A Short history of Richmond, Illinois
Richmond, Illinois, is a very small and quaint town on the border of Illinois and Wisconsin. Its population is now about 1,500 but new housing developments will quadrouple the number of homes within the next 10 years. It is called “The Village of Yesteryear” because it boasts many Victorian style homes and an interesting array of antique shops.
William A. McConnell is credited with the founding of the village of Richmond.
Also known as “The Squire,” McConnell was a 27 year old carpenter and farmer who lived in Pennsylvania. He dreamed of independence and trekked to the Richmond area on horseback in 1837. In his biography, McConnell stated that there were but two neighbors in the area. He staked out a claim for 480 acres of land and bought it when it came to market in 1840 under the Blackhawk Treaty. Family lore says that McConnell spent his first night under an oak sapling across the street from what is now Richmond Grade School. That very mature tree still stands. Bo McConnell, a great grandson, calls it “the little oak.” At that time the Richmond area was mostly prairie with patches of oak trees and still part of Lake County, Illinois.
In 1838 McConnell and his new wife, Elizabeth, built a 16′ x 18′ log cabin in which his family lived for 15 years. It was located just west of what is now Grace Lutheran Church and it was the first residence built in Richmond Township.
A mill was built on the Nippersink circa 1840 and that area is now occupied by Doyle’s restaurant.
In 1852 McConnell built a house in the Greek Revival style across the street from the log cabin. He and his family lived in this house for 20 years raising three sons. In 1872 he deeded the house to his son, John.
Over time, McConnell purchased approximately 1,400 acres from the government. The town boundaries were laid out in 1844 and Richmond was given its name in a contest to the man who climbed the highest when the new mill was raised. That man was Isaac Reed who chose the name from a village he remembered from his childhood in Vermont.
McConnell had his hands in many local activities. He was on the railroad commission, a legislator in Springfield, elected a commissioner of McHenry County, Richmond’s first Justice of the Peace, its first Postmaster and an Associate Judge for 16 years. He belonged to the first temperance group in McHenry County.
McConnell opened the first cheese factory about one-half mile west of the town. The Old Bank building on Broadway was owned by McConnell’s son, George. “That’s Uncle George’s bank. That’s what we’d call it,” remembered Bo McConnell, a great-great-grandson of William A. McConnell.
How Richmond was named
Theodore Purdy purchased the log house of Charles A. Noyes in 1937. Purdy platted the village in 1844 with Charles Cotting who settled in Richmond in 1844. Together they built a grist mill at Main & Mill Streets.
A contest was arranged that the person who climbed the highest on the new mill could name the village. Isaac Reed won the contest and named the village after Richmond, Vermont, where he lived as a child.
Richmond grows up
By the middle 1840’s Richmond resembled a small town with a hotel, a sawmill, a wagon maker, a doctor and a lawyer. McConnell built a cheese factory (possibly the first in McHenry County) west of the town.
Officially incorporated on September 2, 1872, Dr. Fillmore Bennett was elected the first president of the village. The first principal of the grad school, Fillmore wrote poems and religious hymns. “In the Sweet Bye and Bye” was the most famous.
Railroads made their appearance in the 1850’s. McConnell was a one of the railroad directors. The first train crossed the Nippersink in 1855.
Charles DeWitt McConnell donated $10,000 to the village “to be used for the purpose of erecting a village or city hall, the same to be called Memorial Hall, to be used when required by church societies and school functions free of charge, and not to be used for immoral exhibitions or immoral shows…” Village President, E.C. Covell, bought the land where Memorial Hall now stands from Charles Kruse who owned the hardware store on the corner in the middle of town at Broadway and Rt. 12. The hardware story later became the Emporium antique store and the “Kruse” name can be seen etched at the top of the front wall today.
Memorial Hall was constructed in the early 1900’s. It contained an auditorium with a balcony and a stage where the J.B. Rotnour Players performed for many years.
The Richmond Police Department occupied part of the basement along with two jail cells.
Village board meetings were held in Memorial Hall until the new village hall was built in 1993. This building is now shared with the police department. This left the hall vacant until Chris Gallagher secured a grant from the Illinois Arts Councle in 1992 to create the Nippersink Creative Arts Center. Founding member include Christina Gallagher, Yvonne Cryns, Carolyn Janus, Donna Karolus and Nancy Richardson. Many local groups donated money to the organization. The Creative Arts Center pushed to make Memorial Hall the historical landmarked building it is today.
The public library used the hall starting in the 1930’s. In the 1940’s the library moved to a part of the drug store building on Broadway and Main. But on July 7, 1972 the library moved back into Memorial Hall before moving to its own building in 1990.
In addition to village government work, the Memorial Hall hosted school plays and graduations. Basketball games were played there starting in 1908.
Other basement activities included meetings held by Boy and Girl Scouts, American Legion, and a senior citizen group known as the Pioneers. This is where the local polling place resided.
Richmond Fire Department
Founded in 1926, the Richmond Volunteer Fire Department’s first meeting was held at Memorial Hall and it was headed by Mayor J.G. “Curly” Stevens.
Richmond Post Office
The post office has been in service for over 150 years. Appointed in 1940, William A. McConnell served as the first postmaster for six years. In the early years, settlers in the area found great comfort from the post office which brought news of events from their original home towns. As late as the 1960’s the Chicago Tribune was delivered by the post office. Farmers needed honey bees which were also delivered by the post office and they mailed out eggs to the big city.
Until 1946 trains brought mail to Richmond. Since 1946 mail is delivered by trucks. The current postmaster is William L. Schaeppi since 1988.
The new mayor of Richmond, Illinois, is Laurie Olson. Olson’s family has a long history in Richmond. Olson was a homemaker and volunteer member of the fire department before she was elected mayor in 2004.