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A Short history of Richmond, Illinois
Richmond, Illinois is a very small and beautiful town on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin. Its current population is about 1,500, but new housing developments will quadruple the number of homes within the next 10 years. It’s 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 village of Richmond.
Also known as “The Squire”, McConnell was a 27-year-old farmer living in Pennsylvania. He dreamed of independence and in 1837 rode to the Richmond area on horseback. In his biography, McConnell stated that there were only two neighbors in the area. He claimed 480 acres of land and when it went on the market in 1840 under the Blackhawk Treaty. Family sources say McConnell spent his first night under a tree sapling 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 little oak.” At that time, the Richmond area was mostly oak groves and still part of Lake County, Illinois.
In 1838 McConnell and his new wife, Elizabeth, built a 16′ x 18′ cabin where his family lived for 15 years. It was just west of Grace Lutheran Church and it was the first residence built in Richmond Township.
A mill was built on the Nippersink about 1840 and the site is now occupied by Doyle’s restaurant.
In 1852 McConnell built a Greek Revival-style house across the street from the log cabin. He and his family have lived in this house for 20 years and raised three sons. In 1872 he sold the house to his son, John.
Over time, McConnell bought about 1,400 acres from the government. The city limits were laid out in 1844 and Richmond was named in a contest to the man who climbed the highest when the new land was climbed. That man was Isaac Reed who chose his name from a village he remembers from his childhood in Vermont.
McConnell had a hand in many local activities. He was on the railroad commission, a legislator in Springfield, a McHenry County commissioner, the first Justice of the Peace of Richmond, the first Postmaster and was elected an 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 call it,” recalled Bo McConnell, grandson of William A. McConnell.
How Richmond is named
Theodore Purdy purchased the Charles A. Noyes home in 1937. Purdy settled the village in 1844 with Charles Cotting who settled in Richmond in 1844.
A competition was organized so that the person who climbed the highest mountain could name the village. Isaac Reed won the contest and named the village in Richmond, Vermont, where he lived as a child.
Richmond is growing
By the mid-1840s Richmond looked like 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 established on September 2, 1872, Dr. Fillmore Bennett was elected the first president of the village. The first principal of the grad school, Fillmore wrote religious poems and songs. “Di Sweet Bye and Bye” was the most famous.
The railway appeared in 1850. McConnell was one of the directors of the railroad. The first train crossed the Nippersink in 1855.
Hall of memory
Charles DeWitt McConnell donated $10,000 to the village “to be used in building a village or town hall, to be called Memorial Hall, to be used when necessary for church congregations and school services free of charge, and be not. used for indecent exhibitions or indecent displays…” The Village President, EC Covell, purchased the land where Memorial Hall now stands from Charles Kruse, who owned a hardware store on the downtown corner of Broadway and Rt. 12. The hardware store later became the Emporium antique store and the name “Kruse” is emblazoned on the front wall today.
Memorial Hall was built in the early 1900s. It contained a hall with a balcony and a stage where the JB Rotnour Players played for many years.
The Richmond Police Department occupied part of the basement along with two jail cells.
The village council meetings were held in the Memorial Hall until 1993. This building is now shared with the police headquarters. This left the hall empty until Chris Gallagher secured a grant from the Illinois Arts Council in 1992 to create the Nippersink Center for the Creative Arts. Founding members include Christina Gallagher, Yvonne Cryns, Carolyn Janus, Donna Karolus and Nancy Richardson. Many local groups contributed money to the organization. The Creative Arts Center tried to make Memorial Hall the historic building it is today.
The hall’s public library started in 1930. In the 1940s the library moved to part of the pharmacy building at Broadway and Main. But on July 7, 1972, the library moved back to the Hall of Remembrance before moving to its own building in 1990.
In addition to village government activities, school plays and graduation ceremonies were held in the Memorial Hall. Basketball games started there in 1908.
Other underground activities included meetings held by the Boy and Girl Scouts, the American Legion, and a group of senior citizens called the Pioneers. This is the local election site.
Richmond Fire Department
Founded in 1926, the first meeting of the Richmond Volunteer Fire Department was held at Memorial Hall and was presided over by Mayor JG “Curly” Stevens.
Richmond Post Office
The post office has been in service for over 150 years. William A. McConnell was appointed in 1940, serving as the first postmaster for six years. In the early years, residents in the area found great comfort in the post office that brought news of events from their original towns. In the 1960s, the Chicago Tribune was delivered by post office. The farmers needed honey bees that were also delivered by the post office and they sent eggs to the big city.
It wasn’t until 1946 that trains brought mail to Richmond. Since 1946, mail has been delivered by truck. The postmaster since 1988 is William L. Schaeppi.
The new mayor of Richmond, Illinois is Laurie Olson. The Olson family has a long history in Richmond. Before being elected mayor in 2004, Olson was a homemaker and a volunteer member of the fire department.
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