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A Short history of Richmond, Illinois
Richmond, IL is a very small, quaint town on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin. Its population is now about 1,500, but new housing developments will quadruple the number of homes in the next 10 years. It’s known as the “village of yesteryear” because of its many Victorian houses and an interesting collection of antique shops.
William A. McConnell is credited with creating Richmond Village.
Also known as “The Squire,” McConnell is a 27-year-old carpenter and farmer living in Pennsylvania. He dreamed of independence and trekked to the Richmond area in 1837. McConnell said in his biography that there were only two neighbors in the area. He marked out title to 480 acres and bought it in 1840 when it was listed under the Black Hawk Treaty. Family lore says McConnell spent his first nights under an oak sapling across the street from what is now Richmond Elementary School. The very mature tree is still standing. Bo McConnell’s great-grandson called it “Little Oak.” At the time, the Richmond area was mostly oak-covered prairie and was still part of Lake County, Illinois.
In 1838, McConnell and his new wife, Elizabeth, built a 16′ x 18′ log cabin where his family lived for 15 years. Located just west of what is now Grace Lutheran Church, it was the first residence built by the Town of Richmond.
Around 1840, a mill was built on Nippersink, the area now occupied by Doyle’s Restaurant.
In 1852, McConnell built a Greek Revival style house across the street from the log cabin. He and his family lived in the house for 20 years and raised three sons. In 1872, he transferred the house to his son John.
Over time, McConnell purchased about 1,400 acres of land from the government. The town boundaries were drawn in 1844, and Richmond was named in a competition for the man who climbed the tallest when the new mill was built. The man was Isaac Reed, who had chosen the name after a village he remembered from his childhood in Vermont.
McConnell has been involved in many local events. He served on the Railroad Board, legislator for Springfield, elected commissioner for McHenry County, Richmond’s first justice of the peace, first postmaster general and assistant judge for 16 years. He belonged to the McHenry County First Temperance Organization.
McConnell opened the first cheese factory about a half mile west of the town. The old bank building on Broadway is owned by McConnell’s son George. “It was Uncle George’s bank. That’s what we called it,” recalls Bo McConnell, William A. McConnell’s great-great-grandson.
how richmond got its name
Theodore Purdy purchased the Charles A. Noyes log home in 1937. Purdy settled in Richmond in 1844 with Charles Cotting in 1844. Together they built a mill on Main & Mill Streets.
A competition was arranged, and whoever climbed the highest on the new mill could name the village. Isaac Reed won the competition and named the village after Richmond, Vermont, where he grew up.
richmond grew up
By the mid-1840s, Richmond resembled a small town with hotels, sawmills, wagon builders, doctors, and lawyers. McConnell established a cheese factory (possibly the first in McHenry County) west of town.
Officially incorporated on September 2, 1872, Dr. Fillmore Bennett was elected the village’s first president. Fillmore, the first president of the Graduate School, wrote poetry and religious hymns. “In Sweet Goodbye and Goodbye” is the most famous.
Railroads appeared in the 1850s. McConnell is one of the railroad executives. In 1855 the first train passed through Nippersink.
Charles DeWitt McConnell donated $10,000 to the Village, “for the construction of a village or town hall, also known as a memorial hall, to be used free of charge when church societies and school functions require it, and not for immoral exhibits or immoral Show…” Mayor EC Covell bought the land on which the memorial stands from Charles Kruse, who owned a hardware store on the corner of Broadway and Rt. Town Center. 12. The Hardware Story later became the Emporium Antiques Store, which can be seen today with the name “Kruse” etched on top of the front wall.
The memorial was built in the early 1900s. It contains an auditorium with balconies and a stage where JB Rotnour Players have performed over the years.
The Richmond Police Department occupies part of the basement along with two cells.
Village committee meetings were held at the memorial until the new village committee was built in 1993. The building is now shared with the police station. This kept the hall vacant until Chris Gallagher received a grant from the Illinois Arts Council in 1992 to create the Nippersink Center for the Creative Arts. Founding members included Christina Gallagher, Yvonne Cryns, Carolyn Janus, Donna Karolus and Nancy Richardson. Many local groups donate to the organization. The Creative Arts Center propelled the Memorial into the historic landmark it is today.
Public libraries have used the lobby since the 1930s. In the 1940s, the library moved to part of the Broadway and Main Drugstore building. But on July 7, 1972, the library moved back to the memorial, and then back to its own building in 1990.
In addition to village government work, the memorial also hosts school plays and graduation ceremonies. Basketball games have been played there since 1908.
Other basement events include meetings held by Boy and Girl Scouts, the American Legion and a group of seniors called Pioneers. This is where the local polling place is located.
Richmond Fire Department
The Richmond Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1926 with its first meeting at the Memorial Hall, led by Mayor JG “Curly” Stevens.
richmond post office
The post office has a history of more than 150 years. William A. McConnell was named the first postmaster general in 1940 and served six years. In the early years, settlers in the area took great comfort from the post office, which brought news of events from their original homelands. Until the 1960s, the Chicago Tribune was delivered by the post office. Farmers need bees, and the post office supplies them, and they mail their eggs to the big cities.
Until 1946, trains did not carry mail to Richmond. Since 1946, mail has been delivered by truck. Since 1988, the current Postmaster General is William L. Schaeppi.
The new mayor of Richmond, Illinois is Laurie Olson. The Olsen family has a long history in Richmond. Before being elected mayor in 2004, Olson was a homemaker and fire department volunteer.
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