The history of Gardner begins with the building of the Chicago & Alton Railroad through the site on which it was later to stand, in 1854. This land was the property of Henry A. Gardner, J.C. Spencer and C.H. Gould, the first-named of whom was the chief engineer of the newly completed road and did the surveying of the primal town, which was named after him. The original town was divided into twenty-seven blocks, but later additions were added, known as Price’s First and Second addition, Peck’s addition, Hyatt’s addition, Finley’s addition, Augustine addition, Clover addition, Spiller addition, and Willis addition, Shotwell subdivision and Lovejoy’s subdivision.
Gardner was incorporated in February, 1867, under special act of Legislature, when it had a population of about four hundred, the first trustees being: John H. Coles, Amos Clover, W.W. McMann, F. Lathrop and Louis Germain. This form of government continued until 1913 when a general election was called to vote on its incorporation under the general law of the state, and upon the measure being carried, it was immediately incorporated. The present population is about one thousand, while that of the township is about twelve hundred.
The first house of Gardner was that of the section boss, east of the tracks, and the second one was known as “the barracks” having been built by the first postmaster, Absalom Gleason. This building held the first postoffice, the first store, was the dwelling of the family, and also a paint shop, and was one of the most useful buildings ever put up at Gardner.
The first hotel bearing the imposing name of “The Eagle,” was on a lot 18 by 36 feet, was one story and one-half in height, and was built by G.R. Taxis and Scott Armitage in 1855. It sheltered the traveling public and was first conducted by George Allen, who was succeeded by J.W. Bull, who was bought out by Charles Royal, and later S.N. Underwood assumed charge. With all these changes in ownership the hotel changed, too, being practically rebuilt, enlarged and the name of the “Gardner House” given it. It burned down January 15, 1909.
The Commercial House was built in 1870, and R.R. Stone was its first proprietor, being followed by William Smith, John Southcomb, A.K. Stiles, Roland Price, James Wilson, J.C. Lutz, Ralph Richards, William Gebhard, and Battista Vignochi, and it is now conducted by Mrs. Frances B. Plumley. It is a substantial building, well equipped for hotel purposes, and the hostess not only understands her business, but takes pride in catering liberally and appetizingly to the requirements of her guests. This hotel is the only one at Gardner, but no other is needed, owing to the fact that nearly all of the residents of the village have their own homes. The traveling public is well cared for at the Commercial House.
Charles and William Royal opened a store in 1855, and were succeeded by Charles E. Gardner. The first warehouse was built in 1857, but later was converted into a grist mill, and still later changed into an elevator. Later it was sold and converted into a barn.
To Charles Johnson, a tinner, must be given the credit for laying the first sidewalk in Gardner, which was located on the north end of Liberty Street. The first garden fence in the village was put up by Joseph Hall. Virginia M. Hawley planted the first flowers among the many which now help to beautify the place. She married Dr. J.B. Taxis and still survives, living with her daughter, Mrs. Lindholm, at Joliet.
In spite of the location along the Chicago & Alton Railroad, Gardner did not show much material growth until 1864, when the Gardner coal shaft was sunk, and from that time on its growth was rapid. The first brick building was constructed in 1869, for the purpose of housing Doctor McMann’s drug store. A building called the City Hall, which had a store below and a dance ball above, was built in 1868, by A.S. Martin and Louis Germain. Later it was removed, and a one-story brick building was erected in its place. The present village hall is a one-story building.
Fire Loss and Protection
A very destructive fire occurred on Christmas night, 1878, and almost wiped out the business portion of Gardner, but the buildings destroyed were subsequently replaced by better and more modern ones. While Gardner has no water works, it has a competent volunteer fire department which works as a bucket brigade, and it has rendered efficient service when occasion demanded.
A fine grain elevator was built in front of the Commercial House in 1869, by E.W. Cole of Chicago, and it is still standing, now being owned by J.W. Thornton & Son. Another grain elevator was built in 1894 by the Fuller Grain Co. and is now owned by Hargraves & Drew.
In 1865, the Joliet Coal Mining Company of Gardner was organized, and commenced sinking a shaft, but only reached a depth of forty feet, when water was found in such quantity that the hole was abandoned. The coal history of Gardner, at one time very important, is taken up at great length by an expert upon the subject in another chapter.
Reliable Business Houses
Gardner is the home of some reliable business men and houses, while its professional men rank with the best in the county. A partial list of these is as follows: Dr. F.M. Allison, physician; W.S. Allison, proprietor of the Exchange Bank and dealer in insurance; H.A. Eversole, harnessmaker; A.J. Perry, president First National Bank; Dr. E.G. Fuller, physician; A. Gordon, dealer in dry goods and clothing; T.S. Green, dealer in farm machinery; M.A. Hansen & Sons, dealers in furniture and undertakers; Peter C. Hansen, proprietor of an automobile livery; Hargreaves & Drew, proprietors of an elevator; Dr. A.J. Harper, dentist; John Hayes, confectioner; Jesse Holm, dealer in poultry butter, eggs and veal; J. M. Holmes & Co., dealer in building materials and coal; C.S. Kaldem, proprietor of a draying and coal business; J.P. Kennedy, proprietor of a garage; Fay LaCore, an automobile repairer; Lars H. Larson, dealer in furniture and undertaker; E.J. Lockren, grocer; Dr. W.W. McMann, retired physician; J.P. Nelson & Son, grocer and butcher; Mrs. Francis Plumley, manager the Commercial Hotel; W.S. Park, proprietor of the Chronicle; Harry Spiller, dealer in confectionery and ice cream; B.C. Strout, dealer in hardware and paints; J.W. Thornton & Sons, proprietor of an elevator; Wagner & Root, dealers in confectionery and groceries; Weber & Bezold, grocers; Daisy E. Wilson, milliner; Wagner & Root, proprietors of a garage; C.C. Underwood, proprietor general store; Max Goodman, dry goods merchant; Louis Martin, proprietor of pool room; Christianson & Jensen, proprietors buffet; Mike Marrietti, proprietor buffet; William Malek, proprietor buffet; E.J. Jeffers, barber; T.E. Horrie, barber; George Hader, baker; C.W. Barr, grocer; Madsen, tailor; F.H. Spiller, druggist; J. Scroggin ((Incorrect spelling in original manuscript. John Franklin Scoggin was his actual name – Peggy E, Scoggin, Comment, 2015/07/12 at 2:47 pm. This has been confirmed at least by the census of 1910.)), dealer in farm implements; Isaac Bull, dealer in meats and groceries; John Barton, dealer in insurance and justice of the peace; Edward Robertson, blacksmith; Dr. L.E. Booth, veterinary surgeon.
Concrete Sidewalks and Electricity
The Village of Gardner has laid about ten miles of concrete sidewalks, and these add much to the good looks of the village. It is lighted by electricity, furnished by the Public Service Company. Other improvements are contemplated, and the people take pride in the place and in maintaining its prestige.
The press of Gardner is represented by the Chronicle, a weekly organ, which was purchased about thirty years ago by Mr. and Mrs. Parks, the present owners. This journal was founded September 29, 1881, under the name of the Gardner Weekly News, by C.M. King at a time when the people were excited over the coal prospects which appeared to promise a remarkable “boom” to this part of the county. Mr. King published editions of his paper also for Essex, Reddick and Braceville. With the changing fortunes of the coal interests, the Gardner Weekly News declined somewhat, until new blood was infused by Mr. and Mrs. Parks, and the name was changed to the Chronicle. The latter is issued as an independent paper, and has an excellent circulation.
Like so many of the villages of Grundy County, Gardner has given especial attention to its school system. The first schoolhouse at Gardner was built in 1857, and J.H. Armitage was its first teacher, but prior to that Lizzie Russel taught school in a shanty east of the section house, and another little school was kept by a Mrs. Brown in her residence. Several other early teachers of the public school in addition to Mr. Armitage were: David Bookwalter and Virginia M. Hawley, who later became Mrs. Dr. J.B. Taxis, and has already been mentioned in this article. In 1867, a new schoolhouse was built, and this was enlarged in 1872, but was destroyed in 1875, to be replaced, in 1876, by a more substantial one which still stands. The present high school faculty comprises Prof. E.F. Booth and two assistants. In the grade schools, there are six teachers. For some years, the high school course comprised three years, about 1897 a fourth year was added, but was later dropped, but in 1913, this additional year was again added to the course, so that the high school now has the full four years. The board of directors of the Gardner schools is comprised of the following representative men: Wade O. Allison, president; T.S. Green, James A. Smale, Dr. A.J. Harper. R.H. Woodward, Mrs. Sadie U. Spiller and Mrs. Matilda Cobb.
With the growth of Gardner came a natural desire for fraternal organizations, and on May 24, 1866, Gardner Lodge, A. F. & A. M., No. 573, was organized, receiving its charter October 6, 1868, the first members being: I.F. Benson, W.H. Schoomaker, Ed Crane, J.W. Hart, A. DeNormandia, Henry Elliott and H.V. Whalen. The present officials of this lodge are: William R. Ferguson, W.M.; Daniel Green, S.W.; J.B. Allison, J.W.; D.R. Keepers, treasurer, and Harry J. Hansen, secretary.
On October 15, 1873, the Odd Fellows organized Gardner Lodge, No. 513, but later it was disbanded, the members associating themselves with lodges more convenient to their place of residence, as the majority of the Gardner lodge moved from the village with the passage of time.
Kellogg Chapter, No. 219, O. E. S., was organized at Gardner, April 30, 1892. Its present officials are: Mrs. C.B. Booth, W.M.; T.S. Green, W.P.; and Mrs. Grace Booth, secretary.
The Knights of Pythias organized Colfax Chapter at Gardner, but eventually moved the lodge to South Wilmington, as it was found that the majority of the members had located at the latter village.
The Modern Woodmen of America organized a camp at Gardner, known as Sycamore Camp, No. 1546, and this order, together with the Royal Neighbors, known at Gardner as Holly Camp, No. 232, lease the old Gardner Opera House as a lodge hall.
Some other fraternal organizations at Gardner are: Gardner Council, No. 59, of the Yeomen, which is now inactive, with Mrs. Elma Wheeler as secretary and treasurer; the Gleaners, an agricultural organization, which has representation in almost all of the townships of the county, and exerts considerable influence, considers topics interesting to the farmers and their wives, and the Danish Brotherhood, an order formed by the Danes of the community.
The Methodist Church held service in what is now Garfield Township, coming here prior to any other denomination, the first clergyman being Rev. Charles Roe. He conducted meetings at his own house and also at those of his neighbors. Another early Methodist preacher was the Rev. Daniel Abbott. Aside from these early gatherings, there were no religious services of the denomination until 1858, when the Gardner Methodist Episcopal society was organized and attached to the Mazon Circuit, with the Rev. Thomas Watson in charge. The Gardner Circuit was organized in 1867. The first members of the little society of 1858 were: William B. Royal and wife, J.H. Coles and wife, William Hart and wife, Robert Glass and wife, Joseph Hall and wife, and Mrs. Cynthia W. Hastings. The first church building was erected in 1856, at the corner of Jackson Street and Washington Avenue. A new one was built in 1876, which still stands. Some of the pastors of the church have been: Revs. John Grundy, J. B. Dillie, A. E. Days, John Cosler, Samuel Hart, H. Tiffany, William H. Collins, D. H. Cridler, A. C. Price, Matthew Evans, B. F. Wonder, J. W. Denning, A. D. Moore, M. C. Eignus, A. Bower, D. W. Brown, T. R. McNair, S. S. Langdoc, C. W. Green, L. O. Mallory, A. R. Morgan, J. F. James, W. W. Howard. The present incumbent is Rev. John Rogers.
The church next organized in what is now Garfield Township, was the Presbyterian, its birth taking place in 1858, with the Revs. L.H. Loss and S.H. Waldo in charge. The church was started by six women: Mrs. Abbie LaForce, Mrs. Phebe Ann Wheeler, Mrs. Sarah M. Wright, Mrs. Susan Sawyer, Mrs. E.C. Benson, and Miss Virginia M. Hawley. At first services were held in the schoolhouse, but later the society used the Methodist Church, and in 1871 put up an edifice of its own. Some of the pastors of this church have been: Revs. Walso, Alvah Day, E. G. Moore, Sextus E. Smith, F.B. Hargraves, J.G. Lyle, Joel Kennedy, S.H. Stevenson, Robert Watt, H.W. Berger, Rolla G. Shafer, Gamble, Chrisman, William Vance. The present pastor is the Rev. B.P. Holt. The membership is about eighty-nine.
Under Rev. W.H. Card, seven persons, W.H. Card, Philip Spaulding, Albert W. Willard, David M. Griswold, Mrs. L.E. Taxis, Robert Huston and H.J. Edmunds, organized the Baptist Church of what is now Garfield Township, in 1864. The first structure of this denomination was erected in 1871, and in the following year a new brick one was built, but for a number of years it has been closed, although the organization still holds, and the Ladies’ Aid Society carries on its charitable work, but no services are held. Some of the pastors in charge of this church in the past have been: Revs. W.H. Card, Colby, J. Groden, John Higby, E.G. Sage, and F.M. Mitchell.
Between forty and fifty years ago the Norwegian Lutherans started a society at Garden Prairie, in what is now Garfield Township, and services are still held in the little church of that organization, upon alternate Sundays. Within the past thirty years, the Norwegians of the Lutheran faith at Gardner decided to organize a society of their own and had as their first pastors substitutes from other churches. Some twenty-five years ago, under the Rev. Remertsen, the society built its present church, and it has grown until it now numbers 100 members. The present pastor is the Rev. K.J. Wang, who officiates on alternate Sundays at Gardner, and at Garden Prairie. The Ladies’ Aid Society for the older members, and the Sunshine Circle for the young ladies, are doing excellent work along charitable and social lines in connection with the church.
An Important Manufacturing Industry
At one time in its history, as mentioned before, Gardner looked forward to a long and prosperous history as the center of vast coal mining industries. When those hopes died, its men turned their attention in other directions. Some have devoted themselves to banking and insurance; others attend to the large shipping interests here. Still others find excellent business opportunities in meeting the demand, of local and contiguous trade. The attending to the requirements of automobilists is an important feature of the business life of Gardner. One business house of the village that is destined to play an important part in its growth and prosperity is that of J.H. Holmes, manufacturer, seller and builder of the Playford Cement Stave Silo. By means of the silo, the agriculturist is able to preserve the green fodder for his stock, and feed it to them during the winter months when otherwise he would have to depend entirely upon dried foods, thus increasing very materially the value of his product, and increasing the price he can demand. The intelligent farmer of today is looking for the best silo made, and according to the claims of the people of Gardner, one of their residents is putting just that kind of a silo on the market. Demonstrations of silos at the Grundy County Fair have been made in the past, with satisfactory results.
The Chicago & Alton Railroad, which passes through Gardner, was built in 1853-4, the people of Gardner and the vicinity, contributing $3,000 for right of way. The first ticket agent at Gardner was C.K. Snyder, and it is interesting to know that as he had no station house at the time, he carried all his papers in a tin trunk. The “Big Four” railroad trains also stop at Gardner, although its station is not in the center of the village as is that of the Chicago & Alton. Gardner’s business houses are centered in a compact area so that it is not difficult to attend to very important affairs, for a few blocks hold the concerns mentioned above. There are some very comfortable homes at Gardner, and the people themselves are alive, wide awake and progressive, eager to take advantage of improvements, and utilize advantages offered.
Ever since its creation, in 1902, Garfield Township has been represented on the County Board of Supervisors by Chris Anderson, the present incumbent.