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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 Esteria” because it boasts many Victorian style homes and an interesting array of antique shops.
William A. McConnell is credited with founding the village of Richmond.
Also known as “The Squire”, McConnell was a 27-year-old carpenter and farmer who lived in Pennsylvania. He dreamed of freedom and trekked to the Richmond area on horseback in 1837. In his biography, McConnell said there were two neighborhoods in the area. He laid claim to 480 acres and bought it in 1840 when it came on the market 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 mature tree is still standing. Great grandson Bo McConnell called it “Little Oak”. At that time the Richmond area was mostly prairie with patches of oak trees and was still part of Lake County, Illinois.
In 1838 McConnell and his new wife, Elizabeth, built a 16′ x 18′ log cabin where his family lived for 15 years. It was located just west of what is now Grace Lutheran Church and was the first residence built in Richmond Township.
A mill was built in Nippersink around 1840 and the area 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 raised three sons in this home for 20 years. In 1872 he gave the house to his son John.
Over time, McConnell bought about 1,400 acres from the government. City boundaries were drawn in 1844 and Richmond was named after a contest to see 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 a hand in many local activities. He was on the Railroad Commission, elected a legislator from Springfield, a commissioner of McHenry County, first justice of the peace of Richmond, its first postmaster, and an associate judge for 16 years. He belonged to the first temperance group in McHenry County.
McConnell opened the first cheese factory about a mile and a half west of town. The Old Bank building on Broadway was owned by McConnell’s son George. “It’s Uncle George’s bank. That’s what we call it,” remembers William A. McConnell’s great-grandson Bo McConnell.
How Richmond was named
Theodore Purdy purchased the log house from Charles A. Noyes in 1937. Purdy platted the village in 1844 with Charles Cotting who settled in Richmond in 1844. Together they built a grist mill at Main and Mill Streets.
A competition was organized to see who could climb the highest on the new mill to name the village. Isaac Reed won the contest and named the village after Richmond, Vermont, where he lived as a child.
Richmond grew up
Richmond in the mid-1840s resembled a small town with a hotel, a sawmill, a wagon maker, a doctor and a lawyer. McConnell built a cheese factory (probably the first in McHenry County) west of town.
Officially incorporated on September 2, 1872, Dr. Fillmore Bennett was elected the village’s first president. The first principal of the grad school, Fillmore wrote poetry and hymns. “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” was the most famous.
Railroads made their appearance 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 building a Village or City Hall, to be called Memorial Hall, to be used for the free use of church societies and school functions, and not to be. used for immoral exhibitions or immoral events.” Is done…” The village president, E.C. Covell, purchased what is now Memorial Hall from Charles Crews, who owned a hardware store on the corner of downtown at Broadway and Rt. 12. The hardware story later became the Emporium Antiques Store, and the name “Cruse” can be seen today carved into the top of the front wall.
The Memorial Hall was built in the early 1900s. It had an auditorium with a balcony and a stage where JB Rotno’s players performed for many years.
The Richmond Police Department occupies part of the basement with two jail cells.
Village Board meetings were held in Memorial Hall until the new Village Hall was built in 1993. This building is now shared with the police department. It left the hall empty until Chris Gallagher received a grant from the Illinois Arts Council in 1992 to build the Nippersink Creative Arts Center. Founding members include Christina Gallagher, Yvonne Crines, Carolyn Janus, Donna Carolus, and Nancy Richardson. Many local groups have donated money to the organization. The Creative Arts Center has insisted on making Memorial Hall a historic landmark building.
The public library had been using the hall since the 1930s. In the 1940s the library moved to part of the drug store building at Broadway and Main. But on July 7, 1972 the library returned to Memorial Hall before moving to its own building in 1990.
In addition to village government work, Memorial Hall hosts school plays and graduations. Basketball was played there in 1908.
Other activities in the basement include meetings of the Boy and Girl Scouts, the American Legion, and a senior citizen group known as the Pioneers. This is where the local polling station resides.
Richmond Fire Department
Founded in 1926, the first meeting of the Richmond Volunteer Fire Department was held at Memorial Hall and was led by Mayor JG “Curly” Stevens.
Richmond Post Office
The post office has been in service 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 much comfort in the post office that brought news of events from their home towns. In the 1960s the Chicago Tribune was distributed by the Post Office. Farmers needed honey bees which were also distributed by the post office and they sent eggs to big cities.
Trains brought mail to Richmond until 1946. Since 1946 the mail has been delivered by truck. The current postmaster since 1988 is William L. Shappy.
The new mayor of Richmond, Illinois is Lori Olson. The Olson family has a long history in Richmond. Olson was a housekeeper and volunteer member of the fire department before being elected mayor in 2004.
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