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A Short history of Richmond, Illinois
Richmond, Illinois, is a very small and quaint town on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin. Its population is now around 1,500 but new housing developments will quadruple the number of homes within the next 10 years. It is called “The Village of Yesteryear” because it boasts many Victorian-style homes and an interesting array of antique shops.
William A. McConnell is credited with founding the town of Richmond.
Also known as “The Squire”, McConnell was a 27-year-old carpenter and farmer who lived in Pennsylvania. He dreamed of independence and trekked to the Richmond area on horseback in 1837. In his biography, McConnell stated that there were only two neighbors in the area. He staked a claim for 480 acres of land and bought it when it came to market in 1840 under the Blackhawk Treaty. Family lore says that McConnell spent his first night under an oak tree across the street from what is now Richmond Grade School. That very mature tree is still standing. Bo McConnell, a great-grandson, calls it “the oak tree.” At that time the Richmond area was mostly prairie with patches of oaks and still part of Lake County, Illinois.
In 1838 McConnell and his new wife, Elizabeth, built a 16′ x 18′ log cabin in which his family lived for 15 years. It was located just west of what is now Grace Lutheran Church and it was the first residence built in Richmond Township.
A mill was built on the Nippersink around 1840 and that area is now occupied by Doyle’s restaurant.
In 1852 McConnell built a house in the Greek Revival style across the street from the log cabin. He and his family lived in this house for 20 years raising three sons. In 1872 he donated the house to his son, Juan.
Over time, McConnell bought about 1,400 acres from the government. The city limits were laid out in 1844 and Richmond got its name in a contest to the man who climbed the highest when the new mill was erected. That man was Isaac Reed who chose the name of a village he remembered from his childhood in Vermont.
McConnell had his hands in many local activities. He was on the railroad commission, a legislator in Springfield, an elected commissioner of McHenry County, the first Justice of the Peace of Richmond, its first postmaster and Associate Justice for 16 years. He belonged to the first temperance group in McHenry County.
McConnell opened the first cheese factory about half a mile west of town. The Old Bank building on Broadway was owned by McConnell’s son, George. “That’s Uncle George’s bank. That’s what we would call it,” recalled Bo McConnell, great-grandson of William A. McConnell.
As Richmond was named
Theodore Purdy bought the log house from Charles A. Noyes in 1937. Purdy settled in the village in 1844 with Charles Cotting who settled in Richmond in 1844. Together they built a grist mill at Main & Mill Streets.
A competition was arranged that the person who climbed the highest on the new mill could name the town. Isaac Reed won the contest and named the village after Richmond, Vermont, where he lived as a child.
Richmond is growing
By the mid-1840s, Richmond resembled a small town with a hotel, a sawmill, a wagon maker, a doctor and a lawyer. McConnell built a cheese factory (possibly the first in McHenry County) west of town.
Officially incorporated on September 2, 1872, Dr. Fillmore Bennett was elected the first president of the village. The first principal of the grade school, Fillmore wrote poems and religious hymns. “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” was the most famous.
Railroads appeared in the 1850s. McConnell was one of the railroad directors. The first train crossed the Nippersink in 1855.
Charles DeWitt McConnell donated $10,000 to the village “to be used for the purpose of erecting a village or town hall, the same to be called Memorial Hall, to be used when required by church societies and school functions free of charge, and not to be. used for immoral exhibitions or immoral shows…” Village President, EC Covell, bought the land where Memorial Hall now stands from Charles Kruse who owned the hardware store on the corner in the middle of town at Broadway and Rt. 12. The hardware story later became the Emporium antique store and the “Kruse” name can be seen etched at the top of the front wall today.
Memorial Hall was built in the early 1900s. It contained an auditorium with a balcony and a stage where the JB Rotnour Players performed for many years.
The Richmond Police Department occupied part of the basement along with two jail cells.
Village board meetings were held in Memorial Hall until the new meeting hall was built in 1993. That building is now shared with the police station. This left the hall vacant until Chris Gallagher secured a grant from the Illinois Arts Council in 1992 to create the Nippersink Creative Arts Center. Founding members include Christina Gallagher, Yvonne Cryns, Carolyn Janus, Donna Karolus and Nancy Richardson. Many local groups donated money to the organization. The Creative Arts Center pushed to make Memorial Hall the historically oriented building it is today.
The public library has used the hall since the 1930s. In the 1940s the library moved to part of the pharmacy building on Broadway and Main. But on July 7, 1972 the library moved back into Memorial Hall before moving to its own building in 1990.
In addition to village government work, the Memorial Hall hosted school plays and graduations. Basketball games were played there starting in 1908.
Other basement activities included meetings held by Boy Scouts, American Legion, and a senior citizen group known as the Pioneers. The local polling station was located here.
Richmond Fire Department
Founded in 1926, the first meeting of the Richmond Volunteer Fire Department was held at Memorial Hall and it was led by Mayor JG “Curly” Stevens.
Richmond Post Office
The post office has been operating for over 150 years. Appointed in 1940, William A. McConnell served as the first postmaster for six years. In the early years, settlers in the area found great comfort from the post office that brought news of events from their original hometowns. As late as the 1960s the Chicago Tribune was delivered by the post office. Farmers needed honey bees which were also delivered by the post office and they sent eggs to the big city.
Until 1946 trains brought mail to Richmond. Since 1946 mail has been delivered by trucks. The current postmaster is William L. Schaeppi since 1988.
The new mayor of Richmond, Illinois, is Laurie Olson. Olson’s family has a long history in Richmond. Olson was a homemaker and volunteer member of the fire department before she was elected mayor in 2004.
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