronology / History of Dorchester - railroads / Post Office / Early Businesses / First Marriage
Churches / Schools / Telephone System / Coronet Band / Coal Mines / Electricity / Newspapers / Banks / Wilsonville

Early Chronology

1818 - Mr. Williams was the first squatter; he moved to Missouri in 1833.

1819 - Richard Wilhelm, John and Richad Chapman came.

1829 - Charles G. Spence came. RIchard Wilhelm mad the first land entry. William McKenney, Thomas Grant, John Funderburk, John Spence arrived. John Spence made the second land entry.

1830's - New arrivals included: Valentine Sawyer, William Davis, Abraham Smith, Daniel B. Sawyer, Thomas Hart, Abraham Isaacs, Joseph Cleveland, John Walker, David Bentley, Dana R. Hayden, and William Purdy. Most of these settled along the eartern edge of the township and used Staunton as their trading center. Nearly half of them are also included as early settlers of Cahokia, Mt. Olive or Staunton Townships. Thre are three reasons for this: a few had a farm that was in both townships; a few were able to accumulate large land holdings in several areas; and more were squatters at first until they picked the spot which they thought best and filed on that spot.

1832 - Miss Mathilda Thompson taught the first school.

1836 - A Baptist congregation was organized.

1839 - A log school building ws constructed; Jeremiah Wilcox ws its first teacher.

1850 - The township had a steam sawmill.

1852 - The Christian denomination built the first church.

1855-56 - The Indianapolis and St. Louis Railroad was built across the township.

1859 - The village of Dorchester, with alonzo Cutler as proprietor and Fletcher Chapman as surveyor, was laid out along the railroad.

1860 - Mr. Hayden built a grain warehouse.

1861 - A railroad depot was built. William Whitfield built a store and dwelling in the vilage.

1866 - First hotel in the village was owned by Thomas Potts.

1869 - Schoolhouse built in village; James Ayres, first teacher. Dr. Charles Black began practicing medicine in the village but continuted to live in Woodburn for five years.

1871 - Civil Township named Dorchester afte the only village in the township. Most people in the area were farmers.

1874 - Christian Church built.

1880 - Phillip W. Maxeier opened a wagon shop.

1907 - P.W. Maxeier and two sons had a general merchandise business.

1917 - Dorchester Bank established. Superior Coal Company sand #4 Mine at Dorchester.

1919 - Wilsonville ws incorporated.

History of Dorchester - railroads

In 1855 and 1856, the Indianapolis and St. Louis Railroad, now the Big Four, built a line through the northwest portion of the township, thereby furnishing facilities for the shipment of grain and produce. However, the primary purpose in building the railroad was to furnish a route for the fast trains between Mattoon and St. Louis until later when the "cut-off" was built between Hillsboro and St. Louis.

The company desired to place a station in this area, and contentions arose as to whether it should be placed at Bayles or a short distance west at the small village located five miles east of Bunker Hill and five miles west of Gillespie. Through the efforts of Alonzo Cutler, the original proprietor of the village, the station was established here, and in the spring of 1861 the first depot was erected. Then the citizens of the village selected the name of Dorchester from Dorchester Heights; thus, we assume that these citizens were descendants either of New England families or of patriotic pioneers carrying westward the traditions of freedom won during the American Revolution, because this name like that of our neighbor to the west, Bunker Hill, is historically significant. The township later took the same name.

South of the tracks, stock pens were built and farmers from the area shipped cattle and hogs to market by means of the freight trains. The service continued until the trucking industry took over. A pond was dug on railroad property and water was pumped by means of steam at the pump house into the water tower to service the steam locomotives between St. Louis and Mattoon. Mr. David Thompson will be remembered for his services here as pump operator. The tower was taken to Gillespie when city water was obtained there.

Four passenger trains passed through daily, two going each way. This was the main method of travel, for at times road conditions and distance made other means impossible. It also provided, in later years, transportation for the boys and girls who desired to attend high school.

Two regular frieght trains passed through daily, one traveling in each direction, and a "midnight freight" together with many "extras" were sent over this line. Many will recall the "fast trains" being rerouted through here if a wreck occurred on the "cut-off".

Ticket agents and telegraph operators that may be remembered are: William R. Keas, Fred Sands, F.T. Stein, Merle Frazier, E.R. Windsor, Ulric Waters, and Ralph Hurst.

Post Office

With the train service established, there arose the need of a post office. The first postmaster appointed was William R. Keas, assisted by his daughter Tedda. The post office was first located in the depot, then later moved to the small building to the south of the Brick Saloon.

Early Businesses

In the year 1860, Mr. Turner R. Hayden, an uncle of Mrs. H.F. Henrichs of Litchfield, built a side track on the southeast of the railroad and put up a small warehouse for grain. He rented this building to B.F. Williamson, but in the spring of 1861 took possession himself. About this same time, William Whitfield erected a building which he used for a dwelling and a store. Mr. Hayden, about March of this same year, also laid out what is known as T.R. Hayden's addition on the southeast side of the village; in 1866, Hayden's second addition was laid out. One of the early homes in this area is said to be still standing.

The first hotel of the town was built in 1866 by Thomas Potts. It was a brick building and stood slightly south of the Tuberosa tavern.

For many years, two saloons stood on the main street across from each other. One in Gillespie Township was built by Jake Hauschild and operated only a short time by him until his death in 1910. The other on the Dorchester side ws operated by Joe Walker. This was known as the Tillman building or Brick Saloon. About the year of 1914, Dorchester Township voted itself "dry," but all one had to do was step across the street for his "drinks"; of course they were of a different brand. After Mr. Hauschild's death, the building continued to be a saloon operated by Hank Folkers, Mr. Dremeyer and others until Max Beifus took over the business which terminated at his death. This building was later C.C. Gobble and Frank Clark's barber shop and pool room, Meyer's Red and White Store owned and operated by Ferd and Flossie Meyer, then sold to Everett and Mary Ann Smith who are now operating an A.G. store known as Smitty's Market. Joe Walker retired and after the death of Max Beifus, his wife Gertrude and brohter Albert operated a confectionery in the brick building until it burned down about the year 1923. Leland Maxeiner's lubrication place of business now stands on this site.

Another landmark in the village of Dorchester was the Hoffmann Blacksmith Shop. It was built by Charles Hoffmann (a Civil War Veteran), just east of where the Robert Price home now stands. Mr. Hoffmann's home, one of the oldest that can be remembered, was torn down by Mr. Price in 1956 after he purchased it from William Hoffmann. The shop was a large, two-story frame building. The lower part was used for such work as was done by the "smith" in those days, and the upper story was a large hall used by the lodges; dances were held regularly given by George Hoffmann, Mr. Hoffmann's son. Theodore Hoffmann (another son) was in business with his father but later moved to Gillespie and opened a shop of his own. William then joined the business and "carried on" after his father's death.

Albert Gueir, better knwon as "Old Albert", the village cobbler and a native of Switzerland who never quite mastered the English language, took special care of the "soles and heels" of Dorchester. He passed away in 1920 and is buried in the Bunker Hill cemetery.

The Hargrave and Lewis Lumber Company building originally stood west of the Brick Saloon. It was enclosed on the north by a high, red board fence. Joe Walker was the first manager, but later when it was moved over the present location of the Clarence Nitz home, Mr. Wm. Henrichs was then employed by the company as manager. The Alexander Lumber Company purchased it later and continued to own it for the remainder of its existence or until about 1930, with Mr. Henrichs as manager.

Roy Dillard's first general store stood north of Maxeiner's Wagon Shop on what is now the site of the home of Clarence Nitz. It was destroyed by fire about 1904. The second store was built where the home of Mr. and Mrs. Horace Baldridge is now located. It remained here operating under the firm name of "The Hustler Company" for several years. Mrs. Zoda Dilliard had the building torn down in 1929 and the materials used for remodeling here home. Mr. Dilliard was also a printer.

Mr. Henry F. Henrichs was another printer of early years. The paper he published ws called "The Golden Dawn." He and his wife (nee Winnie Masters) later moved to Litchfield, Illinois, and established "The House of Sunshine." Their chief publication now is "The Sunshine Magazine" which has a wide circulation.

Beer and oil products were brought into Dorchester by wagon from Gillespie. Mr. Charles Johnson of Gillespie was the saleman for the Standard Oil Company and the driver of the team that pulled the wagon. Mr. John Redolfi, also of Gillespie, was the beer distributor at this time andhe, together with Lee Hurtt, Lee Tate and others, delivered the beer also by team and wagon.

The Tuberosa Tavern was orginally built and stood for many years south and west of the elevator. It was knwon then as the Exchange Saloon and was operated by Mr. Tremusini. It was moved later to its present location at the end of the spur and has been a saloon, a butcher shop, a barber shop, and is now the only tavern in town. It is owned by Mrs. Lena Tuberosa.

John Nitz had established a trucking business before his call to service during World War I. After serving his country overseas for many months, he returned to his home and again took up this line of work. His business has expanded, and he employs several other drivers in order to give the community the best of service. John Hill, another progressive businessman, also has conducted a trucking line for several years. In connection he runs a feed and grain store which he purchased from the Harry Ruyle estate after Mr. Ruyle's death. He is assisted by his wife Alvera and son George.

Phillip William Maxeiner moved his family to Dorchester from Palmyra in 1880. In his boyhood he learned the wagon-making trade and soon after moving to Dorchester, he built a wagon shop where he made wagons and sold them to farmers. He was considered an excellent workman and people came many miles to buy his wagons. This wagon shop was a two-story building near the corner of Hayden and Garrison streets. The wagons were made on the second floor and lowered to the street level through a trap door using block and tackle. Mr. Maxeiner followed this trade until 1907 when he went into the general merchandise business in partnership with his two sons, William and Alex. A large 1 1/2 story building was erected on the corner of Hayden and Garrison. In this store they handled everything the farmers and townspeople needed such as food, clothing, farm machinery, hardware supplies, ice cream and soda fountain products. An extension was built to the wagon shop, making a warehouse to handle the farm machinery. When the town of Wilsonville was being built, Maxeiners ran a delivery wagon to supply the people of that town with their needs. Later a branch store was opened in Wilsonville which Alex managed the later part of his life.

On Good Friday of 1944, the general merchandise store burned to the ground. The fire was started from a spark from a barn burning in the neighborhood. Nothing was saved. Later that same year, William Maxeiner built a small store on the site of the large store using the millinery shop as part of the new building. He sold canned goods, ice cream and sundry items. For many years the newspaper agency was handled by the Maxeiner families. William's son, Leland, worked in the general store the early part of his life. Then in 1938, he built a grease rack in the warehouse and started a business greasing cars and changing oil. He later expanded his business and built a new block building across the street from the general store which he moved into and opened for business January 2, 1942. Thus, three generations of Maxeiners have been in business in Dorchester. In 1875, the general merchandise store, owned by Ferd Meyer, burned down with no insurance. By means of money loaned by local citizens and farmers about the village, the store was rebuilt and business resumed.

In later years, the Dorchester Elevator was added. This was accomplished by the purchase of a large hay warehouse located at the railroad which the firm had remodeled to handle, clean, and ship grain. The elevator was later sold to a local group of farmers, and operated as the Dorchester Cooperative Elevator.

Coronet Band

The Dorchester Coronet Band was organized quite early and existed many years. It was very popular not only in Dorchester, but in nearby towns. It traveled by means of the trains or the "Band Wagon" to entertain at festivals, picnics, or to march in parades. Later, together with the I.O.O.F. Lodge, the band sponsored all-day picnics and platform dances here. IT disbanded about 1916. The bandstand stood in the Railroad Park and around it was the scene of many ice cream socials, band concerts, etc. It was purchased by Bert Clark and used for building purposed on his home.

First Marriage

The first marriage was that of a Mr. Duncan and Miss S. Grant.


A Methodist church ws erected in 1868 and the first preacher was Rev. Morris.

A Christian church was erected in 1874 and the first minister was Rev. David Davis. Later, the Rev. James Mastrs held this postion for 32 years. Prior to the erection of these houses of worship, union services were held in a hall, owned by Mr. Hayden, which stood where Orville Thode's home is now located. Later, a small church was built south and west of the Christian Church by Mrs. Mary Luken of the Church of Christ denomination.


The first schoolhouse was built in 1869, and the first teacher was James Ayres. This building was burned to the ground in 1903. A new building was erected and by donations it was possible to place a large entertainment hall above the two school rooms.

In the early days, it was difficult for most boys and girls of rural areas to attend high school or other institutions of higher learning. Therefore, some of the village schools with two or more rooms, undertook to do some creditable work beyond the 8th grade, and Dorchester was one of them. This was about the years of 1910, 1911 and 1912. This building is now the Village Hall and houses the fire engine. The school was closed in 1959, and the children are now transported by bus to Gillespie, as this had been part of Community Unit District 7 since 1949.

Telephone System

Early in the 1900's, a few of the citizens and neighboring farmers decided to organize a telephone system for easier communication. The central office was located in a small building on the corner east of Meyer's Implement building (later Meyer's Garage and then Heyen Bros. Garage). The Dorechester Telephone Company served the community for both local and long distance calls until 1958 when the Midland Telephone Company purchased it and installed the dial system to replace the battery type wall phone.

Coal Mines

With the sinking of Mine #4 in 1917 by the Superior Coal Co. at Wilsonville, only about two miles away, Dorchester was due to expand. Rice and Schmidt, realtors, purchased a track of land just south of the Big Four railroad tracks from Mr. and Mrs. Charles Schwitzer and opened up a new addition. Lots were sold rapidly and several new homes were erected. Coal miners were especially attracted to this project, for it was of great convenience to them due to road conditions at that time.


About the middle of January 1923, the Illinois Light and Power Company introduced electricity into Dorchester. Now the oil lamps and other crude necessities were replaced by modern means of lighting and other electrical appliances. Street lights were installed making the village a more attractive locality for business and homes.


The newspaper agency in Dorchester is managed by George Hill, who has been the distributor of the Alton Evening Telegraph since 1955 when David Heyen resigned the position. When Mr. William Maxeiner became ill in August 1958, "Georgie" assumed the job of distributing the Illiois State Journal, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.


The Dorchester State Bank was located in the building now owned by William Heyen just west of his implement business. This was the outgrowth of a small banking business previously carried on by F & T Meyer and Company to accommodate the people of the community. The first and only day-light holdup took place in June 1927 when two masked bandits entered the bank. After relieving Mrs. Rust, the assistant cashier, of approximately $2,000, they advised her not to worry assuring her that they were certain it was completely covered by insurance.

The bank closed its doors about 1931. Originally, the bank building was built by Louis Weidner and operated as a confectionery store by him and his son, Fred. When he decided to quit business, Mr. and Mrs. John Walton and daughter Gladys took it over and continued for a short while. Later this building served as a saloon operated by Mr. Maghetti and Mr. Morasso, then Ernest Stephani. Mr. Stephani sold out to James Tuberosa who later moved the business to its present location.


Prior to 1916, the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad Company operated three coal mines in the Gillespie-Benld area. These mines were known to us as Superior Coal Copany Mines, a subsidiary of the Chicago Northwestern Railroad. The general public was probably never fully aware that the Superior Coal Company was a noncommercial coal producer, supplying coal to the Chicago Northwestern Railroad for their stations, repair shops and locomotives.

The production of coal at their three mines was not sufficient to meet their needs. The company went on record to sink and operate a fourth mine which would be known to them as Superior Coal Mine #4. The site selected was in Dorchester Township in the north central portion. Near and to the north of the proposed mine site there came to be a town which for some time was without a name.

In 1916 and 1917, construction began in all phases; the sinking of the main shaft, aire shaft, the reservoir and, most needed at this time to get supplies to the mine site, the railroad. The first supplies to arrive at the mine coming by horse and wagon from the Chicago Northwestern depot at Benld, was driven by a Gillespie teamster, Mr. Frank Vanatta.

The company had a large two-story building erected which became known as the Boarding House, along with several dwelling houses for the workers. For several years the boarding house was managed by Mrs. Burton. The workers and their families were from every country in Europe, except Spain, Norway and Sweden.

One day a worker paused and asked, "What are we going to name this town?" President Wilson was in office, thus the town ws then and there named Wilson until 1919, when it was incorporated and the name expanded to Wilsonville. John Picco was the first mayor.

The first fatality at the mine while digging the main shaft, was Mr. Joseph Cahagan Sr., who fell from a scaffold and plunged 87 feet down the shaft to his death.

On March 11, 1932, the Wilsonville Volunteer Fire Department was organized. Louis "Skinny" Pellegrini was the secretary.

The year 1937 the Wilsonville Mine #4 had a sit-down strike which termed unusual because it was staged underground where they remained for nine days, protesting working conditions and making demands. This was the first strike conducted in this manner anywhere in the world.


©Genealogy Trails