Written by Nancy Piper

The Beginning - 1887

On August 18, 1887, William Twist completed a track of the Santa Fe railroad in what is now present Toluca to link Kansas City to Chicago.  He proposed that it would be a good site for a train stop.  The stop, located 114 miles southwest of Chicago, 40 miles northeast of Peoria and 40 miles northwest of Bloomington, could furnish the needs of farmers who currently had to convey their grain and livestock to distant markets by horse drawn wagons.

First Depot Serving Old Town

A group made up of  Twist and local farmers petitioned the Santa Fe to create a regular train stop with a switch track for loading. The petition was granted.   With the backing of a Chicago firm, an elevator was built and managed by Thomas Colehower of Long Point.  Colehower erected the first house in the portion of present Toluca that is called "Old Town".  

First Elevator - Manager, T.C. Colehower

Next J.P. Mathis, a native of Reading Township in Livingston County, built a stockyard.  By 1889, the area had one or two stores, a blacksmith shop, postoffice, elevator, lumber yard, stockyard and about 100 residents.

East Side of Maple Street - Old Town business district.

The Coal Mines - 1892

In 1892, Charles J.Devlin, who had been the managing head of the opening of the Spring Valley coal mines, turned his attention to Toluca, when after prospecting with Henry Duggan, also of Spring Valley, it was found that coal mines could be developed there.  Three strong veins were discovered and they set out to sink the mines two blocks west of the village.  With the help of Henry J. Miller (his father-in-law and owner of Spring Valley Coal Company), Devlin purchased 11,000 acres of continguous mineral rights for what would become the Devlin Coal Company. The mine laborers at first were Irish, Polish, Serbian, Lithuanian and Italian.  The workers eventually became predominantly Italian.  Each nationality settled in its own section or block of the village.

The Incorporation of Toluca - 1893

By 1893, Toluca was a vital community with four churches, four general stores, a barber shop, butcher shop, rooming house, kindergarten and five taverns in "Old Town". That same year, Toluca was incorporated as a village.  Realizing Toluca's growth potential, William Twist plotted the land across the tracks from the mines, adding 94 blocks to the village.   The first issue of the Toluca Star newspaper was published on Saturday, April 8, 1893 with the announcement of the first sale of lots to take place on April 18 and 19.  Before the sale, Toluca had approximately 300 residents.  Over 200 people arrived by train for the sale and approximately 100 lots were sold at a premium, totaling $30,000.

Toluca Becomes a City - 1894

The residential area developed quickly  with a number of rooming houses added and 200 tenements houses constructed by the Santa Fe.  By 1894, Toluca had a population of 3,500 people and was incorporated as a city.  At that time it was the largest in Marshall County.    Toluca was now calling itself the "New Manufacturing Metropolis".  Eight passenger trains and 30 freight trains stopped daily for fueling and commerce.

 By 1894 the First National Bank of Toluca had all ready been in business for two years and Catharine Fay had built a three story hotel called "Hotel Fay".  The mine was now capable of putting out 1,000 tons of coal per day and there were now approximately 600 men working in the mines during three daytime shifts and one night shift.  There were 25 saloons and William Gooley, the police chief had his hands full providing law and order.

Toluca the City - 1907

By 1907, the population had grown to approximately 6,000 people.  Toluca now had two newspapers, churches and numerous stores.  It had a good grade school with a principal and nine assistants.  The population was largely Italian with a sprinkling of Polish, Lithuanian and other nationalities employed in and around the mines.  The average number of men employed at the mine was 800 and the output was about 380,000 tons per year which was valued at about $450,000.  The average wage paid to the miner was about 75 cents a day.

The End of the Boom - 1924

As suddenly as they began, the mines stopped.  Because of increased cost of operations, decreased demand for coal and local labor disputes, on May 8, 1924 the mines closed.  Within weeks, hundreds left Toluca.  All that remains of a reminder of the mines are the two giant slag piles the local residents call "Jumbos".  The village of Toluca still remains, but now is a quiet little village of about 1400 people.

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