Minooka came into existence in 1852, when the Chicago, Rock Island, and Peoria Railroad came through the area on the recommendation of Surveyor, Ransom Gardner. Mr. Gardner had purchased 500 acres of land along the proposed route of the Rock Island Railroad. The village of Minooka was incorporated on March 27, 1869.
George Comerford, an Irish immigrant whose family had come to the area earlier is also credited for bringing the railroad to Minooka. His family bought land in Aux Sable Township and Mr. Comerford became a railroad surveyor. He was also involved in the actual construction of the Chicago, Rock Island and Peoria Line and became the first agent at the Minooka Depot. Comerford was also instrumental in establishing a post office in 1853 and served as it’s postmaster for nine years.
Dolly Smith, wife of Gardner’s agent, Leander Smith, is credited with naming Minooka. Mrs. Smith who was familiar with the Potowatomi language named the town Minooka which means contentment or good land. Prior to that time the village was named “Summit” by the railroad workers because it was the highest point in Illinois on the Rock Island Line. It was also called “Anoka” for a time. Mrs. Smith also named many of the streets in the older part of Minooka.
Leander and Dolly Smith built a home on the northwest corner of Wabena and St. Mary’s Streets. This home had a big bay window in the front, where in her later years Mrs. Smith would sit and reminisce about the beginnings of Minooka. The stories say that Chief Shabbona would often come on the train from Morris and they would sit and speak Potowattomi about the “good old days”.
In 1858, C. V. Hamilton built a number of buildings for businesses. Among which, was a hotel that was known as the Hamilton House. This building stood on the southeast corner of Wapella and Wabena until the early 1960s. In 1866, a grain elevator was built by A. K. Knapp. The 1860s saw a building boom in Minooka. Early merchants included R. Gardner & Co., a large department store which at one time employed a dozen people. This store was managed by Leander and Frank Smith, later by George Colleps, and even later by Del Newell. Other businesses were:
- Groceries and liquors: Kinsley & Keough, George Comerford and George T. Smith
- Saloons: John Miller and Able Hyncliff
- Blacksmiths: Elihu Trask and S.S. Ward
- Boot and shoe makers: Jack and Abel Gedelman
- Tin and coppersmith: Henry Peddleton
- Meat Market: John Bulmer
- Saddlemaker: John Shroeder
- Cooper: Phillip Gedleman
- Pumpmaker: Lyman Carrier
- Station Agent: William R. Tupper
- Carpenters: T.J. Sadler, E. Allen, Thomas Shiek, Curtis Damon, Jacob Lutz Sr.
In 1864, the first St. Mary’s Catholic Church was built. It was located just to the east of what is now St. Mary’s Cemetery. Before 1864, Minooka was considered an out-mission and the priest was brought from Morris by handcar and Mass was said at the home of George Comerford. From 1864 until 1869 the church was serviced as a mission by the Morris Priest. In 1869, Father Peter Sheedy was appointed the first resident pastor. This church was struck by lightning and burned to the ground in 1903. In 1904 the present structure was dedicated.
The first Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in 1856 with 19 members. The first services were held in Ferguson’s store which was located on the corner of Osceola and Mondamin Streets. A church building was erected on the site of the present United Methodist Church in 1866. In May of 1917, a tornado destroyed the Church Building. By December of 1917, a new brick building was ready for occupancy. In 1960, a classroom addition was added and the building was completely remodeled in 1982.
The first schoolhouse was built on Mondamin Street, it stood where the Walnick Developers building is now. This building burned in the Great Fire of 1887. The next school was built on the site of the present Junior High. It was replaced by the present Junior High in 1925. The present Grade School was built in 1961 and the High School was built in 1971.
The present Three Rivers Library, Minooka Branch, was built originally as a Masonic Hall in 1924. This building was knocked down by a tornado shortly after it was built. Prior to 1924, the Masons had a one story building on this site. This building was divided into two areas, with one being rented out as a store and the other as the Masonic Temple. The Masonic organization was begun in Minooka in 1867 and received their charter in 1868.