KLASEY: The first published story of Kankakee | Local News

When the first account of Kankakee’s history was published in 1876, the town had existed for less than a quarter of a century.

Author WH Bristol was able to write about the development of the community from personal experience – he had been a resident of Kankakee since 1856, just three years after the town was laid out along the Illinois Central railroad tracks Railroad. Bristol’s historical sketch occupied 20 pages on the back of the 114-page “Complete Directory of the City of Kankakee for the Year 1876”. Published by AL Hennessey in Peru, Illinois, the volume was the first to list the names, addresses, and occupations of Kankakee residents.

“This is a comprehensive index or summary,” noted the introduction to the city directory, “of business, industry, educational institutions, population, and general of a city at the time of publication. … The historical sketch embraces all the major events that took place during the existence of the city.

Bristol began its account with this description: “The town of Kankakee is located on the Chicago branch of the Illinois Central Railroad, 56 miles south of Chicago, and has a population of over 5,000. It is the largest city between Chicago and Cairo. The original town was laid off in lots and blocks in June 1853.”

He noted that the first freight shipment to Kankakee on the Illinois Central, in July 1853, was a load of lumber for Solon Knight, who used it to establish the town’s first lumber yard. The new community’s first store was also erected in the summer of 1853; The Clark & ​​Roberts general merchandise store was located on the south side of Court Street, east of the railway tracks. (The first transaction at this new store was reported by a later local historian, Burt Burroughs. He identified the customer as Phillip Bacon, and the item purchased as a knife, for which Bacon paid 75 cents).

In 1856, just three years after the first business opened, Kankakee – with a population of around 2,500 – was a thriving community. Bristol cited a survey of local businesses conducted that year which found that “dry goods shops, 14; groceries and groceries, 8; hardware stores, 4; pharmacies, 4; deposit banks, 2; cabinet ware-pieces, 3; marble, 1; frame and blind factories, 2; harness shops, 3; stone quarries, 2; pension stables, 2; blacksmith shops, 5; plow factory, 1; windmill factory, 1; gunsmiths, 2; millinery shops, 3; jewelry stores, 2; clothing stores, 4; bakeries, 3; meat markets, 2; timber yards, 5; wagon stores, 2; brickyards, 1; newspapers, 3, two English and one French.

The author paid particular attention to one of Kankakee’s natural assets: limestone. “When the city was planned and its speedy construction projected, a lively hunt was made for suitable materials…At the time when the Illinois Central Railroad was built in this place, no one knew nothing of the inexhaustible stone beds underlying the surface. of land in this immediate locality. The stone for the railroad piers at the river crossing, for the culverts and bridges along the road…and even for the railroad culvert above Soldier Creek, was quarried downstream from the river about five or six miles … and was obtained at much trouble and expense; while stone of a superior quality, in infinite quantity, and as good as any in the State, existed only a few feet below the surface of the earth, even in the very locality of the culvert of Soldier Creek.

The “inexhaustible stone beds” mentioned by Bristol began to be mined in 1856, when lumber yard owner Solon Knight founded the Kankakee Stone and Lime Company. Quarries operated by Knight’s company were located on both sides of Soldier Creek between the Kankakee River and the Illinois Central tracks. Stone from these quarries was used for a number of downtown buildings, including several churches (but not for the original Kankakee County Courthouse, which was built with stone from the quarry). ‘Central Illinois in Limestone Township).

The author cataloged the 13 churches of Kankakee (including the “new, beautiful and majestic St. Rose”), then moved on to its schools. “As it has been called ‘a city of churches’, it may justly be called a city of schools,” he wrote. “As for what is called the Kankakee Public Schools … it is believed that they will compare favorably to any schools found in any of our Western towns.”

He singled out “The building known as the High School, a magnificent structure of stone and brick, four stories in height” as “one of the finest and most imposing school buildings in the state”. (Located at the southeast corner of Indiana Avenue and Merchant Street, the building was generally later referred to as the Central School. It was erected in 1869 and demolished a century later.)

Bristol concluded his “historical sketch” with these words: “Having now presented a simple, unvarnished and direct statement of matters and matters connected with the past history and present condition of Kankakee, we believe that it purports to be recognized as one of the most successful and enterprising personalities. and the progressive cities of the Great West will be immediately admitted without discussion or doubt.

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