History of Will County 1878
This is now the smallest township in the county, containing only the west half of Congressional Town 32, Range 9 east of the Third Principal Meridian. For the fifteen years ending 1875, it was the largest, embracing within its limits all of that territory now constituting Custer. As now laid out, it contains eighteen sections, and is bounded as follows: On the north by Wilmington, on the east by Custer, on the south by Kankakee County and on the west by Grundy. The first name given to the township, by the Commissioners, was Clinton, which, however, was changed, at the first meeting of the Board of Supervisors, to Reid, in honor of one of the pioneers of this section. On the first maps and in the first reports, the orthography of the name is found as here indicated; but on the later maps and reports it is spelled as indicated at the head of this article. For what reason this change has been made, or if made by common consent or practice – the later method being the more natural way – we are unable to inform our readers.
The land, for the most part, is a level plain or prairie. In some portions, more especially in the southern, it is covered with timber of a small growth. In this portion the surface is more broken, but cannot be considered hilly. It is not crossed by any stream of water, but all of that supply is obtained from wells. Good water abounds at a depth of from twenty to forty feet. The land is of a poor quality for agricultural purposes, the soil being quite thin, with a species of quicksand underlying.
In his history of New York, Washington Irving begins with the creation of the world, citing as a reason that as the first occupants of that island, the Knickerbockers, were not only descendants of Noah, but also of Adam, therefore, the history could not be complete without an allusion to that primary event. So, in the history of Reed Township, we are forcibly reminded of a declaration of the Almighty, when he had completed the creation, that it was ” all very good.” Various constructions and explanations have been put upon this averment of the Lord, seeing that so much of the world is evil, and that even Nature – especially to the uneducated – seems to be in many respects deficient in her purposes. No more striking illustration of this idea can be found than in the apparent waste of forces in the creation of the “dry land” spoken of in the tenth verse of the first chapter of Genesis. Especially is this notable in a locality deficient in productiveness, which is, at the same time, surrounded by territory of a most prolific character. And here, again, in this township, we observe the wisdom of the Creator, and the verification of that declaration of His, that is ” all good,” while the ignorance of man would condemn it. The surface of the township of Reed, to look upon, like the apples of Sodom, is all that is desirable; but like that deceptive fruit to the agriculturist, it is only a source of sorrow. For a number of years after the first settlement was made, and the first attempt made to induce the soil of Reed to return to the toiling laborer a compensation for his expenditure of strength and time, it was believed that this section was a failure, and numerous tracts were sold for taxes from year to year, and the epithet “land poor” seemed to apply with propriety to its owners. But behold the wisdom of the Creator! In this region, which man so irreverently denounced, was stored by Him, for many thousand years, an article for the use of man’s extremity, which renders this one of the most valuable tracts in the State. All hoarded up, eighty feet under the ground, and condensed into a small space, is suddenly found the fuel with which to supply the deficiency that had always been felt existed in the prairie country; and, all at once, the land which could have been bought “for a song ” jumps to $100 per acre, and, within the space of ten years, a city of five thousand inhabitants buds and blossoms, as it were, by magic.
Owing to a scarcity of timber and a want of water, the township was one of the latest in the county to settle. Twenty years before, settlements had been made along the Des Planes and Kankakee. Not until the opening-up of the railroad could an emigrant be induced to lose sight of the belt of timber lying along the banks of the streams of water. When that event transpired, and fuel and other commodities were transported to a distance from their place of growth or manufacture, a life on the prairie began to appear possible, and this section began to develop. Prior to 1854, the date of the event named, probably not more than four or five families had shown the hardihood to venture so far from the original settlements. William Higgins, who came to this vicinity (being just a few rods west of the township line, in Grundy County) in 1850, says that when he arrived here, James Curmea had been living on Section 6 about six months. Curmea was a native of Ireland, had been peddling through the country, and, becoming tired of the business, settled at the point mentioned. He entered all of the section, and, though a large land-owner as regards real estate, he was poor, the soil proving to be of a very unfruitful nature. He lived on his land until 1865, when the discovery of coal in this section suddenly made him a rich man. His farm, which had cost him $1.25 per acre, and which, a few weeks before, could have been bought for $10, was considered worth $100; and shortly after, he actually sold it for the last price named. The tract now belongs to the Wilmington Company. Curmea took his money, removed to Morris and started a bank, in which business he is still engaged. P. Kilgore was “squatting” on Section 4. He was also from the Emerald Isle. In 1855, he sold out to Frank and Thomas O’Reilley, and removed to Kankakee. The O’Reilleys were also from Ireland. They still reside in the township. William Smith was a Yankee, from the hills of Vermont. He could scarcely be called a “settler,” as his business-was that of hunting, and his home was wherever his dog and gun could be found. His range was from the head of the Kankakee to its mouth, but his headquarters were in this township. The report of his rifle years ago ceased to be beard, and then it was known that “Smith the hunter” was gone to a “happier hunting-ground.” Patrick and James Dwyer came in 1850. They are still here. William Sterrett and Timothy Keane are also old settlers, and still reside in the township. Dennis Glenny was a stone-cutter on the Illinois & Michigan Canal. He is another native of Erin. He came to the township in 1856, and still resides here. Besides those already named, there were but few who could lay claim to being permanent settlers ; and neither were there any additional settlements until the discovery of coal. Even now, there are, perhaps, not more than twenty families outside of the city limits.
Though Reed Township was organized in 1850, the portion now embraced in Custer contained, until 1865, nearly all the inhabitants; and, though Custer is but three years old in name, it, and not Reed, is the original township; so that in reality, what is now called by the name of Reed, is a new town with the old name. The division occurred three years ago, on the petition of citizens of the eastern portion of the township. As now constituted, the west eighteen sections were organized April, 1875.
The present officers of the township are: John Young, Supervisor; John Bamrick, Clerk; Dennis Downey, Assessor; David Francis, Collector; Barney Higgins, Dennis La Hynes and Henry Roc, Commissioners of Highways; Nathan Goldfinger, Henry Hillman and Edwin Wakefield, Justices of the Peace; William J. Stewart, John Gaddis and J. Randick, Constables, and James Powers, School Treasurer.
CITY OF BRAIDWOOD.
In many respects, this city is peculiar, and in its growth certainly is a wonder; and, to any but inhabitants of the West, who are somewhat used to such phenomena as a large city springing from the ground in a decade, it would be considered a marvel. In 1865, where now stands the city of Braidwood, with its five thousand inhabitants, its seven churches, its three schools and its gigantic systems of mining machinery, was simply nothing but a sea of tall grass, or in the Winter a boundless field of snow, reaching out to meet the horizon, with scarcely a cabin intervening. As before stated, this locality was considered almost worthless, with only a few unthrifty farmers scattered through the neighborhood. In 1864, William Henneberry, while digging a well discovered the first coal. He had already sunk the well to a reasonable depth, but had failed to find water. Procuring a drill he continued his search, by boring to a greater depth. When about eighty feet below the surface, he came upon what proved to be a fine vein of coal. As soon as the fact became known, great excitement prevailed, and a shaft was sunk at a point known as Keeversville. This shaft fully realized the expectations of its projectors, and but a short time intervened before works of simple character were erected for the purpose of raising the product.
Individual and small company enterprises were thenceforward organized with varying success. The parties originating the same usually having more enthusiasm than capital, their efforts generally proved comparative failures.
In 1865-66, J. D. Bennet, M. B. Killbourn, C. L. Whitcomb, Seth Turner and C. D. Wilbur leased some land, proposing to operate for coal. Wilbur was the State Geologist, and was a great enthusiast on the subject of coal desposits.
Their work was, however, but scarcely begun, when a company of gentleman from Boston completed an organization for the same purpose, and Bennet and his company sold out to them. The Boston organization was what is now known as the Wilmington & Vermilion* Coal Company, J. M. Walker being President, and A. T. Hall, Treasurer. With ample means at their command, the success of the work was fully assured, and the Company has continued in successful operation ever since. Though the demand for the product is not so great as formerly, 700 men are in the employ of the Company at Braidwood. Of these, about one-half are colored. The colored portion of the miners work almost exclusively in a mine by themselves. In the Summer season, when the demand for coal is comparatively limited, the workmen are employed only about one-half the time. They receive in Summer, 85 cents per ton, and in the Winter, 90 cents. The average work of a day, per miner, is two and a half tons. Two shafts are operated by the Braidwood detachment, at which about 10,000 tons each are raised, the capacity of both shafts being about 30,000 tons per month. In addition to shafts, engines and other machinery, the Company own 300 cars with which they transport the products of the mines to Chicago and other markets. They also run two general stores, at which the miners obtain most of the necessary articles of food and clothing. One of these stores is located near the offices of the Company, and the other in the central part of the business portion of the city. The managers of the Wilmington Company’s works at this place are: Esaias Hall, Superintendent, and H. O. Alden and B. F. Washburn, Clerks.
The Eureka Mining Company commenced operations in 1865. At first the enterprise was known as the Rhodes Coal Company, with D. P. Rhodes as President or Manager; but subsequently a new organization was formed by A. B. Meeker, D. P. Rhodes, W. L. Brown, C. B. Brown, George L. Dunlap and Perry H. Smith. Of these, Meeker was President, and W. L. Brown was Secretary and Treasurer. With the exception of C. B. Brown, withdrawn, and H. Pratt, who has been introduced as Secretary, the primary organization remains intact. William Maltaby, the present Superintendent of the mines, has performed the duties of that position since the organization of the Company.
*The Company also operate mines at Streator, on the Vermilion River.
The Company employ, at their two shafts, 425 men, about 300 of whom are at work all of the time, the remainder waiting their turn for employment, which is given to all from two to four days each week. About 130,000 tons of coal are raised per year, the capacity of the shafts being over 200,000. The total expenses of the Company amount to about $18,000 per month. Not only are the minutiae of the operations of the two companies about the same, but they, with the companies in adjacent townships, unite their interests, dividing profits after all necessary expenses are paid.
James Braidwood has, perhaps, done more than any single individual to develop the coal industry in this region than any other man; especially was this the case in its early history. He came from Scotland to America, in 1863, and to this vicinity, in 1865, and assisted in sinking most of the early shafts. In 1872, he, in company with some others, sunk the Braidwood shaft. Subsequently, the works were burned, and, in 1876, he started, on his own resources, the shaft now known as the Braidwood shaft. He is not connected with the pool, but employs his men and sells his coal at prices independent of all corporations, most of his product being disposed of to the Bridgeport Rolling Mills at Chicago. He employs about eighty men, who receive 85 cents per ton for mining. The amount of coal raised at this shaft is 130 tons per day. The capital invested is $20,000.
The appearance of the city is remarkable in some respects. The companies who own the land have always sold lots with a clause in the deed, reserving the right to mine the coal that lay beneath. In consequence, we find a whole city, built entirely of wood. With the exception of a small brick schoolhouse, which antedates the coal discovery, and a bakery rebuilt a year or two ago on land which had already been undermined and had settled, there are no stone or brick buildings; but the light balloon frames, which a settling of the earth would not injure, are universal. The vein of coal here is from three to three and a half feet in thickness; and, after a lead has been worked and abandoned, the roof falls in, and a corresponding depression soon after makes its appearance on the surface of the ground. The settling is quite gradual, and is usually completed within a year. In time, doubtless, the site of the city will all have been worked over; and, after some sweeping fire which sooner or later comes to every wooden town, a more substantial class of buildings will take the place of the frame structures, and the city will put on a more presentable appearance. During the first year or two, people came in and retired so rapidly that it is hard to say who were here first. Many who came in to work in the mines left as suddenly as they came, and not even their names are remembered. Some who came to carry on trade made their stay quite brief, and are not entitled to notice as permanent settlers of the town. Others who worked here for some years, yet having families, relatives or friends at other points, never considered this their home. Among those who came to the place, at the beginning, was William Maltaby, Superintendent of Mines for the Eureka Company. Mr. Maltaby is a native of England, where he worked at mining before coming to this country. In 1863, he came to this vicinity on a kind of prospecting expedition, and moved to the place in 1866, to superintend the Company’s works. He has been in their employ ever since. John Young is a Scotchman. He came to the neighborhood in 1867, and worked at the mines. He has, by industry and economy, accumulated considerable means, and is now engaged in merchandise. His residence in this city, and his intercourse with his fellow-citizens, have made him quite popular. He is the present Supervisor of Reed Township. Daniel McLaughlin came in 1869. He was also a native of Scotland, and a miner. He is present Mayor of the city, having been elected to that office in 1877. Hon. L. H. Goodrich was the first Mayor of the city, being elected in 1873. Mr. Goodrich was formerly from New York City, but had lived, before his removal to this place, a number of years in Gardner. From the latter place, he was elected as Representative to the Twenty-ninth General Assembly of the State, and re-elected to the Thirtieth. He was also, for six successive years, chosen from that township as Supervisor, and, for eight years, Justice of the Peace. He is at present in the mercantile trade. Esaias Hall is from Vermont, and removed to this place in 1866, to superintend the mines of the Wilmington Company. He is still in their employ in the same capacity. Robert Huston is from New York City. He came to this place in 1870, and engaged in the mercantile trade. John H. Ward is a native of Ireland. He came to Wilmington and resided for a number of years. In 1866, he removed to this locality, where he has since resided. Within five years of the laying-out of the town, which occurred in 1865, among those who have become permanent residents and at the same time are recognized as leading citizens, are E. W. Felton, David Paden, William Jack, B. F. Sweet, John Broadbent, Edward Davidson, Duncan Rankin, John James, William Chalmers, John Barnett, John Cox, B. W. Reese, W. H. McFarlane, Meshach Dando and Robert Paden. The first house within what is now the site of Braidwood was the little brick schoolhouse, already referred to.
The first dwelling erected is said to have been built by Paddy Nary, a miner in the employ of one of the first mining companies. Daniel Small built the first house designed to be used as a store, and J. D. Bennet put in the first stock of merchandise. The store-building has since served the purpose of schoolhouse and church. Andrew Benney is credited with the building of the first hotel. Benney was a miner, and built the hotel for the accommodation, more especially, of employes of the mines. He is now a resident of Missouri. Dwellings, shops and stores followed so fast and in such numbers that to name them or their projectors and builders would require more space than the design of this work would permit. Many of the miners have bought lots, which usually consist of a half and in some cases an acre or more of ground, and built them i comfortable little homes.
In 1873, Braidwood presented the unusual example of a community organizing a city government without previously having incorporated as a village. In 1872, the State Legislature passed a general act for the government of all towns having a population of 2,000 and upward, and conferring upon them the style and charters of cities. Upon this basis, it was found that Braidwood had already attained that number, and steps were accordingly taken to carry into effect the provisions of the law. A primary meeting was held, and, in accordance with the sentiments there expressed, an election was decided upon to take place the 21st of April, 1873. The result was the election of E. W. Felton, David Paden, William Jack, B. F. Sweet, John Cox and B. W. Reese, as Aldermen; L. H. Goodrich, Mayor; William Chalmers, City Clerk; John Barnett, Street Commissioner; William H. McFarlane, Police Magistrate, and Robert Paden, Marshal.
In 1877, Daniel McLaughlin succeeded L. H. Goodrich as Mayor.
The present officers of the city are: John McIntyre, John Cox, Frank Lofty, John Crelly, Richard Mulrooney, Nicholas Keon, Richard Phillips and John Broadbent, Aldermen; Daniel McLaughlin, Mayor; William H. Steen, Clerk; John S. Keir, Treasurer; Patrick Muldowney, Marshal; William Mooney, Attorney; and Meshach Dando, Police Magistrate. Of the Aldermen chosen at the first election in 1873, John Cox has retained his place in the Council ever since. The voting population of the city is fully 1,000, though 940 votes is the highest number yet polled at any election.
Society in most mining districts is usually considered below par, but not only does present observation prove quite contrary, but the history of the town and its benevolent, Christian and educational institutions show conclusively that, in this instance, the moral and religious features compare very favorably with other towns of like age and size.
Braidwood has five churches – the Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal, Catholic, Congregational and Primitive Methodist – all occupying good comfortable buildings, besides which the Mormons, the Colored Methodists and Colored Baptists hold religious services and contemplate the erection of houses of worship.
The M. E. Church held religious services here as early as 1867. Rev. A. C. Price was the first preacher, and ministered to the congregation at the date named. The first services were held in the old schoolhouse, and a class was formed with William Anderson and wife, William Davids and father and mother, Samuel Bales and wife and John Runsey and wife; and these, with a few others, soon after organized the Church. About two years later, the society, having increased in numbers and wealth, built their present house of worship. It is a frame building, capable of seating two hundred and fifty persons, and cost the society $2,000. The Church has been quite prosperous, and the membership at this date is 150, of which the Rev. John Rogers is Pastor. In connection with the Church is a flourishing Sunday school of 150 members, under the superintendence of L. H. Goodrich. In 1871 – 72, Rev. R. Davis, a missionary in connection with the Presbyterian Church, was preaching through this part of the State, and, amongst the points visited by him, was this, at which he stopped and preached; and it was through his influence that an organization of this denomination was effected. As often happens, the organization of the Sunday school, in the early Spring of 1872, was the primary move, in this instance, of the more decisive measures adopted soon after. In June, of the year mentioned, the persons of that persuasion met to take into consideration the propriety of establishing a church of this denomination. Among the original members were David Paden, John James, Duncan Rankin, William Chalmers and E. A. Beadle, with other members of their families. At this time they held meetings in what is known as the Grove Schoolhouse. Rev. William Penhalagan was the first regular preacher after organization. Rev. Thomas M. Gunn, now of the First Church of Joliet, was subsequently called and installed Pastor of this Church. He resigned in 1877, to take charge of the Joliet congregation, as stated. In 1873, the society began the erection of a house of worship, which, though still unfinished, affords for them comfortable accommodations. The building thus far has cost about $5,000, and is 40 feet in width and 60 in length. The present membership is 130, of which the Rev. John Currier is the stated supply. The Sunday school, in connection with this Church, is under the superintendence of Duncan Rankin, and numbers about one hundred and forty.
The Catholic organization was formed by Dr. John McMullin, while Pastor of the Wilmington Church. When Dr. McMullin was promoted to the higher office of Vicar General, Father Daniel Riordan succeeded him as Pastor of this Church. Afterward, Father Riordan was also promoted to Secretary and Chancellor of the Diocese, and the vacancy thus occurring was filled by Father Thomas O’Garra, who was also promoted, being called to serve in the temple on high. Succeeding Father O’Garra is the present Pastor, Rev. R. H. McGuire. During the period of Dr. McMullin’s administration, the original building was erected. In this the congregation worshiped until 1875, when the additions of the front and back were made. In the same year, the parsonage was built. The value of the church property is put down at about $10,000. About two hundred and fifty families worship here. The strike which occurred in 1877 severely affected the strength of the Church. Prior to this, the membership was nearly twice the number stated.
The Congregationalists erected, in 1873, a neat little building for church purposes. It is about 28×32 feet, and cost $800. The membership at present is twenty-five, all of Welsh nativity, and services are conducted in that language. Rev. Griffith Evans, of Braceville, is Pastor, and William Davis is Superintendent of the Sunday school. The Primitive Methodists have a small house of worship, neatly furnished. Rev. Julius Marks is Pastor, and Thomas Davy is Superintendent of the Sunday school. Besides the buildings already named, a small church-house was erected some years ago by the Welsh Baptists, but this is now vacant. The Mormons, to whom allusion has been made, are of the persuasion who cleave to Joseph Smith, and disclaim any affiliation with the Salt Lake Mormons, or sympathy with their peculiar beliefs and practices. These accept the Book of Mormon as an additional divine revelation, but in other respects are not different from some of the evangelical Christians.
The strike of 1877 had the effect of bringing to this place several hundred colored people, who, if not universally known to be practically pious, are noted as a peculiarly religious people. Though very poor, and mostly ignorant, they yet hold religious services, and contemplate the erection of a house of worship.
The Odd Fellows organized a lodge of that Order here September 16, 1872, of the name and number of Banner Lodge, No. 495. Duncan Rankin was the first N. G.; Robert Paden, V. G.; John Skinner, Secretary; and William Neath, Treasurer. Duncan Rankin was the first Representative to the Grand Lodge, and continued to represent the Lodge for four years. The present membership of the Lodge is 160. John Barkell, is present N. G.; James Fairley, V. G.; James Sims, Treasurer; W. H. Steen, Secretary; and W. W. Gallagher, Representative. Meetings are held every Wednesday evening.
A year and a half later, Diamond Encampment, No. 152, was established, with John Brown as C. P.; Robert Meredeth, S. W.; John Peart, J. W.; Nicholas Hoffman, Treasurer; William Gallagher, Scribe; and Thomas Durham, H. P. John Stephenson, William Neath, Theodore Green and John Skinner were also original members. The present officers are: Peter Barr, C. P.; James Hunter, S. W.; J. Jafrey, H. P.; William Rixon, J. W.; John Stephenson, Scribe; and Peter Harwood, Treasurer.
The Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons began “work” here October 8, 1873, with Alexander Patterson as first W. M.; Ira R. Marsh, S. W.; Egbert W. Felton, J. W.; Robert Dunlap, Isaac and C. Zeigler, William Campbell, John Broadbent, John B. Barnett, E. Davison, W. H. Watson, Thomas Ferguson, John and David Skinner, William Chalmers, Robert Harrop and William White were also charter members. They now have a membership of seventy. Their hall, recently fitted up, is a model of neatness and taste. Meetings are held on the first and third Thursdays of each month. John Broadbent is present Master; F. Packard, S. W.; James W. Patterson, J. W.; F. M. Salladay, Secretary; J. B. Backus, Treasurer; E. Davison, S. D.; Winfield Blood, J. D.; and Peter Abrams, Tiler.
The educational facilities provided by the inhabitants of Braidwood consist of three large two-story buildings. One of these is located in the old part of the town, one near the depot, and the other in the vicinity of the Eureka shaft. These, like all other buildings of the city, are constructed of wood. They afford accommodation for at least one thousand pupils.
One of the efficient adjuncts to the means of educating the youth and the public generally is the public library. In 1876, through the efforts of William Maltaby, Superintendent of the Eureka Coal Company, $1,500 were subscribed and a library of 1,400 volumes was established. The enterprise, though only a nucleus of what it is designed to be, is duly appreciated by the reading public, and is proving a real blessing to the community. The rooms of the association are kept open all of the time, and all who have leisure have the privilege of visiting the place and consulting the volumes to be found there. Mr. Maltaby was elected first President of the association, and still remains such officer. M. Dando is the present Secretary. The most effectual means of disseminating general information, and consequently one of the most potential for general and practical education, is the newspaper. In this regard Braidwood is fortunate in having established the only daily in the county outside of Joliet. The history of the press in this city, though short, has been varied and, until lately, quite precarious. Several attempts were made to established a paper at this point, but either through lack of fitness on the part of the publishers or of appreciation on the part of the public, each proved a failure. Jacob Warner was the first to embark in the business, and started the News. He was followed by Thomas Simonton with the Journal. Then Fred Dalton, former publisher of the Streator Monitor, began the publication of the Republican. The first number appeared June 17, 1875, and the prospect for a live paper appeared fair. In a short time, however, the concern became so involved that it was impossible to proceed. At this point, Henry H. Parkinson, of Bloomington, took hold of the work, and through his untiring efforts, and in spite of discouragement, that would have broken down many men, the paper has not only lived, but has increased in circulation and popularity, and a year ago bloomed into a daily. Mr. Parkinson, prior to his coming to this place, was publishing at Bloomington the Anti-Monopolist. The undertaking proved to be a failure, and absorbed all of the means at his command; therefore, when he arrived at Braidwood, he was in such an embarrassed condition that the prospect seemed anything but flattering. However, by the Summer of 1877, the paper had gained the confidence and support of the people, and was in a fair way to permanent success. Then the strike took place, and again the establishment was flat, so much so that its proprietor had to borrow a few quires of paper, and with this the little daily was started. From that time the enterprise has been prosperous, and its success is now assured. Mr. Parkinson has his office all paid for, owns the building in which it is kept, and the paper has a circulation of over five hundred. In the mean time two other attempts have been made to establish papers here. Jacob Warner published the Braidwood Herald during the political canvass of the Fall of 1876. In 1877, R. W. Nelson began the publication of the Daily JPhcenix and issued a few numbers. Since the panic of 1872-73, many of the capitalists all over the country have withdrawn their means from manufactures and other enterprises, which formerly gave employment to those, who, though not lacking in muscle, brain or will to continue the business, were yet without money or credit. Thus thousands of men and women all over the country were without the means of gaining a livelihood. As a consequence, a competition amongst laborers reduced wages, and still many, who would gladly have worked for smaller hire, had nothing to do. Labor arrayed itself against capital and manufacturers continued to withdraw their means and invest in bonds and mortgages which were not threatened, and which, therefore, they considered safer, though not affording as great profits. This apparent conflict has kept increasing until absolute necessity on the one hand and safety on the other have led to the organization of opposite parties. In 1877, this general strife culminated in a strike on the part of employes in all departments requiring labor. Mechanics, miners, railroad men and common workmen were infected with a premature desire to suddenly right their fancied or real wrongs. Trains were stopped, shops were closed and machinery of all kinds stood idle. This was the state of affairs in July, 1877. On the 1st of April, of the year mentioned, the coal companies of Braidwood had asked of their employes a reduction of 15 cents for Summer and 25 cents for Winter on each ton of coal mined, the reduction to take effect at once. The men would not accede to the terms proposed, and at once they stopped work, arguing that an unfair advantage was being taken of them in that many of them had bought lots of the companies and had improved the same, making it impossible for them to remove without serious loss. The companies were determined, however, and to keep their works in operation brought in miners from other localities, whom they employed by the day. After a month, several hundred colored miners were brought, who went to work for the companies at the reduction formerly proposed. Though deep mutterings were heard on all sides and some threats were made, nothing serious took place and hopes were entertained that the threatened trouble would finally blow over. But toward the last of July, the general strikes occurring, and riots becoming common in many places throughout the land, the spirit of defiance took possession of the strikers, and they determined to drive out the “blacklegs,” who, upon, being apprised of the intention of the strikers, though promised protection by their employers and the county authorities, fled from the city. Some went to Wilmington, some to Morris, and others, who could obtain no means of conveyance for themselves and families, camped on the prairie. At this juncture, the Sheriff despairing of preserving order, the Governor was called on to furnish soldiers to quell the hourly-expected outbreak. Accordingly, Gov. Cullom ordered 1,300 soldiers to the scene of the trouble, 200 of whom occupied the city about three weeks, the others returning to their homes in a few days. On the appearance of the soldiery, the “blacklegs” returned to the city and resumed work. At the end of the three weeks alluded to, the excitement attending the riot, as well as the disturbances themselves, ceased, railroads were in operation, factories were opened, and business generally was as brisk as before, and this community partaking of the modified sentiment prevailing in other parts, the trouble which had for some weeks threatened bloodshed was at an end. Many of the strikers have taken their former places in the mines, and some, with some of the “blacklegs,” have departed to other fields of labor. Peace and good feeling is so far restored that the visitor sees no trace of the once threatened rebellion. While the excitement was at its highest pitch, Gov. Cullom visited the city and spoke to the people, counseling peace and good order, and promising protection to the laborers to the extent of the full power of the State or of the United States army. The soil of the surrounding country, though but poorly adapted to agricultural pursuits, is yet quite well adapted to grazing and the dairy business, and this latter industry is just now receiving attention. A creamery or cheese factory, now in successful operation, was established here last Spring. A company was formed, with Duncan Rankin as President. Buildings were erected at a cost, including machinery, of $2,000. The establishment, though in its infancy, manufactures 150 pounds of butter and 900 pounds of cheese per day, consuming, for the purpose, 9,000 pounds of milk. The product is shipped – the cheese to Chicago and the butter to St. Louis, the former article bringing 6 1/4 cents and the latter 25 cents per pound.
The principal business street of Braidwood, extending from the depot to the works of the Eureka Company, is built up on both sides with unbroken lines of stores, shops and offices, with scarcely a vacancy, except the narrow cross, streets, for more than a mile. The observer can but imagine what a blaze will occur here some time; and it can only be a matter of time, the greatest wonder being that the time has not already come. There will then be active work for the fire company. Realizing this state of affairs, a company for the purpose of controlling the fiery element was organized June, 1877, with James S. Patterson as Eire Marshal, and H. H. Parkinson, Secretary. The implements of the company consist of hooks, ladders and trucks usually belonging to such organizations. The company is independent, though the city furnishes all apparatus necessary for use in their duties. The balance of the city, though built of the same combustible material, yet being so sparsely built and occupying so much space, is less likely to experience a general conflagration. The space occupied by the city is fully two square miles.
Source: LeBaron, William, Jr. History of Will County, Illinois. Chicago: William LeBaron, Jr. & Co. 1878.