Beside the Villages of Gardner and Minooka, there are several smaller towns in the county. Braceville was laid out in 1872, and contains some 500 inhabitants. It is in the Township of Braceville, upon the C. & A. R. R.; has post office, express office, and telegraph office, several stores and three churches. The Bruce Coal Mining and Manufacturing Company are, at present, operating only one coal shaft, employing one hundred men. The coal is 108 feet from the surface here.
Coal City is a station upon the Chicago, Pekin & Southwestern Railroad. It was laid off as a town in 1875, and is upon Sections 2 and 3 of Braceville Township.
Diamond was laid out in 1873; it is upon Section 7 of Braceville and Section 36 of Felix.
In 1854, the Town of Gardner was laid out by C. H. GOOLD, H. A. GARDNER and J. C. SPENCER. The first settlers in the town were Milo WILCOX, Geo. WILLIS, Robert FINLEY, Robert GLASS, Joseph ELIOT, Nelson LaFORCE, Nelson CLAPP, James MILLER, Chas. ROE, T. McCARTNEY, and B. BANISTER, who came in 1850. In 1855, the Chicago & Alton R. R. was opened and Gardner soon assumed importance, being the principal market for grain in the southeastern part of the county, and also for the northeastern part of Livingston County. Gardner was organized as a Town in 1869, and at that time contained some 400 inhabitants. There were five trustees elected: John H. COLE, Amos CLOVER, W. W. McMANN, F. LATHROP and Louis GERMAN. J. H. COLE was chosen President, and was also the first police Magistrate. The second President was I. B. McGINNIS. The first Post Master was Abraham GLEASON. The present P. M. is Miss Mattie A. MAGEE. In 1874, Gardner was incorporated a Village; Amos CLOVER was elected President; J. C. LUTZ, H. ELDRED, H. ERWIN, J. MUSGRAVE and E. S. BLANCHARD, Trustees; and Louis GERMAN, Clerk. Gardner has grown to a village of considerable importance being second to Morris in size and contains over a thousand inhabitants; has four grain elevators and two steam mills, together with numerous other business houses, several of them being built of brick, as is also the principal hotel and the union school building which contains four departments, and is under the charge of Prof. PERKINS, assisted by four teachers. There are three churches in the village: A Methodist, which was the first one erected in 1856; a Baptist Church, erected in 1869; and a Presbyterian Church, erected in 1870.
The present Board of Trustees is as follows: John F. PECK, D. COLESTOCK, S. M. ROGERS, James JOHNSON, John WEYMAN and H. ELDRED, Mr. ELDRED being President of the Board; Geo. LEWIS, Clerk; Isaac McCLUNN, Treasurer; John H. COLE, Police Magistrate. Gardner is today, a thriving village, located, as it is in the richest coal section, it must eventually become a town of considerable importance.
Gardner Lodge, No. 573, A. F. & A. M., organized 1866. John PECK, W. M.; Henry A. CRAWFORD, Sec. Stated communications 2nd and 4th Saturdays of each month. Membership 100.
Gardner Lodge, No. 515, I. O. O. F. Meets every Saturday eve. Organized 1873. Calvin COTTON, N. G. Present membership 60.
The village of Minooka is located upon Section 1 in the Township of Aux Sauble, and was laid out in 1854, by Ransom Gardiner. The village was organized Mar. 27, 1869. First election held in April, when L. SMITH was elected President, and A. R. KNAPP, Wm. A. JORDAN, Thos. HARRIS and S. B. ALSDURF were elected Trustees. The first settler was Geo. COMERFORD, who came in 1848, who was the first railroad agent, and kept the first store, when the C. R. I. & P. R. R. was opened in 1852; he was also the first postmaster when the office was established in 1853. The next settler was John COLLEPS, who came in 1854; G. DAHLEM, 1855; L. SMITH, 1856; and G. T. SMITH and L. K. KEOUGH, in 1857. The first school was taught by Miss Fannie SMITH, in 1855. A new school building was erected in 1871; there are two departments in the school, at present. There are two churches in the village, a Methodist and a Catholic; the Catholic Church was erected in 1863, and the Methodist in 1865. The village contains a population of some 500. There is a fine large elevator erected and owned by KNAPP & THAYER; a planing mill erected by the same firm, and numerous stores and business houses, hotel.
The present village officers are as follows: President, L. SMITH; Trustees, Fletcher DIRST, E. N. WEESE, Thomas DEMPSEY and W. J. CAMPBELL; Clerk, B. F. SMITH; Treasurer, M. THAYER; Police Magistrate, Jacob GEDLEMAN; Police Constable, George MORSE; Post Master, G. DAHLEM.
A Masonic Lodge was organized and opened in 1866; G. DAHLEM, W. M. The Lodge is in a flourishing condition, has a good membership. Stated communications every 2nd Wednesday in the month. G. DAHLEM, W. M.; Wm. H. GORHAM, Secretary.
A Temperance League was organized in 1876. L. SMITH, President; F. W. FORD, Secretary; R. W. REED, Chaplain.
The Forest City, and who will deny the name? Well may her citizens feel proud of her, and her grand old trees, records and relics of other days, when Nature’s hand alone decked all this land. It is a pleasure to stroll along her peaceful streets, shaded on either side by long, waving rows of trees, to gaze on its neat cottages nestling in a “sea of leaves.” This is a pleasure to us, and a pleasure pure and good, and must be to any one, unless he be minus an eye for beauty. Go down to the river’s bank some pleasant eve, look off upon that winding sheet of silver, its edges fringed by the dark green of grand old trees, while back of these trees stretches a beautiful prairie, and you will say with us, beautiful indeed! To many, the name of Morris brings only the idea of a country village, of life, dull and insipid. But what a mistake. Only a short ride from Chicago, and you are leaving the noise and bustle, the rank smell and close, unhealthy air behind, and in Morris you find pure and bracing air. Its beautiful prairie scenes, dotted with woods, through which winds the Illinois and its tributaries, and though no single point may claim your attention or awaken interest or enthusiasm, yet the whole picture is one scene of beauty, and you may travel long and far ere you will again behold so much of quiet peace and comfort, so much that is pleasant and refreshing to any but a callous mind. The prairies, since forty years ago, have lost nothing of their picturesque loveliness, but have simply passed from wild luxuriance to cultivated beauty, and from the impress of industry, enterprise, and development everywhere visible, we may look with confidence and hopeful anticipation to the “unknown future”.
Of its prosperity and business enterprise we need only make a passing allusion. With its soil, coal, and excellent climate, a vast field is open to the activity and industry of her citizens.
The first cabin built in Morris was erected by James McKEON for John CRYDER, in 1834, upon the spot now occupied by the gas house. Mr. CRYDER was the first settler here, and Peter GRIGGS the second. Mr. GRIGGS located near where the aqueduct now is. He came in 1837. Settler after settler came. The county-seat was located here, as we have seen, in 1842. Yet had any one at that time predicted that a beautiful city would eventually spring up here, he would, without a doubt, have been considered fanatical. Yet, in 1853, we find an act, approved February 12th, incorporating the Town of Morris, with power vested in a President and six Trustees, two for each ward in town. The town at this time numbered about 700 inhabitants. On September 24th an election was held for town officers, resulting as follows: Elijah WALKER, President; Geo. E. PALMELEE, Secretary and Treasurer; J. B. JONES, Collector and Constable; Trustees, First Ward, L. P. LOTT and George TURNER; Second Ward, Geo. W. LANE and C. H. GOOLD; Third Ward, David LE ROY and John ANTIS. At a meeting held to organize, N. B. DODSON was chosen Clerk of the Board. And now behold the Town of Morris organized, with President and officials prepared to buy and sell, bargain, lease and convey, make laws, punish offenders, sue and be sued, plead and implead, as the law empowers and directs.
A school house, the first in town, was erected in the summer of 1852, and the first public school was taught in the winter of 1852-53, by Myron TOMPKINS. During the year 1854, a jail was erected to supercede the old dungeon, and in 1856 the present Court House was erected. The opening of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, in 1848, gave a great impetus to immigration, and of this Grundy county received a large proportion, and, as we have seen, Morris grew rapidly. In 1847, anticipating the opening of the canal, J. P. CHAPIN erected a warehouse. Several stores had been erected, and upon the opening of the canal a large business was done in shipping pork and grain, the first purchase and shipment being made by C. H. GOOLD, who also sold the first exchange upon New York in 1851. The banking business of the town was transacted for some time through Chicago, but in 1851 a private bank was established by C. H. and H. C. GOOLD. After some time another, conducted by HATTON & Son, was established. In 1862 the Grundy County Bank was organized, with C. H. GOOLD as President, and in 1864, October 9th, the Grundy County National Bank was chartered.
In 1857 a charter was obtained creating Morris a city. On the 14th of April an election was held, and the city government organized with F. S. GARDNER as Mayor; L. P. LOTT and L. ASHTON, Alderman First Ward; A. CLARK and J. B. DAVIDSON, Second Ward; William B. GRINNELL and S. W. HARRIS, Third Ward; P. HARDT and S. FATZINGER, Fourth Ward. And now behold Morris risen from a small settlement, whose pioneer cabin was erected in 1834, in 1859 a city incorporated, which especial privileges, power to regulate and control its internal and municipal affairs, and on the highway to prosperity, along which she is making giant strides. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was opened in 1852, and since that time the history of Morris has been one of progress and prosperity. Beautiful residences have arisen along her streets, and brick and stone business houses form her business centre. Nowhere, in all the broad State, will be found evidences of more thorough enterprise and thrift.
Verona is upon Section 26, Vienna, and Mitchell upon Section 9, of Highland. They are all stations upon the C. P. & S. W. R. R.