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Bloomington Furniture Manufacturing Company. This company has about sixty-five men in its shops, and furnishes employment to over one hundred men, women and children in this city who take materials to their homes; while it sends abroad enough more to different reformatory institutions to keep busy about seventy-five persons.
The work sent out of the factory is the caning of the seats and backs of chairs, of which this firm makes about fifty different patterns. It manufactures over thirty-five thousand chairs per annum, consuming about two hundred and fifty thousand feet of black wal. out lumber, much of which comes from the groves of McLean: County. Its capital is $60,000. This company is of great assistance to the laboring people of Bloomington, among whom it disburses about $100 per day. Though the wages paid for outside work seems small, it must be remembered that most of those employed have no other avenue of employment open, and would otherwise remain idle. The President of the company is Peter Whitmer ; Secretary and Manager, I. P. Fell, who has been in office ever since 1873. The Directors are P. Whitmer, K. H. Fell, E. B. Steere, B. F. Hoopes, P. Folsom, C. Wakefield and I. R. Krum. This company has been a success from the start, and appears to demonstrate Bloomington's ability to carry on manufacturing at a profit.
The People's Bank is another successful company, which has built one of the finest buildings in the city. It has stood all the financial storms of the past ten years, and is strong in the confidence of the community. Peter Whitmer is the President, and William Ollis, Cashier.
The National Bank of Bloomington was organized soon after the passage of the national banking act, on the 23d of January, 1865, and has been in operation ever since. It is the successor of the Bank of Bloomington, which was organized in 1857, an institution with a proud record, having withstood the severe crash in 1861, and maintained its notes at par with gold. Its present President is D. M. Funk; Cashier, E. Thorpe. Among the stockholders of this bank in the past we find the names of Isaac Funk, David Davis, J. H. Robinson, W. W. Orme and others well known in Bloomington history. Mr. Thorpe has been its Cashier ever since its organization as a national bank. Capital stock of the bank, $150,000 ; surplus and undivided profits, about $195,000, making the entire banking capital $345,000.
The National State Bank was started in the summer of 1878. Capital, $50,000. President, Frank Hoblitt; Vice President, Jacob Funk; Cashier, A. B. Hoblitt.
These three banks are incorporated, while the McLean County Bank, and that of T. J. Bunn & Co., are private banks or partnerships. The entire banking capital of the city is estimated at nearly $1,000,000.
We can add to these the Bloomington Stove Company, which was organized in 1870, and has been one of the most successful institutions of the place. Its President is Dwight Harwood; Superintendent, W. P. Brophy. Its stoves are sold all over the West, being of the most approved patterns, of one hundred and fifteen different styles. The company has in its employ from thirty to sixty persons, according to the season. Its factory is located in the northwest part of the city, in the township of Normal. The Empire Machine Works are also within the limits of the town of Normal, though generally classed as belonging to Bloomington.
The Bloomington Gas-light and Coke Company was incorporated in 1855 ; works were soon erected, and by the year 1857, a street was lighted extending all the way
from the Illinois Central to the Chicago & Alton Depot, the latter then being near the machine-shops, north of the crossing of Chestnut street. There were also a few lamps around the public square. In 1867, the gas works at the corner of Market and Oak streets were abandoned, and entirely new ones built at the present location. Gen. A. Gridley had then become sole owner. de constructed very permanent buildings, extended the gas mains in every direction, and used every honorable means to induce the City Council to establish lamps on all well-settled streets. There are now about twenty miles of streets upon which there are gas-mains, and the city possesses about four hundred street lamps. Bloomington is a remarkably well lighted city.
Few of the rising generation have any idea of the excitement that ran through the country at the time of the “gold fever" of 1849 and 1850. For a long series of years—more than twelve-the nation had been passing through a period of the most terrible financial depression. Money had become almost an unknown quantity, and people had about settled into despondency, when suddenly the wonderful stories of the gold discoveries in California flashed through the land. As soon as the truth was ascertained, and it was known that immense quantities of gold had been found, and it was seen that a new empire was to be founded on the Pacific Coast, the rush of adventureous spirits was sudden and enormous. Bloomington-always ready to make a move as quick as any other part of the world—sent a large company in the summer of 1849, who, with teams and outfits mostly gathered here, went the whole distance overland-a toilsome, tedious journey of several months duration.
Among those who went in 1849, we have the names of Col. J. H. Wickizer, Levi Hite, Asa Lillie, Solomon D. Baker, Joseph Duncan, Hiram Baker, Samuel Ashton, J. Jackson, John M. Loving, Daniel B. Robinson, John Greenman, S. A. Adams and John Walker. Out of this number there are now living here in Bloomington, Col. J. H. Wickizer, John M. Loving and John Walker. S. A. Adams lives in Missouri ; S. D. Baker in Virginia City, and Joseph Duncan in San Francisco; John Greenman, Capt. D. B. Robinson, Hiram Baker and Levi Hite are dead.
On the first of March, 1850, a very large company left Bloomington for California, made up in part from the adjoining towns. At St. Joseph, Mo., they organized in military shape for protection against Indians ; there were about twenty-five wagons, and nearly one hundred men. Hugh Taylor was chosen Captain. The company had tolerably good luck until they nearly reached the gold-fields, when some of them were destitute, and their teams were badly worn down; but on the whole it was a successful journey.
From Bloomington there were John D. Clark, Green B. Larrison, Lyman Ferre, Carey Barney, M. W. Packard, Hugh Taylor, William Hodge, J. R. Murphy, E. Parke, Robert Barnett, Robert L. Baker, John Owen, Isaac Strain, Dr. G. Elkins, William Elkins, W. P. Withers, T. S. Howard, Jesse Isyrig, W. Isgrig, Elijah Ellis, Lee Allin, F. M. Rock hold, E. Henry. Of these, there are now living in Bloomington or vicinity, G. B. Larrison, Lyman Ferre, M. W. Packard, Isaac Strain, J. R. Murphy, Lee Allin and Robert Barnett. Capt. W. P. Withers lives in Missouri; T. S. Howard in Iowa, and Carey Barney in California. It is a remarkable fact that but two or three of the whole number made even a moderate fortune in California ; but the most of those who
returned to Bloomington have been very successful. These veterans of the plains can tell of some remarkable adventures.
Those who find enough of interest in the state of the weather to furnish daily themes for conversation as they meet casual acquaintances, will do well to read this chapter, and forever after refrain from the common unmeaning remarks they so often drop in regard to the "remarkable weather we are now enjoying.” The “ Deep Snow,” the “Sudden Freeze," and the "Great Hurricane" which the early settlers witnessed stand out in bold relief as the most wonderful phenomena of the times.
The great hurricane came on the 27th day of June, 1827, or, as given by several authorities, on the 19th of June. It struck Old Town Timber with fearful severity, and leveled large tracts of heavy timber. There were then no settlers on the prairie, no villages or cities to be leveled, no church-spires to be demolished, or the record of loss and damage would be larger. Some injury is recorded in Blooming Grove, where small tracts of timber were leveled.
The fall of 1830 or 1831, was remarkably mild. Tobacco sprouts are said not to have been killed until December 2, which, if correct, indicates a wonderful state of affairs, as this plant is one of the most tender raised in this latitude.
December 29, 1830, occurred the heaviest fall of snow ever known in the West The first snow was nearly three feet deep, and there were more than a dozen storms subsequently. The full depth appears to have been about forty inches on a level, and this when several snows had fallen and become so compacted that in many places the crust would bear a man. The deer broke through, and wolves chased and caught them frequently, a very unusual circumstance. It was impossible for the pioneers to travel, and families caught without provisions suffered severely. In some settlements the supply of corn and hay was so small that cattle starved, it being impossible to move food any distance. Much of the stock was kept alive by felling trees, and the stock subsisted on the branches. Most families lived on meal obtained by pounding corn by hand. There were a few of the settlers who were caught away from home, and who nearly lost their lives in the toilsome homeward journeys.
The pioneers in Blooming Grove did not suffer much, but were compelled to keep ipdoors most of the time. Blooming Grove was then old enough to furnish plenty of provisions for such a siege, but those living in detached settlements, particularly new comers in small communities, suffered severely. When the snow went off, after about six weeks of intense cold, the streams were remarkably high, considerably higher, in all probability, than they have ever been since that event. It is probable that a similar winter now would cause immense suffering. Our prairie towns could not obtain coal, or even flour and groceries, as in such a case the railroads would be totally unable to keep open for business.
A few extracts from experiences related in Prof. Duis' “Good Old Times in McLean County" will illustrate the hardships caused by the “ Deep Snow." From Robert Guthrie's statement, page 192, we quote the following:
The winter of 1830–31 is remembered as the winter of the deep snow. Three days before the snow began falling, Mr. Guthrie and Frederick Trimmer started for St. Louis with teams and wagons to haul goods for James Allin, who had opened a small store where Bloomington now is. 'They intended to be gone only ten days or two weeks, but they did not see their
families again for five weeks. They were obliged to leave their goods, wagons and Mr. Guthrie's oxen about fifteen miles the other side of Springfield, and came through with Mr. Trimmer's horses to break the way. During this time, their families were in a state of anxious suspense, and were obliged to live on boiled corn; indeed, during the whole winter, they had very little to eat except pounded meal. During that winter, Mr. Guthrie sent his children to school, though they had to work their way for a mile through snow that reached nearly to their necks ; but when it became packed, they walked over the crust.
From the same work, page 219, we quote the words of one of our pioneers, who is now living in the city:
Jonathan Maxson states that during the winter of the deep snow (1830), he and his brother went out where it did not drift nor blow away and took a careful measurement of the depth of the snow with a stick and found it four feet deep. During the early part of that terrible winter, deer were very numerous, but when the deep snow came they were starved and were hunted by famished wolves and by settlers with snow-shoes until they were almost exterminated. Shortly after the snow fell, Mr. Jesse Hiatt killed a very large deer, which he was unab carry home. He buried it in the snow and covered it with his coat to keep the wolves away. But the snow afterward fell so deep that he was unable to visit the spot for two weeks. At last, he put a harness on one of his horses and went to drag it home. On his return with the deer, he killed three others and attached them also to his horse ; but the load was so hard to drag that he did not return until late at night, when he found the frightened neighbors collected at his house, about to start on a search for him. They had collected on horseback with trumpets and horns and various things with which to make unearthly noises, and were, no doubt, disappointed to find that there was no occasion for their fearful shrieks. The remainder of the night was spent in dressing the deer.
Some of their neighbors caught deer alive by putting on snow-shoes and running them down; but, toward the latter part of the winter, they were so poor and emaciated that they were hardly worth catching.
The fall of meteors November 14, 1836, though not exactly coming under this head, will be mentioned here. It was a wonderful sight. The heavens were full of shooting stars and meteoric phenomena, which, when witnessed by people living in scattered settlements, may well have caused a feeling of awe, wonder and astonishment.
December 14, 1836, occurred a very sudden change of weather. From a mild, thawy condition of the atmosphere, with the thermometer standing about forty degrees above, the change was almost instantaneous. to twenty degrees below zero. The wind came from the northwest, with a howl and a roar, a perfect moving wall vf cold, with its edges apparently square and perpendicular. It traveled at the rate of about thirty miles per hour. People were caught on the prairies at various distances from shelter, and quite a number of persons perished, some of them but a short distance from home. Cattle, hogs, and even wild animals were frozen to death. It is evident, from the accounts we have of the effects of the cold, that the thermometer fell much more than twenty degrees below zero, but we have no records of the degree of cold experienced. In modern times, we have read of ges almost as remarkable, in Iowa and Minnesota, but none that will compare with this for suddenness. The people living in those States call these storms “ blizzards,” a term not invented in 1836. Our sudden freeze must have thrown a chill over the frontier such as we can hardly imagine.
June 23, 1837, a fall of snow surprised our pioneers. It was heavy enough to make the green-leaved trees look white, but no damage resulted.
November 7, 1842, there was another remarkable, sudden freeze, but, while startling in itself, it was not to be compared with its predecessor in 1836.
The year 1844 is known to Western history as the wet season.
It rained nearly all summer, only ceasing late in August, and crops were very light indeed. Traveling was a constant succession of wading and swimming, as most of the streams were destitute of bridges. This was the year when the river was so high at St. Louis, and when the old town of Kaskaskia was nearly ruined by the overflow. Those of our pioneers who remained at home did not suffer particularly, except from the annoyances incident to constant mud and moisture.
One day in 1848, the thermometer was twenty-six degrees below zero, and the day after, thirty below.
The summer of 1854 will long be remembered as the " dry season,” almost as long as that of 1844 will be spoken of for its opposite characteristic. Sugar Creek went entirely dry; wells dried up all over the city; water was purchased by many people, and at one time it began to be feared that Bloomington would not be able to obtain a supply. People traveling through the country often suffered with their teams before they could obtain water, and cattle ran wild with thirst, rushing to the Mackinaw and streams that were not exhausted, like droves of demons. Some of our citizens conceived the idea of artesian wells, and efforts were made in that direction, but none of them gave any encouragement.
January 9, 1856, was remarkably cold, the thermometer being twenty-eight degrees below zero. There were several intensely cold days during the winter, some of them having followed soon after warm weather, and thus causing the death of apple and peach trees all through this region. All the peach-trees were killed down to their roots, and many whole orchards of apple-trees were entirely, others partially, ruined.
The summer of 1858, was another wet season—nearly as bad as that of 1844. McLean County suffered very severely during that summer, as wheat and corn both were injured. Wheat was killed the winter previous, and as at this time, the whole county was raising winter wheat-induced by the high prices of the Crimea war—it happened that great financial distress was caused by the unfavorable yield of both wheat and corn.
June 7, 1859, a severe cold spell formed ice in Bloomington one-eighth of an inch thick. The frost cut all the corn to the ground and killed the young
leaves on hickory and other forest trees. The corn crop was supposed to be ruined, but, fortunately, the weather was so favorable that late-planted corn matured finely. The largest and earliest of the crop was the most injured, that which had just come out of the ground at the time of the frost or that which was only two inches high, came up from the roots again and went forward at once. Some of the early corn was six inches high and
was, of course ruined. Most of the youngest corn that was left to nature came on better than that which was replanted, and there was a fair crop. The year 1863, is noted as the one in which there was frost every month in the
In August, a very heavy frost destroyed much of the corn, and in September, another ruined most of that which had escaped in August. Owing to this cause and the war demand, the price of corn ran up to $1.15 a bushel in Bloomington before the next crop was harvested.
January 1, 1864, occurred a terrible snowstorm. The wind blew a perfect gale from the northwest, and at the same time a heavy fall of light snow filled the air and made travel almost impossible. The thermometer was twenty degrees below. zero during the storm and it continued as cold for the next two days. Cattle and sheep gave