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This enterprising town is in the northeast corner of Logan County, at the intersection of the Chicago, Alton & St. Louis and Illinois Midland Railroads. The State survey shows few places higher than the site of this city. It is about midway between the cities of Chicago and St. Louis, and is only ten miles from the geographical center of the state.
Among the earliest settlers in this part of the county were the Hoblits, Turners, Druleys, Bevans and Downeys. These were located in the immediate vicinity of the present city, while to the east were the Foggs. and Tuttles; to the north the McFarlands and Kenyons; to the west the Haweses, and to the south the Larisons, Barrs and others. These pioneers generally settled near the timber, the majority of them being in the county at the time of the "deep snow." But few prairie farms in this vicinity were cultivated before 1835; but it was not long after, until a comfortable farm-house began to appear here and there, and the rich prairie soil began to yield to the cultivation of the more adventurous settlers, who were beginning to discover its fertility and ease of cultivation, compared to the timber lands. It is a curious fact, and seems wonderful to the present generation that all early settlers preferred the timber to the prairie. For purposes of shelter and fuel this was a wise step, and can be readily accounted for but for cultivation the purpose is not so apparent. However, these brave old pioneers, coming from a timbered country, and being accustomed from their infancy to see "clearings," adopted the same plan here for a home, and for several years hardly thought of the prairies, save as a pasture. One by one ventured upon them, however, and no sooner was their productiveness a fact, and their cultivation feasible, than they were rapidly occupied, and are now the finest farms in the county.
The early settlers of this part of the county, well remember the days of Abraham Lincoln, David Davis, and others of like prominence, when on their horseback journeys to and from the, various courts in the interior part of the state. When going, from Springfield to Bloomington, these two named almost always stopped at the house of Samuel Hoblit, one of the earliest residents in this part of the county, which at that time and until 1845 was a portion of DeWitt County. At this date, Pekin was the chief market. Springfield was the first post-office for this locality ; afterward, Bloomington or Pekin, and almost cotemporary the small town of Waynesville in DeWitt County, one of the oldest in this part of the state. A demand for it nearer market and better shipping facilities was being felt, and to aid in the hope for the fulfillment of these wants, the survey of the Chicago & Alton Railroad was made. This road gave activity to these desires, and no sooner was the survey fixed than the location of a town in this section of the country was agitated. The town of Mt. Hope, a few miles northeast of the site of Atlanta, was staked out, but being off the railroad was abandoned. It is now the farm of Marion McCormick. New Castle, to the southeast, had become quite a village, but, for the same reason, was abandoned on the survey of Atlanta, and became incorporated therein, the majority of its residents moving to the new town. The Baptists had built a house of worship there, and some trade was established at this date - 1853. Early in this year, R. T. Gill, then a resident of Pekin, entered the land on which the city of Atlanta now stands, at one dollar and twenty-five cents per acre. It was then assessed at twelve hundred dollars. The assessed value now is nearly a half million. On the 23d of June, he offered the lots at public auction, and by a liberal policy secured a large sale, and before the close of the season, fifteen or twenty buildings were ready for occupancy. The first of these was built by R. T. Gill, and occupied the present site of a meat market, near the corner of Vine and Railroad streets. The freight house was erected by the railroad company about the same time, and shortly after a passenger depot.
When the town was surveyed, it received the name of Xenia. This name was suggested by Mrs. James Downey, in remembrance of her former home in Xenia, Ohio. On application for a post-office, it was ascertained that an office by that name already existed in the state, and the founders of the town changed it to Hamilton, in honor of Col. L. D. Hamilton. Applying the second time for a post-office, they met with the same difficulty, and to avoid having a town and post-office of different names, a third name was chosen. Mr. R. T. Gill had some time previously spent a portion of a year in Atlanta, Georgia, and remembering the beauty of that city, suggested that name. As no post-office of that name existed in Illinois, that appellation was adopted. Several persons yet hold deeds of lots in the town of Xenia.
For several years following, the history of Atlanta is one of unprecedented growth and prosperity. Stores, shops and dwellings were rapidly erected schools and churches were established, and the highest hopes of the founders were being speedily realized. By the close of 1854, the town contained about five hundred people, and nearly a hundred houses. The yrain trade was assuming vast proportions, and, indeed, within a few years Atlanta was the largest grain market on this railroad between the two cities at either extremity.
By an act of the legislature, approved February 14, 1855, the town was incorporated. Its boundaries then embraced, by that charter, the east half of the northwest quarter, and west half of the northeast quarter of section. twenty, in all one hundred and sixty acres. The same charter provided for the election of a board of five trustees. Before, the incorporation act, and when there were no village officers to execute the law, a number of the citizens organized a company known as the "Big Grove Rangers," whose object was to secure and bring to justice all violators of the law. The organization did effective work, and kept this part of the county comparatively y free of outlaws.
During the year 1855, no western town eclipsed Atlanta in its growth. Until this date, the buildings, though of wood, were commodious and ample for the wants of trade - but a necessity for a more substantial class was becoming apparent, and early in the year the first brick building in town was erected. It stood on the corner of Vine and Railroad streets, and is yet used and known as the Atlanta House. It was opened on July 4, 1855. During the early summer, one hundred houses were "raised" in two weeks, and before the close of the season one hundred and fifty-five buildings were added to the already conspicuous town. In August, the Logan County Forum, an enterprising and well-edited weekly newspaper, was established by Mr. S. B. Dugger. About the same time the town was visited by the editor of the Springfield Register , who thus wrote of Atlanta to his paper:
"Two years ago there was not a building in the place or within a mile of it. Now the village numbers two hundred and sixty houses, and one thousand inhabitants. The buildings are all good, many of them large and splendid, and all painted. The men appeared energetic, selfconfident and intelligent."
This same summer, the Atlanta Seminary was established. The old seminary building was built in 1853, when there were not more than twenty buildings in town. The Illinois Cross Railroad was also incorporated; but the failure to act promptly in this matter caused its construction to be defeated at the time.
During the next summer the important buildings erected were H. Armington's brick block, the Logan House, by G. A. Colton, Dills & Howser's warehouse, and the large frame building, on what is now the Post-office block. None of these remain save the Logan (Grant) House, each succumbing to the ravages, of the fire-fiend. In the spring of this year, T. N. Gill & Co. opened a bank, which they conducted some time, and retiring from the business, were succeeded by David Kern & Co., who were in turn succeeded by Dills, Kern & Co., who conducted the business until 1866, when it passed into the hands of Frank Hoblit and his brothers. In 1875, they changed the bank into a National Bank, and have since been managing it as such. It has a capital of $50,000, and a surplus of over $10,000. The Hoblit family has been largely identified with the moneyed institutions of Atlanta, and as the reader will observe in the biography of the family, is among the oldest settlers in this part of the country.
A steady advancement marked the next year. which continued uninterrupted several years. In 1861, an act relating to the advancement of agricultural societies passed the State Legislature, which gave aid to the Atlanta Union Central Agricultural Society, which held its first meeting ill the fall of 1860. It is one of the best agricultural societies in this portion of Illinois, and since its incorporation has held annually an excellent fair.
Not long after this date the war of the rebellion broke out, and a call for troops was the result. The Seventh and Eighth Regiments of Illinois Infantry were each mustered into service the same day, the 25th of April, 1861. In the former of these two regiments, Atlanta was well represented. Company E, the first in the state to report for duty at Camp Butler, contained eighty-five men from Atlanta, and Company D had twenty-nine privates, while two companies contained four others. Of the officers in this regiment, seven were from Atlanta. The Thirty-eighth Infantry had sixty men in Company E, three in Company B, and seven commissioned officers. In the One hundred and sixth there were sixty-eight men in Company E, seven scattering, and six officers. The Second Cavalry was furnished with nineteen privates and three officers from Atlanta, and in the Forty-fourth and Sixty-sixth were found quite a number. As the war progressed, these officers were promoted, while their places were filled from the rank of the privates. Of those who enlisted from this town, all but one or two honorably acquitted themselves, and all those who survived the conflict came home with an untarnished record, while in many a southern field, and in many an unknown grave, there sleep in quiet rest the remains of many of these brave men who were willing to lay their lives on their country's altar in her defense.
The city has at different times suffered disastrously from fire. In 1857, a fire destroyed the Atlanta House, and in 1865, laid in ashes all the buildings between Armington's block and Arch street. This same year another equally disastrous fire destroyed other buildings in the central part of town, at which time the town records were wholly destroyed. At later dates Armington's block, Beath & Hoose's manufactory and planinmill, Dills & Howser's warehouse were destroyed; and on July 7, 1867, Mix & Co.'s hardware store, and other adjacent buildings, suffered a like fate. These losses have taught the citizens a severe lesson. The buildings burned were almost all wooden structures, which have been replaced by commodious brick houses, which of themselves will serve as an excellent safeguard against this element.
Until 1866, Mr. Harvey Turner was almost the only person who maintained that good brick could be made from prairie soil. That year, however, a company representing a capital stock of $2,000 began operations, and continued the manufacture of brick two years. Among the more prominent buildings erected in that time as monuments of this industry, was the Union Hall block, it being the first of their work. The manufacture is yet carried on in several places, generally along the creek, or in the edge of the timber.
In 1867, a company was formed for the purpose of sinking a coal shaft. The boring for coal began November 26, and after several attempts reached a good vein of coal, at a depth of two hundred and forty-five feet. This is the same vein of coal now mined by the Lincoln Coal Company, and underlies several counties, at a very uniform depth. Had the company continued their operations, a good article of coal would have rewarded their efforts. The company received its charter in 1869, and is yet in existence, but has sunk no shaft.
All these years the town had been under the control of the village trustees, five in number. The population had increased to more than a thousand persons, and the advisability of a city government was considered by the citizens. The incorporation act, as a town, was passed by the legislature, February 24, 1855, and on April 2, the first board of trustees was elected. It consisted of the following persons - A. N. Dills, A. K. Martin, William P. Hunt, William S. Leonard, and Cornelius Lambert. R. T. Gill was chosen president of the board, which met on the 7th, and appointed J. Henry Ball, clerk; B. H. Dunagan, constable, and H. Armington, street commissioner. This form of government was used until 1869, when a city charter was obtained, on March 8, of that year, and on the 16th the question was submitted to a vote of the people. One hundred and seventy-three votes were cast in favor of a city organization, nineteen against; seven votes were cast against the city charter. This still left a majority of one hundred and forty-seven -votes in favor of the move. On the 23d of the same month, the election for city officers was held, at which time a Mayor, a City Clerk, a City Marshal, a Treasurer, an Attorney, an Asssessor and Collector, one Justice, a Street Commissioner, and a City Surveyor were elected. As many readers of these pages will desire to see a complete list of the city's officers from that date to this, the list is here given, with each year of servitude.
1869-Mayor, Samuel H. Fields; clerk, J. Henry Ball; marshal, J. B. Ransel; treasurer, L. James; assessor and collector, S. D. Fisher; attorney, W. E. Dir, also elected surveyor; street commissioner, J. Frinfrock. Aldermen: First ward, W. P. Hunt; second, George Esterbrook; third, E. Stuart.
1870-Mayor, G. 1. Harry; clerk, Arthur Paullin; assessor and collector, C. T. Rock; treasurer, L. James; street commissioner, Dietrich Martin; marshal, Charles Blessing. Aldermen: First ward, Andrew Turner; second, R. A. Super; third, B. Stuart.
1871-Mayor, Benjamin Bean; clerk, Arthur Paullin; assessor and collector, G. L. Parker; street commissioner, Hiram Lawrence; magistrate, J. Henry Ball; marshal, Charles Blessing. Aldermen: First ward, Seth Turner; second, Thomas Camerer; third, S. D. Fisher.
1872-Mayor, William P. Hunt; clerk, Andrew P. West - marshal, L. C. Lambert; street commissioner, Hiram Lawrence ; assessor and collector, S. S. Keigwin Aldermen: First ward, Seth Turner; second, John M. Gallon; third, Edward B. Beath.
1873-Mayor, E. Stuart; clerk, Andrew P. West; justice, J. Henry Ball; assessor and collector, S. S. Keigwin; marshal, L. C. Lambert; street commissioner, Hiram Lawrence. Aldermen: First ward; Seth Turner; second, Solomon Morris; third, F. J. Fields.
1874-Mayor James Shores; clerk, William H. Mason; marshal, C. Hoblit; assessor and collector, S. S. Keigwin ; street commissioner, Hiram Lawrence. Aldermen: First ward, Seth Turner; second, Frank Hoblit; third, E. E. Beath.
1875-Mayor, Andrew P. West; clerk, B. A. Field; marshal, L. C. Lambert; street commissioner, H. Lawrence. Aldermen: First ward, J. G. Reise; second, Thomas Worthington; third, R. D. Kesler, elected at a second election, the vote at the first being a tie.
1876-Mayor, Benjamin Bean; clerk, M. H. C. Young; marshal L. C. Lambert; street commissioner, Scott Martin. Aldermen : First ward, Q. McKinon ; second, H. C. Hawes; third, E. E. Beath.
1877-Mayor, P. R. Marquart; clerk, M. H. C. Young; magistrate, Edmund Hill ; marshal, John Becker; street commissioner, Hiram Lawrence. Aldermen: First ward, J. S. Perriton; second, Thomas Camerer; third, Elias Harness.
At the same time the city charter was granted, the school, which had been in the hands of the town authorities, was organized under the state school law, and a board of directors, or inspectors, was elected to take charge of the affairs of the district. This form of management yet prevails, and has done very much toward the present town schools.
Atlanta contains about fifteen hundred inhabitants. The trade of the town is principally with the surrounding farmers, whom the town people furnish the necessaries of life, and in turn are furnished other equally needed necessaries by this class of citizens. The majority of the business houses are of brick, and in them will be seen excellent stocks of goods. There are two mills and two elevators. These latter ship on an average forty car-loads of grain per month, principally to the Chicago market. The Illinois Midland Railroad was completed in the autumn of 1872, and crosses the Chicago & Alton here, giving the town a northern and southern outlet, as well as an eastern and western. Its advantages are certainly of the best, and it only remains for its citizens to improve them to secure one of the best towns in Central Illinois.
The old seminary building was erected early in 1853, when the whole number. of houses in town did not exceed twenty. This part of the county was, however, quite. populous, and at that time was almost always known as the "Four by Six." It had been obtained from DeWitt County, and contains twenty-four sections, four wide and six in length; hence the name.
A very good school was maintained in the village from its earliest existence. In February, 1855, the Atlantic Seminary was chartered, and a school of higher order immediately opened. This was still in the old frame building, which occupied the most eligible site in town. The first board of trustees were Samuel Bevan, Samuel Foster, James Tuttle, A. C. Rankin and R. T. Gill. This board had full power to confer academic degrees, erect buildings, purchase land, appoint teachers, regulate the course of study, etc. It was especially provided that the school should not be made denominational, and if in the opinion of the board its interests could be advanced by converting it into a town school, the board could do so. The stock in the seminary was divided into shares of twenty dollars each, each share being entitled to one vote, and each stockholder liable to a tax of one dollar per share to pay debts. The first instructor was Rev. L. Foster. He was succeeded by Messrs. Atkinson and West. In May, 1856, Rev. W. M. Guilford took charge, and an era of prosperity at once began. The four departments were all occupied. The course of instruction was comprehensive and thorough, and for two years the school's progress was constant. In 1858, it was decided by the board of trustees that the interest of the town children would he better served if the school was placed immediately under the control and maintenance of the town. Mr. A. Briggs was chosen principal this year, and had about the same number of assistants heretofore employed. The school was conducted under this management until 1869, when, at die organization of the city government, the school was also organized under the state school law as a graded school. The district was enlarged to include territory one mile each way from town, and a board of school directors were elected, who assumed entire control of the school. In 1870, the old seminary building was found inadequate for the accommodation of the school population, and measures were adopted to erect a larger building. The old seminary was removed to a corner of the lot, and used until the new one was completed, when it was taken to the farm of Augustus Reise, where it yet remains. The new building is three stories in height above the basement. It contains ten schoolrooms, a spacious, hall and an office. The building is surmounted by a tasty cupola, in which a large town clock having four dials is placed. These can be seen from any portion of the city, and are a great convenience. The strokes of the clock can be distinctly heard in any part of town. This adornment cost $800 - raised by contributions. The contract price of the building was $24,485; to this, $500 was afterward added. The entire cost, including the clock and furniture, was $28,500, for which outlay the city of Atlanta has one of the best schools in the. county. Nine graduates have finished the complete course here. The present principal is Mr. J. S. Cole.
The present Baptist Church of Atlanta was established in 1830, under the name of the Big Grove Baptist Church, by the Rev. M. Mann and Rev. H. Bowman. There were fourteen members at that time, from whom John Hoblit was chosen deacon, and Samuel Hoblit, clerk. Rev. Bowman was called as pastor, remaining with the congregation six or seven years. In 1839, the society built a house of worship in New Castle, and changed the name to the New Castle Baptist Church. They were then under the charge of Rev. J. D. Newel. From this date until 1855, the pastors were Revs Johnathan Merriam, Joel Hulsey, Lewis Morgan, N. Alwood, H. D. Mason, Z. Hall, and A. S. Dennison. About the close of Rev. Dennison's pastorate, they sold the church in New Castle, and removed their place of worship to Atlanta, and there assumed there present name. Here they erected a house of worship capable of seating five hundred persons. In June, 1856, they called the Rev. E. J. Thomas, who had charge of the congregation eleven years. In 1872, the church was destroyed by fire, while Rev. Cole was pastor. Since that time, they have met for worship in the Congregational church. The present pastor, Rev. J. S. Primm, entered on his duties September 30, 1877.
The Congregational church was formed from the Mt. Hope Church, in 1840. Until 1853, they were served by different pastors, prominent under whose pastorate the membership was greatly increased. In 1853, Rev. S. Foster was called, and that year the place of worship was removed to Atlanta, where they occupied Seminary Hall until the completion of their church, in 1857. Rev. Drake was pastor here for some time, and was succeeded by Rev Hubbard, the last regular pastor.
The Methodist Church was organized as a class, in the house of John Satoris, in 1854. There were then twenty-three members. The organization was effected under the labors of Rev. James Newbegin, assisted by Rev. John Preshaw. One year later, the organization was perfected by Revs. Benjamin Bartholow and William McVeigh. James M. Cantral, H. Maltby, Ezra Kenyon, A. J. Ludlow, A. J. Corthon and John Pallady were elected trustees. The erection of a house of worship was at once begun, and dedicated, in 1856 or '57, by Rev. Jonathan Stamper. Since then the following persons have filled the pulpit of this church as pastors: Revs. Benjamin Bartholow, A. Semple, Preston Wood, G. R. S. McElfresh, A. Semple, James Shaw, C. D. James, John S. Barger, D. W. English, J. B. Seymour, C. A. Obenshain, G. W. Bates, J. Miller, and the present pastor, Rev. J. C. Keller. During Rev. James Shaw's pastorate, the house of worship was badly damaged by fire; but it has since been repaired, and the congregation is now in a prosperous condition.
The Christian Church was organized, in 1855, by Rev. George Minier, with twenty-four members. The next year, they erected their present house of worship, the steeple of which becoming unsafe, in 1869, was torn down that year, and replaced by the present one. Their second pastor was Rev. W. M. Guilford, whose successors have been Revs. Leroy Skelton, John Lindsey, J. W. Wonser, Samuel Lowe, T. T. Holton, and the present pastor, R. D. Cotton. The congregation has prospered well all these years, and is now in excellent condition.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was organized about 1856, but, the denomination having three or four houses of worship within a few miles of town, no building was erected in Atlanta until 1866. This building they yet occupy. For several years, Rev. Joseph Roach had charge of this church, during whose ministry the house of worship was completed. Rev. Bell afterward preached some time, but, the people being unable to support a regular minister, none have been employed since.
The Presbyterian Church has been organized several years, but, prior to 1867, worshiped in a hall rented for that purpose. That year they completed their house of worship, a comfortable brick structure, which they now occupy. Rev. Crissman was called to the pulpit of this church, which he filled very acceptably several years. He was succeeded by Rev. A. Bartholomew, who remained five years. Since his time, the congregation has been without a pastor, being unable to support one. They still maintain occasional services, and sustain an excellent Sunday-school..
The city has one Masonic and one Odd Fellow Society, each in good condition. In addition to these it has the Agricultural Society, already noticed, and the Atlanta Anti-Thief Society. This latter was organized in 1854, for a purpose aptly set forth in the preamble: "The citizens of Atlanta and vicinity have for a number of years been annoyed and subject to trouble and loss from thieves. Therefore, we, the people thereof, have resolved to form an Association for the better protection of our property." The Society was a great value to its members and the residents about town in bringing to justice some of the worst, thieves the country. In 1869 the laws of the Society were revised and printed, and more members added, until the number reached one hundred and three. At that date they had reported thirty-nine horses and mules returned to their owners, out of forty-two stolen. while a vast amount of merchandise had also been recovered. At one time nearly three thousand dollars worth of dry goods were stolen from the store of L. Eichburgh & Brothers, which was all recovered after a spirited chase, as well as the wagon and team of the thieves. Sixteen thieves have been captured. Of these, six broke jail, nine were convicted and sent to prison, and one suicided. The membership of the Society is now about seventy-five. The officers are John E. Hoblit., President; S. H. Field, Vice-President; Frank Hoblit, Treasurer and Secretary; Smith Stroud, Captain; and Abel Larrison, Lieutenant. The very existence of this Society, its decisive mode of action, and determination to find the outlaw, is one of the strongest safeguards the city possesses.
The first paper in Atlanta has already been noted, viz., the Logan County Forum . It was published only a few years, and the enterprise abandoned by the proprietor. Afterward one or two other papers were started, but none continued successfully save the Atlanta Argus . It was established in May, 1869, by Albion Smith, who at first printed it in Bloomington. In 1870, F. B. Mills, present proprietor of the Lincoln Herald, became a partner, and under this management the paper was conducted until tile spring of 1873, when they purchased the Lincoln Herald and removed to Lincoln, leaving the Argus to be managed by A. W. Briggs. In July he purchased the paper, and conducted it until August, 1874, when he sold to the present editor and proprietor, Mr. George L. Shoals, who is making a paper of the Argus equal to any in Logan County. He also publishes the Minier News, established in 1875, at Minier, Tazewell County. He has just established the Logan County Bee, at Lincoln, an excellent eight-page paper, whose especial feature is a correspondence each week from every township in the county.
About the year 1872, various funds arising from concerts and other public exercises were set aside for the purchase of books for a public library. The library so formed was kept in Mr. Bean's store, and aumented from the same source until 1875, when the Library Association was formed under the general State law. The books were removed to the Argus office, and the editor, George L. Shoals, made Librarian. Since that date the fund received is about $100 per annual out of which the Librarian is paid $25, and the remainder is used to purchase books. There are now 500 volumes in the library. It is open every Wednesday and Saturday, free to all residents.