Braceville Township originally included the land lying east of Mazon Township to the county boundary line, and north to Goose Lake Township, but in a later day, the western portion of it was formed into what is now Maine Township. The discovery of coal and the subsequent opening up of some veins formed an important feature of the early history of this locality.
The first settler of Braceville Township was Rev. L.S. Robbins, a Methodist preacher, who settled at Sulphur Springs in 1834, although he had obtained his land in 1833. He had a large family of sons who also remained in the township for a time, then left, establishing themselves in other sections. In 1836, West Colony was formed and some land developed, but why it was so named, or what was the reason for these settlers thus styling themselves, remained a secret from the beginning.
Other Early Arrivals
John Cragg came to Braceville in 1834-5, and continued to make this his home until his death. In the little log cabin he erected, he kept the first tavern of this pioneer district although those stopping with him were treated as members of the family, and not as paying guests.
John Kerns arrived in 1846, as did E. R. Booth. The year 1848 brought B. R. Dowd, who was the first supervisor from the township, and had the honor of naming it. Having lived at Braceville, Ohio, he called his new home after the old one. This has often occurred in the history of new regions. The homesick pioneer yearns for the old associations and connections, and feels so tenderly towards them that he naturally wants to call the new home after what has become so dear in recollection. Thomas Martin and Robert Huston arrived in 1849. The latter had a soldier’s warrant and bought land on the prairie, bringing lumber for the purpose from Chicago. His was the first frame house erected in the township. Several other early settlers were B.A. Crisler and H. Cassingham and their families.
Coal City is the leading village of Braceville Township, and at one time had what was thought to be a brilliant future before it, when large coal interests centered here, and thousands of tons of coal were shipped to distant markets. Even now, with but two coal companies working, the village is a flourishing one, with some live, progressive men forwarding its interests, and through their efforts there is every prospect of the place eventually being developed into one of the manufacturing centers of the county. With the magnificent transportation facilities here offered, the place is an ideal one for manufacturing plants, and negotiations are being carried on with several concerns by the Commercial Club of Coal City, with the purpose of coming to a satisfactory arrangement that will bring outside capital and machinery into the village.
Coal City was laid out in 1875 by the Wilmington Coal Company, which, under the present name of the Wilmington Star Mining Company. G.W. Buchanan, president, continues to operate at this point. The other company still operating is the Big Four Wilmington Coal Company, of which H.N. Taylor is president. In 1905 nine mines were being worked, but it was discovered that while the coal here was of excellent quality, the vein was not of sufficient thickness to pay for the installation of machinery, and hand work was too costly for the mine owners to enter into opposition with those in localities where mechanical means could be used.
Coal City has among its 2,500 population the following business houses and professional men: The Anderson Lumber Company, Peter Baudino, buffet; Charles Boggio, general store; F.L. Boner, livery and undertaking; Martin Borello, buffet; Anton Bruno, groceries; William Campbell, banker; Thomas Campbell, coal dealer; Anton Carosotti, buffet; Joseph Chvatal, meat market; Coal City Clothing Company; Coal City Printing Office; Coalfield Company of Coal City, general store; Dr. C. Earl Cumming, dentist; John Davito, grocery; Charles Glonnetti, Italian bakery; Haeger Brick & Tile Co.; W.E. Hart, physician; Z. Kaplan, dry goods; Aut Kauzlaric, blacksmith; Peter Maddaleno, general merchandise; Dr. J.C. Major, physician; B.O. Mill, hardware and implements; O.A. Miller, druggist; John Smith, confectionery and ice cream; John Palvis, butcher; Anton Pastore, buffet; John Palvis, buffet; Peter Piagno, general merchandise; Giacomo Savant, buffet; Frank Schmandle, pianos and sewing machines; James Smolik, buffet; Dr. F.A. Stockdale, physician; James Swartz, buffet; Thom Hardware Company; Benjamin Trotter, general merchandise; John Trotter, meat market; John Trotter & Sons, elevator; Robert Trotter, general merchandise; Anton Turbilatto, general merchandise; Joseph Turgliatto, groceries; Charles Valerio, representative Pabst Brewing Company; Louis Veronda, buffet; John Vidano, general merchandise; Wilmington Foundry and Machinery Co., and Wilmington Star Mining Co.
A Prospering Enterprise
It was through the efforts of the Coal City Commercial Club, which has been in existence about four years, that the Coal City Clothing Factory was established at Coal City by Sears, Roebuck & Co., of Chicago. This factory has given employment to 350 of the Coal City people, and is in a very flourishing condition. The original number employed was 100, so that the increase indicates sound business conditions.
The fire department owns all equipment valued at $2,500, and the water supply is obtained from a well dug about twenty-two years ago. There are about five miles of concrete walks in the city, and further improvements are in contemplation. Electric light is obtained from the Public Service Company, according to the same plan followed by Morris, Mazon, Gardner and other villages in the county.
For sixteen years Hugh Bennett served Coal City as postmaster, but with the change in administration, a Democrat was appointed, and William Baskerville is the present incumbent of the office. There is one rural route from the Coal City office. Coal City has two hotels, the Coalfield Hotel, which is operated by the Coalfield Company, and the McKinley House, of which Frederick Hintze is proprietor.
The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad, the Chicago & Alton, the Elgin, and Joliet & Eastern Railroad all center here, making it, as before stated, one of the best centers with regard to transportation facilities in the county.
The Roman Catholic, the Presbyterian, the Methodist, and the German Lutheran churches, and the German Brethren congregation, and several other religious denominations, are represented at Coal City. The population is largely Italian and Bohemian, although there are also a number of English and Scotch residents. When the mines promised continuous work, miners were attracted here from all over the world. With the closing of the mines, many left, but those who remained here developed into excellent workmen along other lines, and are reliable citizens.
There are a number of fraternities represented at Coal City, including Odd Fellows, No. 519; Knights of Pythias, Pythian Sisters, Modern Woodmen, Eastern Star, Owls, Knights of Columbus, and several Italian benefit orders. A number of these societies have been depleted in membership with the departure from Coal City of so many of its people, but interest is manifested by those who remain.
The Village of Braceville was laid out by N. Cotton in 1861. Those residing in it were at one time largely interested in the coal industry, but in later years they have turned their attention to developing of enterprises in other directions. Some of the business and professional men of Braceville are: Peoples Bank of Braceville; Dr. J.F. Carey, physician; Mainwaring & Alexander, general merchandise; Fred Malsky, livery and feed stable; James Mellish, public telephone; John A. Proffit, grocery. The city hall, a substantial brick building, was erected in 1908.
The Chicago & Alton Railroad runs through Braceville, giving it an excellent market for its farm products. Many of the best residences, however, have been moved to South Wilmington and other points since the closing of the mines. With the opening of the coal mines, a number of coal villages sprung up, among them, Diamond, situated in Braceville Township, which is now largely utilized for farming purposes. Central City was another one of these settlements clustered about the mines, which in popular belief were to bring so much prosperity to the community. At present there are but three families residing in Central City.
Those who have served Braceville township on the Board of Supervisors have been as follows: D.R. Daud, 1850; John Craig, 1851-53; John Augustine, 1854-57; Henry Cassingham, 1858-59; John Augustine, 1860-61; Henry Cassingham, 1862; E.R. Booth, 1863; Henry Cassingham, 1864; Theodore Hyatt, 1865; R.J. Cunningham, 1866-67; Henry Cassingham, 1868; J.F. Augustine, 1869; George W. Booth, 1870-77; G.R. Evans, 1878; S.F. Dunleavy, 1879; David Dunleavy, 1880; John T. Dunleavy, 1881; Elijah Cotton, 1882; John Mathias, 1883-84; William J. Malcomb, 1885-88; Eli Stocker, William J. Malcomb, and John McKinley, assistants, 1889; Eli Stocker, William Malcomb, and A. Constantine, assistants, 1890; Eli Stocker and William Malcomb, assistants, 1891; Eli Stocker and Ben Peterson, assistants, 1892-1893; Eli Stocker and John Mathias, assistants, 1894-1895; Eli Stocker and George Rodgers, assistants, 1896-1897; Eli Stocker and William J. Malcomb, assistants, 1898-1899; F.W. Francis and Arthur Green, assistants, 1900-1901; George A. Trotter and Arthur Green, assistants, 1902-1903; Montgomery Sharp and Arthur Green, 1904-1905; Percival Clark and Gustav Swan, assistants, 1906-1907; Bert Waters and J.H. Green, assistants, 1908-1909; C.G. Anderson and J. Willis, assistants, 1910-1911; John A. Red and Adam Brook, assistants, 1912-1913; John A. Red and Thomas Reed, assistants, 1914.