These next few columns will feature memories by Bill Cooper, a Hoopeston native, who worked at FMC from 1928 until he retired in 1971. He was also a musician, playing a banjo with the Medicats performing at the Hoopeston Community Memorial Nursing Home from about 1980 to, at least, 1989 and an amateur historian.
His father Robert Cooper, he said in an interview in 1989, “wrote for various newspapers. Some of them included the “Herald” in Hoopeston, the “New York Herald,” “Brooklyn Eagle,” “Chicago Tribune,” and the “St. Louis Chronicle.” Adding, “ He (father) was also a correspondent for the Associated Press”
Cooper’s memories were published in the Hoopeston Chronicle and later placed into a notebook. Tom Gress gave me the book of Cooper’s stories thinking I would find it interesting. I did!
Tom Gress and his wife Lenora are both life members of the Hoopeston Historical Society that meets on the third Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. temporarily at the First Church of Christ on 4th and Main Streets. Normally the group meets at the Hoopeston Public Library.
Memories by Bill Cooper
1871-1944 — At a point on the wild prairie of Eastern Illinois ninety-nine miles almost due south of Chicago, in the spring of 1871, the first surveyor’s stakes for the town of Hoopeston were driven. The land upon which a part of the town was platted, was entered from the government as a homestead by William Allen in March 1850. Mr. Allen was the father of the prominent and widely known legislator, The Honorable Charles A. Allen. The Iroquois county line formed the north boundary line of this land, the southern line being described by a course extending from east to west coming in close proximity to where later stood the old Hibbard House Hotel. The Allen cabin was built along the old Hubbard Trail on the prominent point at the northwest corner of the claim, now known as the Cunningham Hill. This land was purchased by Thomas Hoopes from Allen in 1856 for ten dollars per acre.
In the year 1871 two railroads were being constructed across the rich prairie country. The Chicago, Danville & Vincennes from the north and the Lafayette, Bloomington & Muncie from the east. In later years the former became the Chicago & Eastern Illinois and the latter the Lake Erie & Western and finally the Nickle Plate (now defunct). Among the prospective promotors and investors watching the desirable town site point where the roads were to cross was Snell, Taylor & Co., a firm consisting of Colonel Thomas Snell of Clinton, IL. and Abner Tayler and James Aikin of Chicago, IL. and the firm of Young & Co. The latter firm being represented by A. Honeywell as their local agent. The Snell & Taylor contingent had for its local active field agent and a silent partner, James Mix of Kankakee, IL.
What was: What is: What’s Next?
As the CD &V and the LB & W Railroads approach their intersection of the 24th day of July 1871, it was apparent this could be a town site. The early pioneers seeing this opportunity flocked in with their money, land and craftsmen, to create this town of Hoopeston. This swamp like area of prairie grass, flax, hemp, rosin weeds, rich soil, prairie chickens, deer, wolves and rattle snakes would test their ability. Afore long there were three factions with three different names for (a) town, busy trying to locate (a) town in their area.
J. E. Young, a Chicago contractor built the CD &V Railroad from Vincennes to Chicago, and many used (the) Hibbard House while building in this area. Until (the) railroad was ready for trains, J. C. Davis, a carpenter built a real estate office for Charley Wyman who was Hoopeston’s first resident. It was built August 14, 1871 on (the) southwest corner of Main and Bank Street. In 1870 Davis and Satterthwaite had purchased 18 acres of land from Hiram Hatch for $22.50 per acre. When the railroads intersected, this 18 acres was located on the southeast corner of the railroads. They hired Wyman and he started clearing and laying out and selling lots. Luken Brothers bought the first lot at corner (S.E.) Main and Bank Streets. Jonathon Bedel bought the next lot and built a grocery store on (the) south side of Main Street in (the) 200 block. Lots at this time were selling at $125 to $150, and no doubt those prices were as hard to pay as todays.
CD & V and LB & W Railroads
The first depot-freight house and telegraph were in a box car at (the) junction of Young Ave. on (the) east side of CD & V Railroad to accommodate passengers going north or south. Later in 1872-1873 LB&W built a railroad repair car shop near (the) crossing. This facility was soon located in another area (perhaps round house east of Rankin, Ill..) The low plot of land east of CD & V and north of LB &W tracks is the result of material needed for building (the) railroads.
Not being too proud of their box car depot, a new union depot was built. This didn’t last long as it burned in 1875. So they moved the first facility up to the crossing of the railroads, which served both railroads for 26 years. At this time a beautiful “L” shaped depot was built at (the) S.W. corner of the railroad crossing costing $20,000. This served both railroads, and people could get to where they wanted to go. As other means of transportation became available, (the) railroad’s business was affected. Soon the depot was vacated and later torn down, (July 28, 1982) and I, as many others, think it should have been preserved.
The first depot (a box car) in the first four months of 1871 receipts were $11,808.91 and remainder of (the) year was $22,644.87. Total shipment was $6,644.87 making (the) first year (of) business very good.