The History of Joliet – Introduction

By John Whiteside of The Herald News (used with permission)

Submitted by Nancy Vargo

Did you know? City’s vibrant story leaps off page

“Our city’s founders were just plain people with the same kind of worries and concerns we often have today. But in living their lives here, they solved their problems, raised their families and built a great city.”

By John WHITESIDE of The Herald News

Did you know? The good citizens of Joliet in 1858 almost lynched an innocent man. They thought he had corrupted and then brutally murdered a 16-year-old girl.

But then at the trial a sly ol’ defense lawyer brought in a mysterious woman dressed in black with a veil over her face. When the veil was lifted, she shocked the court crowd and cleared an innocent man.

Did you know? During the very first city election in 1837, three dozen workers in a traveling circus were used to change an election result. There was a rivalry between the east and west sides of the city even then.

Did you know? Cornellius VAN HORNE, Joliet’s first mayor, almost got hung for a murder that hadn’t even happened in 1840. But he had been framed by a family who hated him.

Did you know? This city produced a wealthy businessman who went on to become an Illinois governor. As governor, Joel MATTESON brought public education to the state. He also stole a lot of money.

Did you know? During the summer of 1861 as the Civil War started, there was a military wedding in Joliet that could have been staged for a Hollywood movie. Maj. John GOODING married Jennie DALTON.

Did you know? When Abraham LINCOLN’s funeral train stopped in Joliet at midnight on May 2, 1865, a shooting star passed through the heavens. A crowd of thousands saw it.

Did you know? In 1886, Joliet Police Chief Frank MURRAY helped the Pinkerton Detective Agency solve a complicated train robbery and murder case. MURRAY was considered as one of the best detectives in the country then.

Did you know? President Martin VAN BUREN, eighth president of the United States, suggested the name of Joliet for this city. The president and his secretary of the navy were touring the west in 1841 when they stopped to visit the little settlement then known as Juliet.

Did you know? In 1861, a blacksmith was murdered in his Joliet shop. But a couple of clever city cops caught the killer because he had left behind some distinctive footprints and a tiny piece of a German newspaper.

If you didn’t know, these are just a few of the stories that I’ll be telling you about on the pages of The Herald News each week.

And if you want to, these stories can be clipped over the next year and added into the pages of a notebook that will form an interesting book on the history of the city.

In recent weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Joliet Public Library reading and taking notes on newspaper microfilm and local history books. What I’ve found is that we are so very lucky to have had a historian like George H. WOODRUFF. He saved local history for us.

WOODRUFF’s books History of Will County 1878, Forty Years Ago and Fifteen Years Ago or the Patriotism of Will County were valuable sources of information for the early history of the city.

Other books used for research include W.W. STEVENS‘ two volumes Past and Present of Will County, August Maue’s two volumes History of Will County, William Grinton’s Juliet and Joliet and Fayette Balwin SHAW‘s The Economic Development of Joliet, Illinois 1830-70.

Of course, many details for these stories came right off the front pages of the Joliet Signal, Joliet Daily News, Joliet Republic and other newspapers in the city, all of which are considered the forefathers of this newspaper.

After all this research, I’ve learned that our city’s founders were just plain people with the same kind of worries and concerns we often have today. But in living their lives here, they solved their problems, raised their families and built a great city.

These early settlers came to Joliet because they wanted to build better lives in the west. Yes, this was the west then. A western frontier just waiting for them.

Some of these men who became industrial giants in steel, railroads, barbed wire and other businesses showed up in Joliet with nothing more than their character and a determination to succeed. Fortunately, most of them were community minded individuals who believed in building a city as well as personal fortunes.

So, come travel with me through time once a week for the next year or so and learn about our city and those who came before us.

I hope you have as much enjoyment reading these stories as I did in writing them.

Published April 1, 2001